the bourgeois story and the new evangelization


Here is my latest catholic dialogue column for the Prairie Messenger. The expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Order and the priesthood for his support of women’s ordination has made headlines around the world. Top-down, disciplinary actions and demands for doctrinal purity and unquestioning obedience seem to be increasing. How do these disciplinary actions affect the perception of our Church? What effect do they have on the new evangelization?

If a pure church is the goal, new evangelization is not needed

UPDATE: German court: Catholics who don’t pay religious tax must leave church | National Catholic Reporter

UPDATE: German court: Catholics who don’t pay religious tax must leave church | National Catholic Reporter.

The above article on NCR adds more details to the story coming out of Germany about Catholics being refused the sacraments if they opt out of paying the Church Tax. As with all news stories, one must be cautious about believing sensational head lines. And this head-line, to our North American sensibilities, is sensational indeed. It raised my ire when I first read about it, but I kept hoping that perhaps there was some miscommunication…some cultural nuance that we were missing.

Well, recent statements by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German Bishop’s Conference, leave no room for nuance…

Clearly, someone withdrawing from the church can no longer take advantage of the system like someone who remains a member,

The church is a ‘system’ that we ‘take advantage’ of? What happened to graces freely given and freely received? What about the institutional church taking advantage of the people she is called to serve?

“We are grateful Rome has given completely clear approval to our stance.”

What??? This kind of bullying tactic has the approval of the Vatican? This does not bode well for the “New Evangelization”. While bishops from around the world prepare to gather next month to discuss how to draw souls back to the the faith, some are intentionally alienating those who are struggling to stay in the midst of this mess. They just don’t get it!!!

The archbishop said each departure was “painful for the church,” …and “The Catholic church is committed to seeking out every lost person.”

OK, call me a skeptic…but is the pain coming from lost souls, or lost income?

“At issue, however, is the credibility of the church’s sacramental nature. One cannot be half a member or only partly a member. Either one belongs and commits, or one renounces this,”

I respectfully disagree – vehemently – with the good bishop. There are many good souls in our church who struggle with certain teachings or issues. In the midst of their struggles, some stay. Some need to take a voluntary exile to ponder and rethink their faith. Some just cannot afford to give large donations to the church. Some choose not to give financial support as a protest. Through it all, many still identify themselves as Catholics. After all, the sacrament of baptism is indelible. Do not judge our faith or our commitment based on the money we give. It is not only unfair. It is offensive.

In his opening address Monday to the bishops’ meeting, Zollitsch said the church needed “a long perspective, deep breath and patience” to cope with current challenges, as well as a capacity for dialogue with “social groups and circles alienated from the church.”

This really does have to be the kicker! Spot the hypocrisy anyone? This comment screams a lack of understanding. Yes, WE need to take a long, deep breath and have patience with these church leaders. Their actions and tone reflect an authoritative need for control and power, not a desire for dialogue. They need to take a closer look at the cause of the alienation of so many from our church. Perhaps a mirror would help in this regard.

Sigh….. Please forgive my own tone in this rant. Anger does little for dialogue. But sometimes I just need to let off some steam…

how obligated are you by obligation?

On August 15, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, commemorating our belief that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul. A friend of mine was grumbling that it was a holy day of obligation in the USA. Her grumbling was not about the feast itself, but about the obligatory aspect. At a time when many of us are frustrated with doctrine-spouting and rules-waving leaders, being told when and how to pray can leave us feeling less than spiritual.

The Code of Canon Law states the following (Canon 1246)

  1. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.
  2. However, the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See.

Here is an online calendar showing the present Holy Days of Obligation in the USA, Canada, England and Wales, Australia and Ireland. We Canadians are the most lax, with only two obligatory days outside of Sunday; Christmas and January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Of course, sometimes these fall on a Sunday rendering the extra obligation moot.

I struggled with the issue of Sunday obligations for many years. As children, we were taught that missing Mass on a Sunday was a mortal sin. If we did, we could not receive Communion until we went to Confession. This was a heavy burden on a wee soul. I could not understand how my missing Mass put me on the same boat to hell as a murderer. The teaching haunted me. It took many years before I could miss Mass without horrible scruples and guilt. (Google ‘missing mass and mortal sin’ and you’ll see that the question still exists for many.)

Today, like my friend, I resent the power and authority that often lies behind the word obligation. I cringe at the homilist who identifies the faithful Catholic as merely one who warms up the pew on a Sunday. I dread attending Mass in a parish where I know I will leave feeling depressed and angry rather than spiritually uplifted. Sometimes, when I’m in a bad head-space, it’s better for me to stay home, praying a lectio divina with the readings. On those days, I trust that God understands.

Perhaps going to church has become more of an obligation because we have lost the deeper meaning of Sundays and Feast Days. We no longer live in a culture where the spirit of the Sabbath is honoured; where work is laid aside for holy leisure time with God and family. We squeeze church time into our busy weekend. Feast Days are no longer communal celebrations, a much needed holy-day from labour. Gone are the actual feasts and festive traditions. Dragging ourselves into a half-empty church and sitting through a listless liturgy to fulfill our guilty consciences is not the same as filling the streets with processions and revelry.

How can we go beyond obligation, and return to a spirit of communal worship and celebration?

(Day of obligation or not, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, sent out this warm greeting to all Christians celebrating the Assumption.)