Monday, December 20, 2004

Church Challenges

How to move forward? Oswald Sobrino at Catholic Analysis explores how Hispanic Catholics struggle with the Catholic Church they find in America. Part of the problem, he says, is in the way we handle the Bible:
[Hispanics] find the Protestant preacher always talking about the Bible in a way that is quite different from the typical American Catholic homily. The Protestant evangelical likes to "dig" into the Bible and tie different parts of the Bible together. It is even routine in Southern Baptist churches to hear the preacher refer to the original Greek in his sermons. Contrast this approach with the typical American Catholic homily: begin with a non-biblical anecdote about sports or some other secular event or with a sentimental story, then draw platitudes from the lectionary readings. It is a mediocre exercise that challenges no one: neither the preacher nor the audience. Instead of digging to give the people something solid to fascinate them with Scripture, we are left with vague exhortation reminiscent of some sort of self-help therapy. The preaching has to change. Struggling immigrants want spiritual power, not suburban pap.
Catholics are, in the mass, reflective and introspective of what is in their hearts. Protestants are, by their nature, aggressively searching with their heads. Sola Scriptura and all that. No church is all head or all heart, but the balance in a Catholic Church tends towards a greater proportion of the experience being one of deep listening. There is heart in Protestant churches too, but there the balance is more on seeking and thinking. The sort of experience that the Sobrino seeks is more likely to be found in a prayer group or a book club of some sort. I think the homily is not always what it could be, and I too would support some of the deeper readings he seeks. But I am aware that the mass is for everyone with a capital "E." Mass is not just for the smart. The homily is also not the heart of the Mass; the Eucharist is. I think, historically, that this need to reach everyone is why the Catholic church has always used what is sometimes derisively referred to as "bells and smells." Historically, in many places and many times, quite a few of the people attending the Mass could not read or write. How do you reach them? Bells, smells, statues, garments, ceremony, etc. I think Catholics still do that quite well. Times have changed, however, and a few more challenging homilies would not hurt. For those still not satisfied, I suggest a reading group. For myself, the big thing that I wonder about is this: Why isn't Religious Commitment more aggressively advertised? In the newspaper, on the radio, and heck yeah, on the internet? I think a few good campaigns could create quite a tonic. The Nuns and Monks who did so much of the Church's good work in the past are a shadow of their former selves. A lot of teachers in Catholic schools are not even Catholic, they're hired guns. It's not like young people no longer seek to commit themselves in a passionate way to the betterment of the society they find themselves in. Where is the Dorothy Day of our time? The monasteries and nunneries emptied themselves out in the 1960s and 1970s and they are sloowly begining to come back. Most of the nuns you see today, if you see them at all, are old or from non Western countries. There's nothing wrong with those people - we need those people! - but why can't we produce them in large numbers anymore? A healthy conservative society begins with the creation of conservative culture. The seats of power follow the culture, they do not lead it. An increased birth rate would allow families to joyfully give a son or a daughter over for the betterment of society. It used to be a very proud thing to do! And each one of those is capable of doing so much good, teaching and setting an example. Imagine all the hoopla and chaos of the next anti globalization riot channeled under responsible leadership and directed towards programs for children, the poor, and the elderly. Imagine someone with Naomi Kein's charisma in the ads. That's how I think we move forward.

No comments: