THE OTHER “ELEPHANT” IN THE ROOM
Among the things that others have suggested are reasons for leaving the Catholic Church, some (as I suggested last week) have some coherence—especially those who cannot assent to some teachings/practices of the Church, or those who feel alienated from the Church (Are they gay and looking for acceptance? Are they divorced and re-married? Are they women who feel relegated to a second-class existence?). Other reasons are more psychological (Did parental domination lead to a person’s rejecting the Faith as a way of rejecting the parents? Was there a crisis—especially involving death—that caused a person to question God’s care, or even existence?). One person bit on CARA’s last reason: perceived opposition to rational argument. But I have never had someone come to me, accusing me of failing to listen to an argument.
Some suggested that there was “an elephant in the room”—the scandal of sexual abuse of children and its cover-up by bishops. And perhaps this is—though I’m not sure why it should be called by this name since most people are painfully and fully aware of it and its impact.
I want to suggest that in the responses I received there is another “elephant” that needs to be explored. It doesn’t have a simple name, but its parts are easily seen to come together. Some of the responses I’m referring to include: need to supply more “good things” (baby-sitting, pot-lucks, longer hours for VBS, game nights, enjoyable church experiences for kids, including swim parties, game nights… Some also advocated for more “community”); others wanted more convenience in terms of special scheduling of sacramental preparation and religious education sessions, to meet special needs of students with other commitments.
The over-arching rubric for these desires, it seems to me, is self-orientation. Please hear me: NONE of these is bad or undesirable! But the question remains, why are they desired? If these activities enable or foster discipleship (= cross-carrying, = service, = generosity at a cost), then they are on point. The comment often expressed is “I’m not being fed.” But there’s a difference between a 7-course banquet on the one hand, and athletic training table on the other. Our being fed must lead to working out in the weights room and the practice field, so we can be ready for game-day. Otherwise, it’s just self-referential, to use a favorite phrase of Pope Francis, and that’s not what Jesus was about. We heard this in last Sunday’s Gospel and Deacon Norman’s homily. Jesus was about ministry and healing of others. We must be, as well. The very last thing we want to tend toward is a billboard that was recently in Mobile as an advertisement for a local mega-church: “Join the family/Join the fun!” Somehow, I don’t think Jesus had much “fun” on the way to Calvary…
Our youth know all about this. If you attended the youth-sponsored brunch last Sunday, you saw the effort they (and many adults) put in, including cleaning up afterward. Why did they do this? First, to say thanks to everyone who helped with the “Souper Bowl of Caring” food drive, and also to raise money for their summer mission trip (this year, to St Louis) with “Alive In You.” Later on they’ll sponsor a “Soup and Sandwich” lunch for the same purpose. They’ll help with the Lenten fish-fry suppers, and all of this will go to enabling them to serve.
This is the key. Fellowship, welcoming, community: all critically important INSOFAR as they lead to empowerment for discipleship, for service, for generosity. For the rest of us, it’s not too late to review our commitment to stewardship (time/talent and treasure). How are we doing? Are we takers that enable us to be givers or takers, full stop? I’m a strong believer in the balance between “mission” and “maintenance”—how’s your balance?