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Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Don't let the door hit your a** on the way out" vs. "All are welcome/all are welcome/all are welcome/in this place."

Apologies for the Haugen reference. In the memorable phrasing of Aristotle Esguerra, I know I've just inflicted a "liturgical earwig" on you, but it fits the commentary.

The region of Michigan I hail from (the central Lower Peninsula) was a popular destination for German immigrants, especially from Bavaria. The stream continued into the early to mid-20th Century. I knew a customer who shopped at the store where I worked who had been a radioman in the Wehrmacht during World War II, and transplanted to the area after the war to farm. [As an aside, I also knew a Polish cavalry officer who moved into town, too--of his 70 man company that mustered into service on September 1, 1939, exactly 7 would survive the war. Never say small towns lack "diversity" in my presence.]

Indeed, the immigrant stream consisted largely of farmers (Germans looking for more land--quelle suprise!) and they settled in quickly and became the backbone of the region. Slightly clannish, they established social clubs for Germans throughout the region and State. Bearing titles like "the Germania Club" or "Carpathia (!) Club," they were by, for, and of the Deutsch. They still exist today. More power to 'em. As long as you are German, you can join. It doesn't matter if you are an anesthesiologist or a zoologist, a Republican or an anarchist. If you are a Teuton, welcome aboard!

All of this is a prelude to the hubbub caused by the elevation of the new Pope, who has stated in the past that he thinks (though he's not pushing for it) that the Church will be a smaller but more coherent entity in the future. This has led to a lot of discussion, including, unfortunately and uncharitably, the first sentiment in the above title. That is an evil mindset, and runs wholly against the Great Commission.

However, in all of the discussion, the other extreme has been touched upon only peripherally--the impossibly Big Tent, which stretches and deforms the term "Catholic" until it is literally without meaning. A lot of the problem facing the Church in the West today is that Catholicism is treated like an ethnicity, and the Church like a glorified Germania Club, with a theological debating society appended to it (attendance and dues optional). What you do and what you believe is relatively unimportant next to the ethnic descriptor--"I'm Catholic." Just be nice and don't damage the Club grounds. And far too often, the Church's shepherds have indulged this mindset to the point of negligence, all in the name of "being pastoral." As a result, the lowest common denominator prevails.

Look, I want the Church to be as large as possible. Frankly, I want everyone to be Catholic. For all of the flaws of the clergy and laity, I believe that Catholicism is absolutely true and a wholly life-changing and life-giving faith. I want everyone to have what I have (periodic gouts of bile optional).

But in order to be that, it has to be coherent. There have to be bright lines. It has to mean something. It has to be true. If preaching truth offends, I don't want the dissenters chased away by howling orthodox mobs waving torches. I want them to embrace the truth--conversion--like I did. The flip side is that I don't want them on prominent soapboxes, beating the drums for all the errors that have left a huge and growing swath of mainline Protestantism (Motto: "The Almighty's Cautionary Tale") bled white and a half-step from clinical brain death. Fr. Feelgood and Sr. Medea need to be corrected, and, if necessary, have the car keys taken away before they kill someone. But that has to be done with the understanding that Christ died for them, too, and their best shot is to persuade them that they need to stay on the Barque of Peter. If they won't listen, so be it, but no rejoicing. Even though he behaves like a total turd (and is regarded as a brilliant theologian only within the windy halls of his own cranium), Matthew Fox's defection is, at its heart, a great tragedy. But the truth has to be preached even if it does have the effect of driving some out.

Because the risk is this: the failure to preach it will drive out even more, who will regard the ersatz "gospel" of the Fr. Feelgoods as the option they preach it to be, and will confuse the imitation with the real thing. And that is an even more horrific tragedy.

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