dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

"Please, get out of the Catholic Church"

As my father reaches the end of his life, we're all trying to do what we can to put his mind at ease and make his time happy. This weekend, out of the blue, he told me to, "Please, get out of the Catholic Church! Your money is going to pay off kids who've been abused by sex criminals, and and now you won't even know what they're saying!"

He was referring, of course, to the half billion in payouts to sex abuse victims in L.A. and what he believes to be a universal return to the Latin Mass.

My parents have always been disappointed by our conversion; they see it as a rejection of my free-thinking upbringing. It's very hard to explain to them that I embraced Catholicism BECAUSE I was raised to think for myself, since what I embraced represents to them the most superstitious and coercive aspects of organized religion that they themselves rejected.

My personal problems, of course. But Dad's plea to leave the Church leads me to think about raising our discussions about recent Church news from the parochial to the ecumenical level.

While many priests and bishops inspire non-Catholics with their speeches and writings, it's often we lay people in the pew at whom the hard questions and criticisms of the Church are lobbed. To what extent is anti-Catholicism ratcheting up as stories about Latin Masses, payouts to sex crime victims and statements about "our separated brethren" appear?

To what extent is it important to explain to our friends and family where the media or media readers have jumped to incorrect conclusions?

To what extent are church leaders aware of the questions we get from family--especially those of us in "mixed" families--and friends, and could they better prepare us to answer those questions?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Jean thanks as always for your warm honesty. Those of us that have been in "this thing of ours" from the womb depend on honest feelings of those like your dad: the old dichotomy inside/out no longer holds and never really did: so much that goes under 'anti-Catholicism' actually originates internally then works its way to articulation on 'the outside.' In other words genuine Catholicism is constituted in my view by this dialogue that is no respecter of boundaries. In same way converts are so important in large part not because they become super gung-ho papists but for what they bring with them; just from your posts alone one can see what you bring and it's made better for not trying to trim sails to fit pre-conception of expectation as some converts tend. In working on Dorothy Day I was very struck by line from Philip Slater's The Pursuit of Loneliness: "an individual who 'converts' from one orientation to its exact opposite appears to himself and others to have made a gross change, but actually it involves only a very small shift in the balance of a focal and persistent conflict." Not suggesting this applies at all to you or others but Dorothy was always religious and always a radical: the Catholic thing gave her means to blend these more compellingly and to act accordingly. Best wishes to your father: we're going through same tho mine is no 'free-thinker'! yet now and then some of the defensive exterior is rubbed off for just a fleeting moment and he too is open to these meaningful questions.

Your parents sound like my parents except that my parents were Catholic. Your dollars are going to pay for the most loathsome transgressions of bishops and priests. It's not the money, more or less here and there, it doesn't matter, it's the idea that legions of people who take a high resolution magnifying glass to the intimate lives of others failed to see the steel beam that was lodged in their eyes. We're paying because they couldn't tell good from evil or couldn't act on their convictions (I'm not sure which I consider to be worse). The continuing silence of the Pope is an open wound that refuses to heal. I don't know what else there is for Church authorities to say when their chief spokesperson remains silent.

As I remember, according to Aquinas what we can most accurately say about God is what He is *not*. Our only knowledge of Him is by weak, weak analogy or metaphor. Thomas was so impressed with the unknowable immensity of God that he even held that although we are able to say that we are to some tiny extent like HIm, we cannot properly say that He is like us.

Sorry, I posted that on the wrong thread.

I have discussed these issues a great deal on another board which has people from all sorts of religions plus atheism. Most people (including many of the Catholics) have taken these things as additional "gotcha" moments, claiming that they only prove the bad things they have thought about the Church all along.So I suspect that these things are going to be treated this way even within the Church, as things that people outside won't understand or attempt to understand anyway.

I joined former federal co-workers (nearly all of us retired) and a few spouses for supper last Friday. I apologized to one of my male friends, a moderate Southern Baptist, for the pope's recent remarks about churches and ecclesial communities, etc. I mentioned how Benedict has managed in so short a time to alienate women, Protestants, Jews, Muslims (the trip to Turkey notwithstanding), and likely most progressive and not a few moderate Catholics. My friend smiled, "He certainly knows how to win friends and influence people." Dave suggested the problem is ours, not that of our "separated brethren."Next day I had supper with a clerical friend, quite involved in ecumenical and interfaith relations. My friend could manage to say how "embarrassed" he was/is by our pope's remarks, that he had already expressed his feelings to one or two friends who are non-Catholic clergy. He expressed hope, nonetheless.I'm taking the "I'm from Missouri" approach. I'll believe in the revival of renewal (or genuine restoration) when I see it.I can fully relate to your father's suggestion --- regardless of his religious background. My clerical friend mentioned that the megachurch in our town is 1/4 Catholic. Perception is reality.

In general, people that I conversed with about this on the website said that the Pope had no right to claim anything that would imply a superior status for the Church. All churches and spiritual paths are equal, they held. Catholicism is good for some but not for others. My response was that the Church was the culmination of 2,000 years of asking the question "what is the right way to live"; a question carried on from earlier pagan philosophers. While the Church does not (or rather, no longer does not) hold that it is the only Way, it has what it believes sound reasons to hold that it has the best way (in the sense of completeness, especially). I mentioned that we in the US don't think of religious practice as the pursuit of a certain kind of excellence any more, but if one does pursue excellence, one is bound to come to distinctions of excellence. So I argued that it would probably be more productive if people addressed the Church's particular claims to excellence in terms of those claims and not say that in the case of religion no one can make those kinds of claims.

Apologizing for the Church or the Pope wasn't what I had in mind.But I felt overwhelmed by how sincerely Dad felt Catholicism was a closed, frightened and furtive institution. And he made me promise not to let my 11-year-old become an altar boy (no danger there ...)But I don't see how the church heirarchy fails to see how the timing and high-falutin' academic statements that come out of the Vatican just now might increase the perception that Catholics are aloof, uninterested in the propagation of the faith (except by reproducing) and are ignoring the sex scandals and the stonewalling that has occurred.Are people hearing this addressed in their parishes at all? Because plenty of us are hearing it from our families, and it would be nice to have some acknowledgement that these are hard times to be Catholic.

But what do you want, Jean?The settlements for the sex scandals raises them again to the general conciousness (and there will be many more settlements), but are we in the middle of the scandal (with more to be revealed) or at the end?I can see that the statements coming out of the Vatican about the Latin Mass and the Church relative to the other Churchs will be upsetting to non-Catholics (and then to Catholics), but I'm not sure that the solution is to address the issues in their terms and on the basis of their interests. I'm not trying to say "screw them". But (putting the sex scandal aside, for that seems to me to be a different thing) I guess I am not inclined to make the Church censor itself so as not to make others feel bad.No, our parish isn't addressing any of this, but I doubt they would address anything even if Christ Pantocrater showed up in fire and light at the Altar and Rosary Society Brunch.

I like to think, unagidon, that I'm trying to get people to look at things from an outsider's perspective and whether that gives us any insights about what's really important insofar as essentials of faith are concerned.Or perhaps I am only grieving for being such a poor Catholic that I can't find the words to close the rift that seems to have opened between my father and me and nobody in the Church really gives a rip because Dad's bound for hell in a handbasket anyway.

I won't say anything about LA, but I will say concerning the two documents that I tried to explain them as well as I could during my homily.Also, my parish just happened to have an Adult Faith Formation Night planned for last Wednesday night. It was planned months ago, but it really worked out as far as scheduling and topics for discussion.My parish has few young families but many retirees. When we have families, they are tourists, so they don't make much of a comment about anything.The biggest question I received in regard to the 1962 Rite was "How many people are really asking for the Mass? Are they young people or older people?" A few of the older people then said, "I hope they don't want the Church as it was. They have no idea how it was." (But then, neither do I. At such a moment, I can only listen to what they have to say.) The biggest questions I received in regard to the CDF statement were: 1) "What brought that on?", 2) "Was someone bored in the office one day and put out this statement as a means to kill the boredom?", or 3) "Is that the type of stuff the leadership thinks about and talks about all day?"I took the time to remind everyone that Catholics have been given a responsibility to offer witness to the presence of Jesus in this world. Such a statement should not provoke us to jumping around and screaming "Rah! Rah! Rah! We're number 1!" If anything, such a statement reminds us of our responsibility to give witness to the saving power of Jesus and to seek with undivided hearts what He offers us. It takes a whole bunch of explaining about how we get from Point A to Point B in regard to these statements. I thank everyone at the parish who took the time to listen.

Fr. Shawn, this is exactly what I was hoping priests would be doing! And I hope you are typical. If not, I hope your parishioners appreciate you.In my neck of the woods, discussions about what it means to be Catholic, especially in terms of how we are to respond to others in a way that shows we love them AND our faith, are nil.

Thanks, Jean.I give the credit to my mentors and all the Catholics who have lived in this area back when there were fewer of them. They taught me that it's always a good sign when a non-Catholic around here says, "Hey, y'all (or in the mountians, youins) aren't too bad after all."It is also very funny when a non-Catholic attends a funeral or wedding here and they say to me, "Pastor (or Brother because it would kill them to say Father), I didn't realize that you prayed to Jesus that much."

Jean, I always appreciate how deeply personal and caring your comments/questions are.I'd just say ther is a tremondous amount of fear at the top of the Church - a fear of admitting (really) personal wrongs, a fear of allwing change less things collapse, and a fear of those whopse colars aren't turned around but ar eno teducated *see the latest Andrew greeley blast in America.) I think things are much safer for now for our our younsgsters, but the problem of abuse will simmer under the surface til all truth be told.The real hope I see is in you and many other faithful who try to live their faith, frequently in a struggle, every day.I guess though I have little faith in those who think (as my frriend Andy says_ live by formulas and can always tell you the party line withou tany problems

Jean, you can tell your father about theologians in the church like, Schillibexx, McBrien, Haight, Kung, Congar,Haring, Elizabeth Johnson, Elizabeth Fiorenza, Joan Chittister, Rosemary Reuther and a host of other who think independently within the church and are working to keep the hierarchs honest.None of the above people have taken bribes like bishoprics, professorships and red hats to quiet their consciences.That is something to rejoice about because only in our time have lay persons, on such a scale,demanding better leadership.Finally, you can tell him he can be proud of you. He has one helluva daughter.

Hello Bill,This is one way to approach such attitudes, to be sure, but I wonder about the wisdom of giving the impression that supersition ended and independent thinking began in the Church only after ca. 1960 or so. To your list one might add Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Avila, Suarez, Bellermine, Scheeben, Newman, Blondel, de Lubac and von Balthasar as suggestive of the possibility that at least in some quarters of the Church it has been possible to be something more than an unthinking fanatic for...well, a very long time. I think it is fair to ask how many Protestant churches can boast a similar array. There have been some pretty good Jesuit scientists down through the centuries as well. I think this aspect of Jean's quandary gets at something else addressed in the Pope's accompanying letter - i.e., the danger of ecclesia semper reformanda being overtaken by a hermeneutic of rupture rather than continuity between the pro- and post-conciliar churches. Father O'Neal gives a suggestive...perhaps not "example," but at least a latent tendency from some of his older parishioners: "I hope they don't want the Church as it was. They have no idea how it was." I don't either, not from first-hand, but I am not sure the perception on offer is entirely fair however firsthand it might be. If the "1958 Church" was far from the ideal painted by some nostalgias, it has to be said that the post-1965 Church has not been all sweetness and light, either. Drop down the page and note that virtually all of the lawsuits settled by Los Angeles date from the last four decades, including in most cases the ordination date of the priests in question. To pick one example. All those ex-Catholics we run into at Baptist get-togethers were fleeing from something, but unless they're over 60, it's unlikely to be Latin Masses. (Which is not to suggest that bringing the latter back will necessarily bring the former back.)As for me, I can only add that I'm sympathetic to facing criticisms about the sex scandals, and the role of our prelates hiding them. It seems inadequate to point out (justly) that similar problems are sometimes as widespread among our brethren/sistren across the Tiber, only less publicized. We expect better from our own church, after all. There's far too much broken glass around for me to find many rocks to throw right now. As for the CDF document, it probably does not help to note that it really is not saying anything that Dominus Iesus (2000) or Communionis notio (1992) or for that matter Lumen Gentium (1964) didn't really say before, even if we are left to wonder why it is being repeated now. Is it offensive to the extent that so many of us now are effectively what was once termed "indifferentist?" Or is there yet possible a way to carefully balance the charity demanded by ecumenism (which the Church is irrevocable committed to now) and still finding a way to affirm one's own creedal beliefs? And if Benedict hasn't found it, is there a future pope who will? More questions to ponder. We live in interesting times in which to ponder them.

R.M.:I wish I could have been at multiple locations at once (both Catholic parishes and other denomination's churches) in order to hear whether or not other people spoke of the same concerns or showed a lack of concern. I mean, the local discussion was prodded tremendously by a front-page headline that said "Pope: other churches defective". I wish I could have caught the opinions of many varied people between last Wednesday and yesterday.

Hello R.M.,I do agree that Iraeneus and Augustine were independent thinkers in the sense that they changed Christianity. All of a sudden Iraeneus had no use for diversity and Augustine decided that it was okay to kill Christians who disagreed with the Constantinian appointed authorities. For Augustine your sins were forgiven as long as you remained Catholic whic is surely a restriction on the mandate of Jesus.Origin might be your most independent thinker of all because he saw clearly that God's mercy could not be restricted like some emerging churchmen were beginning to assert. By the time of Augustine a lot of people were going to hell. You are right in asserting that Benedict is concerned about a rupture occuring over the maxim "ecclesia semper reformanda." Unfortunately, Benedict is so wrong. The rupture takes place when we pass our neighbor in danger and do not help.Augustine was transfixed with the notion of everyone staying within the Catholic fold that he placed more emphasis on heretics than challenging Christians not to be tepid. (I am not saying that he did not write some good stuff).Things do not have to be so neat. They weren't at the crucifxion.

Unagidon says that "if one does pursue excellence [in terms of "religious practice"], one is bound to come to distinctions of excellence."I do recall the gospel passage where some disciples of Jesus complain to him about "others" not in their group expelling demons, etc. in the Lord's name. These "others" should stop what they're doing, say the Lord's followers. And Jesus tells them (in so many words), "Get over it! Those not against you are for you. They're doing my Father's bidding."And, of course, we know the tale of the publican and the pharisee. No doubt the latter pursued "excellence" in his communal relationship with God. However, did the pharisee demonstrate "excellence" in his personal relationship with God?While Jesus wanted us to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect, certainly a goal few if any of us shall attain in this lifetime, I don't recall him preaching about the kind of "excellence" that Ratzinger seems to think important. If anything, I recall the Lord continually duking it out, so to speak, with the religious authorities of his day over their sanctimoniousness, arrogance, hypocrisy, etc.Ratzinger's CDF and papal statements have only managed to alienate those "others" of whom the Lord's disciples complained. The humble and personal pursuit of perfection is one thing. The pursuit of "excellence" as described by you is another thing altogether, and I doubt Jesus would place much stock in it.

Hello Fr. Shawn,"I mean, the local discussion was prodded tremendously by a front-page headline that said "Pope: other churches defective"."I think you raise another good point here.Whatever the merits of the timing or content of the CDF statement, it has to be said that matters are often not helped by the religious illiteracy and brevity with which the major media treats these stories.And for most people, that's all they'll read. Not many will go download off the Vatican website. Even in instances when we think the Church "gets it right," there's no guarantee it will be reported that way in the press.

<>All of the things that the Lord "duked it out" over were cases where people were not living up to their own standards. So I think that Jesus actually wanted people to pursue excellence. Religion is a practice and practice has standards. The Church has been talking about what the standards and practices should be in order to live the best possible life for 2,000, a discussion that they continued up from Jewish and pagan forbearers. I think that fluidity of doctrine and the source of change in the Church has come from this refinement and their analysis of all the mistakes they have made (and of what works). So yes, religion is the pursuit of excellence and yes, one pursues a particular religion because one thinks that it is most excellent. People join a religion because they think that it is the most excellent way. Even in America, where religion is sometimes treated like it's a pair of pants to be changed from time to time when styles change.You would say that all religions are the same and that all of them are equally dignified because they all in one way or another lead to the same end. I think that this is an attitude and is hypocritical. It smacks to me of a flaw in our American culture; the idea that people set their own internal standards and because each person deserves to be treated with dignity, each standard deserves to be treated equally. People think their religion is the best path, because each religion, as the sum total of its history in grappling with the problem of spiritual development, thinks it is the best path.Look up Revelation 3:15.

Unagidon, Somehow you seem to depart form your usual flawless logic on this issue. Holding that all religions are not the same does not mean that each one does not make it to God. And excellence is always in scripture based on behavior. Unless we are talking about excellence in the arts and sciences. Seems that Rev. 3:15 supports this view also.Certainly all religions are not the same and I believe we should feel especially blessed as Christians. At the same time there are so many factors militating for humility and realize that God makes a way for all.

<>Please don't misunderstand me (although if you do it is my fault). God does make way for all and there is many a good Muslim who is a better "Christian" than many a bad Christian.But are the differences between religions important, and if so, how important? Again, I am looking at religion as a practice here, not as some organization where one can say "my club is better than your club" (or as some seem to claim about Benedict's recent writings "I have a club and you don't.") To me, the question of the importance of the differences, since they are meant to inform our practices, is the real point of dialogue between religions. The Pope seems to think that Apostolic Progression is important and that it is better to have it than to not have it. He may or may not be right, but it seems to me that the way to approach this with other religions is to ask why, not dismiss the question with the claim that he is putting up impediments to unity. I agree the Rev. 3:15 would support excellence in arts and sciences. But I think that the distinction between religious practice on one hand and arts and sciences on the other as objects of excellence is rather recent in the history of our Church. And I am not sure that that was a good thing.

Thanks to everyone for their participation in this discussion. Just some random observations:Fr. Shawn said: The biggest questions I received in regard to the CDF statement were: 1) "What brought that on?", 2) "Was someone bored in the office one day and put out this statement as a means to kill the boredom?", or 3) "Is that the type of stuff the leadership thinks about and talks about all day?"Jean notes: I had a similar reaction. As many have pointed out, there was nothing really new in the statement, so it really seemed unnecessary. Sort of like, "Things seem to be going pretty well right now, but just remember, Protestants are still defective."My own belief is that Protestantism is more incomplete than defective. I don't think the Vatican's statement would disagree with that, but the word "defective" keeps getting picked up by the press and stirring up people.Bill suggested: Jean, you can tell your father about theologians in the church like, Schillibexx, McBrien, Haight, Kung, Congar,Haring, Elizabeth Johnson, Elizabeth Fiorenza, Joan Chittister, Rosemary Reuther and a host of other who think independently within the church and are working to keep the hierarchs honest.Jean says: I tried to talk with my parents about Rahner. Their response was, "Well, why would a smart man like that stay in?" I think it's hard for Protestants to understand why people remain faithful to the Church, when the Protestant M.O. is to simply move on to find a better "match" elsewhere. Or to just give up organized religion as a racket, as my parents have done.James Fisher says: In working on Dorothy Day I was very struck by line from Philip Slater's The Pursuit of Loneliness: "an individual who 'converts' from one orientation to its exact opposite appears to himself and others to have made a gross change, but actually it involves only a very small shift in the balance of a focal and persistent conflict." Jean notes: James, it is interesting you cite Day, who was posthumously instrumental in moving me a step toward Catholicism. I read an interview with her in which she referred to the Book of Common Prayer in a way that indicated she still used it, after decades of being a Catholic. I remember thinking, "Oh! I wouldn't have to give up the BCP if I converted!" I still use the prayers, Psalter and order for Compline. We recently watched "Chariots of Fire," and the choristers sang "And Did Those Feet" at the end. I was surprised at how "Anglican" I could still feel.Converting is not about becoming someone else or rejecting things. It's having a change of heart that makes you more open to the Holy Spirit. I'm not nicer because I turned Catholic. But I work at it more.From unagidon: God does make way for all and there is many a good Muslim who is a better "Christian" than many a bad Christian.Jean says: I think this is the POV that Dad comes from. One of his friends is a Jew who visits Dad every Monday, either taking him for breakfast (with the oxygen and attendant paraphernalia), or bringing breakfast in and eating it with him if Dad can't get away. I think it is possible to believe, as I do, that, blessed as our Church might be, God is out there blessing others with his grace and providing examples in other faiths, as a reminder not to get comfy and start thinking that the glory of the Church rubs off merely because we're sitting in its pews every Sunday.

Unagidon, obviously we disagree.

<>Well, perhaps, but it would be good to know to what degree.I fear that not addressing the question of whether one approach is better than another in this spiritual journey of ours is not actually suppressing dialogue. "We shouldn't alienate people with comments about our belief that we have a better way" to me doesn't support a conversation; it supports a very American idea that because we are all equals in our search for God all searches for God are equal. Or to put it another way, people who will cut off dialogue because of what the Pope said weren't serious about the dialogue to begin with.

unagidon,But isn't it possible (easy, even) to advocate and promote your own way without explicitly denigrating the ways of others? And even if you must, at some point in a good dialogue, say, "Here's where we are convinced you're wrong and we're right," the time would seem to me to be within the dialogue itself. Dialogue implies both sides talking and both sides listening, and a broadside issued by the Vatican is one side talking but not listening.I doubt that anyone who takes Commonweal seriously believes that "all searches for God are equal." But is there nothing to be considered in between "everyone must become Catholic" and "all ways are equal"? I know a married couple who were Catholics all of their lives. Then they had a daughter turned out to be developmentally disabled, who required constant watching, frequent emergency trips to the hospital, and all of the inconveniences and hardships that come with a child with constant, serious medical problems. They received no help or support from the Catholic parish they attended, and in fact they got rude looks and comments when they brought their daughter to church. They joined a local Methodist church, and there was a dramatic difference in the reception, help, and support they received. Perhaps you would be prepared to say it is their duty to return to the Catholic Church, but I am sure a lot of devout Catholics would not condemn them for finding a church that met some of their most pressing needs.

I dont think that everyone must become Catholic. Like all religions, we have a problem with the gap between what we should be and what we actually are. Your couple was lucky to find a good Methodist church to go to, and it was good for them and lucky for us (as a Church) that they did not leave all faith behind entirely.I believe that the Catholic Church has the best approach (among many excellent approaches) to the question of what constitutes the best lived life (a life lived to our fullest potential) and how to achieve it. (Being a Catholic as such of course guarantees nothing). I think that the Church, however, is an utter failure in how it transmits this. I think that the Church in the United States fails this in a way characteristic of our culture. We want to be like everyone else in the good sense of our desire for liberty and equality. For us, there is a premium on choice and the idea that we evaluate the alternatives and then choose the one thats right for us. When someone says that one religion may have a better approach than another, our impulse is often to reject this, because our individuality makes us think that what is being proposed is some sort of one size fits all. In our American desire to avoid tyranny; the tyranny of ideas, or institutions, or people outside of us, we forget that spiritual life is actually a balance between avoiding the tyranny of things outside and the tyranny of ourselves over ourselves. We like to think that we are all truly unique and that in our essence we possess a soul that is wise. After all, we are told to follow our conscience. But I think in fact we are generally an accumulation of all sorts of things, rather like a gumdrop that picks up a layer of lint in ones pocket. We have to transcend what is bad in ourselves as much as we need to transcend what is bad in our society (including our Church). Religion, conceived as practice, is what this is about.Our problem is that our parish churches and schools are often as weak or corrupt as any other society in our world (and when we find a good one, it is a matter of luck as much as anything else), and yet the Church is the depository of the tradition and the method that we need to use to transcend these things (and ourselves). If I can be cryptic, this seems contradictory, but it is not a contradiction. The Church is the repository of what we know so far. But one of the things that we know so far is that people are imperfect. What we also know so far is that the Church is not and does not claim to be the only Treasury of Virtue. I think that John Paul 2 in his (it seems to me) aggressive restoration of Thomism to have been trying to get us to think about religion as the practice of excellence. (I will apologize here for using this term that is too often tainted by its association with business jargon.) I think that is what the entire thrust of his new catechism was; to explain why they Church thinks the way that it does and how it is consistent (or tries to be consistent) in its approach. I cant say that I agree with all of his conclusions, but I deeply admire the approach, because I think that especially in the United States, we have lost the idea that religion is about leading excellent lives, not only in terms of what we do for others, but what we do for ourselves. I think that many of the people who objected to Benedicts characterization of their Churches want an admission that one church is simply the same as another and that the differences between them are simply a matter of personal choice and personal preference. While it is true that people choose what they prefer, I fear that our desire to promote equality sometimes obscures real differences that we recognize but dont like to admit to (at least to each other).

I like the bit about "excellent lives."In my view Catholicism isn't superior as a holy "way" but as the vessel that holds the church's collective memory--particularly those excellent lives of the saints--that represent many "ways" to salvation.It seems to me that Catholics ought to be particularly well suited to seeing holy "ways" in other denominations and faiths, that the very name "catholic" ought to make the most ecumenical of the ecumenists.I think in most ways the saints have lived up to that ecumenical ideal--they didn't withhold the love of Christ from anyone.

Jean, I don't know how easy it is to get hold of in the US but you might find Peter Stanford's book 'Why I Am Still A Catholic' useful/interesting in this context. It's a collection of pieces by various notable (at least in the UK context) Catholics, some cradle, some convert, some recusant, some immigrant. Everyone from Cherie Booth (Blair) to Christina Odone. I've long left Catholicism but found it interesting. Peter Stanford writes regularly for the Tablet and the book was published by Continuum last year. I can find it on English Amazon but not on the US one.Best wishes to you and your father.Joan Keating (London)

Unagidon, I apologize for not elaborating on my response of July 18, but my brain was not firing on all cylinders (and I was out of town yesterday). I must confess I was rather taken aback by your associating religious practice, on the one hand, with "standards" and "pursuit of excellence," on the other. With a graduate degree in the adult training field including management coursework, plus formal training experience over the years, I had never heard or read of folks applying organizational measurement concepts to evaluation of people's religious practices. Indeed, in all my years (age 59), I've never considered --- nor have others told me they ever considered --- evaluating religious practices for "quality" or lack thereof.I suspect we will still disagree, but I want to address your response of July 17. You believe "that Jesus actually wanted people to pursue excellence." We do have the words of Jesus (Mt 5: 48): "You must be perfect --- just as your Father in heaven is perfect." If this statement reflects the goal set for each of us by the Lord, a logical followup question must be, "Lord, how will you determine if one is perfect?" In other words, what benchmarks or levels of performance must be met in order for the Lord to conclude that one is "perfect?"Various Matthean passages (not all inclusive) give some indication of what Jesus considers benchmarks of excellence or perfection. Please note that the Lord's focus is on personal, not organizational (i.e., religious practice) performance. In fact, I'm not aware of any occasion when Jesus evaluated religious practices per se. His attention was always on the personal conduct of religious authorities and others.Matthew offers the following divinely established benchmarks of personal excellence (again, not all inclusive): 5: 3 - 10 6: 1 - 6 6: 17 - 1818: 1 - 423: 2325: 35 - 40You state, "Religion is a practice, and practice has standards." Perhaps the key word here is "is." I think your notion of religion is wrong. Religion can include practice but is so much more. For those of us who profess the Christian faith, religion includes not only formal worship but, more important, a divinely preferred way of life. "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14: 6). Jesus did not say "I am religion and religious practice." If you believe that Catholicism is the perfect religion, remember that Jesus was and remains a Jew! It was through the human foibles of history that the Lord's followers would eventually become separate religious --- and faith --- communities. The Christian faith is pure, a jewel. The Christian church in all its manifestations is anything but. "[O]ne pursues a particular religion because one thinks that it is most excellent." Maybe some folks (assuming, of course, they have a definition of "excellence"). I think it more likely, however, that one pursues a particular faith tradition out of a desire to relate to God in a way that is spiritually meaningful to him or her. You state, "You would say that all religions are the same and that all of them are equally dignified..." No, I would say that all religions are equally dignified by virtue of their capacity to help people of diverse backgrounds discover and maintain a meaningful relationship with God as they understand him. Are all religions "the same?" Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what you mean by "the same."Instead of focusing on religious cult, please consider Our Lord's wishes:"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments" (Mt 22: 37 - 40).The teacher of the Law, in reply to what Jesus said above, noted, "It is more important to obey these two commandments than to offer on the altar animals and other sacrifices to God." And Jesus replied, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God" (Mk 12: 33 - 34)."I want mercy, not sacrifice" (Mt 12: 7)"This, then, is what I command you: love one another" (Jn 15: 17).Jesus' life was one of service, putting faith in action. Worship or religious practice was important, but service was more so.

Joseph said: "I think it more likely, however, that one pursues a particular faith tradition out of a desire to relate to God in a way that is spiritually meaningful to him or her."It is very hard to write about religion being a practice without falling into terms that look like business management jargon. I apologize for being so unclear. Let me try a different tack.Religion is a practice. Religion is something that one does. This is not to say that religion does not involve belief.In the modern West, we have come to a belief that belief precedes practice. We think that it is important to get our beliefs straight first, and having done this right action will somehow follow. In non-Western societies and in our own Western societies until rather recently, belief was something that was seen to follow practice. Practice comes first, right belief follows. (A simple model might be that in order to be brave, one has to act brave.) In Western thought, the virtues were practices, not beliefs. On did them first and in doing so one then learned their intrinsic value. The role of tradition in this sense was the acceptance of authority that said that practice led to belief (so learn and perform the practices).We have come in our form of individualism to somehow require that we need to have the right internal state first. We seem to think first of all that if we do not do this and without it then engage in a mode of practice, that practice will be empty, useless, futile, and devoid of true meaning. Now when we reach the point in a culture where we have this kind of worry, belief and practice have already become radically separated. We no longer know what the relationship is between one and the other. We seem to think that we can withhold practice pending the development of our beliefs. More than this, we start constructing our own standards of practice based on our beliefs about our beliefs. The problem here is that we then tend to jettison the accumulated knowledge (or should I say, wisdom) of thousands of years of observation of human practice relative to belief. We begin to see people talking about "faith based" practice, practices that come from God knows where but which all too often are made up of whatever ever current crappy moral conventions we happen to hold spiced up with some emotions telling us that God wants us to feel good about ourselves. One day we accept Christ as our personal savior. The next day, Christ tells us to invade Iraq.Our modern society sees the statement "practice before belief" as a call to engage in rigid practice for its own sake (and some people also think that this is a good thing). If I say that our Church contains the most excellent standards of practice, people tend to jump to the conclusion that I am saying that a rigid adherence to Catholic doctrine is the only (or at least the main) road to salvation. I am not, however, saying that. The Church contains the longest history of the systematic practice of the virtues, including those of faith, hope and charity. I think that a re-cultivation of the practice of Catholic virtue was at the core of John Paul 2's project. But even in the Church the relationship of practice and belief hangs by a thread.I read the New Testament and I see Christ talking about a lot of doing and not about a lot of feeling. Christianity is not an attitude. The test of spirituality, especially in its most mystical forms has always and ever been whether it makes one practice better. Christianity is a practice. One does it. And the infusion of Christianity into our entire life is effected by the fact that we are never not engaging in practice. But

Sorry about that last word hanging there in my last post. Actually, there are no buts about it.

Unagidon, thank you for your clarification.I agree that Christianity is not an attitude or a set of beliefs divorced from practice. The adage "Put your money where your mouth is" contains much truth in this regard. However, whether practice precedes belief or vice versa may be one of those eternal questions (like the one about the chicken and the egg) that may never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. I do agree with your view that the Catholic Church contains (within the Christian context) the longest history of the systematic practice of the virtues (Jewish practice would be older). Would you not agree, though, that non-Catholic Christians have practiced the virtues --- and continue to practice such virtues --- to this day? Do the virtues of faith, hope, and charity have a uniquely Catholic stamp on them? In the final analysis, is longevity of practice (Catholic vs. Protestant) really that important?You mention that in your reading of the New Testament, you see Jesus emphasizing the "doing" and not the "feeling." Please correct me if I misunderstand, but are you equating "feeling" with "believing?" I do not regard them as the same although I suspect there can be a motivational tie-in.I do share your concern about supposed Christians (I call 'em Kreesh-tuns) justifying actions such as military invasions and bombing of abortion facilities on their so-called "Chreeshtun faith."If you could address some of my questions/concerns, I would be most appreciative.

Joseph said: "However, whether practice precedes belief or vice versa may be one of those eternal questions (like the one about the chicken and the egg) that may never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction."It could be, but I don't think that they see it that way. And we didn't use to see it that way either.Three examples (two from outside the West). I spent a summer in Cairo Egypt once, and I got into a discussion about the Ramadan fast (and observances) with a devout Muslim (Sufi, as it happened) connected to the Mosque of Hussein. He told me that as a practice, he required acolytes to perform Ramadan level observances for something like 45 days, saying that people in general could perform them for a month (because they believed they were expected to) but that someone who performed them for his longer period would actually experience a spiritual change. This would come not through some kind of magic, but would create a sort of acclimation that he compared to a skill that would itself create a sort of spiritual change of heart. I don't have time here to go into how he claimed this would work exactly, but he did equate religious practice with the cultivation of religious skill. He sort of said one needs to "just do it".Second, I lived in Japan for several years and became acquainted with a rather famous potter. A friend of mine was trying to become an apprentice with this person. The potter claimed to be an adept of the spirituality of the art of creating pottery and his apprenticeship required that the novice make sake cups for several years, before moving on to tea cups, then rice bowls, etc. If the novice worked well for twenty years or so, he or she was reckoned to be spiritually ready to attempt some modest act of individual creation. I should note that in the case of the potter, no "talent" was assumed or required.The third case would be our own massive Catholic literature of spiritual exercises. Again, while one might be moved by grace to take up these exercises, the intent of the exercises is to develop one's spirituality as a skill, and there seems to be an assumption in the ones that I am familiar with that the adept has little or no skill in this area, and some of them (St Theresa of Avila) seem to assume that some "unlearning" will need to take place at the beginning.Joseph said: "I do agree with your view that the Catholic Church contains (within the Christian context) the longest history of the systematic practice of the virtues (Jewish practice would be older). Would you not agree, though, that non-Catholic Christians have practiced the virtues --- and continue to practice such virtues --- to this day? Do the virtues of faith, hope, and charity have a uniquely Catholic stamp on them? In the final analysis, is longevity of practice (Catholic vs. Protestant) really that important?"The virtues, I think, assume something on the order of "natural law". Natural law is a tricky subject, even for Catholics. We don't like the idea of natural law, because it seems like an intrusion by the Church into a sphere that belongs to scientists, and it puts people who disagree with things claimed by natural law logic in the position of being, well, unnatural. But natural law assumes I believe that the virtues are the universal reflection of a natural order. As such, humans can have access to them and follow them as part of the natural order themselves. It is not the case that Catholics inhabit a different natural order from other people. Some Protestants may hold that Christ died for many, but we don't. All humans strive for God. All humans believe in everything that they do that they are doing that which is aiming to the fulfillment for them as humans.Faith, hope, and charity were additional insights provided to us of the natural order through revelation. Revelation is necessary because not all things can be seen through either science or rationality. (Note that in the other thread on art we can't even readily define what art is, even though we have been practicing it for over 20,000 years).As for the longevity of practice, here is one of my dirty little beliefs. The thing to me that makes Catholicism superior in its way is that it contains within itself all the other religious beliefs. The various Protestant sects broke off from the Church, but their ideas did not leave the Church. Their ideas first of all sprang from the Church. But second, I see people arguing strenuously here and I see the clear echo of, say, the debate between the Jansenists and the Semi-Pelagians from hundreds of years ago. Some here think that one had to fear God to love God. Others think that one has to love God to fear God. An old Jesuit once told me that the Catholic Church is catholic because there is room for everyone and I have found over the years more consistent Lutherans and Calvinists at my local parish than at the local Protestant Church. Years ago I took a degree in sociology in order to try to understand society. Now I am inclined to think that if one wants to understand society, one should take a degree in theology. Despite what the secularists, agnostics, atheists, theists, etc. say, we fight the same battles and have the same arguments over and over and over again.Joseph said: "You mention that in your reading of the New Testament, you see Jesus emphasizing the "doing" and not the "feeling." Please correct me if I misunderstand, but are you equating "feeling" with "believing?" I do not regard them as the same although I suspect there can be a motivational tie-in."I suspect that the distinction that we moderns make between action and belief is not as sharp was we think it is. As some ex-soldiers report, one is not brave in combat. One ACTS bravely in combat and that is where bravery comes from. We think somehow that we can believe without acting. I'm not sure we can. I think the message of Christ is that both are contained in the same act, as this is why I put action before belief and why I think the ancients did to. For the ancients, one could say, act and wisdom will come.I'll leave on another Japan note. I spent a couple of nights once in a Buddhist monastery on Mt Koya. One of the monks was trying to teach a group of us Americans how to meditate. People had all kinds of metaphysical ideas about what meditation was. The monk said that meditation is a skill and its function was, in essence, to shut up the little voice in our head that keeps blabbing constantly. He said that meditation was often hard to teach to Westerners because we identify ourselves with that blabbing little voice that claims to express our beliefs. He said that Westerners were often afraid that if they shut that voice off, they would somehow lose themselves. But he said that one cannot lose oneself and to not be afraid. He said wisdom comes with being present in the present moment and simply doing. This sounded to me rather like what Christ was saying.Patrick

"Actions speak louder than words." I am not convinced, however, that an act does not betray a quality/virtue already present within the doer. Using your combat example, a soldier might demonstrate courage even though s/he was not at all regarded as brave beforehand by his/her comrades. In this scenario, the act is evidence of a virtue that, perhaps, simply lay dormant within the individual. The doing, so to speak, was contingent on the right circumstances at the right time.Regarding developing spirituality as a skill, I must rely on the above explanation as at least a possibility. Would such an individual not have at least the aptitude (defined as natural ability plus right attitude) for spiritual exercises? Here I would see "talent" as the kernel of already present virtue/ability/quality.I'm not qualified to comment either way on non-Western practices that you've described. I've no doubt we have much that can be (and has been) learned from the East.I share your view that natural law is a "tricky subject." The content of such law seems to depend on the person asked. Humanae Vitae's proscription of artificial birth control comes to mind. I find it interesting that natural law, so far as I know, was developed in the West. What non-Western cultures might have to say on the content of natural law, I cannot say."The thing to me that makes Catholicism superior in its way is that it contains within itself all the other religious beliefs." I suspect you were referring to Western beliefs. I'm reminded here of the Jesuits' attempt to bring Christianity to China and of how their missionary efforts were quite effectively neutralized by the Vatican. What might the Catholic Church have learned from the Chinese and their religious/philosophical traditions but for interference by other Catholic religious orders and ultimately Rome itself? I must admit, also, that when I first read your statement above, my initial reaction was "So What?" If other Christians have the gospel message and the means of salvation, it would seem to me that any Catholic claim to "superiority" is ultimately superfluous. If all Christians are children of the same Creator who entrusted his Son to give us the Good News, I do not think God cares one whit about the superiority or inferiority of different Christian pathways to our heavenly reward. While Jesus prayed that his followers be one, I do not recall the Lord defining the word 'one.' I do, though, recall Jesus telling his disciples that those not against them are for them (and, presumably, for his message).