ChristianityRichly

Why Is This Church Empty!

In Christianity on June 14, 2019 at 7:56 pm

One of the most memorable exclamations I’ve ever heard in a homily was made by a passionate young priest. Gesturing to the half-filled pews, he asked, “Why is this church empty!”

Why Indeed?
We can blame the sexual and financial scandals. Similarly, the silence from Rome to the dubia asking for clarification of Amoris Laetitia, has not helped. Beyond that, one could cite Cardinal Cupich’s ever-anodyne statements and the seeming inability, at times, of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to even get out of its own way.

But the decay in Mass attendance began long before these problems. Moreover, to limit ourselves to issues with the episcopacy takes us off the hook too easily. If we are praying for Church renewal, then what about us individually?

Read Ezekiel chapters 8 and 9, but particularly Ezekiel 9:6. Are we willing to say with the Lord not only “Begin at my sanctuary,” but “Begin with me”?

A Muscular Christianity
James V. Schall, S.J.’s † fine short book, Another Sort of Learning, points in chapter 12 to Hilaire Belloc’s Catholic exuberance. “Belloc was much more than a folk hero. [He was] a man who made us think our faith was in fact thinkable.”

Fr. Schall’s writings are one of my touchstones for many things Catholic. That said, even he sells Belloc short here. Consider Belloc’s own words, i.e., that he believed in:

Not a hypothetical God, but a real God full of beef, creator of Heaven and Earth et omnium visibilium et invisibilium.¹

A real God full of beef, creator of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible! Good heavens. What a statement. How very much we need this certainty, this muscular Catholicism today—as opposed to equivocation and vagueries. Yet one almost dares not say such a thing for fear of being thought “traditionalist,” “dogmatic,” or even sacrilegious.

Empty Pews — Why?
“A real God full of beef” is the reality to which the young priest was pointing, even summonsing, from Heaven (Psalm 144:5). If we truly believed Christ is present in the Eucharist, and that the God of Heaven speaks through Word and Sacrament, then how could even one empty seat in our parishes be empty?

Lest we think Belloc exaggerates, or has engaged in sacrilege, consider this from Paul Claudel’s A Poet Before the Cross, a book that should be revered by every Catholic Christian:

The God we worship is not only standing, He is raised, all His body stretched, an active power visible in each fiber! He is above everything and holds on to nothing. But it is He who holds us, and we who depend on Him, the two of us indissoluble. He is here forever between Heaven and Earth, suspended, intermediary. He is a God fully functioning

Fully functioning, indeed! A real God, full of beef. Belloc again:

The Catholic Church is the exponent of Reality. It is true. Its doctrines in matters large and small are statement of what is. This is that which the ultimate act of the intelligence accepts. This is that which the will deliberately confirms.

As Belloc biographer A.N. Wilson concludes:

The Mass [for Belloc] was a daily chance to be present at the material and true miracle of Christ’s incarnation . . . As often as he knelt [at the altar] . . . Belloc renewed his intellectual appreciation of the fact that he belonged to the one institution on earth founded, guided, and daily visited by Almighty God

If this is true, then Christ is always present in the tabernacle of even the most modest parish church as well as the grandest cathedral. If this is true, then the Catholic Church is the clearest mirror of Reality. If this is true, then the Mass opens a door into Heaven.

If we believe this — then “why is this Church empty?!”

¹ A.N. Wilson, Hilaire Belloc: A Biography (New York: Atheneum, 1984), p. 361.

² Paul Claudel, A Poet Before the Cross (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1958), p. 225.

³ Wilson, pp. 250-253.

Welcome to Christianity Richly

In Christianity on February 5, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Psalm 63:5 “My soul will be filled as if by rich food” (Jerusalem Bible).

Christianity Richly chronicles the ongoing conversion of a Catholic Christian drawn to the Faith by its truth, goodness, and beauty. That said, “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing,” wrote Saint John Paul II (The Mission of the Redeemer). May non-Catholics and even unbelievers always find that attitude here.

If you are not a Christian or are not sure, see my story. Your life and mine all have a stories to tell, don’t they? My reasons for Christian faith are creating love, caring intervention, and God’s constant presence with us in Christ.

If you are a Christian curious about the Catholic Church, see the About link at the top of this page, under the headline “Christianity Richly.”  About explains the reasons for the blog. See the links certainty, history, unity, authority, liturgy, community, and sacramentality.

Comments on posts are always welcomed, but if you are planning to add your thoughts, then please read On Posting Comments.

All original content on this blog is Copyright ©2009-2022 Christianity Richly.  All rights reserved.  Posts may be linked or quotations of limited length reproduced with attribution to Christianity Richly. Questions and requests for more extensive reproduction may be sent to the author at this address: christianityrichly [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wonder

In Christianity on June 26, 2020 at 6:59 pm

Wonder. We lack a sense of wonder.

Christianity Richly has, from the beginning, sought to answer the question, “Why should the Christian life be at all interesting to us? Why should we come to Christ?”

Because Christianity Is Rich
The answer, of course, is because Christianity is rich. It invites us to a gathering that features fine food and wine, good friendships, conversation about the topics that matter, and unparalleled support in times of need. More important but less obvious, it provides answers about our place in the universe and answers our deep-seated need for redemption and reconciliation.

If the words “support in times of need” suggest Christianity is just another self-help group, don’t pigeonhole it that way. When self is a part of the crisis we confront daily, then the idea of “self help” is an oxymoron, something that contradicts itself.

Nor are “banquet” or “feast” the right words to describe Christianity, even though both are true.  The richness of following Christ goes beyond the immediate pleasures suggested by banquet or feast, and responds to the deepest longings of our hearts.

What Does All of This Mean?
This way of thinking was suggested in a book by Andrew Louth titled, Discerning the Mystery.¹ The book caused me to remember a time when I was a child, lying on the grass at night, and looking at the dark sky and glorious stars. “What’s out there?” “Why am I here?” “What does this all mean?”

Do we still ask ourselves these questions today? Or are we so distracted by glittering rides at the carnival, that we simply become a cog in the cosmos — often an unwitting cog, no matter how proud we have become of our apparent capacity for self-determination?

If we look at the magnificent, complex, individual lives around us, eternally intertwined with others, how can not wonder and rejoice? Louth describes this as “wonder at the mystery of being.” This mystery presents, yet also holds us before, the ultimate mystery: God.² This “mystery questions us, demands of us a response, challenges us to decide what we are to do, what we are to make of our lives.”

It is because man is made by God in His image and likeness that he is ultimately mysterious and can never be understood as he really is in terms that prescind from [leave out of consideration] the mystery of personhood.

Wonder, But Don’t Despair
Don’t understand yourself some days? Most of us don’t. Come to the feast. Enter the conversation, realizing it is not simply a matter of us putting questions to God. The Samaritan woman at the well did that (John 4:4-26). But as we confront the wonder of our own personhood and the mystery of God, He also will question us — not in a hostile way, but in a way that turns-on a light; enables us to penetrate some of the darkness in our world and understand the otherwise inexplicable disappointments we feel at our own failures and the failures of others.

Wonder can shake us. It often disturbs us.

But . . . does the true sense of wonder really lie in uprooting the mind and plunging it into doubt? [The Samaritan woman could have ended up that way, if she had broken off the conversation too early.] Doesn’t it really lie in making it possible and indeed necessary to strike yet deeper roots?³

“Fides quærens intellectum,” St. Augustine wrote. Faith seeking understanding. Come. Be part of the conversation. Be one of those of whom it can be said,

They feast on the rich food of Your house; from Your delightful stream you give them to drink. For with You are the springs of life, and in Your light we see light. Psalm 36:9-10, Isaiah 55:1, John 4:14

¹ Andrew Louth, Discerning The Mystery (Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press, 2003). You will find Louth’s book on Amazon, but it would be better to go to AbeBooks.com, where you can select the seller you prefer.

² This statement and the paragraphs that follow draw on Louth’s chapter, “Living the Mystery,” especially pages 143-147.

³ Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009), p. 131. Quoted by Louth, p143.