Action Alert!

who really cares?

By Diogenes (articles) | Oct 15, 2007

Most metropolitan areas in the U.S. have a large Catholic church near the city center -- perhaps a cathedral, shrine, or basilica -- that provides Mass and confessions more or less continually throughout the day.

If you enter such a church while Mass is going on, you'll notice three distinct categories of visitors: worshipers clustered in the pews near the altar, obviously partaking of the Mass; tourists strolling around with their maps and videocams, obviously not partaking; and a third group sitting or kneeling in the gloom at the back of the church or in the side aisles. Their connection with the Eucharistic action is not clear. They don't want to be seen as participating in the Mass; in fact, they don't want to be seen at all.

This third contingent has a heterogeneous composition. Some are pious Catholics engaged in private prayer. Some are seekers: non-Catholics who find themselves attracted to the Church and her Eucharist and who want to take in as much as they can of the experience without committing themselves. Still others, I surmise, have been estranged from the Church by divorce and remarriage or by a gay entanglement and yet can't shake the spiritual conviction that it's the Church, at bottom, that has it right. They're afraid to get too close, yet they can't tear themselves away entirely. They put me in mind of St. Peter, warming his hands at the fire in the high priest's courtyard.

All the folks in the third contingent make use of the church's "neutral ground" to address a deeply personal spiritual need. Especially with regard to the last mentioned category, I hope this neutral ground is never done away with; I hope no Ministers of Greeting (out of misguided good will) are commissioned to pounce on the loners so as to bind them into "fellowship." Fellowship is an excellent thing, but if made into a kind of ticket that must be punched before entering church, it can eliminate that particular freedom -- the freedom of the publican in the parable -- to pray in God's house as an anonymous sinner, as a believer not yet capable of commitment. My hunch is that many souls are gained or regained for the Church simply by her providing this paradoxical conjunction of the holiest of mysteries along with the space to look on those mysteries from a distance: outside, yet not wholly outside.

Remember, there's a light on above the confessional.

His detractors sometimes write of Pope Benedict that he wants a "smaller and purer" Church. Rubbish. Like all popes, he wants a Church that is purer and larger. It's true that efforts to make her more virtuously orthodox are in tension with efforts to include the weaker brethren and increase her membership, but this tension has existed in the Church from her beginnings, as a reading of First Corinthians shows beyond question. And as the fifth chapter of that same epistle makes clear, the Church makes room for the weaker brethren not by softening or blurring her hard teachings, but by stating them without apology, "in sincerity and truth."

God gives no command for which he not give adequate grace to accomplish. Consoling to all of us, this is especially encouraging for those entangled in habitual sin: every man has the possibility of leaving it behind him. Subversive chaplaincies and pseudo-churches, such as the recently mentioned Most Holy Redeemer, are toxic because they preach and reinforce -- not consolation -- but in its place a kind of moral despair. By exhorting their confederates to befriend the vice that holds them captive -- adultery, perjury, sodomy -- they communicate the message that the path to true freedom is open only to others (those others whom accidents of biology or circumstance have blessed more abundantly). This is not only false, but lethal to the virtue of hope, and it's a scandal that the bogus ministers who indulge this cruelty are congratulated for their "pastoral" efforts.

The persons in question need the Church's pastoral help, and deserve to get it. But in their case this help is hard to receive and, for different reasons, hard to give. Those loudest in censure of "the institutional Church's failures" in these areas and most extravagant in praise of accommodationist alternatives might remind themselves that, where authentic pastoral help is delivered, neither the giver nor the recipient is likely to advertise the fact. They might stop to think that much spiritual assistance will be conveyed anonymously and in secret. They might consider that many of the most effective ministers and many of the most anguished sinners may have public reputations totally at variance with their unseen lives. They might remember that, at times, it's not in the front seats of the synagogues but in the back of the temple where the real action takes place.

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: SentimentalGent - Dec. 23, 2009 1:08 PM ET USA

    Fawlty Towers without John Cleese. Nuff said.

  • Posted by: Hal - Dec. 21, 2009 10:37 AM ET USA

    This may be the most brilliant two sentences ever written in the English language: >>>Williams’ gamesmanship has bought you another eighteen months in which to tease the opposition with lesbian bishops while continuing to sing “Once in Royal David's City” on PBS. From your perspective, what's not to like?<<< Seriously, Di. My admiration for you knows no bounds.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2009 11:42 PM ET USA

    I hope that cat isn't named Chico. Anyway, well done on another side splitter Di, but you almost outdid yourself: I thought the website was Muckracker or Moonraker or Nutcracker rather than Mauckbaker. Perhaps we should leave it to PSmith.