Sunday, November 20, 2011

Post-Modern Catholicism? And What Is That About?

Nuns in traditional Indian garb dance at the papal altar
during the beatifiction of Mother Theresa.  Do you
really think the toothpaste is going to go bck in the
I posted that quote from Peter Rollins yesterday because it really made me think—and made me think about my approach to history and in particular to the history of the Church and what motivates my particular take.  Rollins is a theologian who belongs to a school of thought—it is anything but an organized religious group–called The Emerging Church.  The Emerging Church is not a denomination and it is probably an exaggeration to call it a movement or even a “school of thought.”  Like so much of the post-modern world it just can’t be categorized with any meaningful label.  Suffice it to say its adherents include Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Adventists,  Pentecostals, Reformed, Conservatives—just about every type of Christian.  Post-modernism doesn’t look for agreement much less consensus so don’t expect the choir to sing in harmony—or even from the same hymnal.  I am really not sure what “The Emerging Church” is all about (or post-modernism, for that matter).  But I do know this—the labels and boxes and categories that we use to describe ourselves and our alliances and our ideas and even our churches really don’t work anymore.  And while the faith is—at least for some of us—deeper than ever, the doctrines and disciplines appear a bit shopworn and shabby—the stained glass is just a bit too old and too tarnished to allow the radiance of the Divine Glory to shine in its fullness. 
     Don’t get me wrong.  I am a Catholic through and through.  I got my membership card stamped by a couple of Popes.  I am there in the pews every Sunday—and most days in between.  My envelope number is L872.  I have no reservations in reciting the Creed or affirming my faith in the one holy catholic (even Catholic) and apostolic Church.  But there is so much more.  That is what I love about our history—the history with all its ups and downs, with its saints and its cads, with sin and grace each abounding and often running in rich veins through the same lives reminds me that the bland Catholicism peddled in the average American parish is just plain anemic.   It’s time to deconstruct a bit of the structures we humans have jury-rigged over the years in an attempt to house the Divine Presence, not to destroy but to let the Light of that Divine Presence shine out into our world.    
      The biggest religious body in the United States is the Catholic Church; the second are former Catholics.  Why are there so many former Catholics?  Can our leadership please wake up and smell the coffee?  The problem is not the Church—at least if one considers the Church as the Community of the Faithful.   But the problem is so much of the structures we have created and called “the Church” and the unsuitability of those structures to contemporary people of faith.  I am not saying unsuitability to contemporary culture—that could be a positive thing—but unsuitability to contemporary people of faith.  Certainly the failure of so many bishops to act responsibly in regard to how issues of sexual misconduct were handled is one example.  The highhanded attitude of Cardinal Law when he was Archbishop of Boston and thought that he was not answerable for his decisions was particularly galling.  Now we are seeing the problem of a lack of financial transparency and accountability in dioceses and parishes undermine the credibility of the institutional Church with its members.   The preoccupation in certain quarters with reviving the princely trappings of the past appears, at least to me, as silly, and more than silly, as reducing our Catholic Faith to the superficial and the pompously inane.  Authority structures that fail to take into account the available expertise of Church membership whether in finance, science, technology, psychology or other professions and disciplines make the Church a relic rather than an inspiration.   No, it is time to do what Pope John XXIII knew had to be done—to bring the Church into the contemporary world, not as its toady but as a prophetic voice that can point not backwards into a dead past but forwards into God’s Kingdom.    

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