Skip to comments.Catholic Caucus - Toward a Catholic Renaissance
Posted on 06/10/2002 10:33:45 AM PDT by Siobhan
I witnessed something extraordinary at last months Theology on Tap. Picture it if you can a jam-packed upstairs room at the Temple Bar in Stamford, Connecticut. Nighttime. Loud rock music from the Thursday night bar scene down below is drifting in through the closed door at the top of the stairs.
The Upper Room
Inside the room where we are, though, a different atmosphere prevails. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a worn-out jacket over his Franciscan robe, is bowed over a microphone in prayer at a makeshift podium, invoking the Holy Spirit upon our assembly. There must be close to 250 people in the room, all around him, praying with him. His tone is solemn and firm, Come Holy Spirit Theres something wonderfully underground about it all, like the catacombs, or the upper room in Acts. Fr. Benedict calls upon the saints, in partial litany, for their intercession. We are responding in unison after each one, Pray for us! This feels like the real thing .
Catholic Renewal and Evangelization
Theology on Tap is a catch-all name for a number of unrelated Catholic presentation series held at various locales throughout the country. Sometimes theres a featured speaker; sometimes a panel discussion. The audience always participates, and its a good forum in which to partake of some libation and meet with like-minded people. The idea got started out in California somewhere to reinvigorate dormant Catholic spirituality and get people involved in Catholic issues in a fresh, new way. Given, moreover, that for many people virtually anything on tap automatically qualifies as at least somewhat interesting, the whole enterprise has always impressed me as a great new avenue for Catholic renewal and evangelization.
In Stamford, TOT is held monthly, during most of the year, at the Temple Bar. Its hosted primarily by two exemplary priests from the local St. John the Evangelist parish. Unabashedly Catholic, they stand up, as they put it, to testify to the truth, drawing on Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterial teaching of the Church. They talk about things like charity, love, morality, virtue, and Christian responsibility. When was the last time somebody, even in a Sunday homily, reminded you of your responsibilities? When was the last time you heard anybody speak who had the courage to look you in the face and say they were going to tell you the truth? Not their truth, or a truth. Not the truth given this or that particular context. But the truth. Objective. To hear someone dare to say it these days is almost shocking! Its completely countercultural, to borrow a buzzword from another era, but in the best sense of that term.
Weve been blessed in Stamford with some great speakers, including apart from Fr. Benedict - Fr. George Rutler (on the saints), Dr. Alice von Hildebrand (on the privilege of being a woman), Fr. Paul Scalia (on the often-misunderstood notion of papal infallibility) and many lesser-known, but equally engaging presenters drawn from both the laity and the clergy. The panel discussions, perhaps especially, with the priests from the local diocese, are always the biggest treat for me. The audience writes up questions on anything from doctrine to liturgy to Catholic morality (and I assure you, it can get brutal!), and the priests engage and discuss, boldly, and often humorously, with each other and with the audience.
Father Benedict, in his presentation, took the time to lament the scourge of the current scandals, both the appalling tragedy of the victims and the attendant damage visited upon the Catholic Church in America. He spoke with compassion about the victims, and with sadness and anger about the state of the Church. He reminded us, however, that there may well turn out to be a silver lining of sorts. Yes, we are going to lose people. There will be an inevitable winnowing out of the ranks. We have to ask ourselves, however, what we will have left (at the risk of sounding too apocalyptic) after the inevitable process of attrition, downsizing and reorganization of leadership has worked itself out. Thats the key, and therein lies Fr. Benedicts silver lining. He said, and I agree with him, that the Catholic Church is going to have to get used to, and even embrace, the notion of being a genuine minority group, looked at from the outside standpoint of contemporary society. There are, however, and Fr. Benedict was quick to point this out, also, many potential advantages to minority status - advantages in organization, in cohesiveness, and therefore in influence. Lets not waste that opportunity. Our numbers may not turn out to be, at least in the short term, what they once were, but what remains, like the well-pruned tree, will be strong and solid and amenable to growth.
The City on the Hill
That said, I would be seriously remiss if I were to fail to acknowledge and emphasize that Catholicism will always be, and should always be, universal in its outreach and embrace. Thats what catholic means, after all, what it means to be the City on the Hill. Our proper aim is to draw and attract, not to reconvene the Inquisition in order to separate out the genuinely Catholic from the non-genuinely Catholic. At the same time, however, I do believe that clear-thinking people need to recognize (and too often dont!) the fundamental incoherence of the notion of ones being merely a cultural Catholic. Those who self-identify as Catholic would do well, rather, to strive toward a radical honesty both with themselves and with the Church - about whether they genuinely believe in (or even know, in any real sense) what Catholicism actually has to say and teach: about doctrine and liturgy; about the historical roots and divine institution of the Church hierarchy; about ecumenism and the essential role of the Catholic Church in salvation history; about sin and confession and redemption; about moral relativism; about human sexuality; about social and economic and political realities; about faith and reason; about truth and its nature; about artificial contraception; about embryonic stem cell research; about in vitro fertilization; about euthanasia; about abortion.
Do Catholics even know (much less agree with) what the Catholic Church actually has to say about these matters, and why? Yet these and so many other pressing issues of the day are, in fact, addressed exhaustively and lucidly - and oftentimes with remarkable scholarship - in orthodox Catholic resources which are more-or-less readily available. They are addressed in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example. They are addressed in papal encyclicals, and in pastoral letters and papal addresses (available at Zenit.org on-line). They are the subject of numerous statements issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as the remarkable output of the burgeoning orthodox Catholic media.
Developing a Mature Response to Catholicism
But that all sounds vaguely difficult and complicated, one might object. What about what Catholicism actually has to say and teach concerning the simple matters of Gods love for us and our simple response to that love? Isnt it O.K. to regard with suspicion anything that might be perceived as a gnostic tendency toward over-intellectualization of the faith? Devout Old Grandma, after all, managed to get this far in her life without recourse to the erudition of Cardinal Ratzinger, and shes not exactly likely to be found any time soon poring over the 142 footnotes in Evangelium Vitae. Didnt Christ call for us to be childlike, anyway? These are not trivial objections, and I well know that there is no single way to be authentically Catholic. As with evaluation of the clergy in the context of the current scandals, however, I continue to believe that the focus has to be on individuals, and that individual cases have to be judged individually. Its just that a response to the Catholic faith that is appropriate for Devout Old Grandma is simply not, I would submit, appropriate for, say, a college-educated adult or young adult (let alone senator or congressman) who claims to be Catholic in the twenty-first century United States.
The Church is not comprised of theologians or even necessarily intellectuals, and that is as it should be. Not everyone is equipped, or even disposed, to wade into certain of the materials Ive listed above (not, at least, without assistance), and many Catholics, of course, do not even have access to them. We cannot ignore, however, that a mature Catholic faith does, indeed, have an intellectual (or at least informational) dimension to it. There are things one simply has to believe - values that one simply has to espouse - in order to count oneself Catholic in any meaningful sense. We have, also, as Catholics, a very real responsibility to respond to our faith, which responsibility should rightly be commensurate with our capacity to so respond. It is not childlike to shy away from our duty to attempt to develop a mature response to the faith we have freely elected to adopt. Rather, it is closer to childish.
Mature Response Versus Uncritical Acceptance
I should be clear, here, to point out that by mature response I do not mean uncritical acceptance. Appropriately circumscribed theological inquiry and debate have useful and worthwhile roles to play within the context of a healthy Catholic Church, and our Church leadership, even at the highest levels, has recognized this to be so. The revised Catechism, for example, in its discussion of Moral Life and the Magisterium of the Church, states:
In the work of teaching and applying Christian morality, the Church needs the dedication of pastors, the knowledge of theologians, and the contribution of all Christians and men of good will. Faith and practice of the Gospel provide each person with an experience of life in Christ, who enlightens him and makes him able to evaluate the divine and human realities according to the Spirit of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit can use the humblest to enlighten the learned and those in the highest positions. (Para. 2038, footnotes omitted)For its part, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states, in its declaration Dominus Iesus, It must therefore be firmly believed as a truth of the Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. (Section 14) Immediately thereafter, however, the document continues:
Bearing in mind this article of faith, theology today, in its reflection on the existence of other religious experiences and on their meaning in Gods salvific plan, is invited to explore if and in what way the historical figures and positive elements of these religions may fall within the divine plan of salvation. In this undertaking, theological research has a vast field of work under the guidance of the Churchs Magisterium. (Section 14)There is a certainly a material difference, however, between faithful and respectful theological inquiry, on the one hand, and outright dissent, on the other. Roman Catholicism, after all, is not properly a representative democracy, much less a grab-bag. John Paul II, in his encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor, expresses the matter as follows:
Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the people of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Churchs Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirits gifts. When this happens, the Churchs Pastors have the duty to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that the right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected. (Section 113)
Toward a Catholic Renaissance
Antecedent, however, to either further inquiry or outright dissent is some base level of information and knowledge. So, taking John Pauls lead, we might start down the path toward reconstitution and reinvigoration of authentic Roman Catholicism in this country from the pulpit, with some orthodox explanation (or even mention!) in the weekly homilies, from time to time, of our eras critical Catholic issues with perhaps even some reference to those materials out there in which they are discussed. The issues themselves are not so abstruse that the gist of them cannot be digested and explained to the lay faithful. The laity, for their part, could begin with some dedicated self-examination as to what, at bottom, they truly do believe in, and whether that set of beliefs can accurately (or even reasonably) be described as Catholic. This self-examination might, in the best of cases, also be coupled with a firm resolve to rise to the challenges and responsibilities of a mature response to freely-chosen faith. What is needed, again, is refocus and reformation.
All of which gets me back to that night in the upstairs room at Theology on Tap. The city of Stamford does not strike me as an unusually holy place, and yet 250 or so strangers crowded into a bar on a Thursday night, based solely on some looseleaf pamphlets for advertising, to listen to one Catholic priest talk about Catholic issues. We ended by praying the Salve Regina. Not surprisingly for a group like that, everybody, young, middle and old, appeared to know the prayer by heart - another virtue we might get back to fostering. Afterwards, it was back downstairs into the main bar (if only they could have grasped the significance of what had been going on right over their heads!) and out again into the night. I know that Stamford is not unique. There are other Stamfords out there. And thats where it has to begin, where it is already beginning. Father Benedict applied the word reformation to the Catholic transformation which I do believe is taking place out there right now. I would hope, perhaps, that a better word might ultimately turn out to be renaissance.
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Very few. Why? Because too many priests refuse to touch the tough issues in today's society, because the CCD classes have been watered down to feel-goodism, because the word 'sin' is now considered taboo, and finally because so many priests and those in the hierarchy are fighting Catholic (and Christian) truth themselves. The homosexual teenage boy rape scandal and the placement of the well-being of children as the last priority in the Church stem from total disregard for Christian teaching.
Fr. Benedict is one of my favorites. (I'm sort of biased, my cousin is a CFR). One of the young priests who came out of our faith community in my parish has been running a TOT gathering with a former seminarian from the Mount. They have on average 80-100 young adults in attendance. This is great news!
I just helped to teach a Catholics Can Come Home Again (author Carrie Kemp), and I learned so much as we brought the returning Catholics up to snuff on Vatican II, etc.
It was a wonderful experience, and I would encourage every lay person who cares about family members and friends who are no longer active to go and talk to their pastor about this -- or a similar -- program. Check at your local Catholic bookstore; they will order the book for you.
Tonight I am starting a Bible study/faith sharing group with some of the newly returned Catholics. We started with 13 the first night, then added 4 more, and ended up with 9 finishing the class! It went way beyond our expectations.
Thank you, Holy Spirit!