Evangelization VS the trinity of Devils

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Evangelization VS the trinity of Devils in the Church: Triumphalism, Clericalism and Juridicalism


How can we evangelize today?  Why do only about ten percent of the baptized Catholics go to Sunday Mass regularly?  Why are we so preoccupied with the problems in our parishes, such as the tension between the parish and ecclesial movements, instead of being more worried about the ninety percent of the people who do not frequent the parish?  There are many fish in the sea!  The document on new religious movements (1986) suggests that we look at what is lacking in our parishes so as not to loose more parishioners as well as to attract new people.  It is not easy to criticize oneself in order to discover the causes of the problems as well as the solutions.  But the Church actually succeeded in listening to her critics and then translated this into a self criticism precisely at the Second Vatican Council.  The Church arrived at a rather high level of maturity at the council.  But has this maturity arrived yet in our diocese and in our parishes after fifty years since the council?


What Is Lacking?

What is lacking in our parishes that stifles the attraction of new people or what is the cause of so many Catholics leaving the Church?  What can the ten percent of the people which frequents the parishes regularly along with those in the ecclesial movements do in order to attract the ninety percent of the people who do not frequent the parishes regularly?  Perhaps we can discover what is lacking in the parishes by looking at the Second Vatican Council.  One of the most striking interventions at the beginning of the council was that of Bishop de Smedt of Bruges, who attacked the general tone of the first draft of the council.  He boldly expressed criticism against triumphalism,[1] clericalism, and juridicalism within the Church.  After his intervention the council Fathers “threw out the schema on the Sources of Revelation, and they went home determined (or so one hoped) to destroy forever the image of a Church dominated by the Trinity of devils that Bishop de Smedt of Bruges openly named as clericalism, juridicalism, and triumphalism.  This was one of the Council’s classic speeches and will be remembered far longer than many words in most of the decrees."[2]


Are these three devil still present in our diocese and in our parishes?  I, for one, think so.  I think these three devils take on many different forms in our diocese and in our parishes.  How often does it happen that people who live in the parish boundaries and want to participate and serve in the parish are not really listened to or welcomed on the part of the pastor or the others in the parish and so these new ones stay away from the parish and end up talking bad about the parish while offering there energies somewhere else.  Often what is lacking is the human capacity on the part of the persons in charge in the parishes, and so the relationships with the ones in charge are more of an expression of distrust towards any new ones.  Often there is an arrogant attitude of the ones in charge of knowing everything and so there is no interest in the opinions of others, even though the others are allowed to speak or to give vent to their frustrations or ideas; the program is already decided.  Many people, especially those who are more sensitive and intelligent, feel this suffocating and humiliating attitude.  The program is more important than the persons.  How many priests and lay men and women in the parishes know how to speak about God and the Gospel and about theology and about the “kerigma” and about love and community, but in practice they do not realize that they do not live what they say and thus so many people stay away from the parishes.  How many priests and lay men and women do not know how or do not have the patience to attract the others toward God freely with their example and so end up trying to use their positions in the structures of the Church o in the ecclesial movements in order to oblige or force the others to do their wills.  These insecure ones in charge seek to maintain a showy display and a certain distance of authority over the others in their little kingdoms.  But did Jesus act this way?  The immature ones in charge desire to have around them only those who do exactly their wills without asking questions o explanations and without criticizing even in a constructive way; they let the others go or they send them away.  And so there are not people in the parish that can express the fundamental problems to the pastor or other ones in charge who are closed in their little self-made kingdom.  Perhaps we are too comfortable and complacent in our little kingdoms as if it were our own special club.  The parish or a religious congregation or an ecclesial movement exists in order to satisfy the ones in charge, or to evangelize and serve the people of God?  Perhaps it is quicker and easier to command, but do the fruits last when it is done in this way?  If parents freely attract their children towards God, above all by their example, the fruits last!  Often the ones in charge are afraid to loose or change their programs and so they do not communicate the necessary information to help the others enter into the decision process; they are not transparent, they do not put the cards on the table.  Jesus did not act like this with his closest collaborators, the apostles (Jn 15:15)!  Years ago many adults and youth put up with this type of behavior.  But today?  It seems that something does not work in many parishes, otherwise our churches would be much fuller.


God never forces anyone to do his will!  Never!  The Church insists that we must not ever force people (VCII, AGD, 13).  When the lay men and women discover that the pastor is habitually attached to his own ideas and uses the meeting, such as the parish council, for the sole purpose of convincing and motivating the others to put into practice his ideas already decided, the ones more capable and intelligent walk away because they are not treated as trustworthy or credible people.  One feels like he or she is working in the parish for the kingdom of the pastor instead of for the kingdom of God, together in “our parish”.  How many young people enter the seminary in order to be an important person, as they perceive their pastors to be, and then end up imitating the authoritarian pastors that take advantage of the parish for his own praise instead of for the glory of God?  “Those who feed the sheep of Christ must, above all, be on their guard against this vice of self-love lest they look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ, and put to the service of their own greed those for whom Christ shed his blood” (St. Augustine, Dec. 6 in the breviary).  How many lay men and women come to the parishes, or enter an ecclesial movement, in order to acquire some of this glory for themselves instead of for the motive of serving others in humility?  Or how many lay men and women come to the parishes or ecclesial movements for good motives but later seek a higher position in order to command or dominate the others?  How many priests and lay men and women and the heads of the ecclesial movements (or even superiors in religious congregations) have never learned to make themselves one with the others or to identify with others or put themselves in the shoes of the others, and so they end up compelling or forcing the others to do their will?  Jesus said to the apostles to not dominate the others as “the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them” (Mt. 20:25-28; Lc. 22:26).  He who commands does not love.  How many of those in charge decide everything by themselves without saying to the other: “What do you think?” “How does it seem to you this idea or proposition?”  One cannot have Jesus in the midst alone; it takes at least two (Mt. 18:20)!  Thus what is often lacking in diocese and in the parishes and in the ecclesial movements is above all love and humility in the true sense of the word, in the Christian sense of the word.


Unfortunately even when the pastor is mature and knows how to loose, there are always people in the parish, not mature, that accuse the pastor of not listening to them even though the pastor truly expressed what Jesus, present among those who love each other (Mt. 18:20), wanted in that occasion or situation; the ones of good will know this instinctively.  There will always be those who do not want to learn to detach themselves from their own ideas or from their “position of honor” (or of command) as in the world and also unfortunately in the Church.  Precisely for this motive, many pastors do not take this risk of letting the lay  men and women enter into the decisions, so that afterwards the lay men and women do not have to detach themselves from something that they do not want to loose.  But if we do not take this risk or if we do not make this walk of maturity and charity together there will be very few, if any, fruits that last, and there will be less and less people in the parishes.  I believe that it is better to do things together less perfectly with more patience than to do things alone perfectly and more hurriedly.


This tendency and human weakness to dominate others has always been present in the world and in the Church.  During the homily of Pope Benedict to 23 new cardinals (11-24-2007) he said: “True Christian greatness, in fact, does not consist in dominating, but in serving.  Jesus repeats this today to each of us that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).  Behold the ideal that must orient your service.  Dear Brothers, becoming part of the College of Cardinals, the Lord asks you and entrusts to you the service of love: love for God, love for his Church, love for the brothers with a maximum and unconditional, usque ad sanguinis effusionem, as is recited in the formula of the imposition of the head cover and as is displayed by the color red of the habits that you wear.


How Can We Evangelize Better?

I believe that there are many people of good will that live within the boundaries of the parish but do not participate in the parish activities.  What can we do to overcome the fundamental difficulties, indicated above, in order to evangelize better?  I believe that for many people in the parishes and in the ecclesial movements, who feel they are OK, there is needed a 180 degree conversion which is very difficult because they do not realize the need of conversion.  We must pray above all for humility and true charity.  We must diminish so that each of us might be able to realize that we do not have all the solutions in our own heads and that we must discover the will of Jesus together each time there is something important to decide in the parish.  If the pastor and the other ones in the parish are capable of detaching themselves from their own ideas and proposals to be able to listen better to the other people, there is a good chance to be able to discern and discover the will of Jesus for each situation and problem.  In this way everyone feels good to have contributed and discovered together the will of Jesus, not imposed from on high, and so one works with more enthusiasm and energy.  The pastor becomes the loud speaker of the will of Jesus among them (Mt. 18:20) instead of only his own ideas!  One senses the difference!  One is willing to do the will of Jesus in the midst instead of the will of the one in charge even though the one in charge (the pastor, etc.) must express the decision.  It is a beautiful experience!  Is this not the way to be humble and charitable?


It is difficult and time-consuming in this walk of maturity with the more involved ones in the parish; but in this way the fruits are lasting.  Slowly the lay men and women discover that they are really involved in the decisions of the parish, and so others come into the parish, those of good will that are not seeking a position of command or honor but rather of service in the true sense of the word as Jesus said to the apostles (Mt. 20,25-28).  The parish belongs to everyone, not just to the pastor or to a few influential families or to those who want to put themselves above the others with a critical and authoritarian spirit, always ready to judge.  Is this not the way to have the presence of Jesus among us (Mt. 18:20) in the parish so that it is truly Jesus in the midst that brings forth and gives rise to the growth of the parish instead of a pastor all alone or someone who wants to control the parish?  Was this not the secret of the early Christians who loved each other reciprocally (At 4,32; 2,42-47)?  Is this not the way to build on the rock rather than on sand (Mt. 7:26-27)?  If there is not this habit of loosing or of humility or of detaching oneself from ones own interests, especially on the part of the pastor and those in charge in the parish, there is no Jesus in the midst, but instead there is the pastor or the one in charge in the midst and nothing else.  Jesus in the midst is truly an efficacious presence of Jesus that does not come automatically, but rather this special presence is earned, loving reciprocally together as Jesus loved us even to the point of death.  This is what is meant by the words: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20)!


Referring to a type of small religious group with a superior: "For example one should not notice who is the superior.  Because all of you are brothers.  There is one in charge; but he must act in such a way that the command be in charity.  That is, first the one in charge should love the other totally.  And then with this love in place say: "It would be necessary to go there to do …, what do you think?"  The other feels loved.  One establishes the presence of Jesus in the midst.  The other does not feel any longer that the superior commands, but that it is the will of God.  It’s logical.  It is Jesus in the midst that asks him to do this.  And he does it.  But he doesn’t obey dully, as one says, with a long face and goes away etc.  He is content because he goes to do the will of God, not so much his own will or the will of another human being.  He does the will…  Charity animates all.  All is animated by charity…" (Chiara Lubich; Ecumenical Catholic – Orthodox Congress; 3/30/89).


It is true that the Church is not a democracy.  In the parish the pastor is the one to express the decision if he is mature, i.e., detached from his ideas listening well to the others involved in the parish, or if he is not mature, i.e., habitually attached to his own program without inviting or taking into consideration that which the more involved ones in the parish say.  Moreover it is important for the bishops and priests, in union with the Pope, to proclaim with courage and unambiguousness all the truths proclaimed by the Church which also includes those truths that regard moral behavior; one must also maintain a great reverence for the sacraments and for the religious cult of God.  “Christ asks you to confess before men and women his truth (Benedict XVI to the new cardinals, 11-24-2007).


But the vast majority of the decisions in the parishes are not a question of truth but rather practical decisions.  If we do not treat adults as adults, with our truly mature example, the churches will become even more empty and we will suffocate the life of the parish that still exists.  The parish must not be a type of military camp but rather a family with Jesus in the midst who generates true fruits.  The Church has always maintained the principle of subsidiarity, i.e., the larger group (or one in charge) must not do what the small group can do.  The saints Ciril (monk) and Methodius (bishop) gave us a great example, many centuries ago, of this model of adapting and making oneself one with the others, inculturation.  One of the most important jobs of a good pastor in the parish is to encourage and protect the lambs (i.e., the humble ones that want to serve) from the wolves (i.e., those who want to dominate and to use the parish for their glory).  With the good example of the bishop, the priests and seminarians will have a model above to follow and to imitate, as it should be in the parishes.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29), came to serve  (Mt 20:28).  It takes a certain Christian maturity on the part of all involved which requires time and patience.  But I believe that this walk of maturity is the fundamental key for the “new evangelization”.  It is precisely in this walk of maturity that we become saints together in the parishes and which produces true and lasting fruits!  We must walk this path of maturity with lots of patience, humility and love.  As the bishop of Trent once said: the world has already heard many things about Christ; to re-evangelize the world this time, we will have to first “be” Christians and then speak about Christ.


Joseph Dwight



To read also the article “The Hope of the World”; go to: (http://trueevangelization.blogspot.com).


[1] "The manifold Catholic attack against triumphalism goes hand in glove with a desire to sustain the spirituality of the Church.  This is one of the essential elements of the new ecclesiological way of thinking apparent at the council.  It wanted no new dogma, no new definition of the Church that would clarify everything.  Rather, with the hierarchy in mind in a most existential sense, it was a summons to complete and utter humility.  The Church was being told to remember that it followed the Lord who came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45), G. C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1965), p. 184.

[2] Bernard C. Pawley, ed., The Second Vatican Council (Studies by eight Anglican Observers) (Oxford University Press, London, 1967), p. 114. See also Floyd Anderson, ed., Council Daybook – Vatican II (Session 1, Oct. 11 to Dec. 8, 1962, Session 2, Sept. 29 to Dec 4, 1963) (National Catholic Welfare Conference (Pub.), Washington, D.C., 1965), p. 275.


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