Catholics across America (and perhaps around the world) are being pulled right and left by their pastors.
For six to twelve years a congregation hears homilies promoting the values of Vatican II and its subsequent practices. A new pastor is appointed and the congregation hears homilies about the dangers of Vatican II and its application.
The first pastor moves the tabernacle from the sanctuary, encourages girls to become altar servers, and engages the laity in a variety of liturgical ministries. The next pastor moves the tabernacle back into the sanctuary, prohibits female servers, and curtails the ministries the laity are permitted to provide.
The first pastor focuses on freedom, God’s mercy and forgiveness. The next pastor emphasizes law, sin and hell.
And the people are caught in the “tug and pull” of conflicting theologies and pastoral practice.
Statistics suggest that many Catholic couples preparing for marriage opt out of a Catholic wedding. In one diocese, for example, parish “A” has 1880 active households but only four Catholic marriages and three interfaith; parish “B” has 1220 active households but only two Catholic marriages; parish “C” has 4000 active households but only three Catholic marriages and ten interfaith.
Are pastors refusing to witness the marriage vows of couples who are cohabiting? Are some church buildings considered poor settings for a wedding? Are couples coming for wedding preparations warmly welcomed or subjected to intense interrogation?
Many Catholics are “shopping” for a parish, looking for a welcoming community and a pastoral practice consistent with what they believe to be authentic and faithful to the Gospel. The geographical boundaries of parishes today are very porous.
The pope is calling on the faithful (laity as well as clergy) to “reach out” to people on the periphery (the marginalized, the “unclean”) and reinstate them. He preaches that we must show compassion and reflect “God’s ‘logic,’ the logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God.”
Some Church leaders, however, insist that the Vatican is being misunderstood, that the main-stream media have it all wrong, that the pope can’t really mean what he is saying. The resistance to Pope Francis and his agenda is in some cases palpable.
Pity the people who hear one thing from the pope and something else from their pastors.
Pity the people who are encouraged to adopt one style of liturgical practice and then are told that style is all wrong.
Pity the people who have been urged to see themselves as a priestly people but are later advised that only the ordained clergy can approach the altar or retrieve the Eucharist from the tabernacle.
The current tension between theologies or spiritualities claiming to be authentic Gospel may be comparable to the tensions in the early Church. The New Testament records the conflicts over which practices of Judaism had to be retained when one became Christian. Paul’s notion of “Christianity” clearly differed from that of many of his contemporaries.
What are Catholics to think? I wish I had the answer. I have heard it said that some younger Church leaders think we need only to wait for the current but aging generation of “Vatican II priests” to die off and “then we can get the Church back to what it is supposed to be.”
My own conviction is that Catholics have been given a sense of direction by the Second Vatican Council. In the theology and spirituality of that Council are the foundations for living the Catholic faith today.
It is now 50 years since the Council ended. The papacy of Pope Francis reflects the Council’s direction. Perhaps it will take another 50 years to resolve the tension. In the meantime, pity the people.