Attacking the Wrong Problem

This week we had a parish mission for four days. On the whole, it was well-planned and well-run, although any time we had to leave our pews to get stuff, there were serious logistics problems. Still, the mission speakers understood the critical principle that people like to get giveaway stuff, no matter how small, and the speakers were pretty good.

However, we also had the increasingly entertaining or disturbing spectacle of hearing a speaker inveigh against problems that don’t exist — or don’t exist widely — or don’t exist in the way described.

For example, last night we heard about how everybody had had thorough catechesis, but there was not enough evangelization. There was too much rules-based Christianity and not enough relationship-based.

Well, obviously I’m not against evangelization. More evangelization is definitely good! But how can we evangelize if we don’t know what we’re talking about?

I’ve been alive and a Catholic since the year this gentleman was ordained. I have a faithful and reasonably well-informed Catholic mother, I went to a good Catholic school in elementary, I went to CCD after that, I’ve been reading St. Anthony’s Messenger since I had the reading skill to do so, and I’ve gone to church pretty much every Sunday. But I’ve never received anything like thorough catechesis in anything. (Except maybe at that chant and polyphony workshop. I’m reasonably secure in the basics of sacred music. Unfortunately, this won’t exactly get me saved.) Despite extensive and constant reading of pretty much any Catholic book I could get my hands on — most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned in the last five years. It’s an embarrassment that a big church in the richest nation in history can’t do better than this.

You know what I learned last month?

If you go to Confession and purposely don’t tell a mortal sin, your Confession is invalid.

I made my First Confession* the year after our nation’s Bicentennial, people! I’ve still got the workbook with the coloring book pages. Not a word about that is in it, I promise you.
I did have an idea — all my own logic, not from anything I was ever told — that withholding sins was kinda disrespectful and stupid, as contrary to the whole purpose of why you go. But making your Confession invalid? Leaving you with not just a mortal sin on your soul, but all your other sins too??

Whoa. So when were they planning on telling us that little wrinkle??

Another example: apparently, there is much concern in American theological circles that we peons are excessively interested in the tabernacle (the box itself, not the Person pitching his tent among us) to the point of idolatry. Well, I suppose there might be a few folks like this here and there, although not even my mother can remember running into anyone like this or even hearing of it happening. However, here in the mainstream of American Catholicism, there’s a constant problem with people not remembering, or not having any clue, that Jesus’ Real Presence is anywhere, even as they partake of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. I’ve also had to explain to another grown Catholic woman that the red sanctuary light doesn’t represent the presence of the Holy Spirit in church. (But why should she know? I didn’t learn that in school or CCD, or in any homily. I only know because Mom told me.) I also never had a clue why angels are prominent in art around altars, until two years ago. And so on.

Surely a little light catechesis and a liturgical procession would teach the tabernacle-idolaters the error of their ways — but who will teach the rest of us if they take the tabernacle away?

So yeah, you dang betcha I’ve got a personal relationship with God. He’s the only way I’ve been able to experience the Church. The church here in America mostly isn’t interested in teaching us more than vague unhelpful platitudes. He’s the only Person we can trust to stick with us and tell us the truth, all right.

Beyond that, I trust the popes. They talk straight to us. They give us catechisms and compendiums that actually inform of us of important stuff. They got vatican.va rolling. They evangelize. They are in touch with reality, and the here and now. They know our problems.

This does not seem to be true of a good many of the American bishops. Maybe distance actually helps perspective, or maybe it’s just that geezers get too farsighted to see what’s right in front of them. πŸ™‚ Still, I’m sure most of them mean well. We will muddle through together.

But… it would be nice not to have to muddle through even the most basic basics, you know?

* They wanted us to call it Penance, but nobody did. We already knew that nobody would understand what we were talking about, and that it wasn’t worth remembering new names because they always changed. And sure enough, soon we were told to start calling it Reconciliation. But we still have to call it Confession if we want anybody to understand what we’re talking about. πŸ™‚

3 Comments

Filed under Church

3 responses to “Attacking the Wrong Problem

  1. pistolpete

    I like what you said about being more focused on relationships than rules. Isn’t this just what Jesus did?

    Good post.

  2. Robin Nakkula

    My best catechesis was 3 to 4 bookmarks and my Saint Joseph Edition of The New American Bible, and several iterations of the 3-year cycle of the lectionary. Every Sunday, I’d stick a bookmark at the Old Testament reading, the New Testament, and the Gospel (the Psalm, too, if it was included), and then during the sermon (which can run longer than a typical homily and take more to stay awake through,) I’d read. I’d reread the lesson, read what came before and after for context, and especially read the footnotes. (The St. Joseph’s footnotes are IMHO better than the NIV Study Bible that was held up for me as a shiny paradigm).

  3. Too late have I bothered to follow thee, o footnotes ever ancient, ever new! πŸ™‚

    I like concordances that just tell you this stuff, as I find it much more readable than footnotes. Still, I must admit that HTML makes following up from footnotes a lot more interesting and useful.

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