So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Positive Catholicism... or is it?

A series of observations.

One of the purposes of this brief essay is to assist in the identification of the accurate promotion of the Catholic mission by distinguishing between 1) organizations that, claiming to be part of evangelization efforts that are faithful to the Magisterium, surrender to the culture of nice, and 2) organizations that really are faithful to the Magisterium.
The Culture of Nice:
  • is characterized by the idea of "country before Catholicism". Are you a Catholic Canadian or a Canadian Catholic? Yes, there is a distinction to b made.
  • emphasizes "pastoral sensitivity" at the expense of Christ's teaching. In other words, when push comes to shove, faith takes a backseat to secular "norms".
  • confines religion to the private sphere.
  • tolerates those who agree with the politically correct status quo.
The Catholic mission is far more inclusive and oriented to the dignity of human beings than your common secularist agenda.
  1. The Catholic mission necessarily includes respect for the dignity of all people, not just those who agree with us. Catholic hospitals and schools serve Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Catholics pray for and welcome those who persecute others in the hope that by extending Christ's love, even the most badly behaved adversary may abandon his evil agenda and allow himself to be embraced by Jesus Christ. Have some Catholics failed in their love for others? Indeed, yes, and some miserably so. Only with the grace of Christ can man life fully the saving message of the Gospel. It should come as no surprise that some Catholics have failed to live the Gospel. Even when Catholics fail to put the Gospel first, God accepts the plea of a truly penitent man who, recognizing his failings, takes up his cross and is united again with God through the Sacrament of Penance. Peter abandoned the Son of God, yet he turned back to Jesus after the resurrection. Peter's threefold denial was undone by the Lord Who restored Peter by providing him the opportunity to make a threefold affirmation (confession) of his love for Jesus.
  2. Authentic hospitality requires a skilled use of language to engage people in dialogue. The Church employs the language of sacrificial love. That love issues forth from the perfect love Jesus extends to all who desire truth, mercy and justice.
  3. The Catholic mission is primarily about the salvation of souls (St. Matthew 28:18-20). Yes, the Church still makes a habit of praying for the conversion of souls.
  4. Speaking the truth in love, especially when Catholics speak truth to power, is frequently perceived as not very nice by people who, perhaps blinded by arrogance or some form of bigotry, do not share the Church's God-given understanding of the true identity of man.
What did you say? What are you saying?

Catholic media which attempt to bridge the divide between the Church and the world by using an upbeat vocabulary conditioned to the times all too often empty content of its Catholic heart. There is merit in an attempt to reacquire the vocabulary of change (of heart), mercy and of healing, of love and authentic relationships, and there is merit in rescuing language from the relativists who have very effectively emptied language of meaning and have thus created a vacuum into which content can be poured that pushes agendas which rob man of his dignity and are very profitable for a very tiny enclave of cultural elitists. The media enterprises which market their product as "positive" Catholicism are producing stuff that is safe and nice and Catholicism-lite because they have strayed into the nice-sounding cultural relativism that is inimical to Christianity.

One such Canadian enterprise that is straying into mere relativistic thinking is marketed as "Your Catholic channel of hope". The same organization, under its "About" tab on its webpage, has little else to say about its mission. Why is that? Is it because the founder or founders wanted broad latitude with little constraint and thus avoided labelling itself Catholic, which is to say an attempt was made to avoid making the channel appear too Catholic? Or,... did the administrators decide that the organization is defined by the contributors and administrators who are named on its pages? Perhaps the content of the corporation's programming speaks for itself?
Organizations that fail to affirm a clear direction or objective mission often degenerate into ego-driven enterprises because they are so rapt in the personality of a founder that they cannot continue independently when a founder or organizer retires or dies.
Hope springs entrepreneurial.

Another enterprise's mission statement displays the following series of "positive" marketing hooks:
[Q] is a beacon of Hope and a unique Herald of the simple, yet profound Message of Jesus Christ, Who is made truly present among us in the Breaking of the Bread.

Utilizing powerful technology, we strive to connect People of Faith. Through relevant, inspiring and prayerful programming we educate, teaching the Wisdom of God in the Catholic Tradition, endeavoring to move people of all ages, cultures and attitudes toward the Fullness of Life.
The statement uses language that attempts to engage low-information or non-churched people who have few churchy linguistic skills. No fault there. However, the phrase "Breaking of the Bread", while recognizable among well formed Catholics as a legitimate name for the Mass, has become a term used by self-declared progressives to avoid language that affirms a much needed perspective among Catholics, namely the affirmation of the Eucharistic Mystery better conveyed by terms such as Holy Eucharist, Divine Liturgy, Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and so forth. Is it merely nitpicking to ask that the language of a mission statement accurately reflect Catholic theology, or is it a useful and necessary process of clarification to refine Catholic vocabulary which sets the Mass apart from protestant services which employ the same language (breaking of the bread) but do not include the Christ-given Catholic teaching about the Real Presence? Does borrowing language obscure the Catholic message or more effectively enable its dissemination? The early Church borrowed terms from Greek philosophy (logos, for one). Saint Thomas Aquinas did the hard work of synthesizing the vocabularies of Greek and Latin philosophy and employed the result as an effective vehicle to communicate the truth of the Catholic Faith. Unfortunately, most contemporary adaptateurs fail to acquire the sensitive mind and hand of a Saint Thomas to create effective vehicles for the transmission of the Faith. Pope Benedict was one successful mind; Pope Saint John Paul II was another.

Catholics need more from the Catholic media: more depth; more precision; more artistry; more cultural intelligence; more Catholicism (not mere Christianity).

Tell me who you are, and I'll tell you if I'm prepared to tune in to your programming.

The next citation is a mission statement from a media outlet that comes much closer to an ethos that conforms authentically to the Catholic mission while engaging modern communication techniques and vehicles to disseminate the Catholic Faith among diverse peoples.
[M] is dedicated to teaching the truth as defined by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. In keeping with the Holy Father's call for a New Evangelization, [M's] mission is to communicate the teachings and the beauty of the Catholic Church and to help people grow in their love and understanding of God and His infinite mercy.
One might argue that, in this instant, to pit one legitimate mission statement against another is to do a disservice to both. One could argue further that the Church needs different media organizations with distinct charisms included under the Catholic umbrella in order to reach diverse peoples. True enough, on both accounts. However, Catholics must always be mindful that the content we receive or communicate to others must be trustworthy, and if Catholic media are configured to mission statements that do not accurately represent the Catholic Faith, then such enterprises should be avoided, regardless of how positive and engaging they might be. Just as Catholics rely on theologians and bishops to teach the orthodox Faith, and Catholics should require universities and colleges that call themselves Catholic to teach the orthodox Faith, Catholics should also call on Catholic media to embody the Catholic mission with absolute fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. In some dioceses, the deference shown to the Magisterium by Catholic media enterprises is tenuous at best, the National Catholic Reporter being one of the more obvious examples of a Catholic-lite enterprise.

Muddled Media

When a certain Catholic television outfit interviews a dissident theologian and paints him as a faithful representative of the Church's teaching, then such an organization calls into question its ability to represent Catholicism. That is precisely what a prominent priest-CEO of Canada's "channel of hope" did when he, in one of his television programs, lionized Gregory Baum, an individual who, for starters, did more to lead Catholics away from the teaching of Humanae Vitae than any other individual in the Church in Canada. It's one thing to host someone who dissents from Jesus' and the Church's teaching and engage them in frank discussion with an aim to expose teaching that is not Catholic. It is an entirely different matter when an interviewer provides a forum in which a dissenting individual is blessed and canonized for his or her opposition to the Church. Misguided attempts to rehabilitate dissident theologians, for example, who have little interest in defending the Magisterial teaching of the Church should not be understood as anything other than a misuse of a forum which purports to be Catholic. Such an organization, by engaging in such activity, calls into question its ability to represent itself as a Catholic organization. Undoubtedly there are well intentioned journalists and administrators working for said Canadian organization. Those who are faithful to the Magisterium might do well to build their own media group and offer it as a more authentic option for Catholic Canadians to access and support rather than staying with a ship that, even if only rarely, fires on its own fleet.

What for?

Are Catholic media for Catholics, well informed or otherwise, or are Catholic media for a whole world of non-Catholic peoples? Of course, the answer is both/and. All media groups share something of that conviction whether it is for practical reasons of having a wide financial base or for more authentic reasons relevant to evangelization. The problem comes into focus when we adjust our investigative lenses for orthodox content and examine the stuff that enjoys a life under the umbrella of Catholicism. Too often content is actually not Catholicism at all. More than the umbrella of Catholicism, the umbrella of "hope" and "positive Christianity" is frequently an umbrella that is full of holes. The words 'hope' and 'positive' are now more suspect than ever because they represent adaptations of the Faith which offer little real hope and/or substance for people seeking truth, love, forgiveness and a chance for their lives to be renewed. The Catholic message is, these days, more hidden behind a veneer of niceness that both supplants the Good News and distracts people from encountering the real Jesus. A dumbed down Gospel merely offers a cardboard Jesus, a Jesus who is my poker buddy and drinking pal and not the Lord of the Cosmos Who saves us from sin and death.

The Little Guy

Not all Catholic media organizations are created equal. Some are highly deficient vehicles. Many others are, however, exceptional representatives of the mission of the Church. By and large, with a few notable exceptions, the most effective Catholic mission enterprises are the little guys one finds nearer the margins of the internet which thus places them closer to the margins of society, both the global online society and the people in the street. Catholics own the online Christian mission. Proof of that claim can be seen on a daily basis by the vast number of Catholic journalists and bloggers weighing in on secular and religious news. If traffic feeds are any indication of success, then Catholic websites and blogs blow away the competition. Catholic online magazines are growing while secular vehicles are withering. Catholic print edition newspapers have been hurt by the shift in attention to online resources, but diocesan newspapers have fared much better than many large secular enterprises that have disappeared completely. Well known secular magazines, once thought to be too popular to fail, have gone too.

Best Narrative

While secularists and liberal religionists have abandoned the opportunity to read and reflect with any measure of depth, often giving in to the temptation to use social media as shallow tools to preoccupy oneself at a bus stop, religionists by contrast, exposed to the deep wellspring of Holy Scripture and the sharing of a vast legacy of wisdom on a weekly (if not daily) basis in the Mass, are able to enjoy and develop deeper uses of the same technologies because Catholics understand both the advantages and limitations of various media. Catholics may have been slow to employ the printing press to disseminate the Catholic Faith, but once engaged the Church began a vast employ of a new technology to better inform Catholics and non-Catholics about the one true Faith. The opportunity to form and inform minds will be best and most fully engaged by Catholics because:
  1. the Catholic Church has the best story because God is its author.
  2. the Catholic Church is the most diverse and yet unified by that story we share.
  3. Catholics are the best organized and informed because we seek truth wherever it may be found. Catholic scientists initiated the scientific method. Catholic physicians have made innumerable contributions to improving the health of all. Catholic artists, musicians, philosophers and architects have contributed a vast legacy of art and knowledge to civilization and justice. Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and countless other men and women saints testify to the truth which all men seek, the truth which draws all to Jesus Christ. Jesus is, for the Catholic Christian, the way, the truth and the life.
  4. Faithful Catholics love God and love our fellow human beings who need what God offers and what has been given to the Church to share.
  5. The Holy Spirit guides and guards the mission of the Catholic Church. Through the efforts of faithful Catholics, the Holy Spirit communicates the Holy Gospel.
One such faithful Catholic Canadian enterprise is Catholic Insight. When CI started it was a delightfully plain magazine with solid content that appeared on the shelves of a local large bookseller. On occasion, I would arrive to purchase a copy only to find that it had been removed from the shelves by some self-appointed censor who stumbled over one excuse after another to justify its removal. "The content is objectionable. ... No one was buying it." Repeatedly confronted with the fact that the content was faithful Catholic teaching that enjoys Charter protection, and the fact that all copies were routinely purchased within a week of appearing on the stand while other liberal-progressive rags remained unsold collecting dust, store representatives caved and kept ordering and selling issues.

Catholic Insight has some of the best content to be found. Its contributors and organizers are solid Catholics who love the Church and represent diverse fields of expertise. The magazine has gotten more sophisticated in its look while retaining its original modesty. It has retained all the freshness of its orthodox orientation. If there is a magazine to be found that is bold, engaging, truthful and replete with hope and the call to live the Gospel without compromise, it is Catholic Insight.

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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