Not Instilling Confidence Department: The priest serving as the dean of students at a Catholic seminary in California, commenting on his listener's conversion to Catholicism, said, "Is that so? That means you're like St. Peter when he got knocked off his horse."
If you're over thirty, you probably remember comic Flip Wilson's Church of What's Happenin' Now. Locally we have a new outfit called The Church of Today.The minister is Wendy Craig-Purcell. Her church is billed in newspaper advertisements as "Positive! Powerful! Practical! Pace Setting!" Maybe so. One of the recent programs: "Making Fashion Earrings."
According to U.S. News & World Report, membership in churches and synagogues rose from 124.7 million in 1965 to 145.4 million in 1988. Catholics lead: 54.9 million, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention at 14.8 million and the United Methodist Church at 9.1 million. The Methodists remain in third place, even though they lost 18% of their members since 1965. The biggest percentage gainers: Assemblies of God, 122%; Church of the Nazarene, 61%; Southern Baptist Convention, 38%.
The Radio Bible Class News this comment from a supporter: "RBC is an important part of my life. My wife and I are stationed in Italy, and there are no Bible-believing churches in this area." The folks at RBC neglected to refer the writer to that Bible-believing church found in Rome.
The Biblical Evangelist monthly magazine published from Ingleside, Texas. The October issue carried an article titled "Why Baptists Are Not Protestants." The author, Vernon L. Lyons of the Ashburn Baptist Church in Chicago, claims that Baptists can't be called Protestants because "Baptists never left the Roman Catholic church as did Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. They never left because they were never in. They did not begin their existence at the time of the Reformation, but hundreds of years prior to the Reformation. . . .
"Their only claim is that at every age in church history there have been groups that have held to the same doctrines that Baptists hold today. These groups may or may not have been connected and they have been known by various names. They were the Montanists (150A.D.), the Novationists (240_A.D.), Donatists (305 A.D.), Albigensians (1022 A.D.), Waldensians (1170 A.D.), and the name Anabaptist came into prominence just before the time of the Protestant Reformation."
This is a remarkable, but not uncommon, claim. Be on the lookout for it--and know how to refute it: by explaining just what these groups really believed and asking if today's Baptists believe the same. (They don't, and they'd be scandalized to be told they are heirs of, say, the Albigensians, who believed in ritual euthanasia.)
Bill Cleary, in the National Catholic Reporter, said that after Vatican II "my priest brother and I both married nuns, and my nun sister married a priest. . . . The surprise of the story is that we have all remained Catholics."
Keep in mind he has a private definition of the word: "Ten years ago, my wife and I, unable to find a congenial parish church in our town, joined an ecumenical community at a nearby university. The members there think of themselves as Protestant, but we think of them as Catholic--or, better, catholic. We still occasionally catch a Saturday Mass, but on Sunday we're Protestant Catholics." He notes "we reject what is dogmatic and triumphal," the two terms perhaps being synonymous in his mind.
Question for consideration: What makes one a practicing Catholic? Can you still be considered one by attending Protestant services instead of Sunday Mass and by rejecting dogmas consistently taught by the Catholic Church?
Let's admit it: Catholic apologetics and evangelization groups are small potatoes. There are few of them, and most try to be all things to all men--which may be necessary precisely because such groups are so few.
On the Evangelical side, in contrast, there are hundreds of apologetics and evangelization groups. So large is the number that many of them can afford to specialize.
There are several which concern themselves with converting Jews to Evangelicalism or which focus on what they perceive to be the key role Israel is to play in the End Times, which are said to be fast approaching.
One of the oldest of these groups, Israel My Glory, has been around fifty years. Last year it undertook a fund-raiser called Project 90. The goal for this single fund-raiser: $3 million. The goal was reached.
Compare: Catholic Answers, the largest Catholic apologetics and evangelization organization, hasn't raised that much money in the whole of its existence, let alone for one project.
Don't believe all the projections you read about priestly vocations. The experts are often wrong. Case in point: "The Catholic Priest in the U.S.: Demographic Investigations," written by Richard A. Schoenherr of the University of Wisconsin and Lawrence A. Young of Brigham Young University. The study was sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Conference. Based on a lopsided sampling, the authors made predictions which haven't come close to being right.
They were taken to task recently by Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, who noted, among other deficiencies, that Schoenherr and Young predicted that an average of 7.5 priests would be ordained for Los Angeles during each of the years 1990-1993.
The actual figures, based on enrollment at St. John's Seminary: 1990, 10 ordinations; 1991, 17 ordinations; 1992, 18 ordinations; 1993, 22 ordinations. The total projected by the study: 30. The actual expected ordinations: 67. In other words, Schoenherr and Young projected only 45% of the actual figures. (It just so happens that St. John's now has its highest enrollment in its 51-year history.)
Apologetics involves defending the Church's teaching about sex as well as its teaching about sects. Women for Faith and Family is an organization taking up this challenge. WFF is a grass-roots apostolate of Catholic women who stand up for Church teaching regarding sexuality and family life. The organization has thousands of members nationwide and has international branches.
Its Affirmation of Catholic Women in support of the Church's teaching on sexuality and family life has been signed by more than 40,000 women, including Mother Teresa, and has been presented to Pope John Paul II.
For information, you may write to Women for Faith and Family, P.O. Box 8326, St. Louis, MO 63132.
Found in the classifieds of the Los Angeles Reader: "Recovering Catholics therapy support group for those wanting to recover from the pain, anger, sadness, guilt and/or damage experienced due to their religious upbringing. Call Hadley Fitzgerald, MFCC (818) 986-6802."
Harper & Row ran a full-page ad in Woman of Power magazine for a book titled Women's Rituals.
"For every woman searching for a real alternative to traditional patriarchal religion, for every woman who wants to discover and empower her own feminine spirit, this book is literally cause for celebration. Barbara Walker, author of The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, offers a wealth of techniques, procedures, and suggestions for both individual and group ceremonies, including holidays for women to celebrate, tools and rituals for invocations, herbs and plants, chantmaking, sewing a priestess robe, making mandalas, the laws of the Goddess, the use of crystals . . . and much more. Blending the time-honored rituals of goddess-worship with modern concern for healing the wounds of Mother Earth and enhancing a sense of global sisterhood, Barbara Walker points the way to a more meaningful spiritual consciousness for every woman."
A radio talk-show host in San Diego was speaking about a Catholic priest "reading the last rights" to a dying parishioner. We wondered, Was this a liturgical innovation we hadn't heard about? We looked it up. Sure enough, there it is in an obscure Vatican document: The Rite of Reading the Last Rights to a Dying Catholic.
The priest approaches the dying person, pulls out a card, and starts reading: "You are about to die. You have the right to make a confession. Anything you confess will not be used against you in the heavenly court. You have the right to a guardian angel. If you cannot afford a guardian angel, one will be appointed for you. . . ."
What Catholics Believe is a cable television program seen in many parts of the country. The host of the talk show is Julius Smetona, who is joined by two or three priests, the regulars being William Jenkins, pastor of St. Therese Church in Parma, Ohio; Clarence Kelly, spiritual director of the St. Joseph Novitiate in Round Top, New York; and Donald Sanborn, pastor of St. Pius X Church in Warren, Michigan.
In many areas this is the only Catholic program on television. How sad, you might think, that so much of the country has only one Catholic television program. What's really sad is that this isn't really a Catholic program.
A leaflet offered at Fr. Jenkins' parish welcomes visitors and notes that "we are not recognized by the bishop of this diocese." Why? Because this parish and others allied with it reject Vatican II, which the leaflet calls "a disaster."
The crux of the dispute is the Mass: The Novus Ordo is so unlike the Tridentine Mass that now there are "two different religions," and these folks are the real Catholics. So bad is the situation that Fr. Jenkins has published a list of chapels at which "the real Mass" is still said. In California there are exactly two sites. New York is blessed with seven. Thirty-six states have no "approved" Masses at all!
What about the millions of Catholics who don't live within driving distance of one of these chapels? Should they make do with the Novus Ordo? No, because, as stated in a booklet titled Welcome to the Traditional Latin Mass, "the New Mass is false worship."
In his document Ecclesia Dei, Pope John Paul II has permitted and encouraged the use of the Tridentine Mass. The faithful Catholics who attend papally- approved Masses should not be confused with the folks who produce What Catholics Believe. Those people--Julius Smetona and the three priests--have reacted against liturgical abuses by jettisoning the Novus Ordo entirely, something the people worshiping under Ecclesia Dei don't do.
The media--including, sadly, some of the Catholic media--portray the issue as Latin vs. English. That's not it at all.
On the one side are authentic Catholics, who may hear Mass celebrated in Latin, English, Spanish, Aramaic, Old Slavonic, Vietnamese, Korean (to list just some of the languages used in the San Diego Diocese). On the other are people who call themselves Catholics and who are orthodox on virtually everything, but who reject Vatican II and who (unknowingly) read themselves out of the Church.
Evangelizing them isn't easy. Many of their complaints about the "Conciliar Church" (as they phrase it) are valid: Some priests mangle rubrics, lots of homilies are vapid, it's not hard to find nuns or adult education teachers spouting private versions of heterodoxy, there's little talk any more of personal sin (now it's social sin), and so on. Equally discouraging are those who believe rightly but lack the courage to profess their beliefs. (For example, we've come across lots of priests who accept Humanae Vitae but are afraid to proclaim it.)
So let's admit the anti-Vatican II people have enough to complain about, which means they can hold themselves out as being, if not more Catholic than the Pope, at least more Catholic (apparently) than the clergy at St. Miscellaneous's.
So how do we approach them? By zeroing in on their real problem: authority. They have set themselves up as judges, and their judgment has been flawed--not their judgment that abuses exist (they do), but their judgment that the solution is to chuck an ecumenical council.
Denys Lloyd, a prominent Anglican educator, has announced he's leaving the Church of England for the Catholic Church. The principal of the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield in the north of England, Lloyd acknowledged women's ordination was one issue in his conversion, but the wider issue is that he doesn't think it possible any longer to pursue a contemplative life within Anglicanism, and a contemplative life is what he's after. He is only one of many Anglican leaders coming over to Rome. Let's pray for them.