We’re hearing a lot of strange statements and confusing messages these days. Politicians are especially good at creating confusion. But more and more, it seems, Catholic prelates are disagreeing with one another over various aspects of Catholic teaching. And they do so quite openly in the public square.
Cardinal Raymond Burke and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, along with a small group of cardinals and bishops, have attempted to clear up some of the confusion in regard to Catholic Doctrine with their Declaration of Truths. The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education also published “Male and Female He Created Them” to address the “educational crises . . . in the field of affectivity and sexuality.” But clerics (think Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Fr. James Martin), and even high profile dissidents (think Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and now presidential hopeful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand) continue to muddy the water.
Of course, strange ideas, confused thinking, and misinformation are not new things. Until recently it just took longer for confusion and wacko ideologies to spread. Today’s communications technology has changed all that.
Ground Level Confusion
But we don’t always have to turn on the news or log on to hear or read the latest idiotic ideas and thoughts. Too often confusing messages are delivered at ground level – by the priests, deacons, and ministers in the parish in which we are members (think the parishioners in Fr. Greg Greiten’s and Fr. Stephen Wolf’s parishes).
The parish my wife and I belong even gets in on the action from time to time. It was not that way when we first became parishioners. Over time, however, the Mass has become more and more ‘laid back,’ and less and less reverent, and we’ve heard some wacky ideas being expressed. But we’ve been members of the parish for 35 years, so we stay. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (1890), we rightly owe loyalty to the communities of which we are part, and the parish Catholics are members of is such a community. But loyalty has its limits.
Loyalty does not equal passivity. As such, we are not passive bystanders in our parish community. We speak out when we hear something that contradicts or muddies Catholic teaching. We also speak out when there are liturgical abuses, such as at a recent Mass when the homily was delivered by one of the music ministers.
We recently had a temporary assistant pastor, a Jesuit, who was very much a social justice warrior and a ‘progressive’ Catholic. His homilies were not just critical of the current federal administration, they were also critical of prelates who are ‘putting too much emphasis on sexual morality.’ And at least twice in his homilies, he criticized Archbishop Vigano for “slandering Pope Francis.”
But the topper came in an email discussion he and I had about his homilies. On the topic of homosexuality, he stated that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. I was stunned when I read this statement. I corrected him, but it was somewhat obvious that he did not take being corrected by an ordinary lay Catechist all that seriously, even though he was unable to refute my correction.
A Feminist View
And any Catholic who went to Mass on Sunday, August 20, 2017, heard the Gospel reading about the Canaanite Woman’s Faith (Matthew 15:21-28). During the homily at the Mass my wife and I attended that day, our parish pastor got it right. He said Jesus was testing the woman’s faith. He also said Jesus was likely providing a lesson for the Apostles – that despite Jewish prophecies about the Savior, Jesus came for all mankind, not just the Jews.
Our parish’s pastoral associate at the time, however, saw things quite differently. In her weekly column in the bulletin about the Sunday readings, she said Jesus was “corrected by a Gentile woman today in our Gospel reading” and that the “Gentile woman taught Jesus the lesson that his message was for all people and not just the Jews.” [Emphasis added.]
Our pastoral associate’s interpretation of the gospel was clearly feminist, and certainly nowhere close to mainstream Catholic thinking. Where such nonsense came from and how it made it into the bulletin is still a mystery.
Standing or Kneeling?
Quite a few priests and laypeople throughout the U.S. prefer the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Mass to the Novus Ordo / Ordinary Form (OF). Many believe that the traditional way of receiving Communion – on the tongue while kneeling – is the proper way to receive the Eucharist. But while the EF Mass is ‘making a comeback,’ most parishes in the U.S. today are like our parish. They offer only the OF Mass, with extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion distributing Communion in the hand.
A visiting priest presiding Mass in our parish a couple of years ago made a somewhat startling announcement. Right before communion, he said those wishing to receive Communion should approach the “Eucharistic Minister” (yes, he said “Eucharistic Minister”) with hand opened flat, palm up. This is so the “Eucharistic Minister” could easily place the Eucharist in the palm of the recipient’s hand. He strongly discouraged communicants from kneeling and opening their mouths to receive communion on their tongues. “After all,” he said, “no one feeds you at home.”
Equating receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ with eating a sandwich at home is ludicrous and possibly sacrilegious. And it’s confusing. Even Cardinal Sarah has stated that we should not receive Communion like any other food.
The Seamless Garment is Wrinkled
Just prior to the 2016 presidential election, one of the deacons in our parish gave a homily on the duty of Catholics to vote. During the homily, he mentioned the YouTube video of a homily delivered by Fr. Jon Lankeit on what Catholics should keep in mind when voting. In the video, Fr. Lankeit stated that Catholics cannot vote for any politician who supports abortion. (The video has had over 1 million views and the vast majority of the over 1,300 comments praised Fr. Lankeit and his interpretation of Catholic Social Teaching.)
Our deacon completely disagreed with Fr. Lankeit. He said Fr. Lankeit was wrong in his analysis of Catholic Social Teaching. (This same deacon also wrote in one of his bulletin columns that Protestants venerated the saints in the same way that Catholics do. This should give you some idea of his intellectual prowess.)
It was evident that this deacon (now retired, thankfully) favored both Hilary Clinton and the “seamless garment” approach to Catholic Social Teaching espoused by the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin in the 1980s. The seamless garment attempts to put the issue of nuclear weapons on the same level as abortion. Such reasoning is completely fallacious. It is like saying any Catholic who owns a gun is every bit as evil as Kermit Gosnell.
The seamless garment argument is irrational and illogical. So it is confusing when prelates, who are supposed to be highly educated individuals, continue to offer it up.
I take solace in the fact that God knows what He is doing even if we do not. As the apologist, Joe Heschmeyer points out, when it comes to the papacy and the Church “a biblical view of the papacy shows that Jesus established it to work amidst the all-too-human failings of St. Peter and his successors.”
Don’t let confusing messages or strange statements put you in a funk. And don’t succumb to emotional and illogical arguments. And don’t blindly accept statements that don’t sound quite right, even if they are made by a deacon or a priest.
Has your parish gotten off track when it comes to the Liturgy or Catholic teaching? As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you owe it to the congregation to try to get the parish back on course. Speak up. Be a gadfly – but be a courteous and respectful gadfly. Remember that you too are part of the Body of Christ and the parish is also your parish.