Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ignorance or Bliss

 The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been going through a...let's say...challenging time in its history.  I won't dwell on why, because I don't trust myself to be charitable.  Regardless, it's hard to ignore what resulted: a confused, divided and disaffected local church. 

At this point, although we are still in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, it would seem that the pastoral strengths of now-Cardinal Dolan followed up by the administrative strengths of Archbishop Listecki have enabled us to begin the process of healing and revitalization.  People are flocking to events like this one, which I'll write more about at some point.  There are also great signs of the Holy Spirit at work through our new Vocations Director, including a men's discernment house and an influx of new seminarians who are in love with Christ and can't wait to get into parishes to share the authentic Faith with our demoralized local flock.

But the damage has been done to a certain extent, and it's not going to be an overnight process of renewal.  I was confronted with this reality recently when my boss asked if I would give some administrative help to the pastoral council at his large suburban parish.  I knew I would probably run into some people I didn't agree with, but thought it would at least be interesting to learn a bit about the inner workings of a parish.  So I agreed.

As it turned out, it was one of the most frustrating and disheartening experiences I've ever had in my years of parish involvement. 

Through a lethal combination of misinformation and faulty ideas, the pastor and council seemed hellbent on isolating themselves and their parish from the resources, structures and community of the greater Archdiocese.  The amazing ways in which other parishes are being renewed - through the full and potent realities of the Faith - weren't even on their radar screens.  Instead, their conversation about how to keep parish membership from continuing to slip revolved around empty theological and corporate buzzwords.

One of the most discouraging things I observed involved the different generations present at the meetings. I was unsurprised by the older contingent - those who lived through Vatican II and embraced many aspects of the misinterpretation that followed.  I expected them and know their rhetoric inside-out.

What was really disappointing was the next generation down.  Many members of this group seemed genuinely interested in serving the Church in some way, and didn't have a chip on their shoulder or an axe to grind.  However, their catechesis in the faith had clearly been so saccharine, substance-less and vague that they had no firm footing to even understand, let alone engage with, the doctrinal confusion on display.

I started this blog partly with the intention of drawing attention to signs of hope and renewal among the next generation of Catholics.  But we can't fix problems that we don't acknowledge, and I think poor catechesis is one of the significant barriers standing between enthusiastic young Catholics and what their hearts are truly longing for.

People tend to think of theology as being of secondary importance.  After all, what does it really matter if we understand all those complicated doctrinal ins and outs as long as we love as Jesus loved?  But the catch is that without deep knowledge of who Jesus has revealed himself to be through his Church, we can't enter into an authentic relationship with him and encourage others to do the same.  The New Evangelization has to start within.

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