Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Disaffected Catholics--It's About The Feeling Not The Reasons

One example of a 'total body' experience, if just a little disorganized and messy. Mabye this is how God sometimes see His human creation.

Fr. Richard McBrien has posted his weekly article at the National Catholic Reporter. It's entitled "Disaffected Catholics and 'bad' Catholics." In it Father McBrien raises the question about ecumenism with in Catholicism as perhaps being more important that ecumenical efforts with other denominations. He points to the fact that disaffected or lapsed Catholics are the second largest 'denomination' in the US. He wonders what the USCCB contributes to the exodus and what they can do to invite these Catholics back or stem the tide of the exodus. He notes the exodus is especially heavy amongst the younger generations.

There are a lot of comments, but two struck me as pertinent to my own theory, which is that the spiritual level of Western Catholics is at a place that the Institutional Church is not itself, or refuses to acknowledge. The first comment I've chosen to hi lite could have been written by my own daughter:

I guess I'm one of these disaffected, lapsed Catholics.

I wish I could tell you the one good reason that I don't come back, but I can't. Only that I feel as if I don't fit anymore with whatever is going on in the Church.

I am still spiritual. I still pray. Sometimes I still call myself "Catholic", because in some strange way, I still feel Catholic.

But whenever I consider becoming again a practicing Catholic, it feels too much like I'm joining a club, or political party, or an argument. Or that I am faking piety.

I don't know how this will be resolved, or even if it ever will be. It seems that I've confused "institutional" Church, with what Church really is. And I don't know what Church really is anymore.

There is a great deal of honesty in the above comment. First off it expresses the cognitive dissonance experienced by many of us. What ever the Church is, it doesn't feel right to us. We feel outside the circle of Catholicism. It's not about one reason, it's about an holistic feeling. Something strikes us as not being whole with this Catholicism.

The idea of faking piety is very strong with my daughter. Her spiritual practice incorporates aspects of Catholic ritual, especially Marian ritual, but not for the reasons the Church teaches. For her, praying the rosary is not so much devotional but meditative and provides a safe opening into deeper trance states in communion with Marian energy. For her, Mary is not the queen of heaven, but more like the mother I am not. In a sense this is a projection, but it is also a process of profound personal healing and my daughter is perfectly aware of the fact of her projection. In this open meditative state she is safe enough to be told that projection is precisely what she is doing. She is also gently guided past the projection. For her the rosary is not rote or safely pietistic. It is the door to spiritual development and personal challenge. This is not easy and it is not amenable to black and white thinking. She is being led to view life from a much bigger perspective. She may have originally started this discipline as a way to deal with her own personal suffering, but it's developed into something way beyond her original intent.

She tells me she could attend Mass if they stopped giving sermons and just let Mass be Mass. In other words to let the mystery effect us individually without being forced or guided to a particular interpretation. Which moves me right into the last observation of the above comment, confusing the institutional church with what the Church really is.

It does seem the Institutional Church is making a purposeful effort to do just that, at best confuse the two or at worst demand they be synonymous. In the latter, the Power of Jesus is purposely taught to be the Power of the Church. The sexual abuse crisis pivots on that confusion. Pedophile priests used this confusion in the minds of children to get their way. The Institutional Church itself operates from the same dynamic in it's perception of the 'simple' faithful and the need to use the rationalization of 'protecting' this defined laity from 'scandal'. Confusing their ordination with the mystery of Jesus is the penultimate delusion that allows them to continue in their own projections.

Then we have the following comment:

"bishops whose very language and actions demonstrate every day how they really wish the Second Vatican Council had never happened."

'well may those sinners who have stained the white robe of their sacred baptism fear the just punishments of God. Their remedy is "to wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb", to restore themselves to their former splendor in the sacrament of Penance, and to school themselves in the practice of Christian virtue. Hence the Apostle Paul's severe warning: "A man making void the law of Moses dies without any mercy on the word of two or three witnesses; how much worse punishments do you think he deserves, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant through which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? ... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."' - JPII

What exactly is wrong with this language?

There's nothing wrong with that language if you concede that Jesus left all of His Authority in the hands of ordained men. That Jesus will abide by their judgments about each of us and that the only path out of hell (and by extension into heaven), is by the authority of these ordained men. To actually believe this means you have to consign the vast vast majority of humanity to hell. What it describes, ironically, is not the 'hands of the living God', but the enslavement of a dead one to the Masters by Ordination.

Many of us feel God still has a free will Himself. We've also been led to believe that no matter how badly we screw things up, God's understanding of our humanity and His belief in the innate goodness of humanity vastly surpasses any of our own understandings. Why else send Jesus to teach us The Way?

Truly this is not an easy Way. It's not easy because it asks us to reflect on our own misunderstandings and sinfulness, to stop projecting our failures and need deficits on others, and to really feel at our core we are all loved by our Creator. It also asks us to believe and recognize that at that level of truth, we really do love others as we love ourselves. The trick is to heal the personal wounds which preclude us from touching that truth and which alienate us from our true selves and each other.

Anything which helps heal those wounds and puts us in touch with our core truth is sacred. It will feel correct and whole. Anything which diverts from our uncovering that truth will feel wrong, and this feeling supersedes our thoughts. Rationalizing the feeling away will only increase our anxiety. Intellectually appealing to some outside authority is a temporary band aid. It will cover the wound, keep us from seeing it, but it won't heal it.

Humanity is a creature of sense perception and the most defining sense is not vision, but touch. Why else material reality if not for the expression of the sense of touch. This truth is precisely why feeling transcends thinking. It is why we must get our thinking in line with what we feel. When we feel something is right and whole, this is not just an emotional response, it is an integrated sense perceptual response felt through out the body. Though this feeling may be described by the dominant sense of how we learn when we say things like "I see what you're getting at" or "I hear what you're saying". It is still a total body sensation. Our whole body will react.

I think the institutional church could go along way towards reconnecting with all those disaffected Catholics if it understood that faith is not just reason, but a total body experience. Our Eucharistic theology makes the same claim. A Eucharistic Community is a total body experience. It's not just the head.


  1. Colleen,

    "I think the institutional church could go along way towards reconnecting with all those disaffected Catholics if it understood that faith is not just reason, but a total body experience."

    Of course you are right, but as a person who spent all my life in science, I would like to see these men use reason based on current scientific and sociological observation. I think that so much of what is called reason is more of an institutional self delusion especially when they discuss natural law!

    Once again, I think that small prayer groups are a better way to grow. There is a problem with the Evangelical movement that gets so large that it becomes a tax free corporate realestate venture.

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  2. I had to laugh Dennis, because small groups exactly describes the disciples who actually followed Jesus as He traipsed around the country side.

    I think that's a pretty good indication that He didn't think mega churches were terribly effective for teaching the Way. He made it a total body experience.

  3. Following God. That's what people are doing now. Not following a hierarchy that COMMANDS - how to follow God. A hierarchy gone terrible wrong! By believing THEY are the church.

    I'm on sabbatical right now.

    I've found a little Eastern Orthodox parish in a poor neighborhood that calls itself "a church for all people" - and indeed it fits the bill! There are people from different ethnicities, different languages, different races, and yes!- even different sexual persuasions! The latter is a quiet but humble truth in the tiny parish - but it warms my heart! Along with the Gospel and Our Father in 3 or 4 languages. Along with the icons. And the deep spirituality of the Liturgy. Along with a pastor who prays in stocking feet - because the Etheopians take off their shoes before the Lord! (a pastor who once studied for the RC priesthood, while attending an Orthodox Church in his neighborhood - nearly 50 years ago)

    Why do people leave? Because they no longer feel "welcome" in a church that no longer feels like "home". Do I still feel Catholic? Of course! But the word "catholic" does not have to lead to Rome!

  4. Nice to hear from you TheraP. Hope your shower is doing better.

    I have a kind of similar thing going with the Sanctuary of Chimayo. People there don't care a great deal about the politics of things. It's more about the healing of things.

  5. That's exactly what the Orthodox say! "The church is for healing".

    Sorry that shower thing clogged your blog for a bit!

    Peace be with you.

  6. Agree on the small prayer groups. Have seen it work.

    Disagree some on the lapsed part. The culture is a powerful monster. It adores the idea of self-(aggrandizement, interest, and ishness). Movies, TV, music, literature, business have purged religion. Christianity's message is on 'the other' which requires the disinterested self--a very tough sell.

    Also, people leave because the church will not change their teachings to accomodate the choices people have made in their personal lives.

    In addtion, if one truly believes in the Real Presence, why would you ever leave? No matter what one disagreed with or no mattter what one thought of the hierarchy, if you have the Eucharist, you should be able to put up with a lot of crap.

  7. Dear elastic,

    I don't believe that people on this board have left their struggle to be more Christ-like, their struggle to love and respect their neighbor, their struggle to protect humanity, their struggle to live humble loving lives! We are merely observing the implosion of an institution led by a totalitarian mind set that believes only its leadership has THE TRUTH. We struggle on what to do about it and where to find personal support groups and a prayerful existence that can no longer be found in the edifices governed by a politically powerful hierarchy.

    The poor episcopal structure is the reason for the current implosion. The internal fireworks began in Europe and have spread to both America's. As I say in the next section, "you can fool part of the people part of the time..... " The fundamentalist mindset is a disaster to current christianity. It pursues a vindictive course and is blind to the Jesus in the sermon on the mount which is the highest ethical standard ever proposed to man. We see love of God in loving our neighbor as all too impractical. Looking for evil? Look for the authoritarian within. Look for it within you and me and especially within the one who says he knows THE TRUTH even if he passes out the Eucharist or excommunicates the enemies to his worldly power.

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  8. RDP--At times, I share some of your anger and disgust with the hierarchy, particularly their tone and temperament. Where we part has to to do with Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:18. The promises were not made to you or me or anyone one else in the laity. Thus, for faith and morals, irrespective of my opinion on character and style, I will follow Peter, the Rock, based upon the very clear promises of Christ.

  9. Elastico the first Peter had been through the personal fire of humiliation, betrayal, ingnorance and misunderstanding. His education about his personal issues continued well after Pentecost. See Acts chapter 10.

    Peter was never the POPE, has was first among equals who didn't mind telling him he was dead wrong and ignoring Peter's protestations to the contrary. Hence Paul's mission to the Gentiles was finally grudgingly accepted.

    I could easily follow that Peter because he is me and you and all of us who are afraid to let go of pet theories of how God should be and who God should save. Peter finally does let go of his personal pet theories. His is a wonderful story of human awakening to higher truths.

    Peter's story is first and formost a story about a man who matures in his Faith and his understanding of who he is and who God is. In my opinion Peter's story is not first and formost one of leadership, it is one of spiritual maturation. He is a man who learns to live with paradox and admits he doesn't know everything.

    The Vatican and the papacy would be much easier to follow if they actually did follow in the same footsteps of Peter. Apparently that's too threatening and too humiliating for the Church's authoritative face in the world.

    The truth is this humbling is happening whether they want to admit it or not. Jesus is still with this Church still teaching exactly as He did with Peter and the lessons are still humbling.

  10. CKB--That is certainly an interesting interpretation. And obviously one I find flawed by its Petrine dismissal.

    Extrapolating from what you wrote, we are all popes then, I guess. And it becomes a matter of who is in control in order for one's will to be asserted. There is no Truth, either, just a will to power so one can do good according to one's perspective. (Again, "What is Truth?")

    I am certain that if progressives were in total control of the Catholic Church, they would be equally protective and punitive as you claim the current hieracrchy is.

    How much tolerance would there then be for the pesky neocon Catholic who is constantly bellowing about gay acts being intrinsicially disordered? "Off with their heads," I would guess.

    Flawed humans have always been in the hierarchy and laity. For this institution (Pope and Magisterium in particular)to be still be standing in light of human sin, has to do with the grace of God, which I believe was promised by Christ in the two passages I earlier cited.

  11. Elastico, in a very real sense we are all our own Pope. No pope is going to stand in my place when I cross over and tell Jesus I was just following orders.

  12. Elastico any pope or Bishop who hides harm done to the smallest and weakest amongst us has lost all sense of ethics and ability to speak with authority!

    Your choice of scripture is in fact metaphorical for the Peter in us all who genuinely seeks authoritative answers. That has rarely been JP II, ratzie or B. What people call authority when speaking of these men is purely an authoritarian mind set and has very little if anything to do with authoritative understanding, learning or teaching. dennis

  13. Elastico,

    You bring up a good point when you ask the question, "What is Truth?" THE truth is found only in the mind of God. For man some truth is found in authoritative observation of nature which unfortunately is NOT what the RCC calls the natural law.

    Truth is something we as humans grasp for and as soon as we close our fists, it has slipped through our fingers.

    We can only find truth but we will never know Gods Truth. Unfortunately there are far too many Religious people who feel their religion is based on The Truth. This is only a delusion of any institution that so believes. So your
    idea that Peter equals infallible pope is a delusion propagated by a very contentious Vatican I only in a second vote after the conclave was initially disbanded only to be reestablished by a conniving Pius IX. It happened just as this pope and the curia felt politically vulnerable with the loss of the Vatican states. Truth is never established by this type of institutional fear! It was a shoring up of religious authoritarianism. It has only weakened the institutional church as this type of fear keeps clerics from considering the observations and discoveries found in the Galilean telescope or microscope. This is found both in hard science and sociology! By believing they already know the truth fundamentalist clerics miss the truth most recent discovery.

    May we all gain grace in seeking a little more of truth as the more we know then the more we have to discover!

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  14. CKB and RDP--Why should I believe what you say is true about metaphorical Gospel passages, papal authority, Peter not a pope, etc. There are plenty of competent voices through the ages who would say you are wrong. If I am my own pope, I say you are wrong. Aftr all, my conscience tells me that I am right and should say that to you. So, why should I believe your interpretation or, for that matter, why should I believe what your conscience is telling you?

  15. I find the total body experience you mention one of the most appealing thing about Catholicism. Protestantism, by and large, has forgotten the importance of ritual, and as an atheist, that's what draws me to Rome more than anything else.

  16. Come on Elastico! Seems your response is a desperate expression of an adolescent mind when cornered! it seems to me you are saying you can not find a way to work to be authoritative and want to believe that only one person or a select group can know the Mind of God and relate it to you so that you will also know The Truth without working to seek it.

    There is a problem when those figures you rely upon are authoritarian and are fearful to understand that the mind of God is expressed by His humble flock. They are not willing to look down any telescope or microscope to observe God’s truth as the Spirit reveals it Today! Are you afraid to grow, Elastico? I would like you to prove me wrong by using your own God given creativity that is seen in an open and working frame of mind. It takes a lot of work, much more than you show.

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  17. Elastico, I'm not really trying to get you to follow me. I am asking for the heirarchy to let go and let grow. If they did that it would make room for me and you and Dennis and everybody else who cares or believes---or even just wants to.

    This wouldn't result in chaos if we followed Jesus's two commands to love God with our total body, mind and soul, and made it our business to learn to love each other as we love ourselves.

    Here's where I'm coming from and where I began to really question. It dawned on me that we could never ever learn to love others if we were taught to both distrust and hate ourselves as innately sinful and corrupted people. This is especially corrosive for women who have been demonized from the very beginning. Now it's happening to gays.

    Jesus was very specific about that particular command and too much of Church teaching makes loving oneself very difficult. It's why I write so much about projection as a defense mechanism. We've learned to live with our flaws by projecting many of them on others. We have never been taught to move beyond accomodating our flaws into loving ourselves.

    Jesus spent His entire mission amongst social outcasts and people who didn't like themselves and weren't liked by society. He taught them they were intrinsically loved by their Father and showed them that truth by His own actions towards them--especially women.

    He was all about love and we are still all about Adam and Eve. He was a reality and they are a metaphorical story. I prefer the reality.

  18. As someone who looks forward to reading your blog each day, I must say that those last couple paragraphs are the best thing you've every written. I showed it to my wife and she said "wow". You hit the nail right on the head. Thank You.

  19. One more thought: The Eucharist does not belong only to the Roman church! And maybe that is where some can't understand why others might leave.

    Eastern Orthodox Eucharist is recognized by the Pope as are their ordinations and episcopal consecrations. The Pope may not be in communion with the Orthodox bishops, but that does not invalidate the Eucharist.

    The Eucharist is a gift and a participation in the life of Christ. It is not something the pope or the roman church can hold hostage! It's this kind of nonsense that disaffects!

  20. Yes. I admit to trying to be as adolescent as possible. Wasn't that what Christ told us to be—like little children

    Part of the reason for my phrasing /challenge in my last post was to point out in a simplistic manner that when we are our own pope, the consequence is relativism. Neither side believes the others interpretation no matter how reasoned or fuzzy and warm the presentation. My post was meant to be challenge to show how you claim to be an authority, which you again proved is merely being one’s own pope. What is Truth? Well it is what ever you want it to be. No institution will survive that approach.

    I have also pointed out that progressives in control would be no different than the current hierarchy. I only have to occasionally read these posts and comments or the comments at NCR to realize mercy is virtually non-existent. (“Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.”) . Not hard to visualize a progressive purge if the tables were turned. The usual post is along this line: The hierarchy is bad because………. (fill in your pejorative and then expand on it). Bitterness does not make for a very attractive movement.

    Regarding using one’s brain, well I’ll look to Scripture on the topic at hand. (Because I am an adolescent, I can’t quite think for myself) Take for instance Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. Individuals that God worked through when establishing his covenats. They were the covenant mediators. I find Christ words in the passages I quoted in an earlier post to be perfectly consistent with working through another individual, Peter, the Rock and subsequently his successors.

    RDP I don’t share your adoration of science. I respect it, though. But my caution is that it has been used for a lot of evil, and there is nearly an infinite amount it does not know. That should make scientist more humble than they are. Also, science can inform truth but cannot say what is true. Read some Karl Popper. Science does not prove something true because when done correctly, it tries to prove its theories false. A theory becomes stronger the more rigorous the attempt to falsify it, not stronger by trying to prove it true. Science does an adequate job of explaining how something works, but is ill-equipped to answer why and thus is philosophically handicapped. Ideally though it should be self-correcting and has been generally. That is why a lot of theories have bit the dust. It is another reason why when peering down the telescope, it should be done with caution, especially if applying the view to philosophy.

  21. Well Elastico, I must congratulate you on some of your presentation that is much more what I was looking for from you. With us human beings, baby, adolescent and more adult mindsets are almost the same when we compare them to the mind of God. So it must have been that authoritarian Bishop in Rome in me ever well learned that caused you to be a little upset with my comments.

    Of course, we as scientists cannot know The Truth; we only can attempt to discover more truth. Both Kepler’s and Newton's Laws of planetary motion were proven not exactly correct because they did not understand all the gravitational factors at work in the Universe. (Yet the laws of planetary motion to the adolescent physicist must be memorized because they work so well most of the time!) So goes it with so much of science and all principled thought. Certainly Science just as any other discipline is a work in formation. The truths we find are always open to question.

    The truths of history are also always open to question. Read the Cherokee history of North America and as you must understand it will be a lot different than the truth discussed in a HS American history class. Let's not confuse relativism with relativity- as every bit of knowledge in the Universe must be relative for a finite being. (E=MC2)

    The view of philosophy for the scientist begins with the hypothesis and depends on careful observation. We seem to discover more truth when the hypothesis is not quite proven and we find a serendipitous new bit of understanding. However as more truth becomes established we make a little progress we come up with new ideas and new hypothesis. This all depends on relative truth because we as finite beings can not know God’s truth. We can only have an awe for more truth yet to discover.

    Theology and history are the same way. As we begin to understand new conditions we see that what we once thought to be true of a matter was not exactly correct. As the Spirit reveals more to society through Her peoples over generations, we understand more of God's great truth and sometimes, even most times, Philosophy and science seem to go hand in hand. Not to say that both theology and science don't have explanations that are just plain wrong. Often the error comes from the charlatan in both disciplines. The charlatan is often a person with something personally to gain or loose from getting his or her way, this applies in both science and theology, and of course even in philosophy. There are people with totalitarian mind sets in all disciplines.

    May we gain grace from a peaceful understanding.

  22. My last comments and then time to move on.

    You wrote RDP, "This all depends on relative truth because we as finite beings can not know God’s truth."

    If you believe this you end up being a skeptic and wouldn't be able to comment confidently on anything because of lack of revelation or to put it in words you may use --lack of sufficient evidence. You will know the how of something but not the why, then.

    I believe the Creed and the God/Man was the way the truth and the life. I believe by grace he worked through the flawed character of each covenant mediator to pass along the Truth. He continues to do so based upon the promises of Christ and that he will do so until the end of time. In other words, we can know the mind of God. Not totally but what has chosen to reveal to his creation.

    So I will continue to stay close to Peter regarding faith and morals and as advised to do by the likes of Augustine, Ignatius, etc. That makes a lot more sense than latching on to macro (largely negative )pronouncements from those who beleive "we are all popes".

  23. Indeed, TheraP: The Eucharist does not belong to either Rome or the Eastern Orthodox! No matter how often or loud they shout their shibboleths: "We are the One, True, (and only) Church!"

    Neither, for example consider Anglican orders and eucharist to be valid. What arrogant nonsense! Christ, nor the Holy Spirit will be held hostage by such politico-spiritual game playing and one-upmanship.

    For that matter, the various Orthodox jurisdictions in America *still* fly under the radar of media scrutiny - unlike their Roman brothers - on the matter of clerical sexual abuse. ~ documents this in painful detail

    That hypocritical stench goes to high heaven, no matter how much incense they may use to try to cover the stink.

    formerly OCA

  24. Dennis, loved your last comment. All disciplines are effected by the Observer effect. So in that sense it is relative. Besides the bell curve is in force in many many areas and that of course, is all about probability--not certainty.

    Elastico, I found this sentence open ended: "In other words, we can know the mind of God. Not totally but what has chosen to reveal to his creation."

    Are you saying God has stopped revealing his truth to creation, or only reveals it through the Pope? History would show that our evolving understanding of God's creation is rarely furthered through the office of the Papacy.

    John, you are so correct. It is quite interesting how the Orthodox fly under the radar. They seem quite adept at hiding behind Vatican skirts on some issues.

  25. The light seems a little dim, but prophecy indicates it is always darkest before the dawn. I wonder at times how many have ever read the Bible as it was intended each book in its entirety. Jesus bestowed His entire earthly ministry upon the Church, and yes indeed He named Simon son of Jona Cephas (Rock translated into English Peter, Jesus’ own title.) the same title bestowed on Jesus the rock Moses struck in the desert that brought forth water. Jesus the Rock whom the builders rejected. The hierarchy of the Church is established and those who teach will receive a stricter judgment. Many hear have established themselves as teachers and have rejected the Teaching authority of the Church, so they are correct they will be held accountable, for their ignorance and insolence.

  26. Jesus did bestow His earthly ministry on Peter, but He most certainly did not bestow all of His ministry on Peter. Hence, He left all of us the Holy Spirit. Our reality is about much much more than that part we normally experience on this earth.

    Rome wants control of the whole show, and that authority Jesus did not give them, partly because that authority is the Father's to give, but mostly because Peter did not have the world view or understanding necessary to contain the total truth. No human does while on earth--Jesus excluded.

    Jesus also says, post resurrection, that there are more things to learn and they will come at the behest of the Holy Spirit. He did not say these new things will only come through Rome.