Friday, March 12, 2010

Telling advice



For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12

I can think of no more important task for the Church than to teach and preach the Holy Word of God.

I have many Roman Catholic friends and family. I was not a casual Catholic when I was a growing up. I tried with all my might to be a good Catholic. Thankfully I heard the gospel of God's grace from a few local evangelical churches in my neighborhood as they were conducting various outreach ministries teaching and distributing bibles which I read. Now, as a Christian who identifies himself with the Reformed tradition, I still read Catholic blogs and news services quite regularly and actually have been studying Papal history for the past 6 months for doctoral work. Our liturgical style of worship at Redeemer attracts many Roman Catholics who are searching so I seem to find myself talking about Romanism and Popery quite regularly.

I'm not citing the following post from the Catholic News Service as some kind of cheap shot but rather as an example of what so ails the Roman Church. I think Romanism hurts the vast majority of those who stay aligned with it, so that's why I write about it so often.
In my 18 years of trying my best to be a good Catholic I could hardly find a priest or a nun who had a high enough view of the bible to teach from it regularly and consistently let alone give me a clear explanation of the gospel. I faithfully attended C.C.D. class (which stands for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine established by the Roman Church largely in response to the Protestant Reformation) and learned quite a bit about Roman dogma with very little bible content. In fairness, I did have one woman who was quite learned, at least in the apocryphal sections of the bible. She eventually referred me to the priest to complete my studies in private and at home because my questions were "distracting" and "off subject". Crazy questions I would ask, you know, like "how can I know for sure I am right with God?" and "I always feel guilty about my sin, what do I do?". Distacting stuff like that. I had 7 different priests in my time as a Papist, so it's not like I just happened to get one who didn't teach Scripture. On Sunday morning none departed from the missalette's particular short Scripture reading and no homily was ever more than 15 minutes that I can remember. "Mass" would take 45-50 minutes: 10-15 for the Homily and 30-40 to turn the bread and wine into Jesus-but strangely we almost never drank the cup, a Eucharistic minister some how was able to do it for us.

I have many friends who were some version of protestant and have since become Roman Catholic- they know their bibles pretty well from their protestant upbringing. Their view of the bible seems to have changed, but they are devout enough and always ready to defend the seemingly wildest of Roman doctrines. Make no mistake, such folks represents a relatively small group among the one billion people who are counted as Roman Catholics. Most Roman Catholics are biblically illiterate and clueless about Christology, let alone soteriology, etc. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of protestants who fit the same description, and for essentially the same reason- a disregard for the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

On this point, regarding Romanism- here's an example of what I am talking about (posted yesterday on Catholic News Service):

Homilies should be under eight minutes long, says head of synod office

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Homilies should be no longer than eight minutes -- a listener's average attention span, said the head of the synod office.

Priests and deacons should also avoid reading straight from a text and instead work from notes so that they can have eye contact with the people in the pews, said Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.

In a new book titled, "The Word of God," the archbishop highlighted some tips that came out of the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Bible. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reproduced a few passages from the book in its March 10 edition.

The archbishop wrote that it's not unusual for preachers to recognize that they have less-than-perfect communications skills or that they struggle with preparing homilies. Everyone should spend an appropriate amount of time to craft a well-prepared and relevant sermon for Mass, he said.

He said Pope Benedict XVI starts working on his Sunday homilies on the preceding Monday so that there is plenty of time to reflect on the Scripture readings from which the homily will draw.

Archbishop Eterovic praised an initiative by the archdiocese of Paris, called "Improving Homilies," that has been offering courses and guidelines for priests and deacons

Among the guidelines' many helpful suggestions, he said, is that "the homily in general should not go over eight, minutes -- the average amount of time for a listener to concentrate."

A preacher would do well to find inspiration from not just the Bible, but from the newspaper, too, so that the homily can address the current concerns facing the world or the local community, he said. A homily can also offer ideas for what people can do after Mass in the way of prayer, readings, and activities at home, work or in society to help carry out Gospel teachings.

Homilies can be written out, Archbishop Eterovic said, but a preacher should work from brief notes or a bare outline that lets him follow the logical path of his talk while still being able to engage and look at the congregation.

With so little biblical instruction it's no wonder there's such confusion about life and doctrine in the Roman Church. The constant Catholic claims of unity are only true if the unifying factor is general ignorance of Church doctrine and the Bible. Eight minute homilies? It takes 5 minutes to properly introduce a text of Scripture and read it.

I can hear the responses now- "Tony, I'm sorry for your experience, but that's not the way it is at my Parish". Honestly, I'll bet it is. I'm not expecting my formerly protestant friends to admit this fact, but I still think it's generally true across the RC board. The problem is, you won't know it's true until your children go through "the system". Then you'll see. Deuteronomy 6 is a tough passage to live out in Roman Catholic life, since you get no help from the Church.
I think there are some former protestants who are now Papists still reading their bibles privately or as families, maybe a handful of born and bred RC's also, but most are not. I don't think anything has changed since I was Catholic. Like I said, I still stay in touch with many of my RC friends and family. I am pretty sure what I say is true across the board. This is largely because of the Roman Catholic Church's neglect of the robust preaching of God's Word regularly. Eight minute homilies? Good grief. It should take 5 minutes to plead with God in prayer at the end of a sermon.

Here's the thing- if priests started preaching the Word of God straight through something magnificent would happen. There would be a Reformation. The RC response to the notion of another Reformation- "look how divided you protestants are after your "reformation"-such division couldn't be God's Will." My response-stop kidding yourself about how unified the Roman Church is. If you think an ardent clergy and 10-20% of the Roman Church "faithful" agreeing on some body of Church doctrine and the Pope's authority constitutes unity in the larger Roman Church you're beyond reason. Is ignorance and neglect of God's Word God's Will? Is feeding Christ's sheep so miserably God's Will? Come on now.
I do think division is sinful. It's a total shame Christians are so divided. There is something worse, however- being "unified" in damnable unbelief and ignorance.

Romanism needs another Reformation and it will happen when the bible is taught and preached with boldness and power.
Maybe there's a reason Rome seems to be pushing eight minute homilies. I think it's pretty telling.

10 comments:

Brother Titus said...

You already know the answer to this problem. In general, Catholic priests don't know the Word of God, so they can't pass it on correctly to others (preach and teach). They don't know the Word of God, because they don't have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide them while learning the Scriptures themselves. Then, they are allowed to become priests without becoming, "born again" (Jn. 3:3). So, even though they are still, "alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, due to the hardness of their hearts" (Eph. 4:18), they are given, "ministries," without having confessed and repented of their sins, "in Spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:23). This is what's wrong with the Catholic church.

Swilliams said...

Well, there you go again. Just forcing me to comment...

In defense of the sermon at Mass, the point of the Mass is not the sermon, it is the celebration of the Eucharist - a substantially distinguishing fact between the Catholic Sunday service and other Christian forms of worship which typically focus on the Preacher and his Bible teaching. Catholic services are not "preaching" events.

The Mass used to be a Vertical ritual of worship focused on the Divine; now it has devolved (over the past 45 years or so) into a horizontal social meeting of sorts with some recognizable liturgical elements. Sermons by Catholic priests, unless by some of the more fiery sorts found on EWTN, are rather boring forays into "what did he say again?" moments. If substantial at all they will be more in the realm of topics of "social justice", i.e., why are the pro-lifers so mean; or, parish grade school children saying by rote: "poor people are good and rich people are bad"; then there's the never-ending promos for illegal immigration, welfare program du jour, and "do you make homosexuals welcome here?" given by a flagrant homosexual priest.

No matter how vehemently Zach the convert wants to belittle my commentary I have lived through all of this, pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. Plus it is in my DNA for centuries, maybe millenia, given my ethnicity.

It's sad really, but it is also a very complex study in organizational politics and how the progressive movement took over the Catholic Church and infused its insidious evil throughout the Church, its outreach/mission programs, educational institutions, hierarchy, and parishioners. Moral, and in many cases, theological relativism rules.

And you are right, the Church was not big on Bible teaching historically. I bought my first Bible a few years ago! But remember, the origin of the Catholic masses - the poor, oppressed, and illiterate. The Church taught its followers through stories, imagery, and Epistle and Gospel readings at Mass. Their posture was (right into the late 20th century) "We'll tell you what you need to know, you do not need to figure this out for yourself as you will err." Of course, average American Catholics now are more than literate and capable of reading the Bible but with the likes of John Dominick Crossan, the Jesus Seminar, and infatuation with Gnostic Gospels why would they? The Jesuits encourage reading the Teachings of Buddha now. (And yes I witnessed this and my witness constitutes anecdotal evidence, but I assert that it is repeated daily.)

Here's an interesting tome on the Church and its affair with Alinsky-ish social justice:

http://www.RealCatholicTV.net/cia

It is a long lecture but well worth the watching.

Reepicheep said...

Stephanie,

I knew you wouldn't be able to resist..

Good point on the point of the Mass. The purpose is the Eucharist.

I think this marks a serious imbalance that is the chief reason for the RC Church's ailments. There is no effective venue for teaching and preaching God's Word.

Well, I'm guessing Zach will be chiming in any time now. He's probably writing a response as I press "publish your comment" :)

Scott Lyons said...

Tony, it is my experience that those who want to know the Scriptures, learn them neither from homilies nor sermons, but because of a burning desire within them to know God. All the Protestant church communities I have been a part of are not, as good as they are, churning out wonderful Christians. On the contrary, it is (when it happens) the fathers and mothers within those church communities who encourage the faith of their children - and that mostly by their examples. So I am more than a little confused about the priority you place on sermon length in developing a well-formed Christian. Whether someone is hearing sermons that are eight minutes or forty-eight minutes, makes little difference in my mind. If length of sermon were so important, why do so few remember what the sermon was about just days, and often hours, later? In addition, homilies and sermons, regardless of their length, do not have an impact on every member every Sunday. (I would wager less than 5% on any given Sunday.) I am not saying preaching, even the preaching we forget, has no effect. But I think you are making too much of it here - especially as it concerns the length of the homily.

Furthermore, a shortened homily says nothing about what the Church believes about the importance of the Scriptures, but rather about the importance it places on any one man's interpretation of those Scriptures (even if that man is their man). It seems to me that if our emphasis were genuinely on knowing the Scriptures, and knowing Christ through the Scriptures, we would hear more of them in our services and less of any one man's thoughts on a given passage (often no more than a verse or two). And this is precisely the emphasis of a Catholic and Orthodox Liturgy, within which we hear far more of the Scriptures and far less of a man's reading of those Scriptures. And that's OK with me.

And given the state of so very many Catholic homilies, shortening them may not be such a bad suggestion. I'm just saying.

Reepicheep said...

Scott,

I think the Word of God, the Bible, is the principle means of God's grace. It's the chief way, among others (which are revealed by Scripture) Christians grow in faith and joy. Further, it can be shown by Scripture how important studying, reading, and preaching God's Word is for the growth of every Christian.

I see preaching and teaching the Word of God as the most important thing the Church does. Not the only thing by any means, but the most important thing. So, in this light, there must be every opportunity taken to clearly teach and preach the Word.

In the Roman Church there is very little formal focus, for the average member, on the Word of God taught and preached. I am suggesting the nominalism problem so prevalent among RC's is due to this lack of formal teaching of God's Word. I think the same is true in many protestant churches that do not emphasize and intentionally teach the Word of God.

I do agree entirely about the importance of the home teaching the Word of God. Church and Home together in this process. I think Deuteronomey 6 is a prime example of this relationship- "Hear O Israel (the church)...teach these things in your house, etc. (family)"

By God's design, it takes both. My experience with Romanism was utterly devoid of serious study of Scripture despite all sorts of opportunities to open it up to me. I think this is prevalent and pervasive.

Woody Woodward said...

Just thankful I am at Redeemer, hearing the Word and seeing the Word lived out in the lives of this most blessed congregation.

Zach said...

Tony,

1. "Romanism", "Popery", "Papist" -- You really broke out the Thesaurus of Catholic Slurs on this post, didn't you? Maybe next time you could throw in "Mackerel Snapper", "Popeblower", or "Bead Mumbler." You know, just to keep things spicy. :)

2. You neglected to mention the extensive Scripture readings that are a part of each Catholic Mass. A reading from the OT, a chanted Psalm, a reading from the NT, and a reading from the Gospels. In my experience, this far exceeds the amount of Scripture one will hear read at a Protestant worship service, and it takes time.

3. That's in addition to the singing of the highly Scriptural Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei -- and the dozens of intervening prayers, most of which are drawn directly from the Scriptures. Again, these take time.

4. So your cheeky summary of the Mass (15 min for the homily and 30 min "to turn the bread and wine into Jesus") conveniently leaves out quite a bit.

5. Yes, I have heard more than my fair share of bad (by which I mean shallow and pointless) Catholic homilies -- and worse yet, consistently bad Catholic homilists.

6. Yes, I have also heard more than my fair share of bad Protestant sermons.

7. Yes, Catholic homilies are often too short.

8. Yes, Protestant homilies are often too long. I can't tell you how many times I found myself thinking, "Where on earth is this going?" or surmising that the preacher was just trying to meet the quota set for him by the Session.

9. One reason why Catholic Sunday homilies may be shorter is that your average Catholic priest gives a homily every day of the week. If they shared the Protestant luxury of preparing only one sermon per week, I dare say it would be longer.

10. That being said, my pastor is an excellent preacher, and I will not be cowed into hiding that fact by your attempt to preemptively disparage the honesty of any Catholic convert who has the temerity to claim that he consistently hears good Catholic preaching. You want names? Msgr. Blacet is the fiery 88-year old pastor of my parish, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Westport. You want another? Fr. Strobl, a commenter on this blog, is the 28-year old assistant pastor at the parish down the street from me and one of the most gifted preachers in the Archdiocese of KCK.

11. Yes, the state of catechesis and in-house Scripture study is woefully deficient at many Catholic parishes. However, good men like Leon Suprenant (another commenter on this blog) are working hard to change that with in-parish programs like "School of Faith" and "My Catholic Faith Delivered." That's the kind of "reformation" the Church needs. People who love Mother Church and their fellow Catholics enough to roll up their sleeves and, with charity, get 'er done. What we don't need are whining nay-sayers looking to get in facile cheapshots on their way to greener pastures. As the last 500 years have sadly demonstrated "Catholic DNA" is no impediment to despising the Church.

Diaperman said...

Hi Reep,

I was just checking to see if anyone else had commented on the Glenn Beck post and stumbled across this earlier post, which I had missed.

The comments quoted in the CNS story relate to recent Synod of Bishops from all over the world who met a couple years ago to discuss how to continually improve efforts to open God's Word to people. While all involved had different specific comments (such as the "8-minute homily"), there was some consensus and things discussed that may be relevant to addressing the difficulties you experienced as a youth.

The Mass has had a basic structure, which brings together synagogue worship (liturgy of the Word) and Temple worship (liturgy of the Eucharist) in the New Covenant sealed in Christ's blood. As time has gone on, the outline of the Mass has taken greater shape, as we see in very early writings like the Didache and St. Justin Martyr.

In the Sunday Mass, in addition to the homily (which is important and deficiencies in that regard indeed are shameful), we have an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament reading, and the Gospel. Always the Gospel. The selections are generally 10-20 or so verses, depending on the nature of the passage. But even more than that, the Mass itself and the various parts of the Mass are chock full of Scripture.

The goal of the Church is not simply proclaiming the Word--that's the means to the end. The goal of the Church is union with her Spouse, Our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:21-33).

The readings and homily at Mass are to create a burning or longing in our hearts, as we read in the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:32). After Our Lord opened the Scriptures to them, they were able to recognize Him in the Breaking of the Bread. And when we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, we receive Him as intimately as we can in this life, transforming us, empowering us to be His witnesses in a broken world, as we await with joyful hope His glorious return.

That's the progression, and daily Masses are similar in the amount of Scripture reading.

That doesn't even take into acount the liturgy of the hours, which many people (including one of my daughters) pray during the day.

As St. Jerome wrote over 1500 years ago, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. While not all of us are called to be monks or hermits, devoting hours each day to meditation on the Scriptures, the Church does warmly encourage the faithful in various contexts to "pray the Scriptures" above all, but also to study and read the sacred page whenever possible. See e.g., Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965) if you don't believe me.

Right now, for example, my wife and I are in a large Catholic Bible study in our KC-area parish, and it's just one of many in our parish. And I know of other areas in the country where this goes on even a greater scale.

I say all this because of ignorant statements like that of Brother Titus (I say ignorant with some trepidation, as it does sound harsh, but at least realize I harbor no ill will toward him personally and am only taking what he said at face value).

But even more, I think your own comments regarding how "most Catholics" are "biblically illiterate," etc. is an overstatement that is likely colored by your own negative experience of the Church, for which I am truly sorry.

I suppose I've gone on too long already, so I'll stop. You're a good man and a fine writer. May you and your readers have a most blessed, joy-filled week!

Reepicheep said...

Diaperman, thanks for your cordial comments. Maybe you're right that I'm overstating the level of biblical illiteracy among RC's. I don't think I am, or I wouldn't post it, but I concede you may be right.

Zach, you make me laugh even when I think you're WAY off. "Thesaurus of Catholic Slurs". Dude, that's funny. In all seriousness, the terms I use aren't meant to slur anyone. I think they capture the errors of the movement they label. As far as the rest of your post, I always appreciate your input- and expect it. I don't think I need to respond or add to what I have already posted however. I'll leave yours as the last word...for now :)

Swilliams said...

Zach attends the best Catholic Mass in the KC-St. Joe diocese. Our Lady of Good Counsel is a beautiful church and Msgr.'s Mass is traditional with the Kyrie in Greek and the Gloria, Agnus Dei, and Sanctus in Latin. He may have gone to the Credo and Pater Noster in Latin as well, but this is not common to the Catholic churches here or elsewhere. Karen's singing as cantor is hauntingly beautiful and the music is more traditional sacred music. Zach, you should enjoy this experience as long as you can. OLGC is not the typical neighborhood parish. It is a unique traditional, pro-life, conservative Catholic Church with a dominant homeschooler flock and superb choir. The only other options for traditional Catholics in the KC area are Blessed Sacrament in KC, KS and the oratory in KC, MO. Both, I believe are Latin rite masses - St. Vincent de Paul is the Pius X crowd, not in communion with Rome but rather followers of an angry French bishop who took issue with the Vatican. Zach can criticize me and my Catholic DNA all he wants and respond angrily to Pastor Tony for not being intimately acquainted with current Catholic practices and being critical of the Church. That's fine, debate is healthy.

My point is this: OLGC is not the norm, it is the exception. I truly believe that once Msgr. Blacet no longer is able to shepherd his flock, the flock will be forced to disperse unless there is found a charismatic successor the diocese would be willing to place there and a major influx of capital to support and repair the infrastructure.

Then Zach, when that day comes you may have to confront the reality of which I write. How about you spend some time real soon trying out Visitation, or St. Peters, or St. Thomas More, St. Monica's, or the Jesuit church, St. Francis Xavier across from Rockhurst. You are in for a real shock if you think the Catholic experience is consistent with OLGC. OLGC is similar to the CC of my childhood but not the catholic Catholic experience of modern times. So enjoy it. It is not my intent to try to destroy the zealous faith of a convert; that likely would be a sin. But rather, it is my desire that Catholics who cling to the traditional Church open their eyes and see the evil that has overcome the Bishops and the culture of the Church in general and try to "reform" it. If you cannot see it then your eyes are not open or too filled with stars to focus.

And timely, you may want to check the current headlines regarding the German pedophile scandal that reaches right up to the Pope, and the abuses linked to the Legion of Christ. Also, there's the Catholic Health Alliance coming out in support of Obamacare. Just facts.

Facile cheap shots on the way to greener pastures? No, just Truth.