On What to Preach
I am thirty-five years old, and I can count on one hand, the number of sermons I have heard about the responsibilities of what it means to be a Catholic.
In considering this, I have decided that that is a tragedy, and I am hereby begging all priests to consider what we, the "faithful" are facing when it comes to practicing our faith.
The problem we have right now as both a country -and more importantly- a Church, is an identity crisis. We suffer this identity crisis in two ways:
1) We are confused about who we are as Catholics.
2) We are confused about who God is.
The first is the product of a dereliction of duty, the second is a product of duties poorly executed. Both of these events combined, however, have left us bereft of true devotion to the faith, and consequently, any and all capacity for retention.
Turns out, nobody wants to be a part of something that is meaningless. Go figure.
When I say that we are confused about who we are as Catholics, I mean that by and large, we don't even know what it means to BE Catholic. By evidence of the wide variety of professed understandings from my fellow parishioners (both local and nation-wide) about what the Church teaches on any given subject, it is apparent that this "universal" entity has somehow splintered itself into vastly different and conflicting subscriptions of belief. How many so-called "Catholics" assert the moral permissiveness of such things as contraception, trading Sunday Mass for soccer practice, or attending the sacred Mass while dressed like a cocaine prostitute?
Clearly, confusion has been sewn into the congregation about what defines actual and authentic Catholicism. And given the near-total abandonment of catechesis over the last half-century or so, it is no wonder at all as to how this occurred.
Perhaps the most telling and tragic examples to be given of this, are the levels of formation with which the ordained have been equipped throughout seminary. Apart from the tragic and scandalous indiscretions of so many of their rank, the capacity for the average priest ordained shortly after Vatican II, to understand, uphold, preach, and defend the teachings of the Church, has been demonstrably pathetic. The USCCB itself now professes to uphold the moral permissiveness to vote for someone who is rabidly pro-abortion.
One could talk for days about the evidence of ignorance within the ranks of the Church, but the undeniable and unfortunate reality is that too many of us have no idea what it means to be Catholic, and as such, when we say or hear the term, we collectively don't know what to do with it. Kinda like trying to follow an instruction manual by only reading the portions that are written in a foreign language.
So the first need we have, is clarity on what the Catholic Church teaches. What IS Catholicism. What distinguishes this religion from protestantism? Why is it universal? What about Catholicism gives it the "fullness of truth?"
It is a tragedy that so much of the faith goes unknown and even less understood these days, but without these things being taught, a person will have no hope of practicing their faith, much less remaining Catholic. On top of that, answering such questions is straight-up practical, and would work well to diminish the second crisis of identity that we suffer in the Catholic Church today: who God is.
See, it is impossible to know God, to the extent that we as finite beings are capable, and not be awed. The capacity to dismiss God is the direct product of ignorance- either intended by way of self-centered sinfulness, or unintended by lack of knowledge. Either way, the treasure and joy of knowing God does not lend itself to apathy. Who, in possession of a cure, would discard it?
Understanding God would go a long way towards appreciating God, which would become evident in how we conduct ourselves in relation to God.
The treatment we give to those we love is evidence of how well we know them.
If I know my wife prefers clean dishes, I can love her by cleaning the kitchen. But if I have no idea what pleases or displeases my wife, my expressions of love to her will be limited, necessarily, to that which pleases or displeases ME. Thus I might be inclined to pull some silly stunt like trying to cheer her up by blasting rock music throughout the house. To actually love my wife, I must first know her.
The manner in which we, the Church, conduct ourselves in relation to God, unfortunately, betrays a glaring ignorance of the nature of God.
How much awe can be afforded to something as mundane as that which is to be relegated to a single hour of my week and which constitutes a non-binding authority in relation to such principles as modesty, language, fasting, and even salvation? To that extent, what obstacle to my understanding of God is it, that I should deign to hold Him in my own, unconsecrated, grimy paws? How many crumbs of His being have I overtrod on my sing-songy jaunts to and from the place where I stand in His presence and put out my hand as if I were accepting my ticket to the movie theater?
It is a mark of the domestically abused to suffer an ignorance of their own dignity, and in much the same way, the irreverence we afford God in how we approach Him at the holy altar, abuses us of the capacity to lift our eyes above ourselves and see the true glory of God.
Permission to receive communion in the hand be damned. Literally.
And I say that as one who used to operate in such ignorance. These practices that we've adopted from ignorant figures of authority have done nothing but damage the relationship we have with God by blinding us to His true glory. One cannot sneeze on a friend without apology and regard him with dignity. At least not without a degree of cognitive dissonance.
And that is what we inflict upon ourselves with the very anthropocentric practices of modernized liturgy and brutalized architecture. Where the cathedrals of old and the services within them were venerated as the houses and presence of God, our new-age circle-churches and clown masses like THIS, have reduced our places of worship to a God doghouse of sorts. Apparently we are eager to return the Divine back to the manger in which we received Him. And in so doing, we have lost the "why" behind the "what." No longer do we value Truth, because we have reduced its reverence to fit our comfort.
What we need to hear from the pulpit is Truth, and not just in the abstract. For us to make a difference in our lives, we must know how to ACT, and that requires practicality. The contemplative life is the higher calling, but as Catholics, love is not something we are called to simply consider, but to actualize. We participate in salvation by the conformance of our will to God's, and that is not something that can be accomplished within the mind.
Any priest who thinks he has delt the demons a blow by way of being abstract, must quickly correct himself, for he has not. Without a practical message, no sermon is actionable, and if no action is taken, the enemy suffers no defeat. A priest will notice this by the lack of contradiction he will have endured by his parishioners. If there is no pushback, there has been no threat to the unholy. It might be uncomfortable to consider the practical ramifications of an abstract sermon, but if any priest thinks he has faced backlash without being practical in his sermons he is sorely mistaken, for he has not yet begun to fight.
To save souls one must lead the way towards heaven while also calling out the landmines of sin. As the ordained, a priest has his own salvation to consider first, which includes the education of we, his parishioners, on how to avoid sin and warrant salvation.
Yes, he must teach on what it means to be Catholic, but when he does, he needs to tell us not just that we need to do it, but also HOW to do it.
And how to fail.
What will help us? Help us to stop sinning. Let us know that it is a mortal sin to use contraception, and why. Let us know why communion must be taken in the state of grace. Tell us that it is a sin to support gay marriage and explain why.
Help us see the landmines.
This is what we need.
Sermons like THIS.