Our Church of Convenience

December 2005By Paul A. Wagner

Paul A. Wagner is Director of both the Institute for Logic and Cognitive Studies and the Project in Professional Ethics at the University of Houston -- Clear Lake.

As a philosopher and ethicist, I have only once before written anything of direct interest to Christian thinking. Moreover, never once have I written anything Catholic in tone. I suppose I figured the Church could take care of herself over the past thirty years. But I've heard less and less theology and morality from the pulpits and more and more psychology and secular sociology.

Incense and organs seem to have faded away from churches, and in their place are guitars, drums, cymbals, trumpets, and even electric guitars. Seldom are people quiet during Mass. Chatter about dress, politics, or upcoming festivals and barbecues are common. And, when walking to and from Communion, I see people greet each other and chat about weekend festivities. Once, at a charismatic Catholic church I rarely attend, I watched as children ran up and down the aisles playing during Mass, one falling into a very large baptismal font. Fortunately, people were able to react quickly to this mishap since few were paying attention to the altar (more fashionably referred to as the "table").

Long ago, I taught Sunday school classes. Now I find from talking to many Sunday school teachers that they ignore the Catechism of the Catholic Church and teach almost exclusively about capital punishment, abortion, the environment, and sex education. Moreover, the content of the curriculum is indistinguishable from that of the public schools (except for abortion). So, what is the point of sending children to Sunday school?

Evidently, the only thing children, especially teens, get in Sunday school or its equivalent is the same as they get from television or the public school classroom -- save for the condemnation of abortion. Opposition to abortion is seemingly all that sets CCD instruction apart from the rest of "pop" society.

Church has become a place of convenience. Parishioners greet people at the beginning of Mass and again at the handshake of peace. Catholics have become very good at the fashionable "air kiss" and the robust handshake. Parishioners are often treated throughout Mass to warmed-over folk and pop music. Once during the collection of gifts at a Catholic church in Chicago, I watched as the celebrant and deacons sat on the side of the altar talking, smiling, and bobbing their heads to the beat of the music. On occasion I have found Catholic churches in both San Francisco and Houston that dismiss this "muzak" and boogie down to a heavy metal rock 'n' roll. The performers lap up the approval showered upon them, which sometimes comes in the form of spontaneous clapping from the congregation and sometimes in the form of accolades from the celebrant. In the midst of such jubilation, parishioners endure a brief politicized homily and then go home feeling -- feeling what?

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Back to December 2005 Issue

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There is no genuine love for and trust in God within the people anymore. There is no recognition of the majesty which is His divine nature. His Real Presence in the tabernacle should have us on our knees worshipping from the moment we enter a church. We are a sad and unhappy lot, made even less happy by our lack of reflective recognition of what we have become. Posted by: gespin3549
September 26, 2007 09:09 AM EDT
Reading this piece I was reminded of Palm Sunday. Those folks were happy, and they were even willing to put Christ on a donkey and swear their allegience to him, as long as he was understood as operating within the constraints of secular power. When they found out who he really was, and what was at stake, they nailed him to a tree and left him for dead...

I am also reminded of the versicle recited in the Byzantine Liturgy just before Holy Communion, "neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee." We should examine ourselves to be sure that we are not only making a show of devotion when it is convenient, as did Judas, while selling our Lord to the highest bidder in secret...
Posted by: etagert
September 26, 2007 11:57 AM EDT
I am coming to the conclusion that any real reformation/return to basics will have to come from the laypeople as our bishops starting with the Holy father are not doing enough and what they are doing right they do with the speed of a crippled snail. Posted by: gespin3549
June 24, 2008 02:39 PM EDT
As a (conservative leaning)fifth year deacon candidate in a rather liberal eastern US diocese, I can attest to what's going on with the clergy. Hell is closed for repairs, Purgatory is "baloney cut thick", and confession is resrved for old folks and "nut jobs".

However---I'm in a class of 16 men, all married, and many conservative in their leanings. We listen to the instructors, and give them what they want, 'cause we "keep our eyes on the prize", most notibly ordination next June. We had to "stomach" reading articles written by Father Richard Rohr, OFM, heard tapes by Tom Zanzig, and listened to erudite Ph.D.'s from Notre Dame tell us of Jesus evolving into the messiah.

It looks bleak on the outside, but I tell you many of us in the system, including seminarians, don't believe all the crappola that comes our way. Jesus built this Church with his blood, and he will not let a bunch of "goof ball" bishops and cardinals tear it to pieces. You can bet the ranch on that one, baby!
Posted by: pozzi
June 24, 2008 06:48 PM EDT
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