I recently experienced something at my home parish which is a reflection of what’s happening in a lot of parishes across the country. This post is not about “Typical Suburban Parish” but, rather, a much larger issue.
I enjoy[ed] helping out at Typical Suburban Parish by contributing to their social media outreach by trying to get people engaged through posting Catholic links, funny memes, cool images, and parish updates. But recently a picture was removed because some people in the office claimed it stirred complaints:
Apparently some were offended because they thought the image promoted “elitism” and “exclusion”. I was told that people thought the image, paired with the quote, was trying to express that the Extraordinary Form of Mass is somehow better than the common Ordinary Form (update from 2 years later: it is better albeit that was not the purpose of the photo). Shocked, I explained to my friend on the phone that the passage is simply conveying the importance of the Catholic Church in society and the image was used because of its beautiful aesthetic quality. No one was ever implying one form of Mass is more better than another (again, even though one is). Everyone in our popular culture seems to be searching for truth. These people, especially Millennials are constantly let down. The image is meant to highlight that the truth about life does exist in the right place. I think whoever complained was either somehow confused or just dislikes anything has a whiff of the traditional, likely an older ex-“revolutionary” holdover from the days of the Second Vatican Council.
Obviously the Church is and must be inclusive to all. Mother Church welcomes in all sinners of all backgrounds and is, as Pope Francis put it, a “field hospital after battle” where we must strive to heal the “wounds” of all. That is what “inclusion” is. Deleting posts because someone complained about something they don’t like isn’t “inclusive” at all. Inclusiveness of an idea (and a mistaken idea in this case) is much different than inclusiveness of a person.
Also, how does an image showing one thing automatically mean the exclusion of another thing? What sort of logic is this? What is this new definition of the word “inclusive”? What about the people who liked the post…were they being excluded for their opinion now? Could someone now complain they feel excluded if the next picture is referencing a feast day for a saint they don’t particularly care for? Rational minds see the problems with this ridiculous precedent.
If our paramount virtue is avoiding offense at all costs, all we end up achieving is watering down everything that’s unique about us. The paradox of this progressive interpretation of “inclusion” is that it necessarily excludes the things that makes us different and ends up actually excluding people by coercing them to be silent. Who really is the person that practices exclusivity and elitism in this situation, the people who shared and liked the harmless picture or the people who sought to silence it because they didn’t like it and thought, therefore, nobody should see it.
This mentality is part of what’s moving the young and vibrant Catholic families away from their home parishes and into ones that are often found in the more urban part of the city. These more traditional parishes tend to be incredibly inclusive of people because they often have a very diverse range of ethnicities, backgrounds, and income levels. It’s the churches that maintain a reverence for beauty and truth that attract the quality families that will raise children who go on to be faithful Catholics themselves. The young men at Milwaukee’s Cream City Catholic do a great job writing writing about this. Not only is the beauty these parishes revere aesthetic, through the architecture and art that they seek to preserve, it is also found in their liturgies, prayer, and music–all properly oriented toward God rather than towards human achievement (if you hear clapping at any point during a Mass, there’s a problem). When people want to make the Church about themselves, we end up with this infection of pettiness.
When Mass is oriented towards man, we dumb the awesomeness of Mass down. When we attempt to dumb down the mystery of the Sacrifice of Mass to meet our understanding and expectations, we will inevitably lose people interested in the faith because anybody can do self-oriented things at any time. This is what protestants do. Furthermore, why would anyone ever want to become Catholic if they come to Mass and see something looks so worldly, humanly, and typical (only, as many of these suburban parishes prove, even uglier)? People are able to get a self-oriented worship service or an adolescent-level lesson on ethics from protestant churches and the secular culture, respectively.
As I have said often on this site, many in my generation are desperately longing for an intimate encounter with the Sacred Liturgy because it is exactly the opposite of what is offered everywhere else in society. People attracted to casual, human-oriented worship in Catholicism are typically very kind people (many of whom are my friends) but they will have a far lower success rate at passing the faith down to the next generation–just like the Baby Boomer generation did a poor job with us. These Catholics also tend to have far fewer children (another topic) which contributes to a negative birthrate we’re seeing among many Catholic communities. When children view what often amounts to an inconvenient Sunday novelty (even if the parents don’t view it that way), they are less likely to ever understand the importance of it. These people cultivated among banal liturgy will seek the all-too-simplistic preaching of “accept all ideas and be nice to everyone” free of the “smells and bells” of Catholicism.
Modernist, inclusivist (“non-offensive”), and aesthetically bland churches draw in no new members, they only slowly shrink. For example, look at the numbers that show Mass attendance and parish revenue, especially among young people, goes up in dioceses that start incorporating things like Masses in the Extraordinary Form, “solemn” Masses, or any other sort of more-traditional additions to a parish. Lowering our standard to meet that of popular culture’s (and poorly at that) doesn’t attract more people, it attracts less.
Parishes need (and are, with the “under-35 priest”) to stand up and embrace the objective truths and pristine beauty our faith has been known for for twenty centuries.
Inclusion of sinners, those in despair, and of all backgrounds is good, virtuous, and Christ-like; but “inclusion” at the expense of that which is beautiful, orthodox, and oriented towards God is wrong…and destructive.