"As parishes die, the schools close, the pews empty. The clergy and
religious communities are more scant in numbers, it would be good to wake up
and read the writing on the wall."
So wrote a fellow who responded to me about an editorial I sent to our
local paper. On the surface, it seems very logical and true, something
should be done to try and stem the tide of desertion from the faith.
However, he also, unknowingly, gave a perfect reason why such things are
"People no longer need to submit to a theology that is handed down
sentence by sentence, word by word from a pope and his Vatican. People can
and are building their own theology."
Obviously, if this is true, then there is no need for parishes, no need
for Catholic schools, no need to try and fill empty pews. If we are free, as
Catholics, to make our own theology, then we have no need to attend Mass, we
can worship God in a meadow, or a football game. No need to learn the faith,
the how's and why's of our faith, whatever we want or 'feel' is perfectly okay.
No need then for priests, nuns, or other religious. In fact, when groups
like Call To Action call for small faith groups which may meet in someone's
dining room and be 'guided' by a community ordained facilitator, one can see
that their 'complaint' is precisely what they hope for. So it should come as
no surprise that we see empty pews, etc.
"They have the right to do and to make their spiritual search without
being hushed or thrown out by Rome."
Of course they have that right, but does that also mean they have right
to call themselves Catholic? Free will means having the right to accept or
reject God, His Church, etc. Of course there are consequences, but it seems
no one told them that.
"But even if we, or an angel from Heaven, should preach to you a gospel
contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).
"And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of
those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the
same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen,
disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even satan
disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants
also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
It's pretty clear that St. Paul, nor any of the Apostles, advocated
'building ones own theology'.
Do we have an example of this from Christ, or, as many seem to think, did
the Apostles begin this 'dictatorship' of theology? Is it true that the
Church has to change it's teachings in order to 'save' mass desertions?
In John 6, we read how Christ and His disciples went ahead after His
miracle of multiplying the bread and fish. A large multitude followed Him
and His disciples and heard His teaching on the Eucharist. Almost
immediately, there was a problem.
"The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, "I am the bread which
came down from Heaven." They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph,
whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, 'I have come down from
Heaven'?''.The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man
give us his flesh to eat?' Many of His disciples, when they heard it, said,
'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?' But Jesus, knowing in Himself
that His disciples murmured at it,…. After this many of His disciples drew
back and no longer went about with Him. Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you
also wish to go away?'" (John 6: 41-41; 52; 60-61; and 68-67).
From a multitude of disciples to, at least, only twelve. But Christ
didn't change one iota of His teaching. Scriptures are full of such examples
where His teachings confronted the 'norms' of His day. His enemies even
tried to use this well-known trait to try and trap Him.
"Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully,
and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us,
then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Matthew
So, it's clear that Christ wasn't interested in the numbers game, nor
cared to change His teachings to suit the norm of the day.
The early Church, often misused to try and justify their error, saw the
danger of this 'self made' theology.
"It is on him [Peter] that He [Jesus] builds the church, and to him that He
entrusts the sheep to feed [ref. John 21:15-17]. And although He assigns power
to all the apostles, yet He founded a single chair, thus establishing the
sources and hallmark of the churches' oneness. No doubt the others were all
that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter and it is thus made clear
that there is but one church and one chair…..If a man does not hold fast to
this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he
deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still
confidence that he is in the Church?" (St. Cyprian; On the Unity of the
The Church is great gift of God. Without something, or someone to teach
us what He taught, what would become of us? In fact, why not just come down,
tell us we're free and leave? Why did He spend 3 years teaching the Apostles
if it weren't in His plan to send them in His name?
In fact, He said precisely that.
"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus
had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some
doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in Heaven and on
earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am
with you always, to the close of the age.'" (Matthew 28: 16-20).
It has to be pointed out that the commission to teach in His name was given
to His remaining eleven Apostles, not to all of His disciples. Though we
'teach by our example and word, we do so under their guidance; not of our
own accord, by our own authority, by our own wants and desires. We repeat to
Christ what His Apostles said in John 6.
"Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words
of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are
the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).
We don't need to concern ourselves with theological discussions, only
believe and live what we say each and every Sunday (or are supposed to say):
"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and
earth. And of all things visible and invisible. And in Jesus Christ, the
only begotten Son of the Father. God from God, Light from Light, True God
from True God. Begotten, not made, one in being with the Father, through
Whom all things were made. It was for us and our salvation that He came down
from Heaven and was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified died, and was buried.
On the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures He ascended
into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father. He shall come
again to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds
from the Father and the Son. Together with the Father and Son, He is
worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Scriptures.
We believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We confess one
baptism for the forgiveness of sins and look for the resurrection of the
dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."
Here is our faith in a nut shell. We do not 'trust' Scripture because
men wrote it and men may be mistaken. We do not trust the Church because,
again, it is full of frail, humans, who, again, may be wrong. This is the
premise of those who wish to change the teachings of the Church to suit the
'Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
However, our 'trust' isn't based on men, but God. It is because we do
believe in God that we 'trust' the Church He established to teach ALL nations
His teachings for ALL time (ref. Matthew 28:16-20).
We 'trust' that He guides and guards His Church so that it will always do
His will and follow His commands (Ibid).
We 'trust' the Scriptures which were written under the guidance of the
Holy Spirit (see the Creed). And, again, we 'trust' the Church, which
compiled and guarded the Scriptures, to help us interpret and understand
The Church is here, not as a man made organization, but by the very hand
of God. A gift, a voice of authority, teaching in His name and with His
authority, so that we can trust that what it says is true. If it is
otherwise, then God is a liar, and/or a fool, since Christ promised.
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church,
and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
If it is, as many think, an authoritarian, patriarchal monolith seeking to
regain or retain it's grip on "the illiterate mobs', then that Church has
been overcome by the powers of death, the gates of hell.
My friend ended his note to me by saying that it is useless to fight for
the Church, but recommends I let it die. But can I? Will God? Again, is
God then a liar or a fool?
As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "At least five times, . . . with the Arian and
the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin,
the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases
it was the dog that died"
(The Everlasting Man, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1925, p. 254).
He went on to point out that when someone loses their faith, it isn't so
much that they then believe in nothing, but rather, will believe anything.
Will the Church die if there are mass desertions to "larger, friendlier"
(i.e. permissive) faith communities? Not as long as there is at least one
who says "Lord, to whom shall we go?"
The Church is a gift from God. Cherish it as such. Cherish it as a loving
mother, faithful to her spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ. Teaching her children
how to please their Father, and avoid the dangers of a dark and dangerous