Have you ever wondered what the Catholic Church will look like in the future? If you had asked that question to Catholics in 1953 would they have been able to describe the church of today? That was 60 years ago and it seems like forever. What about if we asked the question to Catholics in 1993 instead? Would the Catholics only 20 years ago be able to describe the church of today?
Alright, I am asking you today; what will the church look like 20 years from today? You can’t say? I don’t blame you. Who knows what courageous Catholics will step up in the next 20 years to shape the church? I am personally hoping for another voice like Fr. Andrew Greeley who speaks from the source of conviction and uses data to cut through the morass of opinions.
There are some Catholics who are willing to make a prediction, or at least speak their hopes or fears, of the future in 20 years. Most of the predictions I have read state their own vision of a utopian Catholic Church or warn against some apocalyptic vision. I have not found one of these predictions to suit my own desires for the future, but perhaps you might.
I will offer, for your evaluation, one such utopian vision in this post. It is one that is getting popular circulation in recent days, so you may have already read it. This is called “Looking Backwards” by Fr. C. John McCloskey. Take a moment to read it now before we discuss its contents.
Now that you have had a chance to read the words of Fr. McCloskey, let’s break down his vision.
I am reminded, however, of a story, apocryphal I’m sure, told about St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, in Northern Africa (and probably about other particularly wise men and women). Someone is supposed to have asked him what God was doing before God created the world. His answer was that God was creating hell for people who ask questions like that!
We have a strong tradition of prophetic voices in the history of the church. Chief among them is John the Baptist. People reportedly came from all Judea to be baptized by John the Baptist. His message was simple, repent and prepare for the coming of the Lord. Another voice is that of the prophet Amos. Amos is known as the prophet of justice. “But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The message of Amos was to remember the Ten Commandments and the covenant we have with God.
~John Shelby Spong
Much like John the Baptist and the prophet Amos, Fr. McCloskey has been preaching a message of renewal to older traditions, and he has been directly involved in the conversion of many people. Based solely on his writings Fr. McCloskey has been preaching that we have fallen away from our roots and need to remember where we came from in order to create the future we desire.
In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you that I don’t know Fr. McCloskey and I dislike his vision for the church. In all honesty the position of Fr. McCloskey could not be farther from my own.
I am not here to support his vision, but instead to help you decipher the messages of Fr. McCloskey, and the others like him, so you can make your own informed decisions.
Fr. McCloskey is focused on the problems that need to be overcome. We will review what he sees as the real problems. In the back of your mind remember the messages of John the Baptist and Amos.
Lots of the problems of the 50-year period after the close of the Council could have been avoided particularly in the West, had they been seen in the perspective of the history of the Church…
… the problem was really a question of proper ecclesiology and that problem has been solved.
… the problem was not at all with rites but rather with reverence, obedience to the rubrics, and the interior lives of those celebrating the sacraments.
There are always problems in the Church given its human nature combined with its Divine Personality.
If you run into some problems, as you will, stay close to Mary.
Fr. McCloskey makes a compelling argument and you might feel inclined to believe the Church has strayed from the straight and narrow. A great thing about the Church; we all don’t have to agree to get along. All of these problems relate to the obedience to rubrics and proper ecclesiology that existed before Vatican II. These problems could all have been avoided if we would have kept the history of the Church in proper perspective.
These problems are really not about repentance or breaking our covenant with God. Fr. McCloskey is not really providing a prophetic vision of the future. I believe, surfers, that the good Father is really talking about fundamentalism security. These Catholic fundamentalism aspects of 1930’s ecclesiology and obedience to dusty rubrics are really a security blanket that Fr. McCloskey feels he needs. To satisfy his needs he created a vision of the future that is nothing more than a cover for his insecurities.
…because religious discussions are not really about religion. They are about people’s personal security and anything that confirms their security becomes what they believe. People move out of fundamentalism when they are ready to move, not when someone like you tries to push them.
Fundamentalists have simply ignored these [modernist biblical and theological] discoveries and insights if they could and they have denied them if they could not ignore them.
– John Shelby Spong
Beware of future predictions that are not related to the universality of our experience of God and Church. I can’t predict the future, but I will offer one last message from John Shelby Spong that comes very close to what I feel the future holds for us. If this message makes you uneasy, that is good. If the message forces you to ask more questions, that is great.
A theistic God is, by definition, a supernatural external deity who is believed to come to our aid in time of need… Suppose we think of God, not as a being to whom we have to relate, but as a presence that can be experienced, but not defined, a presence understood as the source of life flowing through the universe, the source of love enhancing life in all its forms and the ground of being discovered when we have the courage to grasp and even to be what we most deeply are. God then becomes a verb, not a noun… I think Paul was right when he described God as that in which “I live and move and have my being.”
– John Shelby Spong