The National Catholic Review

Isn’t it surprising to hear today's Gospel (John 6:60-69) tell us that some of Jesus’s disciples “returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him”? It’s almost unbelievable! So many of us would (literally) give our right arms to see and hear what the disciples saw and heard--to witness Jesus’s astonishing miracles, and hear the carpenter from Nazareth spin out his parables, as he did in Galilee and Judea all those years ago. 

How, we wonder, could anyone walk away from Jesus after having walked with him? 

Yet it’s really not that hard to understand. Sometimes, for example, we turn away from God's invitation to conversion out of fear. Change is frightening. What would it mean for us to change our old ways of doing things, our habitual way of relating to others, our familiar ways of understanding our place in the world? For true conversion is not simply a putting off of bad habits, it is a putting aside of our old selves. And that is pretty scary. Easy to understand people walking away.

We also turn away because the path is a rocky one. Life in the Christian community is hard. At one time or another, everyone wants to “walk away” from religion. The church can be a tough place. We hear things that we don’t like; we see things that we don’t approve of; we are forced to pray with people with whom we don’t agree. And that’s hard. Very hard.

But in these communities often come our most powerful experiences of God. As the theologian Jane Redmont pointed out to me years ago, that’s one reason why so many of those stories of the Holy Spirit so often happen in groups. We are both naturally religious and naturally social, so we come together to worship. And Jesus understood this. Remember: Jesus didn’t simply call one apostle to be his assistant, he called a whole group of people—apostles and disciples alike—together. At the beginning of his ministry, as he is walking by the Sea of Galilee, he calls Peter and Andrew and James and John—that’s four people at once. And after his Resurrection, he appears to people individually (Mary Magdalene, for example) but much more often to the group. 

The church is the place into which we were born and out of which we will leave this life. We are called through baptism into a distinctive place in the church. That means that we are called not only to enjoy its fruits, but to labor in its vineyards, even when that vineyard is filled with thorns, the day is late, we are exhausted, the fruit seems scarce, and the sun is beating down on us, seemingly without mercy. It is in our church that we will work out, difficult as it may be, impossible as it may seem at times, our salvation, alongside other sinners—sinners just like us. 

"To whom shall we go?” said Peter. The church is not Jesus, but it is his visible body on the earth.  And, like his body after the Resurrection, it has wounds.  So you could also ask: “Where else shall we go?” 

And remember that it's your church, too. God called you into it, by name, on the day of your baptism.  Never forget that Jesus called each of the disciples for a particular reason.  They each had different gifts and talents, and were able to help build the Kingdom of God in different ways.  As Mother Teresa said, "You can do something I cannot do. I can do something you cannot do.  Together let us do something beautiful for God."  Though the disciples often quarrelled with one another, Jesus wanted them all to be there.  When you're tempted to leave, or when others say that they don't want you around, remember who called you. 

There can be tough times in the church for all of us—from the pope to the people in the pews. But those aren’t the times to leave. Those are precisely the time when the church needs you the most, just like Jesus needed the disciples—to stay.

Comments

David Pasinski | 5/3/2012 - 1:17pm
I guess I have to let this go since this blog is history, but I just came from a funeral at my parish for a wonderful woman who was a sign interpreter.

Quasi-concelebating were two Episcopal  priests -one was a deaf woman friend of hers and the other was a former RC priest who had been stationed there who couldn't take the RC prejudices any longer and was incardinated into the Episcopal diocese. He is not gay and has not married - a relatively purely theologial/spiritual split.  He was gracious and charming and very glad to be there (as he has been i the past) and our pastor -  obviously unique guy who welcomed both of them and kidded the one about his time at the parish and that his bishop had promised to vist - stood there holding the elements and inviting all to the Eucharist.

This is the kind of place that keeps me ''in the Church,'' but also shows me how the choice can be made in integrity to  do, as the other old friend, said, leave and ''I'm very peaceful in the place where I need to be.''

The mystery of what it means to ''stay'' or ''go'' is a fragile, personal discernment, made in fear and trembling, and I trust, for now, we are each where we need to be - for now.... 
David Pasinski | 5/1/2012 - 3:26pm
Comments are winding down... thughtful, nearly all....I'm still waiting for Godot - or is that Fr. Jim - to return and lift some of my "angst and ennui"

But maybe I need to lt that go, too...
We'll let this blog fade... but keep waiting...

"Here's to you, Ms. Bergeron, Jesus loves you more than you will know...."
Patricia Bergeron | 4/30/2012 - 6:38pm
Friends - the breadth and thoughtful nature of everyone's comments gives me, an unothodox Catholic, a great deal of hope. It's trite but nonetheless true that "power corrupts" regardless of where it resides (maybe even "power to the people?" I remember the late 60's and 70's).
What's important is that we all remember that we are the Body of Christ. It's not the bishops, priests, etc. Given the decline in vocations to the priesthood, we laypeople might just be coming into our own!

As for who gets into heaven (Catholics? Mormons? Buddhists? ...) let me quote that closet theologian Paul Simon in his song "The Afterlife"....

"Buddha and Moses and all the noses from narrow to flat
Had to stand in a line just to glimpse the Divine
Whatcha think about that?"

By the way, Paul ends his song by saying that faced with the Beatific Vision, "words disappear," and "all that remains is a fragment of song." So I guess it's pointless to argue theology.

JIM MCCREA | 4/30/2012 - 6:07pm
For many of us, the only honest way to remain Catholic is to be a Roaming Catholic.

I stopped attending my parish on December 4, 2011.  Since then I have checked out a few other way, but, for the time being, have settled for the Church of the Blessed Pillow, St. Mary Mattress Parish.
6466379 | 4/30/2012 - 6:04pm
Anne - I don't know what "masking" email means. For obvious reasons I don't want to make my email address public on line, but if you'd like to continue our conversation my snail mail  address is in the Riverdale (Bronx) NY phone book with phone number. Maybe we could do a "Paul-thing" and start writing letters. My wife says I'm long-winded, so I'll try to keep it short.
Crystal Watson | 4/30/2012 - 4:59pm
Janice, thanks for the kind words  :)

Anne,  I respect your choice of moving to the Episcopal Church.  In many ways it seems more honest than my own choice of not attending services  anymore and voicing my criticisms of the church, but still identifying as Catholic. 
Michael Barberi | 4/30/2012 - 4:34pm
Anne and Bruce:
 
I think these arguments go nowhere because we are missing the bigger picture.

No one knows what Jesus would approve or not in terms of today's CHURCH. His CHURCH is much wider that the RCC, it is all Christian Churches. The RCC is also much wider that the Roman Magisterium. It is the laity, theologians and clergy, not the Roman Curia without remainder.

While no one knows what Jesus would approve or disapprove of, it is highly likely that he would not approve of the ecclesiology of the RCC today; nor many of their doctrines and pastoral practices. Case in point: the sexual abuse scandal.

I for one remain Catholic despite my disagreement with some Church teachings and practices. I do not let these disagreements prevent me from having a solid loving relationship with Christ. This can be said of millions of other Christians who also know that their Churches have something that is less than perfect...but nevertheless they strive to live a life according to the Gospel of Christ, whether they be Episcoplian, or other Christian denominations. When we stand before Christ at judgment time, he will not say "Well you have done well except you are not Catholic which is the one true Church and you have not followed all of its doctrines....so you must enter heaven through door number 2, not the preferred door number 1." 

I don't believe in papal infallibility, the assertion that Mary did not have any other children but Jesus. I do not believe that contraception is intrinsically evil and immoral under all circumstances; neither do I believe that in vitro fertilization is immoral without remainder. I believe in abortion to save the life of the mother when the fetus cannot survive under any circumstances and I believe that sterilization is prudent if one's life is threatened by another pregrancy...the list goes on. I am profoundly disappointed and annoyed that there are inconsistencies and contradictions between doctrine (the word) and pastoral practices (the deed), and I think the Roman Curia is out of touch with reality.

I stay in the RCC because I was born into it, was educated by it, and spend most of my life worshiping God in it. I stay because I want to work for "change" as best I can, while I stay faithful to Christ, a faith dictated by respect for Church teachings, but guided by my informed conscience and the Holy Spirit.

Those that left the RCC for other Christian Churchs, I say...God Bless You. If that is where your heart is, then that is where Christ is.

  
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/30/2012 - 4:24pm
Hi Crystal,
Wow, that is a spooky coincidence.  I shouldn't be surprised though.  You have such an inquiring mind....and I admire you for that.  The quote from Kierkegaard describes me too and I think i is a good place to be.  We live in so much ambiguity in our lives.  Then there is our own ambivalence and the woundedness we bring to relationships, including the one with God.  Over the years of my life, I have had doubts, crises of faith and times when I railed against God. so very angry with God.  The "why me?" syndrome.  I can look back now and see the many ways and times God has been present in my life.  No more so, than in January when I had a near death experience and have since had a remarkable recovery.   Like Ed, Bob and Bruce I will stay in the church which has nurtured and sustained us through hard times.  I hope you will, too.

One of my favorite poems is Francis Thompson"s  "The Hound of Heaven".  It suits me fine!

I found your blog.  It is just terrific.  I know that I'll visit it many times.  The photographs are beautiful and it looks as if you have given much thought to difficult subjects.    Please keep thinking, praying and writing.
6466379 | 4/30/2012 - 1:55pm
Hi Anne – WHEW! WOW! HOLY COW! – You’re certainly writer-fluent, waves of information swirling around rocks of personal conviction! I agree with you that some of the small up-and-coming Christian Communities often called “separated brethren” are closer in simplicity to the Apostolic Church of Acts, than any of the large Churches, especially the Roman Church. But I do find it hard to understand in view of Christ’s Unity Prayer at the First Eucharist (the Last Supper) how he could approve of all the ecclesial communities that have emerged, in this Country alone over 20,000, each claiming to be the true Church of Jesus, although often miles apart in belief and practice.  
True, in a sense they are like chips off the “Old Block” (the Catholic Church)  or like venerable splinters of wood from the “True Cross” – truly for some a CROSS!!! (I mean the Catholic Church) all trying to find the road home in their own way, in truth often a zig-zag path. You mentioned that you are on a “journey” (we all are) and as you indicated  your present Episcopal affiliation need not be the end of your journey. Anne, that’s interesting. As you journey forward is it possible that you might end up where you started from? Maybe not, but a lot do. The sweet smell of “home” captures them. The Lord leads all gently by the hand, until hand-in-hand with him, OUR steps at last become firm. May the gentle Coo of the Spirit Dove be your sure-footed guide!
Anne, we agree and disagree with each other a lot. Let’s leave it there unless you want to continue posting. I just don’t want to be Posting Hog and neither do you I’m sure!   Peace!
Jeanne Linconnue | 4/30/2012 - 10:55am
Abe, be careful of worshipping false gods. The sin of addiction to Colonel Sanders could very well cause a premature meeting with your Creator.  ;)
Jeanne Linconnue | 4/30/2012 - 10:53am
Actually, Bruce, it seems that the Roman Catholic church lost the ''original recipe'' about 1700 years ago. It is doubtful that Jesus would recognize the church of Rome as it is now as the inheritors of the community that followed him.  If one reads the gospels and studies the structure and evolution of the early church, it is possible to see that the church that is rooted in Rome decided quite early on to add a lot of falsely sweet and highly addictive imperium to the 'original'' recipe, when it became the official religion of Constantine.  The imperial church - with a hierarchy that is characterized too often by a very human, secular attachment to power, prestige and possessions - wealth - little resembles the christian community that gathered around Jesus. Eventually, some who recognized that the original recipe had been degraded by imperium tried to recover the original recipe. But, they were thrown out of the house. Excommunicated. Sometimes burned at the stake.  The love of imperium overcame all ''protests'' that the church needed to go back to the original recipe. 

Like Crystal, I see a great deal of value in THE church - the Roman Catholic and the rest of Jesus's church.THE church is not exclusively Roman Catholic, but since about half of all christians are part of the RC church it certainly has produced many remarkable followers of Jesus and many of christianity's greatest thinkers (often silenced by Rome). I remain interested in learning about the insights of Roman Catholicism's and christianity's greatest thinkers.  No throwing out the baby with the bathwater, even if Rome decided to pull the plug on some of them.

However,  some think that the sheer amorality of a hierarchy that vowed to remain silenct in order to ''protect'' an institution rather than protect the young from sexual abuse by priests is more than simply''pompous management'', as you so breezily describe it.

It is dangerous to truly think deeply about this, reflect on it, pray about it - because it can lead to an individual crisis of conscience. And most prefer to remain comfortable. As Father Martin noted, true conversion - to follow Jesus - is very hard. But for some, the question won't go away - the conscience cannot ignore it after a while - do we remain ''good'' Catholics and ignore the evil unleashed by the imperial church simply because it is so very comfortable for us to remain where ''we were born''? Part of the family? Or do we take the harder road and refuse to continue to enable the sickness? As Al-Anon teaches, sometimes love means choosing to stop enabling.  

Jesus told us that following him can be very hard - it can mean leaving the family. Perhaps some need to stay - maybe some have a gift for ''getting through'' to the addict at some point. But others cannot in good conscience continue to enable the dysfunction that caused so much harm to so many innocent young when it is painfully clear that the dysfunction that bred the evil has not yet been faced up to honestly.  Perhaps if enough people sadly leave the family, with the push of those who remain, the patriarchs will face up to what they have done - and decide to give up the false and addictive sweetness of the imperium and go back to the original recipe - Jesus's recipe.

I hope you find the Episcopalian experience peaceful, flawless,  with impeccable clergy, scandal free, and in possession of all the attributes your found missing in the Roman Church.

As far as your ''good'' wishes go, I will only say this.  Anglicanism is sacramental and liturgical. It has the Eucharist - and the Real Presence. The Episcopal church's structure and governance more closely models the early christian church than does the Roman church.  Corrupt bishops can be removed. They are accountable to THE church, not to a pope - a human being. They do not take vows to a human being nor to silence in order to protect the corporation while permitting evil to run unchecked.  In the Episcopal church, the dignity and equality of women are given more than condescending lip-service. Women called by God to the priesthood may answer that call - women are not dismissed as second-class human beings, unworthy of a sacrament due to their genes.  A married priesthood means that the priesthood does not devolve into a cultic priesthood marked by an unhealthy concept of sexuality that believes that perpetual virginity is a ''holier'' calling than marriage. Once again, this more closely models the early church than does the Roman church. Jesus chose married men to be the apostles. Yet Anglicanism also recognizes that some have the charism for a life of consecrated virginity, and they have retained monastaries for both men and women called to that life.  The leaders of the Episcopal church (Anglicanism in general) understand that they are human beings and that there is not a single human being who has ever lived who is ''infallible.'' There is a humility that is conspicuously absent from the Roman church. They trust in the Holy Spirit to guide the church, but they understand that the church is not confined to a handful of ordained male celibates who live their lives totally removed from the real world and real lives of those who are THE church. The House of Bishops knows that it does not have exclusive rights to ''channel'' God.

For now, I attend an Episcopal church. But, the Episcopal church is no more THE church than is the Roman church - it is one part of Jesus' church.  Unlike Fr. Martin, I do not believe that formal denominational membership is necessary to be a follower of Jesus.  The spiritual companionship found in small groups - especially multi-denominational membership prayer groups or groups trying to model their daily lives in emulation of Benedict or Francis or other saints - provides rich nourishment to many christians who are ''post-denominational''.  All are on a journey - and different types of ''church'' may support it at different life stages. The small, informal christian communities that have sprung up in recent years may be the closest of all to recapturing the ''original recipe'' of christianity that currently exists in a church of more than 2 billion souls.

God calls laborers to more than one vineyard. Some are called to work in the huge ''factory'' farms, others may work in tiny family farms. Some may be called to work in different vineyards at different times.  But all can be cultivated to build God's kingdom.  

David Pasinski | 4/30/2012 - 9:51am
Fr. Jim
I think you hit a nerve for many who are trying to be thoughtfully engaged on this topic. I don't know if you will choose to comment again on all of this, but it shows the roiling right now with those who stay. leave, or are in-between.  Last week, the NCR columnist Jamie mayson, gave a talk on "Why Remain Catholic," and her largest point was the "sacramental view of the world." It was helpful, inspiring, and she presented her own struggle... but I know from talking with some afterwards that that didn't quite answer the question- not her fault, but displaying that with the attitude of many hierarchy and younger clergy who seem content to have that leaner, smaller, more doctrinaire church, they may be happier when many of us slip awaay - in death or to other fatih communities.  This is s a subject for an article in the magazine, I would think.
Kang Dole | 4/30/2012 - 9:22am
Colonel Sanders died for my sins!
6466379 | 4/30/2012 - 8:21am
Hi Crystal – I’m glad you’ve managed to hang in with the Catholic Church, despite many good reasons from a strictly  human point of view to jump ship! From its very beginning Christianity has reeked of scandal, internal and external tensions, doctrinal and disciplinary uncertainties to put it mildly, lay and clerical treachery and more. But strangely through it all, no matter how deep the muck, Jesus remains with his Church raising up giants of holiness who keep refreshing the People of God as they wade   through the waters of Baptism muddied  through sin and human weakness. How the Church managed to survive is a wonder! Surely any merely human institution would have long ago collapsed!
 Or, in another reality, see the Roman Catholic Church as a loaf of delicious bread prepared from a recipe written by the Father with ingredients gleaned from Old Testament Covenants and hand-delivered by Jesus to a group of waiters with orders to “feed the crowd.” Along the way the original recipe began to get contaminated with stuff that affected its original goodness. So, down through the ages the waiters had to keep trying to get back to the bread’s original taste, a struggle that has  preserved  within the Catholic Church,  something called the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, the Real Presence. The Catholic Church has hung on to the “original recipe” the Church itself a very satisfying “loaf of bread!” Some have drifted away and left behind that recipe, or in some cases mixed other stuff in the dough producing something like the original, but clearly not the same. The fidelity of the Catholic Church to the Father’s original recipe as handed to the waiters by Jesus, is the reason why I keep eating that loaf!
Obviously this is not a perfect explanation, all metaphors tend to limp, but somehow I hope I managed to say convincing that, despite horrid travail from the beginning, Original Christianity now known as the Catholic Church, has managed to preserve its Original Recipe. Blessings on you and all!        
Crystal Watson | 4/29/2012 - 10:05pm
Bruce  (#16),

Sorry, I didn't mean to not answer.  I do see worth in the Catholic church and that's why I haven't joined another church, though it's hard for me to explain exactly what the difference I see between the two (Catholic and Protestant) is.  But still I don't worship the church, I think the church is a way to worship Jesus/God, and I don't believe that God has put some stamp of approval on the Catholic church over and against other churches.
6466379 | 4/29/2012 - 6:49pm
Hi Anne -  Thanks for taking time to respond to my response to #7 Post (Crystal.)  I could never compete with your very interesting  Post. I must say, however, that  I’m sorry you have left the Roman Catholic Church, but find some satisfaction knowing  that you are now an Episcopalian. To   me this  means that  some “connective tissue” a kind of “umbilical cord”  so to speak,  between you and the Roman Church still exists. I wish you well and may deepening love for Jesus open for you everything that membership and prayer life in the Roman Church did not do. I hope you find the Episcopalian experience peaceful, flawless,  with impeccable clergy, scandal free, and in possession of all the attributes your found missing in the Roman Church.
As for me, my Faith in the Roman Catholic Church is immoveable, riveted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and to our dear Blessed Mother Mary. Flawed, yes,  pompous management, etc., problematic, but in God’s own way and in God’s own time, resurrection! But not a 100%  clean slate ever. It never has been and never will be, because the Church is run by flawed, sinful people, a lot like me.   There’s just too much wonder and awe to walk away! Please keep me in your good prayers and I promise you a share in mine, And for all others who, for whatever reason have   walked away from Mother Church finding security and love in the arms of an Adopted Mother I also ask their prayers and promise a share in mine.
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/29/2012 - 6:08pm
Winifred

Hello again!  I was trying (poorly!) to be tongue in cheek about masculinists.  I know little or nothing about Vatican politics and it is hard for me to get a handle on much of anything from the media.  John Allen seems to be a good resource.  Anyway, my beef with the Catholic Church is not with the hierarchy but with the American laity who are well-educated, affluent, well-connected socially and politically.  The American church is a far cry from the immigrant church I grew  up in.  I have begged, ad nauseam for the laity to become involved in the ministry to families with disabled members (and the frail eldery).  It seems to me to be an issue of social justice and culture of life.

I had a hard time writing about my group experience and can only relate what I heard and observed.  I don't know what is in the hearts of my dear friends.  I only know from what was discussed is that beliefs about the Trinity, the Real Presence, the divinity of Christ changed over time at variance with Catholic beliefs.  Some of the women refer to themselves as radical Catholic feminists.  That is not a term that I or anyone else gave them.  I mentioned their going to the Episcopal church as it seems more closely aligned with their beliefs.  I could be very wrong about this.  I thought about Martin Luther nailing his Theses and the consequences of that act.  I love my firends.  One is like a sister to me, so of course, I want what is best for them.  We all have to find our way on this journey.  The one I am committead to is not theirs, but we can still and do, live in loving friendships.
Crystal Watson | 4/29/2012 - 6:07pm
Hi Janice,

Wow - this is kind of spooky, but the Dulles article you mention is one I read earlier and actually wrote a blog post about .... http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/2008/12/avery-dulles-sj-hans-urs-von-balthasar.html

I do 'want' to believe ununiversal salvation.  One reason is that my best friend, my sister, is not a Christian.  Another is that it just doesn't make sense to me that God would create everything, love everything, and then destroy a high percentage of it.  But it is just a hope - who really knows?  I recently listened to a lecture by Keith Ward (http://www.nationalcathedral.org/learn/forumTexts/SF081109T.shtml) in which he quoted Kierkegaard as saying that faith in God is a passionate commitment that you make in objective uncertainty.   That's me  :)
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/29/2012 - 5:39pm
Crystal,

You, the avid reader:  I have a recommendation for you that might give you some insight about the issue of universal salvation, as it did me.  As I am computer -challengd I can only give you the reference.   Google Avery Cardinal Dulles 'The Population of Hell"  in the May 2003 issue of " First Things".  It is a thorough, balanced reviw of church history and current thought.  This article was in response to Hans Urs von Balthasar"s book:  "Dare we Hope "That All Men Will be Saved?"

When I think about the people I love and admire, of varying beliefs and unbelief I have that hope.  Not a belief but a hope.  As I recently heard and saw the Dalai Lama, a man of peace and compassion, I can imagine him and Jesus having a great heart to heart talk.  The Dalai Lama, when asked who influenced him most, replied, Buddha and then added Gahndi, Thomas Merton and Mother Teresa.  Now wouldn't that be an interesting conversation in heaven!  Crystal, I have remained Catholic throughout a long life as I have found Christ present in all the difficulties I have faced as I have been continually nurtured by the Mass, Sacraments, lives of the saints and the belief that I as a sinner and terribly imperfect are part of the communion of saints.  As an individual, I am never alone.
JIM MCCREA | 4/29/2012 - 5:37pm
Anne in #17 said this:  The Eastern Orthodox churches have solid historic reasons for rejecting the primacy of Rome.
This might be a good time to recommend a thorough reading of Philip Jenkins' fascinating "The Lost History of Christianity."  In it you'll find, among other things, that Latin Rite (i.e., European or “Roman”) Catholicism is better described as the largest survivor of the original Churches as opposed to being "the original."  A virtually total purge of Christianity by mostly Islam, most particularly in Asia, left Europe as the geographical heart of the Christian faith.  Whole areas were made devoid of Christian communities and believers elsewhere were reduced to a tiny fraction of the population.
To quote Jenkin's work (page 25):  "The uprooting (of the Asian Churches between 1200 & 1500 by Islam) created the Christianity that we commonly think of today as the true historical norm, but which, in reality was the product of the elimination of alternative realities.  Christianity did indeed become 'European', but about a millennium later than most people think."
Is this survival of what is now called Roman Catholicism proof that it is “Christ’s church?”  I think it more an accident of history as opposed to any Divine Imprimatur.


I know that you don't get this interpretation from reading Vatican-approved sources, but the truth shall free you from historical and theological misconceptions.
JIM MCCREA | 4/29/2012 - 5:29pm

Ditto to Anne's question @ #3.
The excommunication of Fr. Leonard Feeney on February 13, 1953 was an eye-opener to me (I was 13 then!). I have never again felt compelled to be a member of the RCC in order to seek my salvation in Christ. In fact, I am finding - as so many have found - that outside the (Catholic) church there IS salvation.

Any connection to what was the Catholic church in the first 2 or 3 centuries and what passes for Catholicism these days is so remote that it isn't even accidental anymore.
Why is it that a church founded by a man who walked on water is now often administered by mean, mindless men who walk on the manure of guilt and betrayal and who prefer to flay consciences rather than to read the book of John? It’s awfully hard to subordinate one’s love of God to the rules of these kinds of earthly ministers.

I think this man had it right:
“I confess that I do not see what good it does to fulminate against the English tyranny while the Roman tyranny occupies the palace of the soul.”
''Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages,'' lecture, Università Popolare, Trieste (1907-04-27),printed in James Joyce: Occasional, Critical and Political Writing (2002) edited by Kevin Barry [Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-192-83353-7], p. 125
Crystal Watson | 4/29/2012 - 4:48pm
As many, including Anne, have mentioned the odea that Jesus established the Catholic Church and wanted it to be the only Christian venue is at best speculation.  The word "church" is in only one out of four of the gospels.  Instead Jesus talked about "the kingdom of God".   Ignatius of Loyola said the Creator works directly with the creature, and I think that's true, no matter what church one belongs to (or doesn't belong to).
Livia Fiordelisi | 4/29/2012 - 3:47pm
Amy,

The reasons a person chooses to leave or stay within a faith tradition are myriad and complex, a mixture of faith and doubt, fears and hopes. To chalk it up to a simplistic football tale is just silly. To assume that those who leave have been spectators or those who stay have been in the trenches is false. To trivialize the struggle is to trivialize the work of God. To assume that those who leave no longer serve God and that those who stay serve freely is also false.

Perhaps we would all do better to focus more on our own faith journeys and avoid analyzing others.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 4/29/2012 - 2:54pm
People who tell me they left the Catholic Church for other ecclesial communities because they can follow Christ more comfortably where they feel "welcomed, affirmed, free, nurtured, accepted, etc." always remind me of football fans.

"Wow, I love football," says the football fan on his couch, "The uncertainty, the danger, the strategizing, the competition, courage, dedication, self-sacrifice, huge risks, exhilarating victories, crushing defeats! I live for football! I can't imagine life without it!"

"So did you ever trying playing football?" you ask him.   

"Oh, yeah, I played a season in high school, but I hated it," he says. "I hated the endless hours of practice, I couldn't stand getting hit, concussions, torn muscles, broken bones, exhaustion, memorizing all those plays and taking crap from that idiot my coach. I quit."
Thomas Piatak | 4/29/2012 - 1:06pm
A very good homily,
Anne Chapman | 4/29/2012 - 12:48pm
Bruce, the Roman Catholic church asserts that it alone is God's voice on earth - as you put it, God's ''preferred'' way to God's truth. But, this teaching is based on an interpretation of a couple of scripture passages that is, at very the least, self-serving - intepretations rejected by a majority of the church (all christians).  Those who study church history, biblical scholarship, general world history, etc - even at a very surface level - can quickly see how what became known as the Roman Catholic church really evolved. The Eastern Orthodox churches have solid historic reasons for rejecting the primacy of Rome. 

I asked about the definition of ''church'' because there are different reasons people are leaving different churches - and for leaving formal religion. The reasons in the Roman Catholic church are easy to see. Many are fed up with a hierarchy who seem more caught in their love of power than love of children - and many don't wish to enable a non-repentant, non-reformed hierarchy by giving money to the institutional church. Many women are fed up with being classified as second-class citizens - ''now and forever, amen.''  Many laity in general are fed up with a hierarchy who does not listen to them - whose main concern seems to be creating a passive, docile laity who will not question, not think - but will ''pay, obey and pray.''  

The pages of America in recent months have had numerous stories and articles related to the belated facing up to the reality that tens of millions of cradle Catholics in America have quietly slipped out the doors.  There is also concern about the growth of the ''nones'' - the ''spiritual but not religious'' - the reality that across denominations, and even in non-christian religions - the religious officials are witnessing an historic departure from their ranks - at a time when interest in the spiritual is at a height.  The formal religions are not providing the kind of spiritual environment that tens of millions seek.  Telling them to stay - just because - doesn't address the roots of the real crisis. 

Crystal (#7) summarizes it thus: ''The people mentioned in John 6:60-69 were leaving Jesus, but today, when people leave the Catholic church, they usually aren't leaving Jesus - they're staying with Jesus in other Christian denominations, or staying with him in their own personal lives.''

David Power says (#10): ''...it is only the Truth that will set us free and as long as Rome denies the truth it is not the place of human freedom.

Dave Pasinkski says: (# 5):''..... many colleagues and friends have gone where they are fed and nurtured and are simply tired of the treatment of women, gay persons, remarred persons, and orther Christians in the formal ways the Catholic Church teaches.''

LDailey (#4): ''...I no longer believe that staying with Christ and staying within the Roman Catholic Church are the same things. ...As a lay person, I have more freedom to be in relationship with Christ outside of the church structure if I find that the structure separates me from God, asks me to lie or compromise my integrity or Gospel values, or forces me to excludes others. ... more and more I feel the need to look beyond the RCC for authentic faith.''

I now attend an Episcopal church for all of those reasons.  The Roman Catholic church asks me to compromise my conscience and my integrity.  In the final decision, it came down first to being unwilling to enable with my ''time, talent and treasure'' an institution that denies its billion members even the slightest voice in it governance and teachings - an institution that hurts women and children through its hierarchy and official teachings - an institution whose hierarchy has systematically permitted the abuse of tens of thousands of young people for decades by refusing to break silence and turn over priests to the civil justice system. Now we see a hierarchy whose entire punitive apparatus has been fired up to insult and humiliate and degrade tens of thousands of elderly religious sisters who have spent their lives following Jesus's teachings instead of Rome's.  The actions and teachings of the bishops and Rome are the ones you want to look at, Fr. Martin, if you truly want to understand why so many can no longer stay in the Roman Catholic church. They are not leaving relationship with God or Jesus. They are seeking to remove the obstacle the church has become in deepening their relationship with God.

As far as the rest of christianity goes, I recently read a story about a bookseller and a visitor, who asked the bookseller which books sell the best. He said that the top sellers were books on getting rich in the information age. He said that the second largest sales were in ''spirituality' - and that books on Buddhism significantly outsold books on Christianity.  The conclusion of the questioner is that people want to understand how to live, rather than ''what to believe.''  The Dalai Lama is probably the world's most loved spiritual teacher. His attraction is undeniable - he looks happy and not like a grim scold.  He teaches compassion and love and forgiveness. Jesus taught those things too. But Christianity is a ''head-game''. The Roman church especially - it silences its own theologians, its priests,  all who dare ask questions, pose different possibilites - those who ''dissent''.  Instead of throwing the doors open and expecting its best thinkers to think in the search for truth, it retreats to a dark closet. It silences, it excommunicates, it humiliates (the sisters). The word anc concept ''heretic'' is the product of christianity. Jesus did not spend much time on ''must believes.''

Jesus taught us how to live.  Like the Dalai Lama.



6466379 | 4/29/2012 - 9:28am
Hi Crystal (#7) and others. Of late I’m stuck on the exhortation, “simply, plainly and without gloss (cover-up)” so please hear me out.  Sure, Jesus can be found in other places besides being formally Catholic, like in other Christian Ecclesial Communities, non-Christian  Communities too and also even among non-believers, because Jesus is GOD and God can be found everywhere. Simplistic? Well, at its core truth is simple, a matter of  simply  “yes” or “no.” Jesus (God) is an equal opportunity provider his favorite residence  at  the periphery of human  Goodness of the Will.  Goodness of Will is the absolutely essential prerequisite to find Jesus and when one really  finds Jesus one finds God. And in a more opaque way the other way around too, when one finds God, one really  finds Jesus, often without knowing it!
 However, no matter how you cut it, the Catholic Church is God’s  PREFERRED way to truth which God is. This based on scriptural evidence  that, Jesus (God) founded, established and planted in the fiery  turbulence of Pentecost, (the PROTOTYPE  of all that was to come within  the Ecclesial Community now called the Catholic Church,) the essence of all salvific Truth. Many reject this, their prerogative to so do. A lot of factors blurr the picture for many understandably  an understanding no doubt shared by Jesus (God) as well.
 Yes, over millennia  lots of dross has attached itself to the Catholic Church sometimes obscuring its essential veracity. Nonetheless it remains  what it was intended to be, the clarion call to objective truth, sounded by God himself, ever “a voice in the wilderness.”   True the Catholic Church is in a sense,  a Cracked Mirror but still   reflecting the image of God, a Mirror cracked by reason of the Church’s “dropping the ball” many times producing lots of booing, I mean “turning away from.”  But despite its failures as it was in the beginning, in now and shall ever be,  the Catholic Church continually   points beyond the distorted  reflection in the Cracked Mirror to the most perfect Object of the reflection, Jesus Christ, the Lord, GOD! The Church as “Cracked Mirror” is ever in a state of repair, sustained in fidelity by what she sees as her Divine Commission – the proclamation of truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!    
 My wife says I’m “longwinded” mea culpa, so I apologize for taking so long to say,  Fr. Martin was speaking simply, plainly and without gloss, the Gospel truth, always “a hard saying” from which all of us may seek to hide in one way or the other excluding no one!  
David Pasinski | 4/29/2012 - 8:03am
Fr. Jim

I'm confused by your second posting. It sounds like you're saying you encourage Catholics to stay in the Church and work out their peace since they are "part" of the Church , and also encourage others to stay in their "churches" and work out their baptismal calling. Is that correct? If so, what does that say about RCIA, other adult "conversion" experiences, and, notably, phenomena like the establishment of the Anglican prelature?

Does that mean that those are movements that are not to be encouraged but rather each person working out one's place within the group one was batized into?
Winifred Holloway | 4/29/2012 - 7:45am
Janice
Another commenter a few days ago coined the term "masculinists," as a tongue-in-cheek rebuke, I think, to the way the vatican uses "radical feminists" as a slur.  The implication is that the masculine is normative and the feminine is derivitive.  I cannot to speak to your experience with the womens group that you reference but I don't agree that they should leave the Catholic church in order to be more comfortable with the Episcopalians.  They, after all, may have the same love for our Eucharist and our traditions that you and I have.
Robert Sauer | 4/28/2012 - 9:10pm
Can't speak for others but as you "get up there" you (or I) find you go through a life long love-hate cycle with the Church. Right now I'm in love.  In the times I walked away it was for all the reasons anyone can think of.  But I keep dwelling on a quote from the third Godfather movie when Michael Corleone expresses: [paraphrase] "Every time I think I'm out they keep dragging me back".  I could probably substitute "they" for the Holy Spirit.  I just can't seem to walk away and stay away.  I will die a Catholic, an imperfect one, but one nevertheless, whether the Church wants me or not.
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/28/2012 - 9:03pm
Winifed,

I had never heard of the term, "masculinists" and I'm intrigued by it.  I'd like to learn more about what it means and what it entails.  Is it reserved for our bishops?  :-)
I have to admit I know more about our gender and can speak with a bit more credibility about us.  I attended a womens' college, worked in social work for many years (still a womens" profession) and am a single mother of long standing.  I also wa in a group of women who, if asked, I think would refer to themselves as radical feminists.  My argument with the womenpriest community is that it calls itself Catholic while it seems to me to be more reasonable to sever itself from the Catholic Church and join the Episcopal Church, for example.  I'm sure that church would be happy to have them and they would be freer to follow their beliefs.  As a child my mother told me about Father Feeney in Boston, who was excommunicated for saying there is no salvation outside the Catholic church.  Quite an irony for him.  So, for me remaining a Catholic doesn't so much to do with salvation, as I hope for a universal salvation of humankind.  It is the Mass and Eucharist which hold me fast.

I hope I can be considered a person of integrity, having the ability to judge and discern.  We may have different ideas of obedience.  Surely, I don't mean a kind of blind obedience to everything that is presented to us; we are also called to work constructively to purify the church.  I understand obedience in the context of our personal relationship with God..............a continuing effort to discern and do the Will of God in our lives.  Our obedience is ultimately to God and I personally find that the Catholic church with its liturgy and sacraments and a 2000 year tradition works best for me.  Others find other ways.  I've never had the ability to look into the soul of another person, so I am very glad to leave all of that up to God!
RALPH BREMIGAN | 4/28/2012 - 6:54pm
With all respect to the commentators above, I believe that Fr. Martin was simply offering encouragement to some readers, for which I am grateful.
Winifred Holloway | 4/28/2012 - 6:16pm
Janice
I am with you on the idea that as we grow older we learn to accept others, recognize our own imperfections and perhaps learn humility.  We are all fragile people, destined to leave the earth.  That knowledge can provide perspective on the passing fancies, passions and controversies of the our day.  However, I notice you mention "radical, Catholic feminists."  As another commenter noted a few days ago, how come no one talks of "masculinists?"  We are all called, not as Catholic christians, but simply as humans to learn humility. It keeps us from arrogance and the desire to control others.  It should help us to feel compassion for our fellow sojourners in this vale of tears.  However, humility is not defined as being obedient to whatever entity is claiming to have that right over us.  We want also to be persons of integrity, thoughtful and discerning.  Obedience is not the highest virtue and it depends almost wholly on context.
Sure, I am not going to give any lip to the cop who pulls me over on the road.  He has a gun, after all.  It is the bishops now who have a gun.  This does not inspire confidence.    Why do allegedly spiritual leaders need a gun?  It is a difficult time for the church.  This is not the church of my coming of age, the church I was proud and grateful to belong to.  I am staying put.  I love the Eucharist.  I also stay for my fellow sufferers in the pews.   But I am sad.  It is a sorry day when the hierarchy call us to the streets to protest, not about suffering people, as in the 60s civil rights movement, but  - about what exactly?  Religious liberty, they say.  The liberty not to cover contraception, even remotely, in health care insurance plans.  Seriously?
Crystal Watson | 4/28/2012 - 6:03pm
The people mentioned in John 6:60-69 were leaving Jesus, but today, when people leave the Catholic church, they usually aren't leaving Jesus - they're staying with Jesus in other Christian denominations, or staying with him in their own personal lives.  The Catholic church does sometimes give the impression that it believes the only place Jesus can be found is in the Catholic church, but this must surely be untrue.
Thomas Farrell | 4/28/2012 - 5:43pm
What a non-critical approach you take to the Gospel of John, Fr. Martin!

In any event, I will focus my comments on those who stopped walking with Jesus and returned to their former way of life.

They could have been disappointed in him. They may have initially expected him to be an apocalyptic preacher like John the Baptist. As a result, they may have been understandably disappointed when he turned out to be preaching a non-apocalpytic message about how the reign of God is here for those who can understand the reign of God in them and among them and enjoy the reign of God in the present.

Next, I have to wonder if you think that the historical Jesus really wanted people to keep walking with him indefinitely, as it were. Maybe he did want this. But maybe he didn't want this.

You seem to think that the historical Jesus would have preferred to have people keep walking with him indefinitely. So let's consider this possibility. Why would he prefer to have people keep walking with him indefinitely? Was he trying to gather a following around himself as he walked? If he was, how big a following would he have wanted? Moreover, what did he want the followers for? If some people who had been followers had become seriously disappointed in him and his preaching, wouldn't he have preferred to see such people stop walking with him and return to their former way of life?

However, of those didn't stop walking with him, what did he want those followers for? What did he want them to do? Did he just want them to marvel at him and his preaching? Or did he want something more than this from them?
David Pasinski | 4/28/2012 - 4:56pm
Fr, Jim, I always appreciate you and your posts, but I agree with some here that this strikes me as simplistic and equating "the Church" with "the Catholic Church."

I am a very active Catholic and yet participate in another Christian congregation that I likewise think is as close to reflecting whatever Christ and the apostles "founded" as anything strictly "Catholic." I will always, I expect remain Caatholic, though I may already be late senteniae excommunicated as a "married priest." However, as I told the bishop when I married nearly 20 years ago, I was not "resigning priesthood," I was "being resigned" to the fact that he would use me yet for priestly service "simply" because I decided to exercise the human right to marry.

That was his/the Church's choice which I sadly accepted, but it ws not mine since I
was still believing the same as I had expressed and was in good standing and happy in the ministry and, humbly, appreciated by many.

I think I've had to learn that many, many colleagues and friends have gone where they are fed and nurtured and are simply tired of the treatment of women, gay persons, remarred persons, and orther Christians in the formal ways the Catholic Church teaches. I am very, very, very grateful for the parish I attend and a wonderful pastor who struggles a deep soul struggle with the institution... and I would never accuse those who move on to other congregations - or some who have dropped any "membership" anywhere - of somehow letting the communty and Church down.

 We choose where we allow ourselves to tremble... and trust the Spirit  in a far broader meaning of Church than I glean from this post. Nevertheless, thank you and keep up your good work and witness.
Livia Fiordelisi | 4/28/2012 - 3:45pm
Thanks for your good words, Fr. Jim. I've believed all of the above, and lived it I hope, for many years. Now I feel differently. First, I no longer believe that staying with Christ and staying within the Roman Catholic Church are the same things. Second I find Fr. Jim's sincere advise is given most frequently by priests and religious, caring and well-intentioned guides who would lose much if they leave the RCC - careers, homes, communities, livelihoods and identities. As a lay person, I have more freedom to be in relationship with Christ outside of the church structure if I find that the structure separates me from God, asks me to lie or compromise my integrity or Gospel values, or forces me to excludes others. I know that these viewpoint are outside of Catholic tradition but more and more I feel the need to look beyond the RCC for authentic faith. We all have our vocations - priests and religious witness to Christ by staying, perhaps at this juncture some lay persons are called to witness by leaving.
Anne Chapman | 4/28/2012 - 1:17pm
Father Martin, could you please define what you mean by ''the church''?  Are you referring exclusively to the Roman Catholic church? Or to any christian church?  Are you referring exclusively to church in terms of membership in parishes (Catholic or other christian denomination)? What about ''intentional communities''?  Or small groups, such as Centering Prayer groups, especially those that include many denominations?

Understanding how you define ''the church'' would help me (and maybe others) understand more clearly what you are trying to say in this post.

Thank you.
JANICE JOHNSON | 4/28/2012 - 1:10pm
Thank you, Fr. Jim, for your wise and timely message.  I often worry that the Americn church is going to split.  We need voices such as yours and John Allen to help us keep our focus on Chist, his Gospel and Church.  Like Ed said, there is a blessing to being older.  Where else is there to go?  Where else would I want to go.  Maybe, with old age comes greater acceptance of imperfection: ourselves, our parents, our loved ones, our neighbors, our church.  Yet, we do continue to work on purifying our church in contructive ways.  As Pope Benedit said, the church is always in need of purification.  So are religious orders, Catholic lay groups and individual Catholics.

For some years I was part of a group of lay Catholic women, feminists, most of whom were like me, pro-choice and cafeteria styel.  For years it met my needs for sisterly companionship and support, though I never lost devotion to the Eucharist and attended sunday Mass regularily.  The group was heavily influenced by a number of religious sister, including Christine Schenk.  As time went on most of the members became more and more radicalized.  I heard statements that disturbed me greatly and made me go back to studying church history, the Church fathers and mothers, gnostic writings, etc.  There was no dialogue and the group eventually disabanded.  Many went on to found a dissident community with a ''womanpriest'' which they call Catholic.  Some of my dearest friends excommunicated themselves from the Catholic Church.  I had to reevaluate my life and faith, as I was pressured to join also.We have agreed to disagree so we can maintain a loving friendship.

One thing I learned was how ideologies, such as radical Catholic feminism, can trump Christ.  Fr. Jim, I'm now reading about poverty of spirit in your ''Jesuit Guide''.  In my examen of my llife I can see how much I have struggled with humility and obedience and yet how poverty of spirit gives one freedom.  I'd guess that this is a common struggle and is one of the bases of what is going on in our church.  What do others think?
ed gleason | 4/28/2012 - 11:50am
Thanks for the buck-up piece, we all need that at these times. . One of the blessings I find in old age though, is the easiness to say ''I'm in this for the rest of my life' and with Peter 'To whom shall we go'
Anne Chapman | 4/30/2012 - 3:50pm
Bruce, I would send you an email in order not to be a posting hog, but apparently you have figured out a way to mask your email when posting.  So, I will simply say that it is more likely that in the future I will join the unchurched - the ''nones'' - the ''spiritual but not religious'' than return to Rome. I go to (Episcopal) church now to support family members. But, once that support is no longer needed, I will join those who are ''post-denominational'' and who meet as small groups for spiritual companionship and support without belonging to a formal church community. These groups are not what you call the ''separated brethren'' which is Rome's condescending term for churches who are not Roman Catholic.  These groups are not churches except in the sense of Jesus's earliest followers who met in homes to celebrate with bread and wine were ''churches''. No pope, no bishops, no priests. Just followers of Christ.

Rome is not ''home' anymore. There are no signs that it ever will be home for me again, as it is moving towards cementing the imperial church, not returning to the church of the early christians.
david power | 4/28/2012 - 9:03pm
Anne,

I think that the busy New York weekend is the reason your question has not been answered.
I think that in his piece he means bells on top catholicism.Anything less than that would not be becoming of one who sees himself as a historical link in a chain.That is to a great extent catholicism.Incredible amount of narcissism involved  in it all.
The truth is that an intervention is needed.Who will give this intervention?Falling figures ,closing parishes etc.
The reflex is always to protect the institution for fear that it will be blwon to smithereens.Mother Teresa did the same when she showed no compassion for the victims of Fr McGuire.Think of the priesthood was her mentality.Diabolical in reality.A true faith in Jesus I would say would have Him in every place and time.Just like in the Gospels.He can appear anywhere.Those who would place him only on the RCC are gravely mistaken.He is there also of course.
I think that Fr Martin is trying to help us all as we work our way through the underground ,but it is only the Truth that will set us free and as long as Rome denies the truth it is not the place of human freedom.We must all remember how beautiful Jesus is and how radical and how easy he overcomes  the hurdles that the Church struggles with.Another Logic is in play.Jesus truly is Lord.