September 14, 2020
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Advice to a Disenchanted Catholic

Advice to a Disenchanted Catholic

A reader recently offered this (paraphrased) comment on an essay of mine: “Your essay and others like it leave me frustrated. They talk about the impact of Modernism, the failures of U.S. bishops and Pope Francis, sexual abuse by priests, financial corruption, and so on. They imply some sort of action is needed, but stop short of recommending what that action might be. We can cut off our financial support, but what else specifically is there to do?”

The reader’s point is well taken and I am certain his frustration is shared by many Catholics. He and the others deserve a clear and unambiguous answer. But where does one begin?

I’ll start with the question of cutting off financial support. Some people reason, “My quarrel is not with my pastor but with the bishop, so I’ll continue to give to my parish and just stop giving to the Bishop’s Fund.” What they don’t realize is that in many dioceses the bishops assess each parish a fixed amount of their income rather than a percentage, so any withholding of donations hurts the parishes more than it hurts the bishops.”

There is no easy way out of this dilemma but here is one approach to consider. Stop giving to the Bishop’s Fund, but keep giving to your parish, scaling down your donation to a degree you think appropriate. At the same time, remember that frustration with the Church in no way diminishes your obligation to the poor. Accordingly, increase your donations to charitable organizations such as St. Vincent DePaul Society, Catholic Charities, Missionaries of Charity (Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s organization), Doctor’s Without Borders, and/or Catholic Relief Services.

Every bit as important, let your pastor and your bishop know why you are changing your charitable donations. If you don’t, your bishop will very likely conclude that your pastor is at fault for not motivating parishioners sufficiently. Mea culpa does not come readily to the lips of the hierarchy, and even those who have retained some measure of humility will be tempted to look for the speck in their subordinate’s eyes rather than the log in their own. That temptation is just one of the corrupting effects of power, and the Magisterium is no less vulnerable to those effects than business executives or government officials.

So much for the question of financial support. Now let’s consider four positive ways to deal with your other disenchantments with the Church.

1) Refresh your core Catholic belief by reading the Apostle’s Prayer every morning and reflecting how you can apply its tenets at work and in your personal life that day.

2) Devote a few minutes each day to the readings of the Mass for that day. To find the readings, go to EWTN and click on the date. After completing the readings, consider how they apply to social, cultural, and political issues and events of our time. Keep a pen and notebook handy and jot down pertinent thoughts for later reflection. (Don’t try to refine what you write at this time. Use brief phrases sufficient to capture the ideas.)

3) Find a little time in your schedule, at least every other day, to look back at what you have written in your notebook. Choose one or more of those thoughts and expand on it—that is, express it in a full sentence and explain the reasoning that supports it. This process will deepen your understanding of your faith.

4) Every week or so, visit your local diocesan website and the Conference on Catholic Bishops website and read the statements of your bishop and other bishops on important issues of the day, some of which you will no doubt have already thought about in steps 2 and/or 3. Give those statements your thoughtful consideration and then decide to what extent they reflect the message of Sacred Scripture.

5) Write to your bishop and express your reactions to his expressed views and those of his colleagues, and be sure to send a copy of your message to your pastor. (If your message is of special importance, send a copy to the Papal Nuncio in Washington DC and ask him to forward it to Rome.) Whether your message is positive, negative, or a little of each, be fair. Keep your focus on evaluating ideas rather than judging individuals.

These approaches will diminish any feeling of separation from, or abandonment by, the Catholic Church. They will also deepen your faith and make it more actively lived and therefore more meaningful.

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved.

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero