Friday, December 30, 2011

Peripheral Catholics

Some time ago I had dinner with a wealthy "Orthodox" Eastern European couple, I was told he was a Russia "Mafioso". She was his fourth or fifth wife.  They were married in some civil ceremony. He was quite open, even proud, about his extra marital conquests. They disagreed with me fundamentally about abortion, they couldn't understand life without contraception. They attended the Divine Liturgy very occasionally: funerals mainly, neither had received communion since they were children, she probably not since her baptism. When they are dying they will probably want the rites of the Church. She seemed to be into spiritualism and New Age spirituality. I'm not sure they had much of a sense of the uniqueness of Christ. He more than satiated my appetite me with stories of corrupt Orthodox clergy but he was very proud of having paid an enormous sum for the restoration of the iconastasis in the church in the town where his mother was buried, he'd also endowed an Orthodox school, "though the Bishop and his brother took a 20% cut, I got them down from 30%, ha!" I was more than pleased once the meal was ended to be able to escape to conversation with other guests.

I don't think they were exceptions as Orthodox, they were both baptised as Orthodox and had a sense of being "culturally" Orthodox, they had their own morality and their own theology too, they were vaguely anti-clerical in that they expected the clergy to be human and they were superstitious too. They were almost independent of the Church and yet they had a relationship with the Church, albeit a peripheral relationship.

On the whole they were like the majority of Catholics, certainly of a previous age, who were both attached and detached from the Church; let us call them a "peripheral" Catholics.
If they were Irish, Archbishop Martin might suggest they came to a mature judgement about whether they remained in the Church or left. If they were American their gift, because they were "pro-abort", would certainly raise an eyebrow in many quarters. If they were English we might be a little sniffey about them not being evangelised and, if they requested sacraments for themselves or their children, attempt to do some evangelisation. Indeed they would probably consider themselves lapsed, or "post-Catholic", they would certainly, I suspect feel less comfortable within Church today than they might have done a century ago.

I think there are several factors that make being a "peripheral" Catholic, more difficult today, in the last century the Church has changed.

The Church's increased forceful moral teaching, concerning abortion, sex and sexuality is certainly one factor, coupled with the expectation that everyone should receive Holy Communion has brought a sharp divide between those who can keep the Church's teaching and those who can't. I wonder if this is reason for the loss of so many of the young.
Another factor is the vernacularisation and simplification of the liturgy: now you have to speak, before you could remain silent; now you have to understand, before you could remain in the mystery of ignorance.

The problem is that "peripheral" Catholics could always be encouraged to advance a little further into the Church, their increased loss means that invariably they now become antagonistic towards the Church of their forefathers.


Pablo the Mexican said...

You have a legion of Saints to call upon to wrestle those souls away from the Father of Lies.

Saint Therese the Little Flower for one.

Saint Joseph Mascoti:

He converted a Freemason at the Freemasons' deathbed.

It is not impolite to tell a Mafioso he is full of baloney; I do it every time I meet a Mexican Mafia Drug Cartel Boss.

I tell them about the salvation of Christ, and it is never too late to repent and convert.

Do not be afraid to correct your sheep.

Many great Catholics have come from Priests fist fighting them into submission.

Viva Cristo Rey!


nickbris said...

I will leave myself wide open to attack and will probably be shot down in flames but is it not time that Catholics were allowed to use some form of contraception?.

We all know by now that these rules are widely disregarded and some girls who have found themselves pregnant after a silly night find themselves in a life changing predicament.

Gigi said...

"Orthodox" - as in straight and true Father Ray? Not sure I would describe this couple as orthodox anything. I kow the old-school saying "once a Catholic" of course, and we've all heard stories of deathbed confessions and conversions. But surely there is a point where someone drops off the edge of the periphery. Surely their only faith is that they will be forgiven their transgressions and always welcomed like prodigals.
It's not that I don't think they should be met with tolerance or forgiveness, just that this kind of behaviour must demean the Catholic church and Orthodox rites in the eyes of many.
I salute you for being able to make small talk with them throughout an entire meal. I hope the food was good and the wine flowed!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Pablo, I think that would be the present Orthodox attitude and previous Catholic one.

Nick, We do, it is the word, "No".

Gigi, That is the point I thought worth discussing, "When is a Catholic not a Catholic?" In the past if you were baptised you were, now we expect more.

Patricius said...

""When is a Catholic not a Catholic?" In the past if you were baptised you were, now we expect more."

But do we, Father? And, indeed, who are "we" in this respect? Is this not the very question which has been raised in relation to certain Catholic schools where, on the one hand the school has sought evidence of parental commitment while, on the other, diocesan authorities have tended to insist upon a more traditional interpretation which goes little further than the requirement of baptism?

RR said...

While I wish it were not the case, I don't think there is such a greater difficulty being a peripheral Catholic today than in yesteryear.

Whether the Church's voice on moral teachings or the vernacularisation of the liturgy, people can (and do) easily enough 'turn off'.

Sixupman said...

I am reminded of the story of the man who collapsed in the street and someone called a priest to administer the Last Rites. The man appeared not to have been a parishioner and the priest asked why they assumed the man was a Catholic. "Because he always raised his hat when passing the church."

Fr William R Young said...

It comes down to the Mass. Do our people take part devoutly? Do we priests celebrate the rites of the Church properly, in such a way that the people can be touched by the Mystery we celebrate? All too often we seem to be required (I am leaving this deliberately vague) to unpack everything. The Mystery is still there, even when a well known vernacular is used and efforts are made to explain. But the impression given is so often that the purpose of Mass is for the priest to achieve something for the people, even if this is not performing (although it sometimes is!). Irenaeus said something somewhere about our needing God precisely because God does not "need" us. The priest should not "need" people to be there. Indeed, he must not give the impression (particularly to youth) that they have to be there for him. We need to celebrate Mass in such a way that people are drawn in rather than "serviced". The silent canon would help. Ad orientem worship helps. Modal music (not necessarily Gregorian chant) is important. Using Latin is not essential, but it too helps. Above all, it is the silence we need. In a sense, we need a vacuum, not just silence (a vacuum of sound!), but an emptiness, which the Lord can fill. Mass needs to be empty of everything except the action of Christ, so that we are sucked in, as it were, (entrueckt, as Balthasar would say). I actually want to say that we need to be hijacked. There is a sort of danger in going to Mass. It is an addiction, benign, perhaps, but it brings us salvation. Why else am I a priest?

Gigi said...

" "When is a Catholic not a Catholic?" In the past if you were baptised you were, now we expect more."
I think now with open communication and information there isn't much to excuse either not being aware or not be able to make others aware. We all probably fall into one of the two categories. I don't think it's enough to be a Catholic "by birth" and call on that in times of need or when drawing one's last breath.
Of course I'm being hypocritical: I said my prayers and "loved" God but didn't really talk to HIm or know Him until I encountered illness and loss.
I've met a lady in the past year or so who helps to prepare First Communicants. She's full of real joy in deepening their faith and I'm full of admiration for her. But the truth is that I know I need to be re-catechised: even appreciating the New Missal has made me realise that. So that's the best resolution I could make this new year, as I do stupidly still make them.
Personally, I think that fairweather Catholics can damage the church a great deal. I think there's enough guidance and structure in place across the Christian churches and certainly the Catholic church for folk like the Orthodox Diners to recognise that their behaviour is neither acceptable nor exempted. And I do think that can be brought home, even in a forgiving and encompassing faith.

John Ross Martyn said...

I diffidently suggest that the teaching on contraception, whether right or wrong, is unconvincing, for two reasons.

The first and main reason is that the Roman Catholic Church presumably accepts that the purposes of marriage are, or include, the procreation and proper upbringing of children; the right ordering and directing of sexual desire; and mutual help, comfort and support. If so, forms of birth control, whether "natural" or "artificial", are simply medical knowledge and technology which can and should be used to forward those purposes.

The second reason is that the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" birth control is a peculiar one in moral terms. It is unusual for the morality of an act to depend on the nature of the act, irrespective of the reason for doing the act. It is also unusual for an the objective of an act (here, avoiding conception) to be acceptable if it is carried out indirectly, but unacceptable if carried out directly.

GOR said...

Nick, no shooting down in flames - just sounding like a broken record as I once again go back to Humanae Vitae and the resulting fallout. It was not that HV was anything new. It wasn’t. It just reiterated what had been Catholic teaching all along.

The problem was in the expectation. By 1968 many (most?) Catholics - clergy and lay - thought a change was coming. The Pill was different, ergo… “It has to happen!” “No question, exceptions will be made!” But it didn’t happen and there were no exceptions. People had come to view contraception as a ‘rule’ – like celibacy or abstaining from meat on Fridays. Well if it’s only a rule, then the Church can change it.

But Pope Paul VI went to the heart of the matter. It wasn’t just a rule that could be changed. It came down to right and wrong – absolutes - that didn’t admit of exceptions. Back then we referred to the thinking that ‘circumstances’ could change absolutes as “Situation Ethics” – the situation or circumstances made something ‘right’ which otherwise was wrong.

And who decided this? Well, the ‘primacy of conscience’ was touted as the ultimate arbiter. If you don’t believe that something is wrong, then it isn’t wrong – for you. It became something like ‘Sola Scriptura’ with everyone interpreting for himself or herself what constituted right or wrong – in individual cases. Today we refer to that as Relativism.

What was missing then and is still frequently missing today is the part that a true conscience must be an informed conscience – a conscience informed or instructed by the teaching of Christ and His Church. We don’t live in a vacuum.

So, after expectations had been raised so high, Humanae Vitae was greeted by shock and disbelief. And worse – it led to revolt. Nothing had changed in Church Doctrine. No ‘new’ doctrine was being imposed. It was status quo ante – nothing more. But because the expected ‘exceptions’ didn’t materialize, there was resentment and opposition – loud, vociferous and seemingly, authoritative.

So we arrive at today when many Catholics think contraception is not a problem – for them (“Everybody is doing it!”). And as Pope Paul warned, it has led to worse things – abortion in particular – something that was still viewed as a crime and murder back then is now ‘accepted’ by many Catholics and ‘legal’ in many countries.

How far we have come and how low we have sunk!

Anonymous said...

My impression is a couple of generations ago every baptised Catholic was much more aware of what Catholicism is than this is the case today and if I compare with the generation of my grand-aunts the difference is utterly shocking. Whilst we are, collectively speaking, exactly the same sinners today as we were 100 years ago, our forefathers **knew they were sinners**, whether our contemporaries think they are refined thinkers, and conscentious objectors.

This of course because of the tragic absence of catechesis, of which the russian couple is, I think, a good example.


Fr Ray Blake said...

Yet I do not think the Russian couple would dream of receiving Communion, they might not have thought they were much like the rest of mankind but they knew mankind was sinful.

Pablo the Mexican said...

We have problems since Vatican Council II in that one of the changes in catechism was to push Theistic Evolution.


Lynda said...

Everyone is welcome to attend at a Catholic Mass if they do not do so with mala fides and behave in a courteous manner. To be a member of the Church, requires a genuine assent to all the Church holds to be true, and of course, baptism. The Church leaders are not doing their job if people don't understand what is required to be a Catholic. It means something very important and specific to be a Catholic; and it most certainly is not something one can be on one's own terms. I don't insist the Church conforms to worldly ways which may appeal to me (a religion in my image), but remains the Mystical Body of Christ to which I, with a free will (and the accepted grace of God) conform.

Gigi said...

Interesting Father Ray - why are you so sure that the Russian couple wouldn't dream of taking Communion? It sounds as though they're convinced of their own worthiness and some kind of exemption.
Mundabor: I agree wholeheartedly; more learned and inspired catechists and more emphasis on catechism for all "Catholics", young and old.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Few Orthodox receive at every celebration of the Liturgy, most even the pious only a few times a year and then only after confession a a few days spent in fasting and prayer: much as Catholics did.

Augie said...

I am in a pre-doctoral year at K.U. Leuven, studying theology. I'm deeply interested in the factors that have made Catholicism less attractive to the youth. In this vein, I've kicked up a blog:
Please look at "A Song for Strangers" or "The Cost of Being" or "Virginal Ardor Welcome". I hope these themes touch upon the lives of youth and the ubiquitous relevance of religion.

MartinT said...

You highlight a difficult dilemma! On the one hand, peripheral Catholics have souls and at least are in a position to be evangelized. On the other hand, do we end up playing to the lowest common demoninator because we need their money or social approval?

I think in the past, a confident Church could accommodate its peripheral members from a position of mutual respect. I suspect there are fewer such Catholics now (although I am still impressed at how many appear at Christmas).

John Nolan said...

I would suggest that there are many lapsed Catholics who have more respect for the Holy Father and the Magisterium than a lot of practising (or as they are now called "committed") Catholics who seem to take a pride in flaunting their dissent and disobedience.

Gigi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elizabeth said...

I agree with John. Also the idea that everyone is expected to receive Holy Communion is very wrong. We should be focusing on ourselves not on other people. If someone does not receive Communion it really is no one elses business. Too many gossips and busybodies in the Church, who often don't know what the Church teaches in difficult cases. I'm thinking of those in a second marriage. Better that they should come to Church and not receive Communion than they not come at all. I've seen a lot of distress caused by pressure from other Catholics and it's very wrong.