It seems we are witnessing the last gasps of hot air from an aging and tiresome movement within the Catholic Church. As a recent Time magazine article discusses whether liberal Catholicism is dead, the more compelling question is, “what has been the collateral damage from this noxious and obnoxious movement over the past 40+ years?”
In a highly exaggerated effort to be set “free” (thus the word, “liberal”) from a perceived oppressive structure (Mother Church), we have been hijacked, instead, by particular charismatic personalities who are often at odds with the authoritative teaching of the Church. In an effort to be attuned to current events, let’s just call this “the Fr. Pfleger syndrome.”
In a revolt against orthodoxy and more fundamental approaches to faith and religion, liberalism proclaimed these to be “antiquated” (a much over-used term by liberal elites), and that, in the modern world, a ”contemporary,” enlightened view of God and man is the only viable stance.
Pope Benedict XVI has been writing on this hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture between our past (prior to 1965) and the Church of today, as he attempts to teach us into desiring a continuity with the rich treasury of our entire 2000 year history, rather than disposing of virtually everything prior to Vatican II.
We saw that, with this rupture, out went the scholastic approach to learning one’s faith, and in came cut-out Jesus and paper mache sheep and ONLY talk of “Jesus loves me this I know …”. I’m waiting for some uninhibited child to someday say, “Okay. okay he loves me … I get it … so what else?”
Recently, I was speaking with two young men, both in their twenties and both the product of K-12 religious education. In the course of the conversation I mentioned Vatican II. Both young men stopped me to ask, “Vatican what?” Neither had ever heard the term before. Of course neither one practices their faith as they have long since wondered why the “need” for such a thing.
What is more scary than this is when we discover that public figures who are Catholic, and are legislating on behalf of our unborn, do not seem to have even a base knowledge of the Church and what she teaches. This was the frightening, yet revealing, statement by Senator John Kerry as he was running for President in 2004:
“My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am. And it is separate. Our Constitution separates church and state, and they should be reminded of that.”
First, there is no such Pope as Pius XXIII and, second, “in the Vatican II?” Who doesn’t come away from this KNOWING that Senator Kerry is basing his understanding of his faith on what he’s “heard” at cocktail parties and the like, rather than any real study on what the Church ACTUALLY teaches. And, in cases such as contraception, don’t we already know that the vast majority of our contracepting Catholics are working off of the same limited hear-say research?
Furthermore, from this “cocktail party research” comes some of the most venomous outrage and dissent toward Mother Church and her teachings. In the meantime, bishops and priests who are brave enough to attempt to deprogram 40+ years of this “cocktail party theology” indoctrination, are treated as out-of-step, out-of-touch and archaic.
And, of course, we have our obnoxious, self-aggrandizing university elites who, having received no more than this “cocktail party” level of theological studies, are convincing our children that we are living in a post-Christian era, and to dispose of all those antiquated and stifling rules. And we wonder why this next generation has been pegged as the “hook-up generation?”
Fortunately, there is a palpable undercurrent of growing concern and even irritation with this type of kitch religion which, as one person put it, has diminished us into a “vacuous, no-demand, no-standards, no-requirements, no-guilt, do-good enterprise of sloppy sentimentality.”
In fact, “a study released in September 2002, indicates that the membership loss may be tied to dissatisfaction with the mainline’s drift into religious liberalism. Entitled ‘Religious Congregations and Membership 2000,’ the study of 149 denominations was sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. The research showed that conservative denominations which held to traditional, orthodox doctrine, and which expected a high level of commitment from members, grew at a faster rate than liberal, mainline churches.”
In the article, Mark Tooley states,
“Churches that allow themselves to be defined by the secular culture’s definition of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘tolerance’ really have little to offer that will change hearts or inspire great loyalty, much less create membership growth.”
“Liberal theology, with its de-emphasis on traditional Christian belief in favor of social activism, is committing demographic suicide. The future of Christianity belongs to robust orthodoxy, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.”
As many have attempted to analyze the data of this important study, there are differing opinions. Personally, I believe this shows less about a shift from liberal churches to conservative ones, and reveals more about how the kitschy, kumbaya and Kasual (to keep the literation) form of religion is self-defeating because it is falling under the weight of its own irrelevance.
I agree with Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand who wrote, in her article, The Secular War on the Supernatural:
“Now let us abolish the terms “conservative” or “liberal”, the terms “left” and “right” which are secularistic. I suggest that we say from now on “those who have kept the sense of the supernatural and those who have lost it”. That is the great divide, that is the essence.
Do you look at the Church and her teaching, whether dogmatic or moral, with a supernatural eye, or do you look at it with secular lenses? That is the divide. Left and right confuses the issue. Let us re-discover the greatness and the beauty of the supernatural and I claim that it is so difficult in the polluted world in which we live, that if we don’t pray for it every single day, we are going to be infected. It is the air that you breathe, the newspaper that you read, the television show that you see, time and again you will see this is a fight and attack on the supernatural.”
Consider the perpetual chant of our liberal friends, in referring to the Church established by Christ: “It is a man-made institution!” And liberal Catholics practice their faith as though this was true.
Liberal Catholicism seems to be dying because it tries to sustain life in the desert of a vapid and prosaic “activist organization” rather than leading it’s members to the “Tabernacle of Meeting” to kneel before the Ark of the Covenant as that Shekinah glory falls on them. In other words, our spiritual leaders need to be spiritual leaders and, primarily, lead their members to that “encounter with the Risen Lord in a life-changing way.”
For us, as Catholics (and hopefully all of Christendom someday), this means to draw our people to a deeper love of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. This is a supernatural encounter, therefore every effort must be made, in preparing and celebrating our liturgies, to help our people to become open to this “sacred and sublime” encounter with our Eucharistic Lord and Savior. Without this encounter, we remain stuck in that profane and casual, cruise ship Christianity, which always leaves us empty.
Therefore, the most egregious offense of these past 40+ years of stifling liberalism has been the shift from a sublime Worship of God at the Holy Mass — in the holy of holies — to a profane celebration of ourselves — in our now gutted out churches transformed into all-purpose lecture halls.
Once our worship experiences become about us rather than God, we see why, if they are not entertaining enough, some might say, “I didn’t get anything out of it” — as if that was the reason for coming!
Moreover, if the sermon challenges in anyway, we see why some might complain that their faith is not being “nurtured” — as if Christ said, “If anyone wishes to be my disciple, they must find themselves, take up their zinc oxide and deck chair, and follow me.”
Pope John Paul II died only a few months short of the 40th anniversary of the close of Vatican II. We thank God for this mercy pope who had been our Moses for most of those 40 years who, like Moses, took a gradualist approach with his rebellious flock, keeping us from schism. All the while Pope John Paul II taught his children as he appointed many strong bishops.
From a Catholic Answers article:
“These [excellent young bishops who are zealous and courageous exponents of the faith], along with the many renewal movements, are beginning to reorient the Church toward a more authentic expression of the Catholic faith. Dissent and heterodoxy are being recognized as the dead ends that they are; their proponents are aging, and they are not attracting new adherents. In time, they will likely wither. While the struggle is by no means over, I think we can say that the tide is beginning to turn: As the dissenters fade away and diminish in influence, they are being replaced by younger, wholeheartedly Catholic bishops, priests, and laypeople who will set the direction for the next generation. In this respect, a wise saying commends itself: Many times, the solution to the Church’s problems is found in the funeral rite.”
Now we see Pope Benedict XVI as our Joshua as he, boldy (in spite of the giants of secularism and modernism), leads us into the Promised Land.
There is great hope that we are returning from our 40 year wandering and aimless exile in the Land of Nod (the consequence of our disobedience) and finding our way back to the Garden of Eden, in sweet surrender, enjoying the Presence of Our Lord for all days.