So I realize it's been quite some time since I've posted anything. I apologize for that. I've been very busy with work and family issues. But I hope to start posting regularly again. My goal is to have a new post every week. If you all like what you read, please send me an email or upload comments on the posts here. Any words of encouragement and/or suggestions for future posts are always welcome.
Lately I've been listening to lectures and reading books by Dave Ramsey. The man is known as a financial genius and is famous for having helped thousands of Americans swear off debt forever. Obviously I have a good deal of debt thanks to student loans (studying theology at a small Catholic university is not cheap). Financial management has never been one of my strong points, but I've come to realize that as a husband and father I have to be more involved in how my household is managed. My family is not mine. They have been entrusted to me by God to care for, and it is my obligation to care for them in the best way possible, spiritually, financially, physically, etc. It has taken me nearly six years (my wedding anniversary is June 30th) to realize and accept this fact, but I'm going to embrace it with gusto because it is my vocation and, hence, is intimately linked to my own salvation.
But I'm not writing this post to talk about that. Perhaps I could post more on that later on. For now I wanted to comment on a remark I heard Mr. Ramsey make in one of his lectures. "Do you ever get mad at your church?" he asks. "If you don't, you're not involved." The remark comes across as very funny, but it really got me thinking. I grew up in a very Catholic community. The Greater Cincinnati area is heavily populated with the descendants of German and Irish immigrants. The majority of the community was, at one point, German and Irish Catholic. Sure there are plenty of Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and other ecclesial communions; but at one point the predominant population was Catholic.
Since it was such a strong Catholic community, you can easily find people here who care deeply about the Faith. I remember growing up with people who were very discontent with the direction the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) was headed. It seems that we stray further and further from our traditions. The music is mediocre at best, and flat out horrible at worst; liturgies are poorly celebrated and the people who attend look like well dressed zombies who seem to experience the resurrection as soon as the priest proclaims "The Mass is ended...;" bishops and priests back agendas that are totally contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church; etc., etc., etc. We've all experienced this. Whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant anyone who gives two shakes about their Church or parish has some negative experience with it.
For some such negativity is enough to drive them away from one Church or parish and into another. For others it is enough to put out the fires of faith completely and turn them into apathetic agnostics. For others it enkindles the fires of hatred for God and His Church. But what can we do? In the face of such hardships that we suffer in the Church, what is our role? We are not priests. We are not bishops. We are not monks or nuns. We're simply lay-folk.
The reality is that the care of the Church hasn't been entrusted to the clergy alone. We are all "stewards of the mysteries" as Bishop Nicholas Samra points out. We have all been entrusted with the Faith and traditions of our Church. It does us and no one else any good to sit around and bemoan the state of the Church. We have to get more deeply involved. We have to practice stewardship. We have to care for that which has been entrusted to us.
What does this mean in practical terms? How do we get involved? What can we do to support our bishops and priests in furthering the Faith and spreading the Gospel message of Christ?
First and foremost we must pray. We must intercede for our bishops and priests, our monks and nuns, and for one another. Without this spiritual support any other effort will simply fail. This does not mean that we focus on this intercessory prayer to the exclusion of any other form of prayer. Nor does it mean that we focus on prayer itself to the exclusion of any other work. Rather, all of our efforts and actions must begin with prayer and end with prayer. All our efforts and actions must quite literally be prayer. Perhaps part of the reason our Church is in the state it's in today is because our leaders have proceeded with actions in an unprayerful way. Perhaps we as a people have forgotten how to pray and how to be living prayers.
We must also know our Faith. This knowledge need not be a purely intellectual knowledge, but some study is required. Knowledge of basic truths and facts of the Faith is required. You wouldn't marry somebody without a basic factual knowledge of fundamental aspects of who they are. Nor would you encourage a friend to marry someone you'd never met personally. How can we uphold and promote our Faith if we don't know it? How can we cry out for properly celebrated liturgies if we have no understanding of what constitutes good liturgy? How can we call for a return to Tradition when we have no concept of Tradition? How can we demand the Church live by the "spirit of Vatican II" if we have no idea what Vatican II promoted, and we have no idea how Vatican II fits into the 2000 year old Tradition of the Church?
Eastern Catholics ought to ask themselves these same questions. What does it mean to be Eastern Catholic? How can we remain faithful to our Eastern traditions while at the same time being in communion with Rome. Is there a distinction between the traditions of local particular churches (including the Roman Church) and the Universal Church? If so, can we restore our identities as Eastern Christians without belittling the traditions and identity of the Christian West? How does our Eastern identity fit into the life of the Church at a Universal level? And how can we, as Easterners, evangelize the culture around us, even if that culture is a Western culture?
Get involved. Be engaged. Pray. Ask questions. Seek answers, but always seek them in a prayerful manner. Educate others after you have become educated. But do all in love, do all in a spirit of prayer, not in a spirit of anger. Never allow anger, discouragement, and disappointment have the last word.
So many Christians, be they Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, shout out in anger at the injustices going on in the Church. The see Christians behaving in unChristian ways. They see Church leaders acting not as Christ, but almost as anti-Christs. They see the Church slipping further and further down the slippery slopes of "relevance" and "political correctness." They see all these things going on and they shake their fists in anger. But anger gets us nowhere. The great spiritual Fathers and Mothers of the East feared anger more than any other sin. They admitted that there is such a thing as just anger, but anger in any form can be so dangerous and difficult to control that they said it was better not even to indulge justifiable anger.
I have some friends, and I've seen a good handful of "Catholic commentators" who seem to have nothing but negative things to say about the state of the Church these days. Anger can get one fired up to do the right thing; to be the change that we want to see in the Church. But if we allow anger to consume us, if the injustices and our own anger become our focus, two things will happen. First we will become completely consumed with our anger to the point that it drives us out of the Church, or at least alienates us from the Church if we don't actually leave. Secondly such negativity simply becomes annoying and drives folks away from us, leaving them with a feeling of hopelessness and leaving us again with a sense of alienation - "Why doesn't anyone care as much about this as I do?" becomes our attitude.
Psychologists have told us that for every negative interaction with our children or our spouse there needs to be a good number of positive interactions, otherwise our relationships fall apart. Do you think the Church is any different? Do you think our bishops and priests are any different? If we only have bad things to say about our priests, our bishops, and our Church do you think that those same folks are going to want to be anywhere near us? Or do you think we are going to actually be able to bring new people into the Church?
In one of his books, Dave Ramsey points out that a good manager manages a staff not by putting out fires, but by encouragement. Recognize a job well-done. Encourage someone when they are doing something right. Always have a compliment on hand. If you are going to correct behavior, make sure that you are also affirming a few good things that a person is doing. As stewards/managers of the mysteries this is a responsibility that we, as lay-folk, have towards our priests and bishops. If we are going to approach them about something, we need to first be grateful for the amount of work that they do for our Church. We need to recognize where they have been successful. And then present them with our problems. Remember, they are people too. Imagine if your child only ever spoke with you to tell you how bad of a parent you are. Imagine if they never thanked you for putting a roof over their head, food in their belly, and clothes on their back. Imagine if they did nothing but complain to you. Eventually you're just going to ignore that child because you just can't handle the negativity. It's also going to make you feel like the worst parent in the world. Why do we think our bishops and priests are any different? They need encouragement just like the rest of us. They need a pat on the back for a job well done just like the rest of us.
If you want to be involved, if you want to be the change that you want to see in the Church, don't just stand in the center of your church and shout "repent! repent!" and then point out every little thing that every person in the parish or the Church at large needs to repent of. To repent means to change one's ways, one's mind, one's way of seeing and doing things. Perhaps we need to repent of the negativity that we have instilled in the Church. Perhaps we need to be the voice of hope, encouragement and recognition that people in the Church need to hear. Isn't that what the saints do? They don't just point to injustice. They give us encouragement. They give us hope. They recognize the good at the same time that they are working to change the bad. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of hearing what's wrong with the Church. I've heard it my entire life. How can the Good News echo to the ends of the earth when the very people who are supposed to be preaching the Good News are shouting about the Bad News?
We have been given a mission. We have been given a task. We have been filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill that mission. Now let's go do it! Let's get involved! Let's encourage our leaders and be the voice of hope in our Church and in our world! May heaven consume us.