Earlier this week I flipped on the TV without caring the station and flopped onto the bed. Up popped four gentlemen passionately discussing a religious topic. I didn’t give it much thought since there’s often protestant programs popping up on obscure channels–especially for those who don’t care to have cable like myself. Too lazy to move and caring too little to change it, I watched the men discuss how faith alone attains salvation (sola fide) and good works are worthless. It wasn’t a surprising topic to expect from four southern televangelists.
I watched a few minutes more until the discussion took a break for an infomercial-like advertisement featuring one of the men on the discussion panel, “Buy Jimmy Swaggart’s Commentary on the Book of Romans before supplies run out!” The televangelist and salesman went on, “and if you buy now, I’ll throw in the Q&A book Ask Jimmy for the low price of $30!”.
Who was this guy and who cares about his commentary on Romans, lets hear his thoughts on James I thought. Knowing the name Swaggart sounded familiar to me, I did some quick research (Google) and learned a lot in mere minutes. I realized how well-known and popular he was through the 80’s and 90’s as a protestant preacher, singer, and TV personality. The best takeaway was a clip I came across of him on a 1984 episode of CNN’s Crossfire debating Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden about Catholicism. It’s interesting because both Pat and Tom defend Catholicism despite representing politically conservative and liberal positions (a cable news liberal defending the Church, what?!). Mr. Swaggart, though, correctly jabs the liberal Tom Braden when he tells him he has no clue about what he is talking about when it comes to Christianity.
As a millennial born in the same year as this broadcast, the early form of this show is new to me. Also new to me is the fact that Pat Buchanan is a Catholic (perhaps I knew that he was at least culturally when he ran for president, those are different). Mr. Buchanan does a pretty good job defending the Faith and employs the classic argument against the protestant belief of sola scriptura by asking Jim what determines his interpretation of scripture is accurate but not someone else’s, specifically the pope’s along with a magisterium of bishops in agreement. Braden came off as a sentimentalist and shot himself in the foot a few times, which set Swaggart up for some (mostly accurate) body shots. ☩
Many Christians in the West are burdened with the unfortunate stereotype that all Christians assume the theory of evolution is wrong because it is incompatible with the Bible. Thanks to the relativistic nature of sola scriptura in protestantism–especially in America–and a media eager to make them the face of Christianity, those unaware of authentic Christianity (read: Catholicism) assume that all Christians read the Bible as a literal text. The media loves painting the picture that to be Christian means to read the book of Genesis as a scientific textbook.
The extremely misguided minority of Christians who burden us all with this damaging reputation would we well suited to learn about the contributions of the Church–priests especially–to the natural sciences such as the Big Bang and modern genetics. These Christians, along with every breathing person, would gain much from reading authors such as C.S. Lewis on the topic of the various literary styles and genres of different books in the Bible. Catholics need also be aware of the various papal statements going all the way back to Pope Pius XII on the matter.
This brings us to a passage I read today in an article discussing the importance of sound interpretation and the need for :
Unlike Protestants, Catholicism has Tradition (the Magisterium) to fall back on. Tradition informs us there are four senses of Scriptural comprehension that are used simultaneously: literal, spiritual (or anagogical), moral (or allegorical), and a meaning associated with human society (tropological). Thus, “Jerusalem,” when mentioned in the Bible, simultaneously is read to mean: a literal geographic city in the Middle East; heaven, since Jerusalem is the city of God (anagogic); an “upright” life (allegoric); and political rule, since Jerusalem was the capital of Israel (tropologic). Catholics, then, do not read Genesis literally, in the sense that the universe was created in six days or that Adam and Eve even existed. Instead, a Catholic reading of Genesis means that the universe (including time) was indeed created by God, but the Genesis recording of creation does not literally walk us through that process but is meant to be symbolic of it. Similarly, Adam and Eve are meant to symbolize humanity’s downfall, not that a “literal” Adam and Eve existed.
The sciences uncover how our ordered material world works…faith uncovers the meaning behind it. Until our protestant brethren cast aside their relativistic version of Christianity, we will continue to have this problem. Pray for them.
“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.”
“Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
While I typically avoid National Catholic Reporter for obvious reasons, I came across their article titled Parish Renewal Groups Teach Lessons from Megachurches. Interested by how a catholic website would openly advocate for the adoption of protestant/non-denominational/new-age megachurch practices, I decided to click.
The article pretty much suggests what most crusty progressives yearning for fleeting cultural acceptance have been saying since the 70’s, that we should ‘modernize’ Catholic parishes musically, architecturally, and liturgically. While this half-century-old message has been heard and tried many times, it still manages to elicit cringes and eye rolls when someone who genuinely thinks this idea is somehow novel or in any way appropriate for the Roman Catholic Church/Kingdom of God/Holy Sacrifice of Mass.
Below I’ll give the article the ‘TSP Cliffs Notes’ treatment:
I [suggest] that Catholic pastors take a look at what was happening with evangelical megachurches. Inspired by the Willow Creek congregation outside Chicago, evangelicals were tapping into the power of good old-fashioned American business marketing, finding out what people wanted in a church and delivering it to them.
He is correct that megachurches tap into business marketing and are good that that. That said, while megachurches may follow certain business practices and try to “deliver” to people “what they want” that is not the mission of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Roman Catholic Church as founded by Jesus Christ. The writer’s suggestion shows a lack of understanding of the Kingdom of God because the Church does not exist to give people what they want, it exists to give people what they need (as a loving Mother) and save souls in the process. Obviously it’s a twofer if the will of an individual also wants what the Catholic Church offers, but that is simply a secondary pleasantry. The point is the Church exists to form souls, not the other way around.
Willow Creek, an independent congregation, was established in the 1970s, free from denominational constraints, via a process of intensive surveys of what people in the growing exurbs were seeking in a church. Willow Creek became famous for its non-churchy look, welcoming small communities and contemporary music. A visit there researching the book indicated that Wednesday night gatherings, held in a shopping mall-like food court, were as important to the congregation as Sunday morning worship.
Ah, there’s that whiff of religious pluralism you knew was coming; Catholicism is simply one of many denominations, right? And the denominational labels are constraints to what people really want from their church. We need modern, round-edged buildings, and songs that reflect persuasions of pop culture to remain relevant to young people! <sarcasm/> It’s as if thousands of Catholic parishes haven’t already tried this following the “reform” in the 70’s. You show me a Catholic parish with a ‘modern’ feel, and I’ll show you empty pews with few Millennials.
Catholic pastors are beginning to pay attention thanks in part to a growing number of businesses and nonprofits intended to assist them in a time when many baptized Catholics have stopped going to church.
Sure, misguided Catholic pastors who are also decreasing in number.
RENEW (group dedicated to make churches more attractive) preceded Willow Creek and is based largely on Vatican II theology. It grew out of renewal movements popular with Catholics in the 1970s… Catholic parishes can no longer wait for people to come to the pews. There has to be a concerted effort to bring them in.
Ah, so this effort to protestantize the Catholic Church is rooted in the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II. Again, this all so predictable. Let me get this straight, this is based on efforts out of the 70’s–over 45 years ago–and even though the attempts to “reform” the Church that took place in the 70’s are widely argued to be the catalyst for the most destructive era for the Church in its 2000 year history with empty pews, confusion, and scandal, we are to continue forging this failed path. You have to almost feel bad for the people who keep thinking these efforts will somehow work all of a sudden.
The critique Willow Creek faced in the evangelical world can apply here as well: is this Catholic lite, an effort to make hard truths easier…And extensive studies of the Willow Creek megachurch model indicates that these groups, much like Catholic parishes, have difficulties holding on to their people, with high attrition rates after five years.
As we have already seen with parishes that have tried to implement this modernist, pop-culture environment and it indeed is Catholic lite, if even to be considered Catholic. And, from what we have witnessed, they often don’t seek to make “hard truths easier”, but skit these truths all together if not openly preach the opposite! However I’m happy the author made the point that these megachurches have poor retention rates. They may have lots of young people but their interest is fleeting, inherent of anything that is not rooted in something objective or eternal, especially when it’s rooted in American popular culture.
It’s often repeated that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome…this definition I’d like to submit to people like Peter Feuerherd who wrote this piece. Why do they think that doubling–no–quadrupling down on this effort born out of the era of freelove and relativity to throw Catholic Tradition, beauty, and understanding out the window will somehow result in anything other than the repulsion of disciples, disinterest in the priesthood, and more.
I’ll end by quoting Rachel Lu writing about the reaction of aging snooty left-wing Catholics now becoming irrelevant that the base of Catholicsm is moving back towards sacred beauty and orthodoxy:
Liberal theologians see this too, which is why they feel unsettled…They sense that they are now the ones haunting the turrets of outdated, reactionary Catholicism. Their “springtime of Vatican II” has yielded confusion, empty pews, and horrific scandals. Their “courageous” protest of Humanae Vitae has led countless souls astray, but far from being retracted, the document is still very much in force, with its predictions fully vindicated by modern culture.The old guard of liberal champions is aging, while the Church’s young enthusiasts are too often admirers of St. John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or even (gasp!) the Latin Mass.
Ecumenicism: the promotion of cooperation and understanding among different Christian denominations
Ecumenicism has been a focus of the Church since Vatican II. The Catholic Church obviously needs to engage in a certain dialog and understanding with our protestant brothers and sisters, it does no good ignoring that protestant denominations exist. However, the original intent of ecumenicism was to reach out to other Christians to help bring them into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The purpose was never to just get along with other Christian denominations, as if we are all the same only with different flavors depending on what floats an individual’s proverbial boat. However, as many bishops and priests continue to loosely interpret [“the spirit of”] Vatican II, the faithful are hearing a very confusing message. It’s a message I heard very clearly at Mass last Sunday.
On a typical Sunday we make a half-hour jaunt to a parish that takes liturgy, the Eucharist, Tradition, beauty, and spiritual nourishment seriously. But last Sunday my family attended the nearby parish because of our schedule. It’s a parish that is well-meaning but all too often offers a Mass that is watered-down and human-centered…all while in a round, carpeted rec-room. Let’s just say that I’ve seen them show videos during the homily, cheering sometimes breaks out following the closing hymn, and distributing Communion to the ‘Eucharistic ministers’ on the altar takes nearly as long as it takes to distribute to the rest of the congregation (literally). Of course, this would all be nonconstructive criticism if their pews were overflowing with young adults and large families with children, but they’re not. The congregation is aging…fast. The people that should be filling the pews into the future like me are taking the time to drive downtown to other parishes for Mass and other authentically Catholic events like Cor Jesu.
On this particular Sunday, the pastor attempted to tie in the Gospel reading about the Church being the body of Christ, made up of different parts, to all Christian denominations being the different parts of Christ/His Church. Interesting theory. But actually, when we reference the “Church”, we mean the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (CCC 813-835). Saint Paul wasn’t saying all Christian denominations (which didn’t exist back then) are different parts to His body that we call the Church. The thought of that is absolutely preposterous, wrong, and destructive. I thought to myself, so are people sitting here to believe the implication of this homily or the Nicene Creed that we recite immediately following it. Think of the confusion.
And the story isn’t finished. Also during the homily we were reminded that later that day there would be an opportunity to meet with three bishops. That sounds pretty cool, right? It would be Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki–so far so good–and then an Evangelical Lutheran ‘bishop’ and an Episcopal ‘bishop’. What!? Again, there’s nothing wrong with communicating with members and leaders of protestant denominations but to have a forum in a Catholic parish where all are presented as being on the same level from co-equal Christian backgrounds is outrageous (to give full benefit of the doubt, I was not at the actual event). Even in the bulletin after Mass, we saw the list of ‘bishops’ with the logos of the various denominations next to the papal keys–as if Roman Catholics are just one of many, as if we forgot the meaning of Saint Peter’s keys.
Do clergy understand the effects of this? What this does is confuse the parishioners who rely exclusively on their pastor for spiritual direction (which is the majority). “What? I thought you needed to be Catholic to be a bishop. I guess not. Isn’t there a difference?”, they ponder. Priests are telling their own congregation that we are no different from any other denomination–talk about shooting yourself in the foot. They are not explaining the difference between the Mass and some other “worship service”. When people feel like what they are doing is not unique, useful, or different from anything else, they rightly assume there is no reason to take time out of their weekend or money out of their pockets for it. Watering down the sacrifice of the Mass and integrity of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t invite more people to come into the fold, it just turns off current Catholics who are wavering in their faith. Ecumenicism-at-all-costs leads many to think, “well, if all Christian denominations are pretty much the same and people can decide what’s right depending on what suits them best, doesn’t that make Christians hypocrites? What’s the point of Christianity if people just decide to associate with a denomination that suits their lifestyle best.”
Anyway, parishes that are afraid to proclaim the four pillars of the Faith will continue losing parishioners and money. And the parishes and dioceses that proudly proclaim what it means to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic will continue thriving, growing and making a true difference in the world. Luckily, help is on the way with the current crop of excellent priests. We are on the upswing.