Sunday, September 07, 2003

Cafeteria Catholicism and the Canonization of Sin

I thought about entitling this bit "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" but thought that I'd better wait until now to state that, because what I'm about to say is really nothing more than that I am a sinner, and believe me I'm reminded of it every time I open my mouth. I know that uncharitbable things that I say often are sinful and I sincerely repent of having said them. But I think that even as I say that, I also realize that too often I just excuse my behavior or blame it on something else.

Such is the modern attitude toward sin. Although, I think it goes even further than excusing it or explaining it away. The real issue that we face now is that people have gone to the point of calling what is clearly sinful behavior--"good".

I've been thinking it about this for some time, how even the most conservative of Catholics has stopped admitting that they are sinners and their are some elements of Jesus' teaching that they find difficult to accept because of this basic "disorder" that exists in all of us no matter what our idealogy. We all come the light of Christ with our "blindspots" and we say right along with the most liberal of Catholics, "I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned!" And truly we all have. The attitude of conservative Catholics to the war, over and against the warnings of Pope John Paul II about the lack of justice in the arguments put forth by the U.S. government, the attitude of liberal Catholics on issues of homosexuality, abortion and the attitudes of some high ranking bishops about homosexuality in their ranks etc. all point to the sinfulness that is there for anyone with an oposing viewpoint to see, albeit the spec in their brother's eye, while avoiding the beam in our own eye.

Admitting our sinfulness is something that we do at every Mass. We do it in preparation for the sacred mysteries that quite frankly can become a little meaningless if we do not approach Christ with any real felt need for a messiah or savior. If we are not desparate for Christ to save us from our sins, because we don't think we have any, then we are likely to be just going through the motions. Such is the state of many Catholics, I think, including priests and laity.

I have often been moved by the story of Peter being told to cast out into the deep after a night where he and his companions had a pretty miserable fishing outing. He reluctantly does so, because quite frankly he is a fisherman and the carpenter on the surface wouldn't seem to know much about fishing. He catches so many fish that they have a difficult time pulling them in and he turns to Jesus and says "Lord, depart from me for I am a sinful man." Jesus turns to Peter and says, "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men."

It is a powerful story. It pits our plan against God's. Our plan often leads to a lot of frustration and what do we do with it? Admitting that we are sinners, real sinners, going to Hell if someone doesn't save us sinners---is the first step to experiencing salvation.

A former classmate of mine, he was a few years ahead of me at Saint Meinrad has recently been excommunicated. He was a good guy back in school. In a place that had more than its share of homosexuals, I never even suspected that he was one, but turns out that he is and rather actively promotes it. He was removed recently from his parish after being arrested in a park for public indecency. He's gone off and joined a church that calls itself the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, a church largely made up of former Catholic and Orthodox clergy that is neither Catholic or Orthodox. A visit to their website shows that they perform "holy unions" and "second marriages" are not a problem. In some ways they strike me as "cafeteria catholicism" on steroids. Here you can choose and even call what Jesus called sin--holy! Truly a novel approach to following whatever path you are on and calling it "good."

I am a sinner and the path I walk, if it is my own is often not good. Jesus didn't counsel anyone to "do what they want to" or to "believe whatever they wanted to" rather he spoke of repenting "of changing one's mind" and believing the Gospel, taking up one's cross and following Him. It is a difficult path for us sinners but ultimately the path of salvation...the other road is paved with good intentions but as we all know deep down leads to Hell.