What does it take to live as an adult Catholic in our changing and challenging world? Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. An online small group process is an added bonus.

Loving Our Church— Warts and All
By Jim and Susan Vogt

It doesn’t take much digging into the history of the Catholic Church to realize that, from the Crusades to the Inquisition, from the selling of indulgences to the clergy sex-abuse crisis, there have been sins, abuses of power and distortions of Jesus’ message. Yet, despite the human failings of its members, the Church has thrived, always believing that “[t]he Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #729).

At the same time that some Church leaders acted in ways that we now see as an embarrassment or, worse, a prostitution of the Church’s mission, there are many examples of individuals who faithfully and heroically lived the Catholic faith: St. Francis of Assisi renounced wealth to follow the path of peace and simplicity, recently beatified Franz Jägerstätter rejected Nazism at the cost of his life and Archbishop Oscar Romero challenged the political establishment.

There are thousands of canonized saints and countless others, many whom we know personally, whose Catholic faith has led them to live saintly lives. Consider the mother who sits with a sick baby, the father who unconditionally loves a wayward child, the neighbor who takes in foster children: Christians act out of love, prompted by the gospel of Jesus, whether convenient or not.

Beyond the actions of individuals, there are the words and works of the Church as a corporate body. For example, there is the trust in the “people of God” (Lumen Gentium), ushered in by Vatican Council II, and the U.S. bishops’ peace pastoral. The collective Catholic community at its best performs the corporal and spiritual works of mercy through Catholic institutions, hospitals, schools and missionaries. These are living evidence of the communion of saints, bolstering and encouraging our faith.

BUT. . . there are tragic exceptions that may lead one to question Christ’s presence in the Church. Some of the mistakes of Church leadership were results of human error. For example, the betrayal of sacred trust brought about by clergy sex abuse may have begun in illness and ignorance but became an abuse of power as some bishops secretly moved abusing priests from parish to parish. Now, lay Catholics are calling for transparency and accountability of Church leadership.

Some mistakes were functions of being culture-bound, e.g., believing that slaves were needed for economic viability or that women should cover their heads and not take leadership roles. It’s harder, however, to sort truth from cultural biases in our own day because proximity can cloud our vision.

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Many women in today’s Church struggle to find their place and voice in the community. Authority in the Church has long been tied to ordination which is limited to men, and the Church is still struggling over inclusive language. If the words “he” and “man” are no longer understood to include females, shouldn’t the Church language be changed to reflect this?

Is it possible to be called to both priesthood and married life? We already face the conundrum of having married priests who join us from other denominations. Could the Spirit who “will lead us into all truth” be showing us that it’s time to change the current Church discipline of celibate priesthood?

The Church we love is a mystery at times! Certainly there are incongruities in the practice of our faith which confound even the wisest among us:

■ There is a growing unwillingness to blindly accept papal teaching, yet Pope John Paul II was beloved, especially by youth.

■Many couples use methods of birth control other than natural ones, yet they welcome children and maintain marital fidelity.

■ The Church has always stood on the side of the poor, but many Christians, including some Church leaders, lead lavish lifestyles while our neighbors plead for food, clothing, shelter and health care.

■Many have abandoned traditional practices like frequent confession and the rosary, but a growing number feel attracted to devotions like Eucharistic Adoration.

■ Some adults hold to a moral code and seek spiritual rootedness but have loosened their affiliation with the institutionalChurch. These are complex issues and, as a living Church, we trust the Holy Spirit to guide us and work through the discernment of all faithful Catholics.

Keeping the faith

How does one keep the faith while revitalizing and reforming the Church from within? Certainly the Church needs to stay faithful to the founding vision of Jesus while being held accountable as a human institution. The wisdom is in recognizing the difference. We suggest:

■ Become an educated Catholic. This is not about college degrees but rather grounding one’s faith in fact, not sentimentality. All professions require ongoing formation. Read substantive publications and attend presentations and workshops.

■ Become an invested Catholic. Take responsibility for our Church by running for parish council, serving on diocesan or parish committees and becoming active in organizations working for positive Church reform such as Voice of the Faithful and the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. The clergy sex abuse crisis underscored the need for more transparency and accountability in the Church. That only happens if people take ownership and get involved.

■ Trust your instinct and intuition. Vatican II teaches, “To the extent of their knowledge, competence or authority the laity are entitled, and indeed sometimes duty-bound, to express their opinion on matters which concern the good of the church” (Lumen Gentium, #37). If you have the gut sense that something a Church leader does or says doesn’t ring true, check it out. It may be a misunderstanding, or you may need to bring an abuse to light. Trust your God-given instinct. Study, pray and check your motivation, then speak the truth as written by the Spirit on your heart.

■ Claim your place in the Church. It’s as much your Church as the pastor’s, bishop’s or pope’s. As Vatican II repeatedly reminds us, the Church is the “people of God.” The voice of faithful, knowledgeable and Spirit-led Catholics is an important gift to the Church.

Jim and Susan Vogt have four adult children and live in Covington, Kentucky. Jim directs the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. Susan speaks and writes on marriage, parenting and spirituality. Learn more at www.susanvogt.net.

Making Connections

What is an example from your own experience of the Church at its best? What feelings accompanied that experience?

What are your feelings about the failures of Church leaders and members to live gospel values? What truth do you find in the Catholic Church that helps keep you faithful in spite of its human failings?

What are you doing/can you do to take ownership of the Church and help keep it on the path of truth?

 
 
Movie Moments
Pieces of April
By Frank Frost

In the film Pieces of April, a family full of flaws and dissension, and lacking in mutual respect, stumbles forward in an attempt to find reconciliation and mutual acceptance. It can provide an apt parable for the struggle some Catholics experience at times in attempting to embrace and love their Church.

April (Katie Holmes) has invited her mother, father, sister, brother and grandmother to drive from the distant suburbs to her East Village apartment in New York for Thanksgiving. It is only a half-day’s drive, but it is an emotional journey that revisits a lifetime. It is not a visit either April or her mother, Joy (Patricia Clarkson), looks forward to, but is driven by those mysterious ties that bind a family in spite of everything. April has indelible memories of being profoundly dissed by her mother as a child. Joy maintains that she does not retain a single happy memory of April growing up and cites reasons for rejecting her daughter over the years—piercings, tattoos, petulance, shoplifting, living with a drug dealer....

The extent of April’s determination to reconcile with her family is demonstrated by the effort she makes to bake a turkey and prepare all the trimmings, her first-ever attempt. Add complications due to a gas oven that won’t light. But when the family finally arrives, the unsavory neighborhood and the introduction of April’s African-American boyfriend dash their urge for reconciliation, and they retreat to the emotional neutrality of a diner. There comes the movie’s key moment: When Joy observes a young child in the diner’s restroom abandoned by her mother, the day’s negative memories take on a new light.

Next time you watch Pieces of April, ASK YOURSELF:

■ What’s the significance of the turkey salt-and-pepper shakers?

■ Does the film excuse the past behavior of April—or of Joy? Apply “hate the sin but love the sinner” to your own life and to the Church community.

■ How can family ties triumph—in personal life and in the Church—despite painful and serious flaws?

 
 
Putting Shoes on the Gospel
Winnie Honeywell
By Judy Ball

Arecent study on the church affiliation of U.S. adults shows that the religious landscape is changing dramatically. This is especially true for the Catholic Church, which has experienced the greatest net losses of any religious tradition included in the study. Conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, the study does not detail why so many people raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.

Winnie Honeywell knows full well why she describes herself as a Catholic today—and why she intends to remain one. “The Church is a family I was baptized into,” she told Every Day Catholic. “I can’t imagine where else I would go. No other Church has the fullness and depth as ours.” She points especially to Catholic teachings on social justice, which she calls “models for our Protestant friends.”

It’s not that she hasn’t seen the Church, warts and all, up close. A cradle Catholic, she celebrated her husband Wally’s entrance into the Church not long after they married 49 years ago. Together they raised their four sons, now adults, in the faith. She and Wally saw the potential in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement and took a leadership role in promoting it in their archdiocese and beyond. For the past 31 years, she has been on the staff of the Family Life Office in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, and presently serves as its director. She will retire in late June.

With revelations of clerical sex abuse, the last few years have been trying ones for many Catholics. But not for Winnie, who holds a master’s degree in adult education/family ministry. “The sexabuse crisis didn’t send me reeling,” she said, even though Church leaders did not handle it well, especially at first. She could understand the anger people felt toward the Church. But she was heartened by how she saw her local Church leaders handle it.

“The Church has learned about prevention, and numerous bishops have personally gained by listening to victims’ stories,” she said. “The Church has learned to be more transparent and to move more quickly” when sex abuse is suspected. Winnie also has sympathy for members of the clergy, who “live in a celibate world” and don’t have the experience of “living within a family every day.”

Winnie has become accustomed to answering questions from family and friends about why her relationship with the Church has not changed while other equally committed Catholics have severed their ties. She has no interest in joining a movement that seeks to bring about Church reform.

“I guess I’m from a different generation. I’ve seen a lot of sin in my life. Sin is a part of life. My family is flawed. My marriage is flawed. I’m flawed. Friendships are flawed. To me, commitment is important in any covenant. If my husband and I had agreed that divorce was an option, we wouldn’t be here. The Church is my home. Why would I abandon it?”

 
 
Passing on the Faith
Choosing Church
By Jeanne Hunt

Scenario

The Grater family has gradually stopped participating in St. Bridget’s Catholic Parish. Religion class conflicted with Craig’s basketball practice, and Cynthia was bored and complained about going. Bill and Marie had too much on their plates and, with the scandals in the Church, they were embarrassed to admit they were Catholic. They judged that it was easier to simply disappear from the pews than to try to defend their Church.

A response

This scenario is far too common today as the Church rebounds from a nasty period of failure and dysfunction. So, how can we face these discouraging times? First, we need to find hope in the history of the Catholic Church. There have been other periods of failure and discouragement and, in the end, it wasn’t human beings who brought health back to the Church but the Holy Spirit who remains with us. We must trust in the Spirit’s presence and guidance and speak with encouragement and hope to others in the Church. We also need to continue our parish involvements as living witnesses of that hope.

Second, we must support our faithful priests. Most priests are living holy lives of dedication to the Body of Christ. We need to reach out in loving support of these men. Write a note of affirmation. Greet them warmly when you see them and encourage them. Most importantly, pray for them daily. Keep your pastor’s name at the top of your prayer list. He may be worn thin with his long days and difficult situation.

Finally, let hospitality be your special concern. Look around your family and friends for those you no longer see at Church. Perhaps you can open the doors of the practice of faith for them again. I believe that nothing works better than a personal invitation.

Being a welcoming voice, a positive voice, brings more light to these discouraging times than we can imagine. Often those who have become apathetic simply need a listening ear and welcoming heart. Too many times we ignore the opportunity to invite someone back to Church because we feel awkward. The courage to extend this invitation comes from the Holy Spirit who has ample strength for us.

The Grater family did not make an overt decision to stop being Catholic. It just happened. The remnant Catholic Church needs to roll up its sleeves and work for a Church in which to keep believing.

 
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