Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Catholic Church: People Have Enough Stress As It Is, So Knock It Off

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee 
People are under a lot of pressure. All day long, people are subjected to enormous stresses. People are worried about their health, their job, their marriage, and their children. Students are worried about grades, student loans, and future employment. People are worried about war, terrorism, and their safety. People are looking for a place where they can feel comforted, safe, and on sure footing. At a moment in time when families often collapse suddenly and easily, when a concert can turn into an occasion for a terrorist attack, and when social media becomes a method of driving people apart rather than uniting them, people are pining for a place of refuge, a place where they can find certitude and familiarity.

Many people have found such a refuge in the Church. Even while not always understanding fully her teachings or even the internal logic of her Liturgy and Sacraments, people have a sense that within the Church there is contained a mystery that is not subject to fads, whims, or circumstances, or even to the frailties or sins of its ministers or people. I think of many of my ancestors who traveled from varied parts of the world to the United States. So much of their life had changed. Languages, cultures, and environments were completely different, but, amid all of this, they were able to find comfort in their Faith. They were able to discover within the Church, the stability, serenity, and solace that escaped them everywhere else.

At this particular moment in the life of Western Civilization, when so much of society is shifting and destabilizing, the Church and its pastors ought not to become yet another source of confusion and stress. Instead, the Church has the opportunity to become a refuge, a rock, a stronghold, a place of rest. There is already so much division, controversy, and confusion in the lives of so many people. The Church will not win them over to Christ by turning Christianity into another place of division, controversy, and confusion. Why is it that so many people love the 23rd Psalm? It is because it provides a sense of security, stability, and nourishment. In Psalm 23, one realizes that no matter how stressful the circumstances, the Shepherd is leading, feeding, giving rest, reviving, and restoring hope. This ought to be the model of the Church's pastoral life.

Several years ago, an older man who was a construction worker came to me. He said that the priest in his parish was upset at the archdiocese and would begin every homily by asking the people, "Are you angry? It's okay. I'm angry too. We should be angry." The man said to me, "Father, I have a hard job. I  am angry six days a week. I go to Mass on Sunday because it is the one place all week that I'm not angry, and I have this priest telling me I should be angry there too!"  

These days, there are many people seeking to stir up controversy, chaos, and uncertainty within the the life of the Church. I agree that some of the Church's structures and bureaucracies are inimical to the living out of a healthy ecclesial life. So often, these structures and bureaucracies become the place where new life is smothered and the Church's growth is stunted. It is the structures and bureaucracies that ought to be reinvented, not the Church's doctrines nor its familiarity and fraternity. 

Provoking a false war between truth and mercy, doctrine and pastoral practice, or the Holy Spirit and Revealed Truth, will not draw people to Christ. They have enough controversy, chaos, and stress in their life as it is. My experience is that people are really searching for communion, serenity, and certainty. They are searching for something that, amid so much change and instability, is dependable and enduring. What is so beautiful in my experience is that at first glance, many people cringe before such doctrines. "This is the Body of Christ." "Marriage is a permanent union." "You must forgive your enemies." "You have to go to Confession." "Jesus died for you."  And yet, although they might cringe the first time they hear these or any other number of truths, they come back. They come back because in the midst of a life filled with insecurities, anxieties, and fears, they hunger, thirst, and pine for something that doesn't shift according to the latest popular meme on Facebook.

This is beautifully expressed in the liturgical life of the Church. The liturgy is stable, familiar, and not subject (at least in theory) to the whims of a particular person or congregation. This stability and familiarity provides to the person who goes every week, and the person who has been away from the Lord for a long time, a sense of peace that only the Lord himself can give. Amid so much chaos and anxiety in the lives of so many people, the Church can be the place where each of us can echo the words of the Psalm 62: "In God alone is my soul at rest." There is plenty of chaos, controversy, contention, and anxiety in the lives of people as it is. If the Church wants to draw others into her fold and into life in Christ, she ought to provide people what they are really searching for: truth, goodness, beauty, and communion. It is truth, goodness, beauty, and communion that continually win me over to the Church and draw me closer to Christ. 

Bottom line, people have enough stress as it is. Let's not add to it  by concocting theological controversies or by doing the Devil's work of sowing doubt into the hearts of the Faithful. Instead, let's provide people with the only antidote to being tossed about by the waves of controversy: Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.


  1. No doubt there are channels for expressing reasonable criticism, but you're right: the liturgy isn't one of them.

  2. Thank you for this. Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavily burden, and I will give you rest." Rest and peace and calm are what people are looking for. We need to be sanctuary for one another.

  3. This post reminds me I need to keep up with you. Excellent message, Padre. Your thoughts are clear, uncluttered and easily understood. God bless you.