Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What About The Future Of Catholicism?

The Catholicism of the future will bloom in it's uniqueness because it understands it shares and is connected to the greater spiritual soil which supports all of God's creation.

The blog Patheos is running a series of articles this week on the future of Catholicism. It's worth investigating because the writers who have been chosen to present their thoughts do represent a fairly wide spectrum of Catholic thought. In the spirit of this enterprise I have added a feature on side bar asking this same question for soliciting reader input. I'm kind of mulling over some changes for the blog, directed at enhancing comments from readers and giving the really thought provoking ones more exposure. The new side bar feature is step one.

In the meantime I personally resonated with the article written by Tim Muldoon entitled Mysticism and the Community. The following excerpt is describes Tim's ideas of why Catholicism is important and where the mysticism of the individual intersects with the practical needs of community.

A Catholic Church is necessary today because the globe's problems must be addressed by a global institution. It certainly won't be corporations that do this kind of kingdom building, since they are too concerned with the bottom line. Nor will it be nations, all of which (our own included) tend to get a little too caught up in various nationalisms, wars, and economic issues. The Catholic Church was the first truly global institution, so it's had about four hundred years to practice what globalization entails.

Don't be fooled: the Googles and Microsofts of the world may claim to be multinational corporations. They make good products and yield dollars for shareholders. But they have nowhere near the complexity of the Catholic Church's 1 billion-plus members, spread out with thousands and thousands of parishes, hospitals, schools, retreat houses, orphanages, refugee services, religious orders, and so on, speaking any number of languages. What will drive tomorrow's Catholic mystics to participation in the institution of the Church (and its accompanying bureaucracy, the Vatican) is the recognition that real solidarity among the peoples of the earth will require a serious commitment to Jesus' command to love the neighbor -- that is, to actually build structures of mutual support from places like Manila to Montevideo to Montreal to Mogadishu.

Of the two, the second movement is harder for the contemporary mind to digest. We think mysticism is kind of sexy -- it's about trying to be deeply serious people on very serious quests for truth and spiritual fulfillment. But if those quests are to end in something more than a rather bourgeois self-satisfaction, they must run the route of confronting the hard realities of a world whose history is often sad and whose present reality is often hard to swallow.

The questions that Catholics of the future will face are these: am I content to shape my life around the desires generated by the culture around me, or am I willing to shape my life around the Beatitudes? Will I make life choices about relationships, about money, about power in imitation of people most like me, or out of a conscious attempt to promote justice, especially for the most disenfranchised of the world? Am I willing to risk my life on the words of Jesus, even when I have much more to lose than do the millions of poor with whom I approach the table of the Eucharist? Who, in the end, is my neighbor?

Tomorrow's Catholic Church will be a communion of mystics who see their task as rooted in the incredible command of Jesus to love the neighbor: the Muslim neighbor, the atheist neighbor, the corporate neighbor, the hungry neighbor, the sexually abused neighbor, the African neighbor, the scientific neighbor, the female neighbor, the gay neighbor, the violent neighbor, maybe even eventually the extraterrestrial neighbor. I consider myself a Catholic evangelist precisely because I hope others will see the astonishing opportunity in such a mission.


The above is not just the challenge of the Catholic world, it's the challenge of all spiritual and religious systems. It's also the universal message being given to mystics and spiritual seekers of all persuasions. When I think about this idea of the future I think it's sometimes important to discuss what might be the road to extinction. In that vein then here are some of my thoughts:

--The road to extinction emphasises our differences for the sake of promoting internal religious identity.

--The road to extinction emphasises unique doctrine as absolute truth at the expense of learning from others or seeing truth in others.

--The road to extinction emphasises fear over love, obedience over compassion.

--The road to extinction emphasises adherence to external authority over internalizing and integrating religious insight in one's conscience.

--The road to extinction emphasises ritual as an end in itself instead of a means to support the individual in his or her relationship with the Creator, with each other, and with the greater reality.

It doesn't take much of a search through the Gospels to find stories or statements of Jesus which confirm the above attitudes are not of His kingdom. Maybe the bigger question is why has Catholicism progressed through parts of two millenia as if these are part of His kingdom? It's also striking to me that periods of reform have come at the prompting of some of our greatest Catholic mystics, not at the prodding of our hierarchical authority. It's the prophets and mystics who have called the Institutional Church back to some semblance of what Jesus taught, of what His graced presence actually means for the Church and the entire People of God. That graced presence is not about propping up Vatican authority or worldly power. It's about His relationship with little ole you and me. It's not about being on the other end of a direct hot line to the Papacy.

In fact it's sometimes about reminding our leadership that they are not in fact more important than the people they serve nor the Communion of Saints and Angels. They are in fact supposed to be in service to both, not using both as means to their own ends. This final fact is the real reason I see the Vatican and the representation of their idea of a clerical system imploding. That hardly means Catholicism itself will circle the drain until it is no more. The mystics and seekers will see to it that doesn't happen, and many of those mystics and seekers will not even be Catholic or Christian. That doesn't mean they won't be Jesus people or Jesus followers. They just won't be conventional, traditional, or historical religious Jesus followers. And yet, on a very fundamental level they will understand what Jesus was all about and what He taught-- and those things are universal in a truly Catholic sense.


  1. A good question, Colleen, which we should all think about, hard.

    Certainly, we must get much closer to the figure of Christ, and downgrade the obsession with the Holy Roman Empire around the papacy;
    we need to recall the "teaching authority" of the church is just that, teaching authority, not legislative power, and teachers can be wrong;
    We must recognise that in the modern world, lay people are often better educated than the clergy - even in theology, and certainly in secular fields;
    We need to grow in spiritual maturity, learning to discern when the designated "leaders" are plain wrong, and what we really are called to do;
    to be willing to follow those calls
    into our lives - coupling spiritual practice with (discerned) action in the world.

  2. I have come to see the "church" - or I try to do so - from a God's eye view. There is an underlying unity, but persons have fractured what God has united and keeps uniting, in spite of all our human dissensions. I also see, from my "God's eye view" that God welcomes all comers to the Kingdom - whether they call it Kingdom or by another name. It is so clear that Jesus had to come within one tradition. And, becoming man, he was limited by time and space and culture and the tradition into which he came - which sadly rejected him, for the most part.

    God persists, in spite of rejections. Christ is with his "church" - but the Kingdom cannot be equated with the Roman-labeled institution as it claims - though I'm sure that statement could be viewed by some as heretical.

    God is guiding all seekers who humbly knock and light their lamps (and keep them lit) as best they can.

    Many people recite the creed. And believe it. It's almost amusing that so many, from different directions, can recite "one, holy, catholic" - while feuding!

    I'm giving a link (again) that discusses, within Eastern Orthodoxy - but you could extend it - how mysticism and Liturgy complement one another and are born from the same well, co-mingling you could say, from within the Old Testament tradition, emerging in the New with the Person of Jesus. Follow the link. Look for "Liturgy and Mysticism" (parts one and two)

    You will see, from the first page, that Fr. Golitzin understands that mysticism is part of stream, from which all spiritual traditions may drink. I think this paper (which is in two pdf's) goes a long way toward understanding the necessity of mysticism in "carrying" the tradition, because these are the people who drink most deeply from the Divine stream - whose experiences validate and verify the Eternal Truths - and who themselves recognize that the Liturgy (or however a tradition makes use of ritual and symbol and ceremony to provide the believer with a touchstone for the experience of God and the path for seeking Truth) feeds that search, that experience, that deepest heart where one connects with the Deep Heart of Holy Mystery.

  3. I may be your most secular, least religious regular reader. I'll leave the more spiritual side of the discussion to others.

    When it comes to organization, leadership and decision making the Catholic Church needs a complete change.

    In 1943 the Chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson Sr. said "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." He was the world's foremost expert in the world's foremost company.

    I prefer to think of the Vatican and the Curia as shortsighted (rather than outright stupid or evil) people. They are making the classical mistake that Generals do when they "fight the last war" by using strategies and tactics that worked in the past. They might not be appropriate for the present or future.

    The Church, as an organization, needs to challenge, inspire and transform the people of the world.

    Otherwise it will die.


    Word Verification: vises

    As in get your head out of the vises, Cardinals!

  4. The structure of the Catholic Church reminds me of an archaic bridge across a swift river. It is ricked and certain to fail in a matter some time, probably shorter than we know. A new bridge for man to build his own spirituality is desperately needed but the RCC is intent on making few repairs and claiming that we should return to this old structure. In fact the only repairs the RCC feels it needs, is to mold a few more supports that model the ones of 500 years ago. There is complete denial of the weight of the current vehicles that we need to pass over these dangerous waters.

    The Church could decide to make a new strong structure and try to base its myths on a more truthful approach, but to the leaders that seems to mean a collapse. Unless there is change in our structure, this archaic institution continues to implode on itself designating an ever fewer number of Catholics and leaving out critical thinkers.

    The Church, as it is structured, is a detriment to salvaging spirituality or giving continuity and guidance for an ever heavy and complicated bridge for humanity. I fear that there will be much violence before enough people will again see Christ's true message of love. The Church's moral teachings have not been the vanguard for ethical evolutionary thought. It has rather been a defense of the old. Secular society not clerical society has been leading ethics more that the RCC. There have been some good spiritual leaders, including the current Dali Lama, Martin Luther King and Ghandi. Perhaps, society will produce another successor of this group to lead, but these progressive leaders, like Christ tend to be murdered before they produce a kingdom in this world that will follow them. For this reason, I fear bloodshed in a world led by predatory capitalism. A political structure that the church tends to support.

    I believe that spirituality will be found in smaller groups of thoughtful prayerful people no matter the denomination, Christian or not. The idea that the Catholic Church will come to the rescue seems absurd to me. They never have and simply will not change quickly enough to deal with this ever more complicated world. dennis

  5. Colleen-

    I spent several hours reading some fascinating 'alternative history' of the Vatican & Papacy. By 'alternative', I mean that which is in marked contrast to the company song:p

    This was preparatory to writing something on the topic. But one item in particular stands out:

    The entire justification for the largest & oldest corporate entity, theocracy with incredible wealth & hegemony......hinges on one single passage in Matthew?

    A passage which - ignoring some VERY serious linguistic issues - does NOT appear in the other 3 Canonical Gospels? And whose words are carved in huge gilt letters around the base of the dome of St. Peter's?

    Yet these words - which follow shortly after in the same chapter - and are present in the other Gospels - are nowhere to be found in the Vatican. Christ to Peter:

    "Get behind me, Satan! For thou desirest the things of man, nor of God".

    Anon Y. Mouse

  6. Great post Dennis. Love the analogy of the bridge.

    Mouse I made a similar observation on this blog two or so years ago. I've also wondered if maybe Jesus wasn't making a joke about Peter as 'the rock' in view of the Satan statement which comes slightly after the 'rock' comment.

    Then there are the facts that is was James who led the Jerusalem Church and Paul who led the Gentile Church which makes Peter what, an advisor? Not to mention the official scenario ignores some other Apostolic churches who more or less did their own thing like the gnostics and Thomas's church in India.

  7. I read some of the "blogs" concerning the future of Catholicism and found them wanting, ( except for the short, too short, comments about "mysticism" ( a not very useful term for something that's extraordinarily ordinary)).

    Most assumed that the Church will continue in its present form as a hierarchical religion, creedal ( religion as propositions to be accepted)in foundation and Western European,( Greco-Latin), in its explication of that creed.

    I think that this is erroneous.

    Hierarchy is an outmoded form of governance and an outmoded form of viewing how the universe is structured. It runs counter to what physics shows to be the case for the material universe and, while hiearchy does have a role in biology, it does not really explain human freedom or behavior.

    This does not mean that hierarchy is wrong but it's not as universal as our ancestors thought.

    A reevaluation of it will be necessary. Linked to this is, of course, the role of women, assigned by hierarchical thinking to a lesser role than men.

    Creedal or propositional thinking about religion is also something to be re-evaluated. Ask most Catholics what the Creed really means and very few, including myself, will be able to state what it means without just repeating it.

    In other words, we don't really know what "God" means, let alone "Father", "Son", Holy Spirit". We don't have a good understanding mainly because the Church itself has not clearly defined them.

    Basically, the confusion comes because we no longer hold to the same "metaphysical world-view" that was prevalent at the writing of the Creed.

    This world-view was an uneasy mix of Greek, Latin and Hebrew elements that have often come into conflict with each other. It had definite elents of dualisms whether these were of the material-spiritual type or the virtue-sin type.

    We no longer live in the ancient Greco-Roman-Hebrew world. That world did not have other "world" religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, ( or Islam, a type of the Abrahamic religion), nor philosophies such as Confucianism, Taoism, or Shinto and other "nature" religions/philosophies to deal with. Each of these has different views ranging from dualism to non-dualism.

    Catholicism, if it is to continue, ( and I think it will), will have to reconsider itself from the ground up.

    The foundation of the Church is Christ who does not really "fit" the conceptions of divinity of the ancient Greco-Roman-Hebrew world, nor that of the other religions and philosophies yet has echoes and correlations with each one.

    Somehow, the Church will have to find a way to express itself in a new language that can surmount these divisions.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Sorry- something peculiar about the posting mechanism led to doubling the comment.

  10. Anon, there is something about this commenting program that when a certain word count is reached it double posts. When I get done with this comment I will delete your duplicate.

    I agree that Catholicism is going to have to find a new paradigm in which to express it's core truths. Every religious system is under going that kind of rethinking and my experience has been the common paradigm is quantum physics and it's notions of inner dimensional reality, multiple universes, and notions of fundamental relationships and states in which a known element can be matter or wave depending on it's relationship with the environment it's in.

  11. Colleen -

    There is no evidence that Peter was a 'pope' in any sense in which that word has been understood for at least 1000 years. At best, he was 'first among equals'. But he most certainly was not considered the 'ruler' over all of the various local churches.

    Actually, the first use of'pope' is attrubutable to Alexandria....not Rome.And the Church in Antioch was for a long time a far greater stronghold of the faith then Rome was. There is even some very serious doubt among many scholars as to whether Peter was actually the 'bishop of Rome'.

    But let's pretend he was for the sake of discussion. Rome had NO primacy or power over any of the other churches, until after Nicea in 325. It would seem that your definition of 'Advisor' might correctly define his status. WHO was the 2nd 'pope'? Actually the answer is rather murky. If we examine things more, we find some rather huge gaps in the line of quite a few years, in some cases. We know very little about the first 35 popes. And there is confusion about some of their reigns (they even overlap....).

    One thing we do know is that most of them DID NOT attempt to assert central authority, or fiat. Decisions were made by collaborative consensus. Until Nicea.....

    ...when the Vatican & 'Papacy' was created as we know it & infused with $$, land & near absolute power.Which they quickly used to persecute the Arians.

    God responded, via allowing the Sack of Rome about 100 years later. By the Goths, Visigoths. Who were......Arian Christians.


    Anon Y. Mouse

  12. For an interesting view of the need for paradigm shift;

    Rosemary Ruether hits the main topics quite well. I hope her concluding remarks are just as insightful.

    Regarding the papacy etc from Anony Mouse- the present view of papacy began quite late . For a long time the opinion was that authority was exercised by the five major sees of Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Constantinople. Rome had "primacy" as mediator in disputes, that's all.

  13. I'm very interested in Rose Mary's concluding remarks and have also found the previous installments worth reading and then some.

  14. "Regarding the papacy etc from Anony Mouse- the present view of papacy began quite late . For a long time the opinion was that authority was exercised by the five major sees of Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Constantinople. Rome had "primacy" as mediator in disputes, that's all."

    In general, this is historically correct. He would have been rather like the Chief of an Indian tribe. He would preside over a 'council of elders', which would normally rule by mutual consensus. The Chief would mediate disputes. Perhaps even his opinion would be the deciding vote in certain cases. But neither the Chief nor early Popes had any Fiat.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  15. That's a very good analogy Mouse.

    The funny part about it though, at least to me, is that even today there are confederated tribes where the Chief spokesman is the front 'man' for a ruling council of women elders.

    Wouldn't that be a change for Rome.