The Fruit of Modernism

Someone asked me yesterday why so many of the Catholic priests he has known have been such weak preachers. “They never seem to say much at all,” he complained. “Just watered down ‘do-gooder’ type stuff. We never hear about the real issues or hear anything red blooded about the battles that are going on in our society and in our families and what we should do about it.”

I replied that it seemed to me that this was one of the fruits of modernist Biblical scholarship and priestly formation. It works like this: the basic assumption of the modernist is that the Bible is an inspired book in the way that, say, William Shakespeare is inspired. It is certainly not the uniquely inspired Word of God. It is a human book–a document of its times of certain historical, cultural, liturgical and theological interest, to be sure. It is even a unique testament to Christian history and thought, but it is certainly not the infallible Word of God.

The same approach then attaches to the authority of the Church. The Pope is seen as ane elected leader like many elected leaders (even if his manner of election is non representative and archaic) He becomes one who is merely ‘the mouthpiece of the people of God.’ He exercises an “authority of love and service” which is code for, “if he doesn’t say what I love and serve my special interest I won’t listen to him.” Like the Scriptures, the church’s authority is merely one of historical interest and cultural significance. It is a voice of authority among many voices of authority, but there is certainly nothing supernatural or transcendent about it.

If priests have been formed with these views as the basic assumptions, then how could they possibly speak with any authority at all? Their views are merely opinions like anyone else’s. All they would be able to say is, “I think, perhaps, it could be said that, in a manner of speaking it is possible to assert, but on the other hand, it is also true to say…”

The result is preaching that is pusillanimous, leadership that is lax and a ministry that is all sweetness and no light.

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  • Jeannine

    I think that you must be right about this, but it isn’t the whole picture. Even some priests who are orthodox in their beliefs seem not to think of preaching the hard truths. Maybe two other factors were involved: first, that the people who taught them to preach were modernists who did not truly believe the Bible to be divinely inspired or salvation to be necessary; and second, that they also taught the priests-in-training that the congregation is too stupid to understand the truths of the faith. I think that modernists also tend to believe that “the people” don’t really need to know such things. The universal call to holiness is something that I don’t often hear from the pulpit.Thank you for your insightful and inspiring blog!

  • Yep, I think that’s it, Father. For what it’s worth, the same sort of problem shows up too in modernist Protestant preaching, to which I’ve had a lot more exposure. No real authority.

  • Preach it, Fr. Dwight!

  • love it

  • Benfan

    I can’t make up my mind on this one. Here’s the problem I have. When you know something you are bound to act. If you do not act when you have knowledge then it places you in a more serious situation. I think Jesus says something about this along the lines that someone who drops the ball will get a beating, but someone who knows the truth and still drops the ball will get a far worse one (my paraphrase). Quite a few people are unable to grapple with the truths of the faith. They are the lambs and lambs follow the sheep. Historically the Church made it quite clear what the lambs had to do and what was expected of them and they obeyed. Lambs who presented themselves with enquiring minds to the sheep were shipped off to religious schools and into holy orders. That way their intellect could be used for the glory of God and the Church.So I think knowledge in the wrong hands can be dangerous to some.Having said that I also agree strongly with your observations indeed they are painfully familiar to me. I have heard a shy priest suggest the Church is not where it should be in relation to this sin or that sin. Here is Fr. shy and kind thinking he has a right to pass judgement on the moral direction of the Roman Catholic Church who oversees the souls of of 1.4bn people worldwide. I find this kind of arrogance really staggering. Also, using the role of priest to express your own doubt about the faith. Standing up on the altar and saying how hard it is to believe this dogma or that dogma and my own “personal difficulties” with it. I know we all have difficulties sometimes or all the time but the point of being a priest is to preach THE FAITH not your problems with the Faith (or more frequently your own version of it). I think they don’t believe in the reality of Jesus Christ. It is some sort of philosophy now and nobody knows anything for certain. So they end up painting God as Mr. Blobby in the sky who’s just dying to give everyone a big cuddle.

  • I tend to think it’s fear of negative reaction that keeps most priests silent.I go to a great parish with hardcore preaching, and I believe the priests do take some flak for it. Once, the modest dress code provoked this hysterical reaction: “God will judge you, Father, for judging me!” Who wants to put up with that? It takes a true pastor with a great heart to do what is best for his congregation.