Joshua rallied the tribes. “Choose today,” he said. “What Lord will you serve?”
O God of infinite wisdom and power, why do you allow us to choose?
Our decisions can wreak such havoc!
Jesus says, “Give me your love, freely poured out, a deluge or the morning dew.
Know I will love you choosing.”
“Both the First Reading and the Gospel are concerned with choice. The Israelites gave reasons for choosing to serve the Lord. “For it was the Lord, our God who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, … performed miracles, … and protected us.”
What is your reason for choosing God in your life? Do you have more invested in your own “God choice” that you made, or was it a choice someone else made for you? In your opinion do you think God gave you free will? What are the implications for your family, church, job and community of your “God choice?”
Father Ron Rolheiser asks: “If you cannot find it in faith in God, where can you find meaning? If you didn’t believe in God and had no faith or religion, what would give meaning to your life?” In light of recent events in the church, many are asking whether meaning can actually be found in The Church. Many are deciding that a full life can be experienced elsewhere. Rolheiser continues:
There seems to be places to go, outside of explicit faith, where one can find deep meaning. Albert Camus was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. He was the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in history and who delved deeply into individual freedom. Camus coined the phrase the “metaphysical rebellion.” This is one who draws life and meaning by fighting chaos and disease because they cause suffering and are an affront to life.
And so for some, meaning outside of an explicit faith, is found in leaving a legacy by having children or achieving something monumental. Poets, writers, artists, and artisans find meaning outside of explicit faith through their art. There are still others, we refer to them as the “basically nice and good people,” who find sufficient meaning with which to walk through life by simply living an honest and generous life can provide.
“Lord, to whom else can we go? You have the message of eternal life.” It seems that there are places you can to go – and many go there.
These aren’t necessarily empty places, as is sometimes suggested by misguided spiritual literature. By looking at the amount of positive energy, love, creativity, generosity, and honesty that these people and their actions fill our world, we can see places where people are seeking God outside of explicit faith that still has them meeting God. All of them—fighting chaos, curing diseases, having children, living for others, building things, inventing things, achieving goals, or simply living honest and generous lives—radiate the transcendental properties of God and working alongside God to bring life and order to the world. Whether they have explicit faith in Jesus Christ or not, are they not acting in some kind of faith because they are putting their trust in either the Oneness, or Truth, or Goodness, or the Beauty of God?
So when we look at St. Augustine’s classic line, ”You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until the rest in you” do we believe that anything, other than faith and God, can really quiet the restless fires within us?
Over the past few weeks, I have tried to address a number of the challenges that the Catholic Church is currently facing. Anne Osdiek and Fr. Rolheiser hint that one of the options that many people are considering is simply leaving the church.
Dan Burke is the President of the Avila Foundation, Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer, speaker and pilgrimage director who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan is a news guy. He takes this kind of bad news about his church deeply to heart. He shares his thoughts about leaving the church in the following video:
Now, let me say that there are times when some distance and time away is absolutely necessary. The Catholic Church that many of us knew for years is gone. We are not sure of the future. The present is messy because we are in the midst of a transition phase. Dying isn’t easy. People will need permission to grieve a Catholic Church that they knew and loved. They will feel the need to go for a while and reorient themselves to a new reality. Back in 1969, “Father” Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) predicted that the future Catholic Church would be more intentional, more spiritual, more dynamic… and much smaller.His thoughts were later further developed in his book, Faith And the Future. Father Ratzinger predicted that there was going to be a bitter harvest before this fruit was going to be seen. He wrote that “The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. He was talking about people who were going to stay.
A number of Catholic have read the “Signs of the times,” have known people who have left or are considering leaving, and have commented on this. For example, Monsignor Charles Pope is the Pastor of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.. in his “spare time” is involved with Catholic media and lectures across America, and has attracted many readers from across the globe through the internet. In Love and Lament Alike – A Brief Reflection for All Who Care About the Church, Monsignor Pope wrote that although “clergy, religious, laity work or volunteer for the Church because we love her and her people, at times, though, there is disappointment, hurt, or even disillusionment. While these things happen everywhere, many hope that there will be fewer occurrences in the Church. Alas, in recent times, such hopes have often been dashed quickly.”
But perhaps that is to be expected. Pope continues: “We are, after all, running a hospital of sorts; and just as hospitals tend to attract the sick, so the Church attracts sinners and those who struggle.” Pope Francis has likened the church to a “field hospital.” It’s a good image – Church as M.A.S.H. Unit. “Jesus was often found in strange company, so much so that the Pharisees were scandalized. He rebuked them by saying, People who are well do not need a doctor, sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous (Mark 2:17).
When it comes to the “Bark of Peter,” some writers have been posing questions to people who are considering jumping ship. In her blog, Seasons of Grace, Kathy Schiffer summarized what she has heard from people in 8 Bad Reasons to Leave the Catholic Church, and 1 Good Reason to Stay. Not getting anything out of the homily, the Catholic Church not offering any – or enough -children’s programming, the fact that the Catholic Church doesn’t teach the Bible, better service programs, better mission trips and better women’s fellowship at other churches, better socials after church services and the fact that other churches simply have friendlier people and that “I don’t like other Catholics.” Ugh (shaking head in regret and sadness)! As Kathy wrote, “I’ve actually heard this – too often.”
Rebecca Hamilton is a former pro-abortion activist and leader. As the Oklahoma Director of NARAL, she helped establish the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma, and she continued her activism after being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. After experiencing a profound conversion to Christ, voters returned her to office as a pro-life Democrat and she spent twelve years defending life and families in the Oklahoma Legislature. In an article, “How Can You Leave The Catholic Church?” Rebecca doesn’t mince words.
I get as aggravated with the Church as the next Catholic. I don’t mind at all saying that I think this bishop or that has gotten it wrong. I’ve been very outspoken about the failure to stop child sex abuse by priests. Very. I’ve been equally outspoken about the failure in some quarters to take a strong stand on basic Church teaching, and the propensity of some bishops for throwing hapless underlings under the proverbial bus so the bishop can pander to the crowds. I just recently wrote a rather strong series of posts on the question of the Church and rape. But … leave the Church? I mean, how does one do that?
I don’t mean how can you get up and walk out? I don’t even mean how can you turn your back on Christ in the Eucharist, Jesus Who is right there in front of you and available to you every time you enter a Catholic Church. I mean how do you leave the One who breathes life into you and maintains your existence as well as that of all creation; the One without Whose constant sustaining everything, everywhere would blink out of existence as if it had never been.
How, once you have tasted Him, do you spit Him out?
Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer from Austin, Texas who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She the host of The Jennifer Fulwiler Show on SiriusXM channel 129 and the author of Something Other than God and Like Living Among Scorpions: One Woman’s Attempt to Survive Her Suburban Life. She and her husband have five young children. In 5 Questions Before You Leave the Catholic Church, Jennifer proposes a reality check:
- Are you sure members of the Church hierarchy are worse than anyone else?
- Are you sure your faith life would be better outside of the Church?
- Are you sure the Church’s teachings are wrong? (One of my favorites, which leads to …)
- Are you sure the Church’s doctrines aren’t divinely inspired?
- Are you sure we don’t need the Church?
Jennifer is deadly serious (literally). She asks these questions through an historical lens as she writes,
Though the individual members of the Catholic Church have made plenty of mistakes, sometimes gravely serious ones, its doctrines have always been a bulwark that protects human life. To a healthy American adult this may seem like an insignificant concept, since the only life that is devalued in our time and place is that of the severely disabled, the unborn, and others who literally do not have a voice. But that could change. The zeitgeist could shift, just as it did in Europe in the 1930s, and new groups of people may suddenly be seen as inconvenient and expendable. And one day the life that the Catholic Church stands up for may be your own.
The good news is that there are people who, not only leave, but the return as well. One of the ways through which the Holy Spirit has helped people return to the church is St. Paul’s Outreach. The mission of St. Paul’s Outreach is “To build communities that form college students to be lifelong, faithful Catholics. College campuses are battlegrounds for the minds and souls of our young people, and many are leaving the Church. Only 10% of Catholic millennials attend Sunday Mass (Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, 2012). Students are hungry for truth and meaning but most are not being reached effectively. Saint Paul’s Outreach (SPO) reaches these students around the country, bringing them back to Christ and the fullness of the Catholic faith. They build evangelistic communities that provide a unique quality and depth of formation in the Catholic faith and life.
Does it work? Should the Catholic Church simply resign itself that our young people are leaving and will not return? That is not a “holiness attitude.” Remember last week… Holiness is an “invitation to the extraordinary?” In an extraordinary video, Courtney Roth describes how Saint Paul’s Outreach at The Ohio State University led her back to her Catholic Faith and into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Is that, possibly, what holiness looks like? Next week, I’m going to share about St. Paul’s Outreach and other organizations that are helping young people achieve holiness in their lives.
Audio version of the homily is here: