Saturday, March 18, 2006

sure as Hell.....

So I played a Memorial Mass this morning, wherein our pastor once again implicitly asserted that the deceased lady for whom the Mass was offered is with God.

It made me finally realize what’s going on behind the white vestments and “celebrating the new life of ...” on funeral programs: our pastor doesn’t believe in Hell.

I’ve heard of priests like this, but never actually encountered one. Interesting, I thought. This kinda goes along with the handsome-smiling Jesus paintings I’ve seen around the parish office. I wonder if Hell was downplayed in some kind of feel-good-ness of the 60s and 70s.

Christianity began as a religion of “making people feel good” by teaching that everyone is imbued with an immortal soul and is equal in God’s eyes. At least, that’s what I learned in high school history class; presumably there was at least some Divine guidance there, too. Today, though, it really can’t claim to be a force for “making people feel good”. Consider:
  • Modern science helps us to live longer and to hide our age, but we hear on Ash Wednesday that we are dust, and to dust we will return.
  • Culture teaches (implicitly, perhaps) that money is everything, while Christianity teaches that it is harder for a rich person to go to Heaven than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye.
  • Christianity encourages modest dress.....while culture encourages those (esp. women) gifted with graceful figures to show off their bodies for influence and satisfaction.
  • Christianity teaches that, unless we “put our house in order”, there is a fearsome judgement awaiting each of us when we die.
I mean, a lot of times, I don’t like being Christian - who wants to believe in a religion that teaches there is a Hell, when the world basically tells us that we are our own gods? (A fundamental tenet of atheism, I once heard.)

At the same time, I also see our world awash in a sea of doubt and a lack of something to “hold onto”. One of the people in my parish refers to a hymn like “Faith of Our Fathers” as “old people music”. I tell her, “but this is the loudest thing I heard sung on Sunday, and it was at the Mass when the singing is usually the weakest”. She answers, “yeah, it’s the old people singing.” (I’ve since noticed that the Mass in question is actually the youngest congregation we get.) The strange thing is, this woman is 50 or so. She later reflected to me that the old people often like the contemporary/pop stuff.....“I guess it makes them feel more alive.”

This is, I’m finding, a stereotype of 50-something-ish types. I’m beginning to lend some weight to our pope’s condemnation of rock really does start to seem to me like a fad - one that was wildly popular and whose proponents eventually wanted it to be something to pass down, except that it lacks the “teeth” to be something a younger generation wants to adopt with such fervor.

Interesting, too, that Adoremus cites reports where young people have never gravitated to “young people music” as much as old people, at least at Mass. To be sure, there are exceptions - *I* liked the guitar songs when I was little, but then, they were the bulk of what we were fed, and I don’t recall disliking organ tunes. (And today, when I play school Masses, invariably the heartiest singing is with organ tunes.)

I’ve come to think that what young people today really look for, at the bottom of their hearts, is something to take seriously. The reason for the widespread cultural upheaval in the 60s and 70s is maybe because what asserted itself as being serious - government etc. - was “weighed in the balance and found lacking” - i.e. Watergate and Vietnam (at least in the minds of most young people at the time).

I mean, a part of me rolled my eyes when I saw the name of B16’s first encyclical: “God is love”. “Oh come on, I thought.....can’t we find something more interesting to talk about?” Thankfully, as I read parts of it, I found that there is teethy stuff in there. But honestly, I sometimes think a lot of people want to reduce all of faith to just that degree of intellectual depth: “God loves you, so everything’s fine!” Puh-LEEASE!

I think what will help the Church the most is what so many clerics are afraid of doing: teach about Hell. Teach about contraception. Teach college kids about not drinking to excess. Teach about all the “dirt that’s being swept under the rug”. Teach people to sing the Ordinary in Latin, as Vatican II stipulated should happen, and use it at Mass.

In short, make Church interesting. Make our “lex orandi” take issue with the world as much as our “lex credendi” does.


At Monday, March 20, 2006 9:47:00 AM, Anonymous brandon said...

I think you've hit on something that I've been thinking about quite a bit, Cantor, especially in the 50-something American Catholics. I think part of the problem was in the Church's poor implementation of the Vatican II, which resulted in an upheaval of everything that was visible religious: the stripping of the sanctuaries, the dropping of Latin. Not that these things were bad, but I think their implementation was, in most places, horrible. This left the teens and children of the time really confused. Now that there has been a little time to iterate on what the teen-club vision should be (guided in no small part by John Paul the Great and his World Youth Days), the younger Catholics are going to be more strongly grounded in the faith.

In the defense of the priests and bishops who were doing things at the time (because I don't believe that pointing fingers of blame at the ecclestical heiarchy that God has put in place is ever a good idea; we should rather thank God that they did as well as they did and didn't do worse, because it can always be worse) the whole world was in an upheval. We, as a people, had just learned that we had the power to completely wipe ourselves off the planet via nuclear warheads, and we also were coming to terms with the inhumane injustices that we had done in the holocaust and WWII. So, it's no surprise that we had to reconsider our relationship with God.

I was talking with a friend this weekend, and it occurred to me that the real problem is going to be that in about 10-20 years, as the "older Catholics" are dying, the Church is suddenly going to get about 40 years older, because of the "missing generation". So, although the average parish has a demographic that's closer to our grandparents currently, in a very short amount of time, it's going to be very different. Yes, that's our generation of Catholics, and we we need to be ready to step into leadership roles in our parishes because we're going to be what's available.

Obviously, the two of you are already in leadership roles in your respective parishes, but most parishes run on mostly volunteer efforts, and it is those sorts of leadership positions that we (our generation of Catholics) need to be ready to step into. So keep your eyes open for ways to make that easier in your parishes.

At Monday, March 20, 2006 10:19:00 AM, Anonymous brandon said...

Oh, and with regard to Deus Caritas Est, I've found that the whole thing is teethy. And, I think he's trying to address exactly some of the modern problems, like the reducing Christianity to "Jesus loves me, this I know." He certainly addresses the contraception, sexuality, and marriage issues, but in such a way that it's not completely clear that he's said anything, unless you are tuned in to disagree with it. But in the last year, I have (slowly) become a huge BXVI fan. Even more so than JPtG, but probably because I didn't really get any of the philosophical writings that I read of JPtG, and everything of BXVI's that I've read I'm like: "Wow! That is said so clearly and so to the point!"

At Tuesday, March 21, 2006 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...


I kinda think the same social factors that compel people to “become more churchy” after they get old and retire will continue to supply us with a goodly stream of elderly folks who come to Mass, even after our current crop of elderly Catholics passes.

The younger generation of Catholics seems by definition bound to a stronger identification with faith...but only because there are fewer “cultural Catholics” identifying with the Church. I wonder if this hasn’t already happened in Europe....when I was in Italy I saw a modest congregation at a beautiful cathedral for Sunday Mass, maybe 1/3 of which didn’t go to receive Communion. When I asked the priest why so many didn’t go up, he said it was because of the mortal sin issue. If nothing else, it’s remarkable that that many people were conscious of their fault and of the canonical necessity to be in a state of grace to receive.....sure, American Catholics go to Mass more, but maybe the quality of individual devotion is higher in Europe, fewer “PACE Catholics”? (Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Christmas, Easter)

I think, too, that the previous generation’s reforms were guided by a certain sense of reactionism. They took as a given that everyone knows the “depressing stuff” about Hell etc., so they said, “let’s have some positive stuff for once!” But now there’s a new generation of people who don’t have the grounding in pre-V2 catechesis which, for its purported absence of emphases on depth, did ensure that people knew basics.

(I’ve actually begun to wonder at the virtues of teaching “deeper stuff” at all, versus just teaching facts and having students “connect the dots”. This, at least, is how I find I learn best - learn one new thing that’s cool and different, then “keep pulling on the string” until the whole ball of yarn is laid out.)

I concur about the clarity and conciseness of B16’s prose versus that of JP2.

At Tuesday, March 21, 2006 8:41:00 AM, Anonymous brandon said...


After thinking more about your post, it occurred to me that perhaps your pastor doesn't fall into the category of not believing in Hell, but rather he has been influenced by the Protestant sola fide thought. As in, if you believe in Jesus, your salvation is assured. Certainly, this is belief in a different sort of hell than the Catholic Church preaches, but it perhaps the more charitable interpretation of his actions, since no belief in Hell would certainly be a form of heresy, and belief in a Protestant sola fide sort of Hell is at least just mis-informed (although also heretical).

It's always best to give our ordained ministers the benefit of the doubt, because God called them to serve Him for a reason, and at the very least they've given their lives to Him in service.


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