A smaller church? Likely. A holier church? Depends on who is the judge!

I am going to reflect on repentance — and on what it means to repent.  But first ….

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia gave a presentation on October 20, 2016 at Notre Dame University.  I read the entire six page transcript.  On the WHOLE, it was a good, inspiring speech … in my opinion.  He spoke about fidelity, courage, and commitment.  As a speech, it merits reflection — and a grade of A….again, in my opinion.

What garnered most of the media attention was a section of the speech in which he applied principles to the living of the faith.  In particular, his comments reflected his belief that our Church [the Roman Church] would become a smaller church in the future … and at the same time, a holier Church.  Here is what he actually said:

Obviously we need to do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the Church.

But we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.

Losing people who are members of the church in name only is an imaginary loss.  It may in fact be more honest for those who leave and healthier for those who stay.  We should be focused on commitment, not numbers or institutional throw-weight.

Archbishop Chaput reflected on the threat posed by what he said was a secularizing culture and a progressive political agenda that “bleaches out strong religious convictions in the name of liberal tolerance.”

Archbishop Chaput is part of what is often referred to as the “cultural warrior” wing of bishops, i.e. those who see the Church at war with the world and what they consider to be a secularizing sector of tolerance, which they see as weakness.  Perhaps these bishops make up about 50% of the Church’s ordained leadership today.

Whether one looks at data from groups like the Pew Research or Gallup surveys — or looks at data collected by most dioceses each year when they take a worship census … that is how many people worship over a 4-5 week period each year … attendance is down and continues to decrease each year.  Some parishes show dramatic losses — often dependent on the priestly leadership, message preached, and style of worship.  Other parishes show increases — based on the same standards — priestly leadership, message preached, and style of worship.

I have NO DOUBT that the number of people who worship regularly will continue to decrease.  The Roman Catholic Church will get smaller and smaller.  Perhaps the same is true for other denominations — you tell me.

But — will it be holier???????  Depends on the standard by which we judge.

I believe no man on earth can be the true judge of who is holy.  I believe that God alone judges holiness.  And no one can see in the heart of another.

If the standard by which holiness is judged is the parable of the separation of sheep and goats — then that is one standard of holiness.  In a similar way, the commandment to love God above all and neighbor as self is the standard — we can sense one form of holiness.  If the person who gives a cup of cold water to the least of all — is seen as holy, then we have another view of holiness.

On the other hand — if holiness is determined by how one dresses for worship — how one holds his/her hands, if one goes to mass every week —- if communion is taken on the tongue instead of the hand — then we have another standard of holiness.  If a holy, good priest is one who promotes 40 hour devotions and spends hours in the confessional, that is one standard of judgment.

I believe 100% that abortion is wrong — it is the taking of innocent life.  I also believe that if EVERYONE who is against abortion would be for adoption — and HAD SIGNED UP TO ADOPT A CHILD — there would be fewer abortions.  While many people wait for infants, there are not too many people —- Catholics included — ready to adopt 2, 3, 4 year olds — or teenagers — or children with special needs.

As one who works in the court system — I know that children are placed in foster care, in care of the State, because there are not enough PRO-LIFE homes to adopt them.

In his address, Archbishop Chaput spoke of his admiration for Muslim women who wore a hijab or the burka in public.   He saw this as a commitment to faith and public witness.  This may be true — but not always.  What if the woman wore the burka only because she feared her husband’s wrath?  What if she bore resentment against a dominant male society that restricts women’s rights to education — or even to drive?  How holy would that be?

What about the Archbishop of a huge diocese —- who wears French cuffs and likes the mass in Latin — who has a $500,000 ADDITION made to his weekend home — so that it would be ready for retirement —- is that holy?

BEFORE WE SPEAK ABOUT REPENTANCE, we need to recognize what is it that we see as holy.  To repent means to turn from sin and to turn to good.  To repent is to walk out of the darkness into the light.  To repent is to heal the break in our relationship with God.  To repent — is to turn from ________ and to turn to ___________.

What is it that excludes one from the ONE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH?  birth control? being gay?  living in a gay relationship?  divorced and remarried without an annulment? drug use? internet porn?  cheating on taxes?  missing mass? using drugs? is it disagreeing with a teaching of the hierarchy?

Can one be part of the ONE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH and support the trillion dollar program to build the F-35 fighter bomber?  can one be holy and at the same time pay slave wages to their workers —- while looking down on the immigrant worker hired to clean their yard/pool?  what about the FACT that too many Black children cannot go to Catholic schools because they cannot afford tuition?

Who is any man or woman, bishop or archbishop —- to say who is holy and who is not?

In the Gospel of Matthew [3:1-12] John the Baptist preached in the desert saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  He went on to say,

Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.  And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.  Therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Bear fruit …. produce good fruit.  This is the evidence of holiness God seems to desire.

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved HIM, Jesus went on to say — feed my sheep — tend my lambs.

It seems to me, that the leadership of the Church in America is too quick to blame the declining number of worshipers on secularization — a failure of parents to teach the faith to their children — a hedonistic society — giving in to self-satisfaction — the glamorization of sex.  Maybe this is true.

What do those who favor dogmatic orthodoxy think about Jesus eating with sinners, going to the home of a tax collector, spending time with the woman at the well?  How would they translate Jesus teaching of “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Perhaps, though — there are other reasons why people are not going to church with the same frequency as the past.   Like — a holier than thou clericalized leadership which sees itself as better than the people they are called to SERVE.  Maybe it is a leadership who has no understanding that the spirit is given to all in baptism.  The Spirit is given to the CHURCH AS A WHOLE for the guidance of all in the Church — lay and ordained.

I am called during this second week of Advent to repent — the same call is given to Pope Francis, to all the Cardinals and Bishops, and to each person on earth — people of faith and no faith.  None of us is worthy for the Lord to come under our roof …. but we pray that the Lord will “say but the word and our soul will be healed.”  We are all called to repentance…… proven by good fruit.

I must leave behind all that is not loving, caring, just.  I must become more loving, more caring, more just.  I must build relationships and not walls.  Finding common ground is not the same as being wishy-washy or indifferent.

I will not judge your holiness.  I ask you not to judge my holiness.  There is only one who will judge.  God.  And, I am not God — and neither are you.



About thegospelforliving

Retired Catholic Priest - now serving the community as a paralegal and charter school consultant.
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1 Response to A smaller church? Likely. A holier church? Depends on who is the judge!

  1. Rosanna LaFleur says:

    Love it Fr Henry 😇👍

    Sent from my iPhone


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