Saturday, March 10, 2012

Can the Church Reclaim the Younger Generation?

Revised and Reposted: For new Sky View readers. Caution: This post is a longer than average posts. Also, I repeat certain points I raised in previous posts.

The wide acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage will pose an even greater threat to the moral fabric of American than legalized abortion did. What Roe versus Wade was to the human dignity of the unborn, the sanction of same-sex rights is to the dignity of every human being. In other words, the pro-choice ideology changed what some people believe about the unborn, but the belief that same-sex marriage is the moral equivalent to traditional marriage will change what people believe about people and even God.

Nevertheless, what people believe about human nature and human sexuality does not change the truth of either one. Just as the DNA molecule contains information about the individual prior to his birth- information that cannot be changed or manipulated by the individual himself -so too does human nature come with pre-existing laws independent of what the community or State says about it. Indeed, human nature is not a blank sheet of paper upon which we can write whatever we want without consequence. Instead, human nature has been given to mankind by God with instructions. These instructions are better known as the natural law.

The point is we can no more redefine marriage than we can redefine human nature. But let there be no doubt, if same-sex unions are regarded as being equal to a marriage, then people will take it to mean that human nature is a blank sheet of paper upon which they can write whatever they want; which is to say people will live by their own rules. The long-term result of which can only be dysfunction for the family and social disorder for society.

One of the revolutionary contributions Christianity made to civilization is that it presented the human person- as if from the hand of God himself -with instructions, that is, with certain moral absolutes ingrained in its very nature. With the preaching of the Gospel, people came to understand that they were created by God, created for God and created in the image of God. As such, the Divine Architect of human nature had something definite to say about it; something quite independent from what was commonly believed up to the time of Christ.

If Catholics want our younger generations to embrace the Gospel values of marriage and sexuality, we have to once again revisit the way Jesus, the Apostles and the Saints approached preaching and teaching. They gave inspiration, they lifted up the downtrodden, and they consoled and provided hope to the hopeless. Nevertheless, out of love for souls they also publicly rebuked sin by name. If need be, they confronted sinners when circumstances warranted it. This, no doubt, drew undesirable attention and consequences upon themselves. St. John, the Apostle who wrote about Christian love more than any other, publicly confronted a troublemaker whose name was Diotrophes. St. Paul published names of blasphemers. St. Ambrose, a Father of the Church, physically prevented Theodosius II, a Roman emperor, from entering into the church because he had killed 7,000 Thessalonians during an uprising. Even our beloved twentieth century Saint, Padre Pio, chased out insincere penitents from his confessional booth. These men did not look for confrontations. However, they knew that to administer a shock to some souls was required.

Those who are entrusted with leading and caring for souls- be it a teacher or a priest –quite often do not require repentance from souls under their care. Inclusion at all costs is the motto! “Come and enjoy the sacraments,” we say. But Jesus cautioned his followers about committing sin sometimes in the most graphic of ways. He used expressions such as “plucking out the eye” or “cutting off the hand.” As far as identifying sin in our sermons, teachings or communications, we leave that up to the individual because we have been told “not to judge.” Easy and unconditional access to the Sacraments in the name of “accepting people where they are at” is not only a departure from biblical norms and Church tradition, but it doesn't work! We have fifty years to show that it just doesn't work!

Our thinking has to change. We have to be proactive and unafraid of calling a spade a spade and a sin a sin. Love of souls and conversion itself demands it. If there are no sins to repent from then we can hardly invoke Christ as our Savior. And if people are unaware of the bad news, they can hardly appreciate the Good News. The salvation of youth demands that we communicate the positive and the negative, virtue and sin, heaven and hell, God and Satan. Without the knowledge of specific sins and their consequences, repentance is impossible.

I do believe that if you let the light of Christ shine in dark corners people will respect you for it. They may protest, but they will respect you and the message you deliver. Even more importantly, those who struggle with homosexuality may choose to live chastely in order to experience the peace of Christ. Keep in mind that with every person you offend with the truth, you inspire at least two to three more people who perhaps will never say anything to you.

What can Catholics do about this? The first point to consider is that Catholic clergy and leadership of all ranks should revisit the pastoral practices of the Apostles and the early Church Fathers. In the first millennium of Christianity one had to be totally committed to Christ by being faithful to the teachings of the Church in order to be in good standing. The standard was- at the very least -the willingness to believe all and to do all that Christ commanded. Today's Catholic leadership, at least in part, is satisfied with partial commitments from the people in the pew. Anything more than that, they say, is asking too much with the likelihood of scaring people away. This is not the attitude of our spiritual ancestors. Half measures were discouraged and there were disciplinary consequences throughout most of Church history.

Pope Benedict XVI once reminded the Austrian Bishops in 2005 that to teach the fullness of the Gospel- especially those doctrines which come across as severe and counter cultural -will not drive away people; just the opposite, it will attract them. If the high moral standard of the New Covenant offends some, it is equally true that it will attract even more people. The youth intuitively know that anything worth living or achieving requires a sacrifice. Sometimes our biggest fault is that we hide the Cross of Christ out fear that they will wince from it. On the contrary, they will come running.

Briefly, the second point I wish to draw your attention to is the adversarial nature of State-run education as it pertains to the mission of the Church. U.S. Bishops would provide a charitable service to our nation if they would campaign against the Soviet Union style education system America’s children are subject to. In a Pastoral Letter in 1919 to the U.S. Bishops, James Cardinal Gibbons predicted what a State-run education would portend for America: "The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation."

In the 1960's alone, the percentage of students attending public schools increased from 59 percent to 73 percent. Now it is up to 90 percent. Conversely, as late as the 1950's, the Catholic Church in America educated 12 percent of all children. Today, she only educates 5 percent of them. And to add insult to injury, parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools have to pay double; they pay the taxes to fund public schools and then they have to compensate for the ever increasing tuition's of Catholic schools. And the reason for this spike results from a crisis of religious vocations. The vast majority of Catholic teachers in the early twentieth century were compromised of priests, sisters or brothers from religious orders. Being single and without a family, they did not require big salaries to feed a whole family. In the early twenty-first century, however, the vast majority of Catholic teachers are lay people.

The Catholic Church is being outdone by public education; certainly not in academics but in advancing its moral values. No doubt, this State-run system has failed to produce academic results, but it has, in the last four decades, been infusing the secular spirit into our nation's children with great success. With that, the decline of marriage and the nuclear family has accelerated.

The Shepherds and teachers of our Church- from bishops to teachers -might want to consider a more assertive approach to this issue. It is perfectly consistent with the mission of the Church to criticize the failing institution of public education. Like our Lord who marched in the Temple only to scourge the greed and abuses with a whip and then later predicting its downfall, our spiritual leaders, animated with the same spirit, can make a great contribution to America by publicly challenging the monopoly of the State on education.

If, indeed, the walls of State-run education were to fall, then the Light of the Gospel would expand more rapidly across the land. Its influence on our nation's youth through the instrumentation of Catholic education and spiritual formation would be felt in just a few short decades. The decline of America would be arrested and new life and vigor would be within each.