Friday, March 03, 2006

Staying in the boat

Catholics who prize fidelity to the Church's teachings have a lot to be angry and disappointed about these days, especially those of us who live in the United States. From the cover-up of priestly sexual abuse by some bishops, to the imposition of liturgical abuses by some of the same bishops, to the mandating of highly questionable sex-ed classes for Catholic school children by some of the same bishops again, it seems that there's something outrageous happening almost all the time.

The ever-present temptation is to get out, in one way or another. Get out of the Church and start going to one of those big Protestant churches, where admittedly sometimes you'll hear the Gospel preached far better, and more faithfully, than you did in your Catholic parish. Or get out of the Church and go defiantly Traditionalist with the St. Pius X folks, where at least you'll get the liturgy done reverently and solemnly, as it was before things started rolling downhill -- but not in communion with the rest of the Church.

The common thread, of course, is Getting Out. But I think that's exactly what Old Nick is hoping for: that our legitimate frustration will lead to our breaking away, so that the Body of Christ will be even more broken than it already was.

That's exactly what happened in the early sixteenth century. You think we have abuses now? Read up on it. There was plenty for ardent, sincere Christians to be outraged by back then. But when the Church didn't immediately respond with positive change, Luther and others let their zeal drive them into disastrous impatience: they said, "We won't wait any longer. We're breaking off to set up our own church, which, by the way, is the real Church."

That's not reform; that's rebellion. The Catholic Church used to call it that, too -- the Catholic history texts I read from in seventh and eighth grade did so. We're too polite for that nowadays, of course. But we called a spade a spade not too long ago.

Protestants, don't be insulted. Just accept your origins for what they were. The 'Reformers' had no intention to work humbly and slowly within the Church to effect real reform. That would have taken decades, maybe longer. That would have taken consummate humility and great personal sacrifice. They wanted action, and they wanted it now, in their lifetimes, so they could enjoy its supposed fruits. When they didn't get it, they Got Out.

That's a cautionary recollection for all of us who are discontented now. Let's not follow that terrible example, whose main fruit, five centuries later, is the spectacle of 40,000 denominations who all claim to have the truth.

Instead, let's follow this one from St. Theresa, via Fr. Robert Altier: [Update: this link to the website containing transcriptions of Fr. Altier's homilies no longer works. Fr. Altier has been silenced by his bishop, apparently for opposing too noticeably the very questionable Virtus sex-education program now being forced on Catholic families by the same bishops who betrayed them with thirty years of abuse cover-ups.]

Saint Therese, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, made the point so clearly and so simply when she was talking about the apostles when they were in the boat with Jesus, and Our Lord was sleeping in the bow. The water was sloshing over the top and the boat was being pushed about by the winds and the waves. The apostles, many of whom were fishermen, were afraid that the boat was going to sink. And she said simply, Do you really think the boat is going to sink if Jesus is in it? ... As long as you are in the boat, you have nothing to fear! As long as you are with Jesus, you are just fine. Do not try to showboat it and walk on the water or do something cute because you are going to be in trouble, but stay in the boat with Jesus. Keep your eye on Him. Do not worry about the winds and the waves; let it happen. It is not our problem. Let the Lord take care of that. Our task is to keep our eyes on Him, to pray, to live the life, to keep our focus on what is good and beautiful and excellent – and that is Jesus. If it seems like He is not answering and He is a million miles away when you come to pray then just let Him sleep and keep your eyes on Him.

That's mighty hard advice to follow, especially when the boat appears to be getting steered in the wrong direction by one of the Apostles (i.e., one of their successors). It's hard to trust that Christ will "wake up" (i.e., intervene) at just the right moment to right every wrong and dry every tear with His incomparable power. It's hard not to jump out, to drown in unbelief or to be "rescued" by another boat (but the wrong one).

But staying in the boat -- remaining in the Church and working quietly but ardently for what's right -- is our job. These are the times we we born in, and this is our work. Let's do it.