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I was inadvertantly called evil today

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

The small town culture shock continues. Today my wife and I went back to the local Catholic church down the street, but at a time we hadn’t tried before. Apparently the pastor is on vacation so a visiting priest presided.

The visiting priest begin his homily saying “There was a new phenomenon which began in the 1960s called theological dissent, when it became common to disagree with the church. If this were the 1600s they would be called Protestants but now they are called theological progressives.”

He went on to say “this dissent is evil. To stray even the least little bit from the teachings of the church is explicit evil!” He then went on to explain the specific form of evil/dissent which is abortion. This was the entirety of his message for the next 15 minutes: “abortion is evil, dissent from the Catholic church is evil.”

He continued with the rhetoric about how Notre Dame is no longer a Catholic institution because they invited President Obama to speak at commencement. This is August 30, is this all this priest has been preaching about for the past three months? I can’t believe people are still harping on this!

Today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time and the readings were:

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8
Psalm 15
James 1:17-18,21-22,27
Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

What do these scriptures have to do with dissent and abortion? The homily ought to be a continuation of the word of God, not our own political soapbox. I do not believe the word of God was preached in this church on this day.

Being a Protestant Christian, I couldn’t help but focus on his opening when he called dissent and Protestants evil. I was so profoundly hurt by this homily. My wife (who is Catholic) expressed her apologies for the priest’s homily. She told me “I do not belong to the church which preaches these things; this is not the Catholic Church I know!” Never have I heard such an active destruction of the unity of the Body of Christ. Not to mention his own dissent of Catholic doctrine which teaches that Protestants have a real, however incomplete, union with the Catholic church by virtue of our baptism. Consider a Protestant who might be thinking about entering the Catholic church. Would this homily help or hinder someone’s decision to enter the church? Or perhaps someone who has been affected by abortion. What hope can be provided to that suffering soul if you bash them with just how evil they are? Would this homily help or hinder someone recovering from the destructive powers of abortion?

As I left the church I shook the preacher’s hand. I looked him right in the eye and said, quite calmly, “Father, I am a Protestant Christian and you called me evil today.” A brief second went by, and a few eye-blinks. He was clearly taken aback. He stuttered for a moment and began to back pedal. “Well,” he said “I wasn’t saying Protestants were evil, I was talking to people within the Catholic church, those who should know better.” I responded “Please be aware of what you are saying and how it might harm the unity we all hope for.” He came back with a weak apology “That’s certainly not what I meant. I’ve been a priest for 23 years and have never called Protestants evil.”

He patted me on my shoulder as I left and a woman behind me in line shook the priest’s hand. I overheard her say “bravo on such a wonderful homily.”

Be sure to read the followup!

Two approaches to being a catholic church

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I observe that my Christian tradition – Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and The Catholic Church both attempt to be catholic churches. That is, they both attempt to represent the wholeness (catholicity) of the Church. They both have very divergent approaches to their catholicity.

Disciples attempt to represent the whole through openness. Christians can disagree and yet remain united. There are no creeds, because of the division they may cause. The closest thing Disciples come to a standardized affirmation of faith is “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” If you can affirm this statement (whatever it means to you), you are welcome.

The Catholic Church (capital C), on the other hand have a focus on complete uniformity. Unity in belief, practice, and structure. To be united means to be uniform. Anything outside of the predefined boundaries is not unified.

Neither approach is entirely appropriate. Disciples may err on the side of allowing unorthodoxy. This is unity in word only. That we are not really united, but we will just say we are to make everyone happy.

The Catholic approach on the other hand ignores the biblical and historical testimony of diversity in the Church (in belief, practice, and structure). This unity is not challenging because it is easy to be united to others who are just like oneself.

Disciples often put forth the saying “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity.” To a large extent I like this philosophy, except that essentials are never defined. It begs the question: to what point does liberty lead to heresy? Where are the boundaries of what is acceptable? And how far outside of the core can we venture until we are no longer preaching the Gospel?

Still, a certain level of diversity is absolutely necessary, lest we all become “hands, eyes, or ears.” Diversity is necessiary for the Body of Christ to operate.

How can we be the catholic (universal) church; unitied and yet diverse? What are the essentials which ought to unite us, and where is diversity acceptable?