What’s Killing American Catholicism – 2

I’m continuing a series on things that are destroying American Catholicism. They all begin with the letter ‘C’–as does the solution to the problem.

You can use the ‘Categories’ tool to pull up the whole series as they are written. Here is a link to the first article in the series on Cultural Catholicism

If you would like to copy these articles for publication in parish newsletters or bulletins or to re-publish elsewhere you are welcome. Please just email me to discuss the best way to do this.

Cultural Catholicism which blends a particular culture with the Catholic faith is destroying American Catholicism because it keeps the faithful from seeing that Catholicism, by its very definition, should transcend culture and challenge culture.

The second thing that is killing American Catholicism is another ‘C’ word: Complacency. Too many American Catholics are complacent. They are lukewarm, and when a church is lukewarm (as it says in the Book of Revelation) God will spit them out. Why are American Catholics lukewarm in their faith? The problem is not simply laziness. It is linked with the first problem of cultural Catholicism.

Too many American Catholics have soaked up the materialistic spirit of the American age totally uncritically. They have chosen the way of materialism, hedonism, utilitarianism and consumerism, and this has dulled their commitment to Christ and the gospel. What are all these “ism’s”? Materialism is not simply buying lots of stuff at the mall. It is also a philosophy that the physical world is really all that matters. This translates into an attitude about the church in which all that matters is the good works of feeding the poor and doing peace and justice. While these things are important–to focus on them alone makes the church, (as Pope Francis says) no more than an NGO–just another charity.

Hedonism is the pleasure principle. If it feels good do it. You needn’t be a debauched drug addict to be a hedonist. Your a perfectly good candidate for the hedonist party with your dedication to a nice, comfortable middle class lifestyle. If you live for pleasure–even if it is a refined and tasteful pleasure–you’re a hedonist.

Utilitarianism is putting practicality first. It is relying on worldly common sense rather then the Holy Spirit. It is making choices according to the bottom line, efficiency and practicality. Most American Catholics choose birth control, for example, because it is a practical, seemingly common sense decision. While we should be practical and efficient and choose wisely–we are also called not just to be practical, but radical. The saints are never utilitarian. Instead they are devoted to the wild and wonderful and unpredictable love of God.

Finally, consumerism is not just soaking up just as much of the world’s resources as possible. It is also a mentality that one is a customer. It’s Frank Sinatra’s theme song, “I Did it My Way”. It’s the attitude, “I’m paying. I’ll choose.” When this attitude comes into the church everybody is the loser. It breeds discontent, disorder and dissent.

Together these “ism’s” produce a kind of lethargy in the American Catholic Church. There’s a deadness and torpor. Eyes glaze over. Parishes become like yesterday’s porridge: cold and hard to stir. The fire is gone. The Church is complacent.

How to counter complacency? By another ‘C’ word: Compassion. By ‘compassion’ I don’t simply mean feeling sorry for people. Instead I mean what the word means: “Passion With”. Passion is emotion that is disciplined and informed and active. “Compassion” is emotion and fire for God that is disciplined, informed and active. Compassion in this sense is an active nurturing of the love of God which is put into action to counteract the consumerism, utilitarian, hedonism and materialism of our society.

This “Compassion” starts not with a movement or a sermon or a new rule or regulation for religion. It starts in the human heart. It starts in each individual human heart.

It starts now. With my heart. It starts now with yours.

Read the first article in this series here.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://twitter.com/mpav mpav

    Peter Kreeft: The national anthem of hell is “I Did it My Way”

  • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

    Another excellent article, although I think some clarification is appropriate.

    The Catholic Church is not anti-pleasure at all. Quite the contrary, the Catholic faith is a very sensual faith. In fact, the Catholic Church has condemned as heresy multiple times the idea that pleasure and beauty are bad.

    The problem with hedonism is that it puts a disproportionate emphasis on pleasure. Pursue pleasure as an ends and you will never be satisfied; follow God and you will find satisfaction and joy in the process.

    Hedonism is like eating junk food: It’s easy and it’s tasty, but it’s unsatisfying and unhealthy. The Catholic faith offers far more. It is when the Church stops offering more that it becomes complacent and dies.

    • ColdStanding

      We need more Buddy Jesus statues! They make me feel good.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I can think of a word that starts with T that matters more: TRANSPARENCY.

  • mark west

    Neither culture nor complacency killed my catholic faith. I grew up in the Philadelphia area, where our Catholic faith had a good start at surviving the ethnic cultures we left behind. What killed my faith was discovering that each of the parishes in which I’ve lived, throughout my life, were staffed by pedophiles. Everybody’s favorite priest from grade school was a serial molester. In the 30 years since I graduated catholic high school, we’ve learned that not fewer than six priests, all teachers, have been removed for sexual improprieties and/or rape. We learned that the pastor in the parish in which we registered to raise our children was a thief and a rapist. The pastor in our new parish has been removed, permanently, for sex crimes. None of it rumor, or innuendo; all of it has acknowledged by the Archdiocese, the police, our communities. What finally and permanently destroyed my catholic faith? The realization that not one of these important catholic teachers ever really believed what they taught us; each was in fact a deep and abiding liar. Because of this, a moral pole star was destroyed. None of us can pass along a tattered faith to our adult children. This F is not ours, this F belongs to the Church. Don’t condescend to suggest that materialism or hedonism in our community is why we have turned our families from an organization of dangerous criminals. It is too late; charters or reforms will change nothing. You just don’t see it.

    • Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your comment. I’m hearing you. There are more ‘C’ words to come in the series: Corruption and Clericalism….

    • ve6

      wow, that’s quite a comment!

    • david

      … and yet you still come to read, to learn, to share and possibly to heal (?) Continue your search and I will continue to pray for you and all who have suffered so.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      We have a steady stream of converts at my parish. They typically say the Scandal does not change the fact that Christ founded the Catholic Church; and it contains the fullness of Truth.

    • LongIslandMichael

      Mark,
      I understand your anger, sense of betrayal and frustration. I am not going to lay out an argument for the reasons for the criminal behavior of these “priests” but I will pray for you and only ask that you pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

    • Brad

      Men who are scum of the earth can confect the Body and Blood all day long for me and I will thank them for it, and thank the Church Fathers who destroyed that heresy long ago. Without the Body and Blood, and confession, I am dead man walking, right now, today. When I am talking with the Lord at my particular judgment we will not be discussing other men and their sins. “And enter not into judgment with Thy servant, For no one living is justified before Thee.”

    • Phil Steinacker

      What a rant. Seen it before, too. Blaming others for your own loss of faith is commonplace, and you don’t need pedophiles to do it. My nieces lost theirs, too, and don’t blame the Church. I lost mine for years as well, and never blamed the Church – it’s not her responsibility.
      Let’s get more targeted. So you feel so strongly against the Church. So what are you doing about standing against even greater volume of sex abuse on kids occurring in the public school system? How outraged are you at the complicity of the teachers unions, the school boards, the school districts – for CURRENTLY and HISTORICALLY moving around teachers they know are violators to a degree that makes the bishops look like saints?
      A major US Dept of Ed study in 2005 revealed the sexual abuse of kids in the public schools across the US occurs 100 times more often than in the Catholic Church!
      Finally, do you know how often dioceses throw under the bus priest who are often innocent? Do you know it’s beginning to emerge that a number of priests have been convicted falsely?
      Like EACH of us, friend, YOU are responsible for your own loss of faith – NO ONE ELSE! Do you think this is the worst time in the history of the Church? You’ve hardly been tested friend, and you’ve already collapsed. We al need to keep you in our prayers. I will certainly keep you in mine.

  • PJ

    I’m lovin’ your series Father! It is good for me to read each one over again, to fully absorb and take to heart what you’ve written on the topic. Keep up the good work and may God continue to bless you!

  • ck

    I agree that complacency is definitely a big problem. I homeschooled three of my children and incorporated as much of our Catholic faith as I could, including bringing them to daily mass. One thing they started pointing out was how the bishops kept making it easier & easier to be an “only Sunday Catholic”. With the various changes the USCCB has made, including moving holy days to Sundays, it seems that they are trying too hard to make participation at Mass easy. Where is the sacrifice of our time to come to church outside of the Sunday service? In my parish recently, we have had unprepared readers, altar servers with no training and not enough reverence because the priest doesn’t want to deal with the training, and the “Eucharistic Ministers” discussing on the altar where they are supposed to go. The importance of accountability and reverence needs to be in play to help keep the complacency and ho-hum attitudes at bay. Even with all that, I am thankful for all the converts we continue to receive in our church. I just wish the higher ups would realize that a lot of people are ready for the church to stop being so easy in order to weed out those church goers who are bringing it down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001559457004 Ivonne Perez

    this article to me did not make any sense

  • JB Manos

    I disagree with much here. For one thing, the “flow” of the AmChurch was forced onto ethnic immigrants by bishops and priests. The last people to go “with the flow” are ethnic immigrants. Rather, the AmChurch is viewed by them as the gateway drug to nondenominational nothingness that is stealing their children by assimilation that is caused by AmChurch errors and silence. http://bellarmineforum.org/2013/05/02/what-really-killed-the-catholic-church-in-america/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000700840534 Anne Cregon Parks

    I would also add that very few existing bishops and archbishops say anything in the face of all the public politicians who can’t say enough for gay marriage and abortion yet still present themselves for the Eucharist and publically call themselves Catholic. Kathleen Sebalis calls herself Catholic and next to Obama she is the biggest merchant of death there is! It disgusts me that the bishops say nothing to defend the Church that Jesus gave us and try to be politically correst instead of speaking out. I guess the bishops must agree with them otherwise their conscience would make them speak out…the Church has lost it’s moral authority and may be linked to the sexual abuse scandal. A common thread of looking the other way.

    • Brad

      It would be nice if the Bishops were more outspoken, yes, but expecting them to be “that way” is how the Jews misjudged the Messiah when He came: they wanted Him to be a soci-economic-political-military tour de force and he came according to the law of Charity, not Authority, riding a borrowed donkey and not one of Solomon’s thousand chargers. So don’t worry about politican xyz approaching Holy Communion. How about myself, o my soul? The Lord knows the state of all who approach Him. He sees to the marrow. To insinuate otherwise is itself a problem.

      Ye have wearied Jehovah with your words, And ye have said: ‘In what have
      we wearied Him?’ In your saying: ‘Every evil-doer is good in the eyes
      of the Lord, And in them He is delighting,’ Or, ‘Where is the God of
      judgment?’ Malachi 2:17

  • Pingback: Why American Catholics Are Not Okay? Part 2 by Fr. Dwight Longenecker | Deacon John's Space

  • Dan C

    Quote the Pope all you want, but you are cherry picking Francis if this is what you pick up on for a quote about the poor.

    “Materialism is not simply buying lots of stuff at the mall. It is also a philosophy that the physical world is really all that matters. This translates into an attitude about the church in which all that matters is the good works of feeding the poor and doing peace As and justice.”

    Taking care of the poor is a like a gateway drug to Jesus.

    Quite frankly, since the folks who read you are likely to be conservative, and as a culture warrior, perhaps this is an applause line. But it masks the truth. The truth is that whether or not the individual knows the poor are Jesus, the poor are Jesus. (I reference Matthew 25.) As a consequence, serving the poor is an ancient technique of meeting Christ. We know Christ in the Eucharist and in the poor. These are first generation Christian theological points. It is one of the first ways in which the Church came to understand Christ real and present in the world.

    Your comment, a red meat conservative commentary that warns folks away from excess charity or seeing the Church as something that should involve itself in the poor, is weak ministry to an audience that reflexively thinks that way. The challenge is that the poor must be lavisciously sacrificed for, as Mother Theresa or Martin de Porres or Dorothy Day.

    The poor must be the center of the Church, and you do not portray that at all. Your message differs from that. And your words about the poor are not at all congruous with this. It teaches a different direction and has no place whatsoever in the essay. In fact, I claim the opposite. It is because the Acton Party of Catholic and Christian thought is so strong in American Catholicism, that the poor are not the center of the Church and as a consequence the Church is sick in America. The poor are not in the suburban Churches and most dioceses, in order to preserve the suburban Churches, are cutting as many services to poor parishes as much as possible.

    Your line is out of place, your conservative culture warrior rhetoric is misplaced, and you confuse the people most likely to read you with an applause line that lacks any value for this essay.

    • Phil Steinacker

      As usual, the Catholyc Left continues to peddle falsehood about the poor. The poor are NOT the center of the Church – NOBODY human is the center of the Church except for Jesus, and He is its Head.
      Remember, Jesus also said we will always have the poor with us. Yet, while we are unable to make poverty go away we may also be blessed to have them with us so we have continuing opportunities to see Jesus in them.
      However, the poor are NOT Jesus, and you err in claiming that. Yes, we all know Jesus said when you clothed my least brothers you clothed Me, and so on, but that is metaphor – in the same way the Eucharist is a “meal” is a metaphor when it is actually Sacrifice.
      Still, I have to give you props for a more creative left-wing spin of Catholic social teaching than I usually encounter. Who taught you theology – Nancy Pelosi?

      • Dan C

        The Right wing can never credibly claim orthodoxy until it develops the theology of the poor which recognizes Christ in the poor. In this ancient teaching, back to the Fathers of the Church, we see Christ and this is an avenue by which we know Christ.

        The Right wing instead has genuflected in front of organizations which claim to be bravely defending the wealthy, like Acton.

        True, the Church always finds Lucan Gospels as less significant, despite the fact that Luke wrote so so many pages of the Gospel to a poor audience, describing how they are blessed. The Catholic Right’ when it denies this, denies Christ.

  • LongIslandMichael

    Thanks Father. I am really enjoying these articles and it is helping me to take a hard look at myself and my own failings.


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