Friday, August 30, 2013

“Cultural Catholicism” and the End of Life: “You Earned It”

I’ve mentioned that Roman Catholicism is so onerous because it puts its hooks in you at various times in your life – from baptism as a child, to “first confession” and “first holy communion”, then Confirmation as an early teen, then marriage, baptism of your own children, etc. It’s a programmatic cycle.

There is another point at which Rome is prominent, and that is at death. As the “Baby Boom” generation continues to age and die, people will continue to be focused on this phase of life, either as people focused on the end of their own lives, or that of their aging parents.

Paul Moses, a journalism professor at Brooklyn College/CUNY”, has written a piece for the Wall Street Journal this morning entitled “A Liberal Catholic and Staying Put”, which puts this in view.

Beginning the article with some comments from the atheistic “Freedom From Religion Foundation”, which urged discontented, liberal-minded Catholics to “Summon your fortitude, and just go”, he rejects this notion with the following comments:

To me, these invitations reflect a shallow view of the Catholic Church that reduces its complex journey to the points where it intersects with the liberal social agenda. Pope Francis’ pastoral approach has shown a more merciful, less judgmental face of the church—one that always existed but needed to be more prominent in the public arena.

After my father died last year, I realized that my instinctive resistance to these “just go” arguments—from the atheists, the secularists, the orthodox, the heterodox or anyone else—runs deep. It began when I observed how impressively the church was there for me in a moment of need (emphasis added).

This is where the programmatic structure of Roman Catholicism vis–à–vis human life comes into play. And while Moses accuses the “atheists, secularists, orthodox, heterodox, and anyone else” of having a “shallow” view of “the Catholic Church”, here basically is a basically shallow and un-engaged liberal New York professor coming into touch with the ritual shallowness of “the Church” and liking it.

Early on the morning after he died, I went to my father's parish, St. Peter's in lower Manhattan, to find out what to do to bury him. I found one of the priests in the sacristy after the early Mass. The Rev. Alex Joseph took my hands in his, spoke a beautiful prayer, told me of his own father's death years earlier and added, "Our fathers are always with us." I was much moved.

Given Professor Moses’s credentials, both as a professor and as a Roman Catholic, I found myself wondering why he would be first of all surprised, and then “much moved” by such a shallow and basically universalist statement by the priest “our fathers are always with us”. It seems to me that this priest was hedging his bets.

For any of you pastors who have had to attend at funerals of non-believers, you are probably aware of the difficulties of addressing this situation.

In Moses’s case, his father was a life-long Roman Catholic.

We decided to have my father's funeral in the Staten Island parish where he had worshiped for 25 years … Bernard L. Moses, who died at 88, had loved Father Madigan’s homilies, and to hear [Father Madigan] speak at the funeral Mass was to understand why. My father had advanced up the ranks of the New York City Housing Authority to director of management. Citing his concern for tenants, Father Madigan used the traditional Catholic term “corporal work of mercy” to describe what my father did. It explained for me, in those difficult moments, why my father, who was well-schooled in Catholic social teachings, had passed up the opportunity for a more pleasant career in academia, or a more lucrative one managing private housing, to work in housing projects instead.

Again, Moses is surprised by the motivations behind his own father’s career choices – that his father’s position in the liberal government program is reinforced by “Catholic social teachings”. The father’s life was spent first of all on “the sacramental treadmill” on Sundays, then during the week, doing government-sponsored “corporal works of mercy” was enough to get him into heaven, under the liberal Roman Catholic schema.

If we wonder why the United States can so willingly adopt the liberal agenda, this is one great and largely invisible source of power for that engine.

This article reminded me of something quite the opposite, related by J.I. Packer in his “A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life”. Packer said:

Few of us, I think, live daily on the edge of eternity in the conscious way that the Puritans did, and we lose out as a result. For the extraordinary vivacity, even hilarity (yes, hilarity; you will find it in the sources), with which the Puritans lived stemmed directly, I believe, from the unflinching, matter-of-fact realism with which they prepared themselves for death, so as always to be found, as it were, packed up and ready to go (emphasis added). Reckoning with death brought appreciation of each day’s continued life, and the knowledge that God would eventually decide, without consulting them, when their work on earth was done brought energy for the work itself while they were still being given time to get on with it (pg 14).

The Roman Catholic system is an on-going treadmill that in no way takes into account the realities of God’s Biblical Revelation – neither the joys of it, nor the realities – but rather, wraps itself around its own processes and the false salve of “you earned it” to the dying and reassurance that “you can still earn it” to shallow, unthinking liberal Roman Catholics like the professor Paul Moses.

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