Monday, September 10, 2007

Tropical Storm Scott

Tropical storm Father Jay Scott Newman blew into our annual priestly gathering last week. The majority of our priests greatly enjoyed his profound reflections on the truth of the Gospel, beauty and the liturgy. A small minority took great offence at his prognosis of the problems in the Church. A large man, in every sense, Father Newman offered, in my view, one of the most profound reflections I have heard of the reasons behind the steep decline in Mass attendance in the Western world and, from his own experience, what can be done to reverse that decline. He was deliberately provocative, but extremely open to debate and discussion. Constantly using Church documents to back up his points, his great success in his parish in South Carolina is evidence of the truth of many of his propositions, and the number of vocations emerging from his parish is supernatural vindication. The weather obliged by providing two end of Summer days, the 'Limoncello suite' was filled both nights of the assembly with most of the younger priests in the diocese - our speaker and Bishop both partook of Father Dan's famous home-made Limoncello, Lime/Limoncello and the rare as the Siberian Snow Tiger 'Pampacello' - grapefruit cello. Chips were also provided.


Victoria said...

Any chance that Fr Newman's talk will be online?

Liz said...

Glad to hear your report, sorry about the minority.

I suspect that part of the problem for the minority is that they grew up more comfortable with mainline Protestants than with evangelicals. The evangelicals were the anti-Catholic Protestants while in the 50's and 60's the mainline Protestants became very ecumenical in their approach (even with Catholics). Many older priests don't seem to have realized that now the teachings of the Church are far more compatible with evangelical teaching than with the present teachings of mainline denominations. They're comfortable with those mainline pastors who in our area are more well educated and socially more acceptable than a lot of the evangelical pastors. They've even become comfortable with the women ministers. Those mainline pastors are more urbane, they represent some of the social justice issues that older priests found exciting in their early days in the priesthood. Somehow they've learned to tolerate the pro-abortion, pro-gay rhetoric that the mainline pastors now spout. It's easier to put up with that than to hang around with those evangelical types who haven't embraced Democratic politics or historical critical scripture study.They also don't realize the extent to which evangelicals and Pentecostals are drawing people away from the Catholic Church. In our area we still have promotions for Church Women United, but the only people who go to those meetings are Catholics and mainline Protestants. The same has tended to be true of our ecumenical type gatherings. About the only place it hasn't been true is in pro-life or pro-marriage demonstrations.

As long as we continue to get Hallmark greeting card homilies and Bible studies that undermine scripture more than shed light on it, cradle Catholics will continue to leave the Church for communities where the faith seems to be taken more seriously. Sadly, the people who make that journey are often the most anti-Catholic people out there. They are resistant (in a way that cradle evangelicals are less frequently) to hearing the truth about what the Church teaches.

I've encountered some of those former Catholics on numerous occasions and the vitriolic spirit that they evidence towards the Catholic Church is downright frightening. You can't even have a civil conversation with them on the subject of the Catholic Church.

Of course, it's difficult for priests to hear this. They prefer to think that the people who are no longer at Mass are merely lapsed and will eventually be back. They prefer to think that they only need to keep doing what they've been doing all along or to add some entertainment value to the mix.

I don't believe that the Catholic Church needs to ape evangelicalism (particularly the branches that are embracing seeker friendly church approaches). I do think that the Catholic Church needs priests who vigorously teach the faith in all its fullness and don't tiptoe around the hard issues. I also think that it's time to recognize that the people who signed the Catholics and Evangelicals together document represent a group that is much better to embrace than the folks at the UCC, ECUSA, or ELCA.

the owl of the remove said...

Thank you, Liz, for your thoughts. Victoria - Fr. Newman's great friend, George Weigel, has suggested he write a book, using the title of the talks he gave - we will have to wait and see!

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

I wish his talks could be recorded and posted as podcasts. Any chance for that in the future?
What HAS he done to make his parish vibrant?
I am watching my own parish die and its breaking my heart.

And I too think Liz makes some very good points.

canon1753 said...

I don't think the talks were recorded.

It was a good few days in the land of Limoncello

the Mom said...

Would you be willing to share some of Fr Newman's thoughts and observations? It would be interesting to see if what he thinks is going on is the same as what the laity thinks, or does his position give him a totally different perspective.

the owl of the remove said...

The best advice I can give to anyone who is interested in what Fr. Newman said/has done, is to buy a copy of George Weigel's 'Letters to a Young Catholic.' Fr. Newman is featured in one chapter. Also, check out his website and Church - St. Mary's, Greenville, South Carolina.

tiboTmorfenoO said...


“As long as we continue to get Hallmark greeting card homilies and Bible studies that undermine scripture more than shed light on it, cradle Catholics will continue to leave the Church for communities where the faith seems to be taken more seriously. Sadly, the people who make that journey are often the most anti-Catholic people out there. They are resistant (in a way that cradle evangelicals are less frequently) to hearing the truth about what the Church teaches.”

To be fair this is a Blog, and if I had time with the author I am sure she would further develop this thesis. It is an attractive “sound bite” and frequently utilized. But, isn’t it the celebration of our most blessed Sacrament (the Holy Eucharist) that brings us to Mass each Sunday and often in-between? Isn’t this the defining Sacrament of our Catholic Faith?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our discussion as concerned Catholics was on building Parish communities through true appreciation of the wonderful gift of the Eucharist rather than unrealistic expectations and demands that our Priests (who are few and far between) need to be charismatic preachers - as often found with our Protestant/Evangelical brethren? The irony of the “sound bite” is simply sublime. What more challenge could we as Catholics want or need than to prepare our minds, hearts and souls for the body and blood of our Lord each time we go to Mass? The Eucharist means and symbolizes so much more than words from any mere mortal – no matter how charismatic and/or challenging their words are!

I believe it was Pope John Paul who said something like “the Eucharist builds the Church.” I much prefer this sound bite? What about anyone else?


Liz said...

To respond, I agree that I in fact gave you a sound bite more than in depth analysis of the problem. I already went far longer in my comments than I might have. I agree that the Eucharist is the center of it all. I am at Mass each week, not because of the homilies, but because of the Eucharist.

I thoroughly agree that's what it's all about. I don't want our priests mimicking what goes on at seeker friendly evangelical churches. However, what I see is people abandoning the Church because their catechesis is so lacking that they think they're getting the same communion with a better delivery system at the local Assembly of God community. A little while at that AG community will disabuse them of that notion, but it will also teach them about all the ways in which the Catholic Church is "unbiblical." Because the AG folks tend to be very community centered and their worship very lively they provide an attractive delivery system for false or truncated theology. Because the former Catholics have not been well instructed in most cases they are easy catches for the AG laity who are very eager to invite them in.

I've heard good homilies in my 10 + years as a Catholic, and I've heard homilies that were more "feel good ones." I've heard very few that did the type of instruction that a homily can do. Our bishop's homily on the Feast of the Assumption was an excellent example of that kind of instruction. I heard a homily at my son's Baccalaureate Mass that was another example of this. The priest warned the students not to go looking somewhere else, but to realize that the Eucharist was found only here. He was very clear that there would be other voices clamoring for their attention, but pointed them back to where their attention needed to be focused.

Yes, we as Catholics need to bring well prepared hearts to the celebration of the Eucharist, but we need our priests to offer solid instruction in spiritual life at some point along the way. Our simple attendance at Mass is not enough if we receive communion with serious sins on our conscience, but don't realize the gravity of that.

Encouraging parish communities to focus on the centrality of the Eucharist is a fantastic idea. The problem is that that also is not being done. This is something where, while lay people can have a large role, the priests need to take the lead.

I know that those people who leave the Church are abandoning the best for something not even second best. However, they don't realize that. They frequently are quite sincere in their attempts to follow Christ. They don't know that they are leaving anything good at all. They see the Assemblies of God and independent Bible "churches" as a places where they can pray directly to Jesus, where they are taught the Bible and their children receive solid instruction. They believe this doesn't happen in the Catholic Church.

How do I know this? Well I grew up in the Assemblies of God and I watched the Catholics arrive. I have many, many friends who are former Catholics. They all were perplexed when I became Catholic and tried to show them the Biblical basis for it. They are, to a person, convinced that I don't know what the Catholic Church really teaches.

I have no desire to go back to Protestantism. I appreciate the value of the Eucharist (and learn more with each passing year). My plea is for faithful priests who instruct their people so well in the Catholic faith that they are no longer easy prey for Protestant evangelism.

This is not a problem unique to our area. Pentecostal fellowships are making deep inroads into Spanish speaking countries in Latin America and into Hispanic communities in our own country. In some places the local Assembly of God is made up of over 90% former Catholics.

I don't ask for charismatic preaching, just solid, faithful instruction. Some of those Hallmark greeting card sermons are delivered in a very pleasing style. My plea is merely for substance over style when it comes to the homily. I don't think the Catholic priests have to ape evangelicals to instruct their people. I do think they sometimes need to be bolder in their willingness to proclaim the fullness of the faith.

I'm not asking our priests to become evangelicals. I am asking them to take another look at evangelicals so that they may discover the extent to which evangelicals have more in common theologically with Catholics (despite the evangelicals truncated doctrine) than they do with mainline Protestants. The evangelicals still attempt to be faithful to scripture. The mainline denominations have strayed far from that. Much of what the creed proclaims has been abandoned by many mainline churches while the evangelicals still hold to nearly all of it (the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church being the sticking point). Our priests don't always recognize this fact, but the people who leave the Church for those evangelical communities do. I just wish that Catholics were well enough instructed that not only they wouldn't leave themselves, but that they would become so on fire for the faith that they would draw more of those evangelicals in. I suspect that this was what Father Newman was trying to help the priests see and do.

the owl of the remove said...

Interesting debate brewing - and all done in charity!

tiboTmorfenoO said...

Liz (If I may call you that),

Thank you very much for your comments. I truly respect them and admire you Faith.

As a “cradle Catholic,” (and generation Xer) I share many of your views to a certain degree, however, I think it is safe to say we probably would have very different opinions on how to get the lost “cradle generation Xers” back to the pews. We do share a common desire though and that is what really counts! I also accept that I will probably be considered an infiltrator to this little corner of Catholic Orthodox Blogdom, however, my eyes are always open as well as my mind and heart (at least I try).

Perhaps the challenges we seek are all around us in our everyday life? For example, when your Parish is crumbling (Liturgically and/or literally) do you run? Do you stay and fight through this true test of your Faith without conditions? Are we devoted to our Parishes or a particular Priest that has engaging homilies? Are we attending a particular Mass as a community of believers or for selfish motives? In my life I have been lucky to experience both the highs and the lows. I guess this is why I see the incredible wisdom in those five words: “The Eucharist Builds The Church,” and why I pray that this message never gets lost no matter how Our Catholic understanding of the Eucharist evolves.

Owl of the Remove: I guess this makes you a brewmaster! I am extremely jealous!

P.S. My username is a pitiful attempt to try and be sneaky, but I bet the even more witty and crafty brewmaster has already figured out who I am! If you need a clue, ask. I will provide it! Don’t sweat it Owl! – I will keep it civil and not embarrass anyone except myself – I promise!

the owl of the remove said...

Names are not important - healthy, respectful and faithful debate - and love of the Church is what matters - the rest is politics.

tiboTmorfenoO said...


“I just wish that Catholics were well enough instructed that not only they wouldn't leave themselves, but that they would become so on fire for the faith that they would draw more of those evangelicals in.”

I can agree with that, however, I think we should be mindful of Scripture here as well. Specifically, John 4:4-42 (the woman at the well in Samaria). – The woman came to draw some water (Jesus). We shouldn’t deny the personal journey people must make, it takes patience and sometimes, in certain circumstances – Hallmark Greetings (at least at first)!

Should we be asking ourselves - how inviting was the recently published “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church?” Does this document help Catholics who are involved in interreligious dialogue and/or Evangelization? Does this document reflect some of Our own insecurities about our Own Traditions and perhaps stymie the fire that so many of us feel but are so scared about lighting?

I know that won’t in me any points with this crowd – but oh well.

bilbannon said...

At one point, Paul said to the presbyters of Ephesus (in Acts)..." I call you to witness this day that I amd innocent of the blood of all for I have not shrunk from declaring to you the whole counsel of God". When did that die on the vine?
I totally liked your soundbite: As long as we continue to get Hallmark greeting card homilies and Bible studies that undermine scripture more than shed light on it
And I'm cradle who did the odd thing after college of reading the Bible end to end and memorizing critical passages as was the habit up til Aquinas...reading almost all of Augustine...and reading the entire Summa T by Aquinas and went out on the streets of New York and passed out zeroxes on Augustine's work of veiled prophecies of Christ.....while taking three ghetto girls to Mass each week in a murderous area and having even there to put up with softball homilies.
After all that reading, I was horrified by most of the homilies that I was subjected to in my parish. And I went to two of the priests and said so and they both erupted at my point that the severe side of scripture was being totally edited out of any sermons. I thought the one priest was going to pop his carotid artery and thankfully I was an certified EMT at the time.
Then to your second point about bible studies: I bought Birth of the Messiah by Fr. Raymond Brown who is great at times but certainly dangerous at other times and was competitive with how much in the New Testament he could also disbelieve vis a vis liberal Protestant scholarship of the past two hundred years. On pages 346-352 of that book, he states with little grounds that Mary never said the Magnificat...that Luke stuck it in there in his gospel to make it look more official because the OT had women saying canticles when God commissioned them to a task...and he then guessed that Palatinian Anawim really wrote the Magnificat and he does that with no paper trail. YET...Paul VI and John Paul II both appointed him to the Pontifical Biblical Commission The biblical studies mess goes further than you might know. John Paul on both husband headship and on the death penalty uses the typical modern biblical technique of slighting some biblical ideas and passages by either ignoring some or ruling in favor of others as though there are degrees of inspiration and not antilogies to be reconciled.