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On the Need For Dialogue

Therefore, let us not be provoked with these men, let us not use anger as an excuse, but let us talk with them gently and with kindness. Nothing is more forceful and effective than treatment which is gentle and kind. This is why Paul told us to hold fast to such conduct with all the earnestness of our hearts when he said: “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome but must be kindly toward all.” He did not say “only to your brothers,” but “toward all.” And again, when he said: “Let your gentleness be known,” he did not say “to your brothers,” but “to all men.” What good does it do you, he means, if you love those who love you?

(St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Homily 1.40)

While doing the somewhat irritating task of studying non-Catholic Christian theologies, I came across this “interesting” claim from an Eastern Orthodox professor about what Catholics supposedly believe:

A natural consequence of this is the attempt of Roman Catholics to dematerialize as much as possible the offered gifts of the Eucharist, since they represent symbolically the completed transubstantiation. The bread of the Eucharist is not the everyday bread of people; they have replaced it with “hosts”, an unleavened, almost transparent preparation. And they deprive the laity of sharing in the cup, because the taste of the wine is dangerously opposed to the idea of transubstantiation. (Yannaris, Christos. Elements of Faith: An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith)

To which, the informed Catholic is tempted to respond in this manner:

 

 

The reason we are tempted respond this way (and the reason I call studying non-Catholic theology “irritating”) is because the author of the book is either grossly ignorant or deliberately deceptive about what Catholics believe to the point of being insulting.

In doing so, he invented a ridiculous reason to explain why we “believe” something so foolish. But Catholic belief on Transubstantiation does not have anything to do with what Professor Yannaris falsely claims we believe.

[Excursus: Before going forward, I want to make something clear. When I say these writings—described or quoted in this article—speak falsely or falsehoods about us, it doesn’t mean that I automatically accuse them of deliberately lying. I leave it to God to judge whether they who speak falsely lied or simply erred. Rather, based on Aristotle’s definition of truth, the person who says of what is, that it is not, or says of what is not, that it is, speaks falsely. All lies are falsehoods, but not all falsehoods are lies. A lie is when a person knowingly says what is false. But a person who believes a falsehood is true or repeats it without investigating whether or not it is true does not lie, but still speaks falsely. Whatever their culpability, because Catholics do not believe what they accuse us of, these claims should be rejected as false by all people of good will.]

We have the same problems when modern anti-Catholics repeat the falsehoods of Luther, Calvin, and others. They speak falsely about what we believe, take Scripture and Patristics out of context [¥], and invent a false motive for why we “believe” them. It seems like a huge poisoning the well fallacy used to turn the reader against considering the Catholic perspective before they ever encounter it.

For example, Calvin’s misrepresentation of Catholic concepts of repentance as external works (for example, Insitutes of the Christian Religion Book III Chapter 4) and his claims of what we believe about Confession are plain and simple falsehoods, misquoting people like St. Thomas Aquinas to make it seem as if the Catholic Church invented doctrines, either ignoring or being ignorant of the fact that the Saint anticipated and answered his objections 300 years previously.

Ironically, Luther was quite angry at those who dared to misrepresent him. In his introduction to the Smalcald Articles [€] he writes (The Annotated Luther, volume 2, p. 425):

I must tell a story. A doctor sent from France was here in Wittenberg. He stated publicly in our presence that his king was persuaded beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no church, no government, and no marriage among us, but rather that everyone carried on with each other like cattle, and all did what they wanted. Now imagine, how will those people, who in their writings have represented as pure truth such gross lies to the king and to other countries, face us on that day before the judgment seat of Christ? Christ, the Lord and Judge of us all, surely knows that they lie and have lied. They will have to hear his judgment again; that I know for sure.

Yet, he and Calvin did exactly that with Catholic teachings. Luther was correct in saying that those speaking falsely would be judged. But he apparently didn’t ask questions about whether what he said was true. As Our Lord said in Matthew 7:2, For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

Unfortunately, some Catholics are guilty of doing what anti-Catholics do to us. Some are perfectly willing to yank quotes out of context and repeat things as truth without investigating whether they were actually said or what they meant. Then there’s the Catholics who commit the same calumny against Muslims that 19th and 20th century Americans used against us [*]. If it’s wrong for non-Catholics to misrepresent us, then logically we must not misrepresent them either. As the Catechism points out:

2464 The eighth commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in our relations with others. This moral prescription flows from the vocation of the holy people to bear witness to their God who is the truth and wills the truth. Offenses against the truth express by word or deed a refusal to commit oneself to moral uprightness: they are fundamental infidelities to God and, in this sense, they undermine the foundations of the covenant.

I think this is where the oft maligned concept of dialogue comes into play. Dialogue is not a stealth attempt to make the Catholic Church “Protestant” (a popular charge from the anti-Vatican II crowd). Dialogue [#] is “discussion directed towards exploration of a subject or resolution of a problem” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). The Catholic Church enters discussion with other groups to eliminate misunderstandings and resolve needless religious conflicts with the aim of working to restore communion. The Code of Canon Law makes this obligation clear:

can. 755 §1.† It is above all for the entire college of bishops and the Apostolic See to foster and direct among Catholics the ecumenical movement whose purpose is the restoration among all Christians of the unity which the Church is bound to promote by the will of Christ.

That doesn’t mean all problems will vanish once everyone understands what we believe and why. There will cases where the accurately understood beliefs of those involved in dialogue will conflict with each other. For example, the Catholic Church professes: “We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men” (Dignitatis Humanae #1) and “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium #14). So, Catholics cannot say that we have “part of” the truth and the “whole” will only be found in coming together.

This is obviously going to be a stumbling block. Faithful Catholics cannot deny these teachings or try to undermine them [^], while those who believe that the Catholic Church is in error and think that dialogue means we want them to embrace error will be scandalized. Many Christian denominations and non-Christian religions think we’re arrogant to make the claim that the fullness of truth is found in the Catholic Church. At the same time, those Catholics who either don’t know or don’t believe that Vatican II reaffirms the past teachings about her nature fear we’re going to “give away the store.” If we’re going to avoid needless conflict and perhaps close gaps between us, we need to make sure that all parties involved understand what the others believe and why, even if we disagree afterwards. As St. John Paul II put it during his June 26, 1985 audience: “On our part we shall make our entire commitment of prayer and of work for unity, by seeking the ways of truth in charity.”

But that unity can only happen if we [§] talk to each other instead of at each other; if we strive to understand what the other parties believe and why, instead of merely inserting our own meaning into something we don’t understand. That’s why the Church takes part in dialogue. And that’s why we must not treat it as some sort of “capitulation to error” when we take part. Because if the Church doesn’t take part, how will those who accuse us learn that their charges against us are false? And if they never learn that their charges are false, how can we hope to restore communion?

 

_____________

 

[¥] Reading Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity, I am struck by how brazenly he makes ipse dixit, argument from silence, and begging the question fallacies in claiming that the Scriptures that contradict him don’t count (e.g. “In the first place the sixth chapter of John must be entirely excluded from this discussion, since it does not refer to the sacrament in a single syllable” The Annotated Luther vol 3, p. 21) when it is precisely his assertions that need to be proven in the first place.

[€] The accusations in the Smalcald Articles are so bizarre that I find myself wondering just how bad Luther’s priestly formation was in his monastery that he could possibly believe the Church taught these things. If he wasn’t knowingly distorting things to justify his schism, it certainly explains why the Council of Trent insisted on a reform of priestly formation.

[*] No, they didn’t worry about a Catholic al-qaida. But they did worry about Al Capone.

[#] Technically, dialogue between different groups of Christians is “ecumenism.” Dialogue with non-Christians is “religious dialogue.”

[^] To make it clear to those who might misunderstand me, I fully believe and profess these things that the Church teaches.

[§] When I say “we,” I don’t mean individual Catholics should decide for themselves what the “real truth” is, ignoring what the Church teaches. The Church wisely warns against casual and uncritical reading of works hostile to the Church to prevent people from making a shipwreck of their faith. Too many think that if they don’t know an answer to a challenge, that means there is no answer. I suspect that many ex-Catholics are in this category.

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15 Responses

  1. Chris dorf says:

    Excellent commentary

  2. Marie says:

    I’m not sure exactly what is meant by “I leave it to God to judge whether they who speak falsely lied or simply erred” If you mean the person’s culpability, of course you leave that judgment to God. In responding to people, however, we need to apply reason and get some sense of understanding , in an effort to better know why they hold the position they hold.

    Dialogue requires at least two willing participants. If one is unwilling, the other may have no choice but to speak up, and firmly advocate for the truth, as they see it. Raymond Arroyo comes to mind. While he continues to ideologize our faith, and attack the Vicar of Christ, he refuses to have a guest on his show to counter the papal posse and their views.

    Should he be attacked for his looks, or his intelligence or where he lived or went to school, etc,,etc of course not! Should he be openly challenged on his attacks on the pope, his lack of diverse representation of thought, his clear omission of Catholic teaching in his arguments, etc. Absolutely! Can we openly question whether he is intentionally withholding truths to advocate his ideology under the guise of being a faithful’ Catholic who looooooves the Holy Father”? You bet. It doesn’t have to be all ‘sweetie’ either. Sometimes being firm, very firm is required.

  3. Christopher Lake says:

    In many of the articles and discussions that I read, online, among radical traditionalist Catholics, “ecumenism” and “dialogue” are often treated as virtually, if not *completely*, profane words. If these words meant what so many of these Catholics *take* them to mean– a giving away of the “Catholic farm,” so to speak, an unwillingness for Catholics to speak clearly about Catholics truths, so as to just “be nice and not offend” our non-Catholic dialogue partners– well, if these were *truly the meanings* that the Church’s teaching put into words like “ecumenism” and “dislogue,” then I would certainly agree with radtrads about the profanity of those words!

    However, when one actually reads official Church documents on ecumenism and dialogue, and when one really takes the time to *listen, at length*, to what Pope Francis says on these subjects, there is not anything close to a giving away of the “Catholic farm.” If one will simply take the time and the effort *not* to get all (or most) of one’s information about Pope Francis from regularly Francis-skeptical sites which quote him out of context, one will find that he has clearly said, in order for true, productive, ecumenism and dialogue to occur, the Catholic must be clear about both his/her agreements, *and his/her disagreements* with the non-Catholic, working from the basis of Church authority and what the Church teaches in Scripture and Tradition. Likewise, the non-Catholic must do the same, being open and honest about agreements and disagreements, while working from within *his/her differing framework*, whether that be Sola Scriptura, or even, another religion entirely.

    Pope Francis does view ecumenism and dialogue, and he practices them, ultimately, out of the hope and prayer that all Christians would be restored to the unity for which Christ fervently prayed in His high priestly prayer. Francis also deeply cares about non-Christians freely, willingly, coming to know Christ– which is why the Pope regularly extols “evangelization” and disdains “proselytizing.”

    As we Catholics rightly pursue these above goals though, Pope Francis *also* rightly sees, and exhorts us, that one of the true, real, and great goods of ecumenism and dialogue is to help us to live together without killing each other and even– imagine it!– to pursue things that, even among Christians and non-Christians, can be agreed upon as pertaining to the common good. This is not a watering down of Catholic truth. It is *a crucial part of* Catholic truth.

  4. espiritu ven says:

    You are so right Marie!!! I agree 100%. All it takes for evil to triumph is to for good people to do nothing. Or for reasonable or right people to excuse the evildoers.

    We forget the stern warnings to “evildoers” in the bible. Doing evil in the name of God is considered an unforgiveable sin.

  5. M. says:

    I don’t know guys…I’m starting to give up on this crowd. There are a few anti-Francis Catholics that are just being led astray by the constant barrage, and I can see it’s hard for them to believe that *all* the sites they previously trusted could be wrong now. After all, it sort of makes one question the entire worldview of “Faithful Catholics” previous to Francis, too, I mean- how long have we been going off track here? The your whole faith foundation can start to kind of get shaky, as in…”heck, maybe I’m actually a liberal Catholic? What the…???” But I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I’m starting to wash my hands of it, and I’m not sure if that’s ok, but frankly, I’m exhausted thinking about how to reach these folks. They truly can’t hear us. Their ears are blocked. They are absolutely, 100 percent convinced that they are enlightened and know the truth and that those who follow the Pope are blue pilled idiots who can’t think straight. There is literally *no getting through to them. Ears closed, blinders on, and earplugs with noise cancelling headphones firmly in place. I don’t think dialogue is even possible. Whenever I have tried, I am wrong just wrong and that’s all there is to it. I think schism seems inevitable. I’m sad. I’m not sure whether my friends will end up in a different church than I’m in. And the church I’m in leaves me pretty dry, actually. I’m a bit lost. I don’t know how to be a part of any community. I feel like I really have no community. I have friends, most of whom I can’t mention the pope to without an argument breaking out. It’s diabolical.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      M.,

      My sister in Christ, so much of what you wrote here, in the comment above, resonates with me. To be very honest, I do find myself becoming more frustrated and weary with the constant skepticism towards, and/or outright attacks upon, Pope Francis from within the Church. I am often afraid to even bring up my support of the Pope among most of my Catholic friends, because they seem to take it as a virtually self-evident fact that he is leading the Church in numerous wrong directions. *Some* of my Catholic friends seem to doubt whether Pope Francis is even *Catholic at all* (a doubt which, incredibly to me, presumes that *they* know, teach and live the “true Catholic faith” better than Pope Francis!!).

      Then, I see the barrage of articles from self-appointed, self-styled “orthodox Catholic” websites (most, it seems to me, being from the U.S.) which now regularly, unrelentingly criticize Pope Francis, and I find myself thinking, “What has happened to these sites, some of which used to be very helpful to me in my Catholic faith? Have I changed? Have they changed? What has happened, and how should I think about it?” It can all feel bewildering at times….

      One extremely positive thing (of many!) that Pope Francis has done for my faith is that his teaching and witness have seriously challenged me to question some aspects of my own past thinking (and living, to an extent, too) of the Catholic faith. This has been a pruning process for me– painful and humbling and even confusing, sometimes, but very positive. It had made me a better Catholic, and, I think, a more well-rounded human being.

      For more years than I care to admit, I basically just accepted the word of certain American Catholic commentators that Catholics *must* listen to, and obey, the Pope on doctrinal/theological/ecclesiological matters (all, as laid out and circumscribed by said commentators, that is!!), but that one is completely free to differ with the Pope on *anything* that these self-styled “orthodox Catholic” commentators define as a “prudential matter.”

      That paradigm, that way of thinking about being Catholic– in which one, effectively, takes more of one’s cues about the faith, and how to live it out, from certain, self-styled, “orthodox” American Catholic commentators than from *the Pope himself* (whether the one happens to be John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis, or others) strongly influenced me for a long time. It was an unconscious thing for me. It wasn’t really intentional on my part. I didn’t *realize* just how much I was allowing these “orthodox Catholic voices” (supposedly) to influence me more than the current Popes in office themselves!

      That was never my *intention*, but I look back now and see that that was a large part of my Catholic life for a long time. I dearly loved and respected Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but I let Fr. James Schall (memory eternal– I still love much of his work and dearly miss the man), and George Weigel, and the editors of First Things and Crisis Magazines, and other Catholic commentators, *literally tell me* when those Popes’ teachings were “authoritative” and when they were not. That was a very grave (although again, unconscious and unintentional) mistake on my part.

      The Francis Papacy has revealed these, and other, mistakes and misunderstanderings to me, out of my own past thinking and living about being Catholic. I have a long way to go, but I’m taking Catholic Social Teaching (from the Church herself, in her documents) more seriously now than I ever did before, and I earnestly try to pay much more attention to the teachings and witness of the Pope himself than I do to the voices of Catholics who are very eager to tell other Catholics when his teachings are right, wrong, authoritative, non-authoritative, and so on.

      I’m less inclined, these days, to vocally identify, politically, with the “right,” *or* “the left,” or with *any* major American political party. I’m Catholic. No one can “claim” me and use me for their political purposes anymore. (At least I hope not.)

      Most of my Catholic, and other Christian, friends (in-person, at least) now seem to notice that I have changed, in my thinking, and in *some* of my living, of the faith, from the *particular kind of Catholic* that I used to be, even three or four years ago. Conversations can be tricky to navigate. It seems that I get invited to less hang-outs these days, less social events, with fellow Catholics and evangelical Protestsnts. It’s hard, and it can be lonely. I do get to spend more time with non-Christians though, which, in part brings me more out into the world as a witness for Christ and the Church.

      Pope Francis is making me a better, more holistic, Catholic, and a better human being. With all of the struggles that this “growing process” leads to in my life, both within myself, and with some other Catholic and evangelical friends, I don’t, and *can’t*, regret it. It’s not easy, to say the least, but it’s very good. God bless you, sister. I’m praying for you. Please pray for me (and thank you in advance!).

  6. Maria says:

    Thank you for those encouraging words, Christopher! Of course I will pray for you, and thank you for praying for me! It’s confusing because, years ago I used to belong to a “super Catholic” group called CUF. The people involved were sweethearts, and in many ways they were the only support system I had as a young woman. But I remember always being a little bit irritated at certain things, and I never felt like a very good Catholic compared to them. Fast forward quite a few years, and I’m living in a completely different part of the world. And here I am, part of a rather disjointed group of Catholics… I’ve never fit in very well wherever I am. I’ve always been on the outside, looking in, in ways, I just couldn’t figure out how to really connect or be a part of things for some reason. And now I just keep wondering if it is because I’m seen as “not Catholic enough” or something. It’s hard on my kids because we are never *really* a part of “the group.” We just don’t fit. We don’t really fit in anywhere, and I’m lonely, and they are lonely, and I see these large, active protestant churches full of friendly people who barely even know that the Catholic church has a pope, much less worry or think about how stuff he says comes across. My friend joined the Orthodox. I asked the youth group leader if my kids could come to the group he helps lead. I got a fake smile and a “yeah…sure, that would be great.” Meanwhile, Mennonite friends are welcoming us to their homes and befriending our kids, Baptists are begging my son to come to their youth group and prayer nights… it’s hard, man! It’s hard to be a person nobody really likes. But when it starts affecting your kids, who are already pretty alone in the world, the story changes. I’m not sure what to do.

  7. Maria says:

    i should clarify that the youth group leader is Catholic, not Orthodox. I’m sure my kids would be pretty welcome at Orthodox events. Is it because we support the pope, or is it just that we aren’t that much fun to be around…who knows. But I do wonder.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Marie,

      Thank you so much for praying for me. I am always in need of prayers, and at the present moment, especially so. (It’s a long and painful story that involves a recent, very serious, loss in my life.)

      I am praying for you and your kids, my sister in Christ. Believe me, I know what it is like to feel like, and often, to be, the “outsider” among groups of my fellow Catholics. I have Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair. I’m in my 40s and am unmarried with no children. I like art films and international movies and off-the-beaten-path music and literature that most Catholics, in my experience, don’t seem to “get” and/or appreciate. With all of this said, I do have friends in the Church, but almost all of them are kept so busy with work and spouse and children that I rarely have an apportunity to spend time with these friends, outside of short conversations with some of them after Sunday Mass at my parish.

      Speaking of my parish, I am involved in a Catholic men’s group that meets there on Saturday mornings, but thus far, the program of study and discussion for the group basically assumes that all of us are married with children (and I am literally the only one in the group who is *not*, which is tough for me…) I also struggle to fit in with the social time (before the meeting formally starts) with these men, because while they are all serious Catholics, what they seem to want to talk about, during the social time, largely involves their jobs and their love of sports. On my own work situation, even with a college degree (earned many years ago), steady, full-time employment has been a challenge for me, largely due to struggles related to my disability. On sports, I’m just not a sports fan (though I have tried), and I’ve never really been good at even pretending that I know much about *any* sport. I do listen respectfully, but I just don’t have much to say on the subject. I keep going to the group and am learning what I can from the program and from the discussion time centered around the program content. I definitely feel like a somewhat of an outsider in this group of men though, as the only unmarried, childless man with a physical disability who is not into sports and who likes “unusual” movies, music, and books! 🙂

      I have to have a sense of humor about it, because it *is* a bit funny, really, but it’s also awkward and difficult and a lonely experience in some ways. I try to keep in mind that our common, shared Catholic faith is what binds us together the most, in this life and in eternity, even for the one oddball of the group (me) who doesn’t even currently fit into most of the *explicit categories* for the curriculum’s content (married, with kids, with a successful career life).

  8. M. says:

    I will certainly continue to pray for you Christopher. I’m so sorry for your loss, I can’t imagine what it is but I know my heart goes out to you.

    I feel like Catholics are very disconnected from one another in the following way: it just seems like people don’t get together just for the sake of being together. This lead to tremendous loneliness I think. People don;t know how to make time for eachother, just to hang out, have a coffee, whatever. It’s always onto the next thing or, it has to be part of a “formal group” that meets. I think this is what Pope Francis is talkinga bout when he addressed this idea of living in community, or having fraternity. I like the idea of Christian people kind of being in an out of eachother’s houses, in a casual, friendly way. We need to see eachother’s messes, not always be invited over to a perfectly clean home for perfectly prepared snacks or whatever. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. But if I knew you from my parish, it would totally be fun to say come on over for coffee and we may have to carry your chair up our steps but as long as you were ok with it, so are we. I so wish we could do that. God bless you friend, be well.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      M.,

      Thank you for your continued prayers for me. I will keep praying for you too, my sister in Christ.

      I’m going to be brutally honest here about one of my struggles with the Church– at least of what I have encountered of it here in the U.S., where I was born, and where I have spent all of my life. As a convert/revert to Catholic Christianity (who spent a number of years, in-between as an evangelical Protestant), I have struggled to understand why so many American Catholics seem to “get” the communal nature of the Catholic Church/faith *intellectually*, and are even quite vocal about *proclaiming* that communal nature to fellow Catholics and other Christians– but then, it is often the evangelical Protestants who often do better than many of us at *actually iiving out the reality* that Christians are *brothers and sisters in Him, and thus, family*.

      What I mean is this: I have heard so many Catholics claim that it is evangelical Protestants who have a “just me and Jesus” faith. This can be a caricature of evangelical faith, but there is, sometimes, for at least some people, a grain of truth to it. Yet, to be very honest, it was among Protestant evangelicals that I encountered so much vibrant, day-to-day, genuine Christian community. Even with married couples who had small children, they would happily come to communal meals and Bible studies, bringing their children, and it was so wonderful and encouraging, especially for me and other single people in those meals and studies, that we were *all there together*– single, married, and widowed, younger, middle-aged, and older! That is *not* a just me and Jesus faith!

      By comparison, I now count myself blessed to spend any time at all with most of my Catholic friends (outside of Mass) maybe two or three times a year. I know that jobs can be hectic, crazy, and exhausting, and certainly, children and their schedules of activities are very time-consuming and exhausting too, but my Protestant friends had jobs and children too, and yet, time was still made for *regular Christian community with fellow believers* outside of going to church services.

      I wish that I heard more homilies which at least touched on the crucial importance of Christian community in the Catholic life *outside of going to Mass*. Sacred Scripture certainly has quite a bit to say about it, as does Sacred Tradition, via the Popes, the Saints, the Church Fathers, etc.

  9. M. says:

    I couldn’t agree more. A friend put it like this: “the fellowship after the Divine Liturgy is just a continuation of the Divine Liturgy into our lives.” In my current church we have experienced some more real community, but it is so unusual to see that it was what drew us to the eastern Catholic church. It was one of the things. That community (at least in our church) seems to be sincerely lived out. The parishioners, they pray together, they go to funerals out of town together, they cook together and eat together. Not all the time, of course, but it is considered normal, and always, always there is a meal and gathering after Liturgy. That is just what you do on Sunday. You do community with the body of Christ, but it’s not as part of committee, it just is organically, a part of what happens and flows out of the participation at liturgy. I think the Roman Catholic church has seriously neglected the aspect of community to the extent that it is killing off the body of Christ because of the neglect of brothers and sisters for one another. Not all parishes of course- all generalizations are false as they say- but it often seems to be the rule, not the exception, that people just leave after Mass, just as quickly as they possibly can. Rare is the church where there are regular gatherings, weekday events, or even so much as coffee and donuts after Mass. It’s not right.

    • Marie says:

      Christoper and M,

      I agree. My neighbours just invited me to a fall supper at their Mennonite church. It reminded me of years past. I grew up in an english protestant neighbourhood, in an otherwise mostly french Catholic city. My mother once recalled that when we started at the english Catholic grade school, within weeks the local priest was at our front door, introducing himself, and basically finding out why the family was not at their new parish for Mass. I wonder if when you are a small community within a much larger one, you take better care of each other, perhaps more mindful of your vulnerability, than when you are the big one amongst the crowd.

      After my father passed away, we built an apartment for my mother on my property outside the city, so she could live closer to her grandchildren, and also be taken care of. In her last few years, the priest would come over to give her communion. He knew my children from the local school, and having given them the sacraments, but never did he ask me why we were not at Mass. I can be most certain it came up in conversation with my mother, as it was of great concern to her. I guess priests view their role differently than those from years back. Right or wrong, our sense of Catholic community needs to be redefined. As starters, going to those on the peripheries, I suspect would also include reaching out to many Catholics not at Mass on Sunday mornings. It’s not always for the reasons some think it is, but there is always a reason.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Maria (and M. too!),

        Your comment, especially the part about the priest who visited your grandmother to bring the Eucharist to her, was poignant for me to read. It brought up memories from my some of my own experiences, in simply trying to get to Mass, as a person with C.P., in the Church. Before I go into any of those memories, though, I want to be sure that I’m correctly understanding something that you wrote. You said that the priest never inquired as to why “we” were not at Mass. By “we,” whom did you mean? I understood that your grandmother was not able to come to Mass, which was why the priest was coming to her, but I’m not sure who the “we” is in your recollection.

        Due to my not being able to drive and the C.P. factor, I’ve had *widely* varying experiences on being able to get to and from Mass. One commonality, though, is that it has *always* been a non-clergy member driving me to Mass. Never a priest. When I have brought up struggles about getting to Mass with priests, the default response has basically been, “We can arrange for the Eucharist to be brought to you.” While I am grateful that there has been at least a desire to do *that* for me, writing as someone who has a disability but who is *definitely not a shut-in*(!!), I wonder, why hasn’t the first response from a priest, to me, ever been, “Well, then, we need to find someone, or a group of people, in this parish, to *help you actually, physically, be at Mass*?

        At one Catholic parish, in a humiliating, ongoing experience, for months, I had to repeatedly ask a Baptist friend to drive me to Mass and pick me up afterwards (i.e. he didn’t attend Mass with me). While waiting in the parish parking lot for him after Mass, week after week, I would desperately be trying to get the momentary attention of *any* of my fellow lay Catholics (who were all leaving quickly after Mass), to ask them if *any* of them could possibly commit to helping me get to and from Sunday Mass or Saturday evening vigil Mass, simply so that I could, at a minimum, meet my Sunday Mass obligation. The reply, from *every single Catholic* whom I approached, leaving from Mass in that parking lot, week after week, was, for widely varying reasons, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

        I did meet privately with the priest at that parish to basically *plead with him* to have an announcement be verbally made either at Mass, or right after Mass, that a physically disabled man was wanting to faithfully attend Sunday Mass at this parish and was seeking a ride there and back. The priest said that he could not approve that announcement, partially because then, everyone else would be coming to him, wanting *their* desired announcement to be made at Mass. I was disappointed at this response, but I tried, as best I could, to understand where he was coming from, as a priest who certainly many demands upon him and his time.

        He did agree to my subsequent plea to have a notice put in the parish bulletin about me, and my struggle and desire to go to Mass. For a good while, the notice was in the bulletin, week after week, and I heard from no one with an offer of help. It was so deeply dispiriting. My Baptist friend continued to take me to and from Mass, but I didn’t want to have to keep asking him to do that, obviously, given that he wasn’t even attending the Masses with me. I couldn’t understand– why wouldn’t *anyone* at this parish help a physically disabled man get to and from Mass??

        Finally, one day, when I had *placed my hand on my phone* to call another parish to see if *anyone there* could help me to and Mass at *their* parish– a young married couple from my current parish called me, told me that they were new at the parish, had seen my notice in the bulletin, and would be happy to help me. That young couple *transformed my life* at that parish– no hyperbole at all. They not only took me to and from Sunday Mass, but they regularly included me in their daily lives as Catholics. Honestly, I’m tearing up now just thinking of how kind they were to me. The parish had a 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration chapel, and literally, anytime this couple were in that chapel, I was there with them, thanks to their being more than happy to invite me to go along with them. Why can’t more Catholics be like them, or even *close* them, I wonder?

        At the parish I attend now, very happily, for almost ten years, there has been a regular, rotating schedule of volunteer drivers to take me to and from Mass. Even with all of the friends that I have seen come and go from the parish, when one or more has left, someone has stepped in to take his/her place. That is one of a few reasons that, while I wish there were stronger Christian community in the parish *as a whole*, I will likely never go elsewhere for regular, ongoing, Sunday Mass, unless I have no choice.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      M.,

      I’m very happy, truly, to hear that you have found such wonderful community in your Eastern Catholic parish. What you describe is really the paradigm that should be in *all* Catholic churches– and, as you said, not necessarily as a “program,” but as an organic outgrowth of the spiritual life of the parish, a “continuation” of the Divine Liturgy that comes out of the formal, sacred, sacramental Liturgy.

      I should say that there have been periods and occasions of my life when I have experienced strong Catholic community, in regular parish life, and in study groups, and one-on-one with friends. It’s not that my Catholic life has been, or is, *completely* barren of fellowship.

      One issue is that I live in a highly transient region of the U.S., where individuals, couples, and even, entire families, can tend to come and go, due to changes of job and other sorts of life changes. I’ve been at my current parish for almost ten years now, and only *a very few* of the many, many friends that I once had here are still living in this area and going to this parish. I have made some new friends in their absence, but trying to rebuild the strong Christian community that once existed (for me and others) at this parish has been difficult, and, in my experience, not greatly successful. People just don’t seem to spend as much regular, ongoing time here with friends, other than their spouses and children, as was once the case at the parish. I stay here for many reasons– there is a regular schedule of volunteer drivers who take me to and from Sunday Mass and Holy Days, for which I am deeply grateful, as I can’t drive, due to my disability… The Masses (the Ordinary Form in English, but with some Latin and Greek and Gregorian chant) are incredibly beautiful… the homilies are almost always good-to-very good… I have a lot to be thankful for at this parish… but I really miss the close Christian community that we once had here and which seems very hard to rebuild from what once was so vibrant and strong. Please pray for me, and for our parish, about that. I was really, really hoping that the fairly new Catholic men’s group, that I’ve been attending here, would be part of that, but the study material for the group’s curriculum is so explicitly written for married men with children and with seemingly well-paying careers that I, as a never-married, childless man (though I deeply long for marriage and children!), with the physical disability of Cerebral Palsy, who struggles greatly in his career life, am getting the increasing sense that this “Catholic men’s group” was simply not meant for Catholic men in my life situation….

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