Teach them to walk before you ask them to run

Teach them to walk before you ask them to run

Rod Dreher has an excellent editorial in the Dallas Morning News today, observing that for the US bishops to start lecturing Catholic politicians and voters about integrating morality into their civic lives is putting the cart before the horse.

The child sex abuse scandal and the evacuation of moral authority it caused is part of it, but there’s a more fundamental problem here: For an entire generation, Catholics in this country have not been taught the basics of the faith.

In a powerful essay published in The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic newspaper, Father Joseph F. Wilson writes that this communion controversy is taking place as if the church in America has clearly and forcefully taught its people what the Eucharist is, and why abortion is so morally repugnant. Nonsense, says the Brooklyn priest, who argues that parishes have fed their people a steady diet of noncontroversial, content-free “mommy religion” for so long that nobody should be surprised that Catholics don’t understand what the church teaches, and why.

  • I will add that I must have a better pastor than most. While my parish has its problems (it is Massachusetts after all and hedon’t want to.” They may not want to but if the people don’t even know the basic Church teachings how can they make up their minds?

    I am one of those lay people who does wind up pointing out Church teachings and am constantly astounded at how many people do not know anything about them. Usually these are young women and, while they like our prayer meetings and conversations, they have no interest in picking up a book or looking up information. Its like a foreign concept for a lot of them (which in itself is very hard for a book lover like me to understand). They know that abortion is condemned by the church but are very fuzzy on the “pro-choice” part … “isn’t that different?” How about Church teachings on homosexuality? They haven’t got a clue. Or, more basic still, how about the fact that Mary was always virgin? “You mean Jesus didn’t have brothers and sisters?” I’m not kidding, these are the very questions that came up a couple of weeks ago.

    If they don’t read and they are ignorant, then they are like people during the Middle Ages. There is nowhere to get information except when it is presented in homilies or from people like me. They’re not listening to me at a set time every week. They ARE listening to our priest as they all are as faithful as they know how to be.

    I’m not knocking the idea of the informed lay person but shouldn’t the people be able to depend on their leaders for the truth? The priests and bishops are the ones who God called to “feed My sheep.” You can’t blame the sheep for that.

  • Hey Kelly Clark –

    Yeah – a powerful post.  But…

    1) Yes – Catholics don’t go along with Catholic moral teaching because they don’t want to.  But that is a perfect summary of all of fallen mankind.  (Eve – “I know I know I’m not supposed to pick that apple, but I really, really want to…)  Christ’s whole mission is to turn us into the sorts of people who are like him – who want to do what is right because we have become like him, and because we trust and love God with all our hearts, souls and minds.  And we can never and will never become like him unless we are taught right from wrong, and submit ourselves to that moral obedience in trust, as our souls are worked on.  The reason so many Catholics don’t want to is that they don’t have the slightest clue what Christ is all about…  And THAT – is because Christ’s Church has become a meaningless nullity in many locales, and because our priests, men who are to live ‘in persona Christi’ live instead in the love of self.  With nothing to inspire them, and no one to teach them, we’ll all become little Eves…
    2) We MUST complain and complain loudly about our bishops (and many of our priests).  You are right that our mission (every Christian’s mission) is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.  But part of that is precisely to denounce the evil that often comes forth from the powers that be in our Church.  Christ let the Pharisees have it (rhetorically).  We should do no less;
    3) Whether it be the priests and bishops who have fallen away, or the laity which has – we all need to help each other up the hill upon which the City of God rests;
    4)  One reason to post objections to what the bishops do is that people read these things.  A lot of these posts on this site show 100, 200 readings…  Some of these readers are priests; some are involved and active laity; some are lost souls…  This is one small way to start changing things…  Yeah?

  • I understand the point Julie and Sinner are making but I have to back up Kelly here. Is it a tragedy that catechesis has been so bad, and priests and bishops haven’t been preaching properly? ABSOLUTELY! But, why do I and many other Catholic bloggers know their faith? Because we have cared enough to go and search for the information. I don’t understand how someone can claim to be faithful yet ignorant. The information is there: the web, free tapes, book up the ying-yang, etc. If you want to know your faith better, the resources are there, use them. Do the bishops and priests have much to answer for? YES. But ultimately, it is up to the individual to not remain in ignorance, unless they want to be ignorant.

  • A few years ago, a Catholic friend asked journalist Terry Mattingly why it was that, having left the Episcopal Church, he became Eastern Orthodox instead of Catholic. Mr. Mattingly replied that he had young children, and he wanted to raise them in the apostolic faith. And he knew what the odds were if he entered the Catholic Church of finding himself in a parish where the preaching was puerile at best, heretical at worst, and where the liturgy would feature serious abuses.

    In St Blogs, it’s pretty easy to find people who are generally satisfied with their parish, or with other resources (monasteries, retreat houses) available to them. Sometimes these people express puzzlement at the frustration expressed by others.

    I hear from the others all the time—incessantly. Catholics who are deathly sick of their parishes where the Faith is trivialized. It is even more gravely wearing on them if they are responsible for others—parents of families, faithful CCD teachers, curates of looney pastors. It is very disturbing to a parent to have to tell his child that the priest taught something wrong from the pulpit, or to have to battle CCD authorities so his child is not led away from Catholicism.

    Ever since the foundation of the Church, the primary way in which we encounter the Lord Jesus is by, through and in the life of His Church. I can indeed plug away at the Ignatius Press catalogue, listen to Scott Hahn tapes, and watch EWTN till my eyes bubble. But that will not substitute for participation in reverent worship conducted according to the mind of the Church, and vigorous, apostolic teaching and preaching.

    And not everyone is able to self-educate in Catholic doctrine, and not everyone even realizes when he’s been misled.  And when people who actually reach out are fed poison, as can easily happen in RCIA or CCD, is it really an answer that they should find the resources to teach themselves? (I know of several stories of people who approached priests seeking to convert to Catholicism, who were turned away—‘We really don’t do that anyore!’ Two of these people were nonCatholic clergy!).

  • [continued]

    Several of the bishops have recently raised questions about pro-abortion pols receiving Holy Communion. I have heard not a single bishop address the point, or evidence any awareness whatsoever that most of their people have simply never been instructed about the importance of being in a state of grace to receive Communion.

    I realize that there are people who are weary of hearing about the bishops. But I can’t think that I’m supposed to stop being concerned for the many people I hear from who are not being fed by their Church. As a parish priest, one of the most deeply, pervasively frustrating things about our situation is the ludicrous inconsistency of our catechesis, Church-wide. In this highly mobile society, even if I teach as carefully and consistently as possible, I am faced with a situation where, each year, a significant percentage of my people will have moved (to another place, likely of uncertain catechesis), and their places will have been taken by others (from other places, likely of uncertain catechesis). And what I teach about the Catholic Faith is often undermined by the more enlightened priest in the next parish. One feels as though one has a soup spoon, and the task of moving an ocean.

    But I can’t do otherwise than point out that we’re in a terrible crisis, and at best are just affixing band-aids to the wounds. There’s no way to effectively be Church unless your bishop is going to bish.  Today, their idea of bishing seems to be that ++Portland and +Colorado Springs think pro-abort pols shouldn’t receive, +Colorado Springs thinks voters voting for pro-abort pols shouldn’t either, ++Washington ‘isn’t comfortable’ denying the Eucharist to pro-abort pols, and ++San Francisco says John Kerry is “most welcome” to receive communion. Apparently, we now have a Eucharistic discipline which is dependant upon diocesan bounaries.

    Very helpful, +guys.

  • Wow! Thanks for pointing me to that great article Kelly. It really covers everything that has been discussed above if you think about it.

  • “I have heard not a single bishop address the point, or evidence any awareness whatsoever that most of their people have simply never been instructed about the importance of being in a state of grace to receive Communion. “

    Dear Father,

    Sadly, millions of American Catholics today do not know diddly about their own faith.  The Catholic house in America is a shambly wreck.  Rather than add a brick here or there to that wreck, the Pope should bring in a steam shovel, rip out the wreck, recast the foundation, start over and rebuild a house worthy of God.

    I feel for you, Father.