A reader writes:

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I just read your article “It didn’t go out with Vatican II”. It was very timely for me because of something I have been struggling with in my faith. I hope you can address it in your blog. I have just finished reading Donna Steichen’s Ungodly Rage, and must say, I feel like someone just took more wind out of my sails. You see, my former bishop (Remi de Roo) was mentioned in the book and has since been asked to resign as a result of his failure to adhere to canon law in the management of Diocese funds and his loss of said funds to the tune of 17 million dollars. Not only was I ignorant of his controversial postion on issues like women’s ordination and married priests (in 1999 he was asked by the Vatican to remove his name from the list of speakers at an upcoming Married Priests Conference), but of his admiration for so-called “Catholic theologians” like Rosemary Ruether and Elisabeth Fiorenza. This, particularly, boggles the mind. I have also encountered, in one of my parishes (I’ve moved a few times in the last few years), nuns who were promoting and facilitating Enneagram workshops and a priest who gave a homily on the “loaves and fishes miracle” as being a “miracle of sharing” – by the way, I heard your comments on this “theology of Barney” on a radio show–funny! If this weren’t enough, I recently sought some advice from my aunt, a nun in her late 60′s after one of my Bible study classes dissolved into a defence of homosexuality, only to learn that she was “stuck on the fact that heterosexuals get to marry and everything is fine, and homosexuals can’t and so can never live a fulfilled sexual life as practicing Catholics and therefore are in a lot of pain.” She even referred to the tired “Spirit of Vatican II” phrase. Not only couldn’t I believe what I was hearing, I had to remind her of what the Bible and the Catholic Catechism has to say about the matter. While she conceded that “If you rely on the Catechism, you can’t go wrong” I was still dismayed. I guess I figured, “If I can’t go to my own aunt, a nun, for sound advice, who can I go to?”. In the last year I’ve had a friend tell me she really like Joan Chittister’s book “Heart of Flesh”, a fellow parishioner telling me she’s pro-choice, and I’ve had to complain to our pastoral assistant about several books I’d unwittingly borrowed from the parish library that turned out to be anti-Catholic diatribes advocating progressive Catholicism and “new ways of looking at the person of Jesus (i.e. not really Divine at all). I’m getting really discouraged. I really respect your level-headed approach to matters of faith so I’d like to ask “how do you maintain a charitable attitude towards those who would seek to distort the Catholic faith to their own ends, to co-exist peacefully in the Church with them without compromising the Truth of the faith, and to not be an alarmist (that is, imagine dissent where none may, in fact, exist) but not be naiive either. Some days, Mark, I really miss the days of my blissful ignorance. Could you please offer some advice?

In a curious way, I was helped and comforted by two unlikely allies when I became a Catholic: Archbishop Hunthausen and John Henry Cardinal Newman. I converted to the Faith during the raucous tenure of Archbishop Hunthausen, when the Seattle Archdiocese was a major mess. So far from upsetting me, it comforted me, because *I* was a major mess and it was abundantly clear to me that the Catholic Church was not held together by people living in perfection, but by grace. Indeed, coming out of sectarian Protestantism, I was heartily sick of the weirdly Darwinian view of holiness that is so often lived there, with people forever drawing in their skirts from one another over this or that that failure. I wrote a piece once to try to describe what I mean.

Anyway, the strangely comforting messiness of the Church meant that here was a place for slobs, loosers, factory rejects, and screwups: in a word, me. And when I read Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, I was still more comforted to find out that t’was ever thus. What occasioned the writings of the New Testament? The Church was a mess. “Don’t sleep with your mother. Don’t worship angels. Stop attacking my apostolic office. Quit your drinking and your blood feuds. Don’t hive off into apostasy. Stop saying Jesus wasn’t really a man”. This is a small sample of the sort of trouble the apostles had to deal with. And it just goes on into the rest of history. The Great Councils were not academic exercises. They were desperate, near-run things–emergency surgery to save a desperately sick Body of Christ. Dittos for the Dark Ages: not happy times for the Church. The Cluniac Reforms were necessary because the Church was in deep doo doo. The writings of St. Thomas were ocassioned by loony people saying and doing loony things. The Renaissance Church was a mess. The Church during the Enlightenment was a mess. The Church before Vatican II was a mess and the Church is still a mess today. “So it’s the same Church!” says Newman with fetching logic.

God has chosen to reveal himself in a human way. In assuming humanity, it is fallen humanity he assumes (though he is without sin). For this reason, the Body of Christ is sinless and Holy, yet all the members but Mary are sinners. And “sinner” means not “roguish but loveable rascals” but “desperately wicked people whose redemption required the brutal murder of God by torture to redeem”.

In short, part of the task of a Christian is to face the same facts that Jesus faced: the sinners he has come to redeem (that’d be us) are not nice people and are prone to betrayal, confusion, wickedness and a proclivity for getting fogbound. Merely happening to wear a pointy hat or a veil does nothing to minimize that.

But that’s not cause for despair. It’s cause for prudence and resolve and hope. Given the fact that we are a fallen race, the wonderful thing is how much God has done for us and how much more he means to do. The wonder is not that your bishop failed, that your aunt got fuddled, that teachers teach crapola at times, but that they still have the chance to change and grow and that God will not leave them where they are. Our task is not to be afraid or discouraged, but to press on and seek cleaner fountains if the ones we tried to drink at were undrinkable. They do exist.

The Church will *always* be wheat and tares, bad fish and good, until the Parousia. Our part, as Gandalf says, is to decide what we are going to do with the time given to us.


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