Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dare to Discipline

Father Longenecker Provides A Way Out of the Dilemma

Father Dwight Longenecker wrote a piece the other day at his blog Standing on My Head about "The Real Problem Beneath the Pedophilia".  It was in part a follow up to his own article "The Myth of Pedophile Priests."

The first article about the myth appeared on the way to viral and received 37 comments to date, but the article about the Real Problem went postal and has garnered to date 84 comments.

As I watched this unfold, I realised that there are a lot of hurting Catholics out there, some of whom have been abused, though I don't think any of the commentators were actually abused by a member of the clergy.  But, everyone has an opinion, and since very few of them agree in their details, probably no one has the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God.

In fact,the baby and the bath water seem to be converging out on the sidewalk, and the Church that so many of us love, and the faith in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that so many of us hold dear is taking a battering in the court of mistaken public opinion, and in the court of mistaken Catholic opinion.  The feelings that so many beleaguered Catholics and other Christians have about what is being reported are real; the facts not quite as much so.  But, such is the case when we have serious feelings about anything.  We become blinded to the facts, and miss the forest for the trees, along with the baby and tub of water.

No person's pain should be diminished, and every person who has commented to Father D's blog has the right to vent their spleen.  It just has stopped being productive.  It is meaningful, just not productive.

So, the good Father, has written a follow up posting with the remedial action that is required of the Church to move forward, and he entitled it  "Dare to Discipline".   In this post, he lays out an explained list of the steps that we, as faithful Catholic Christians, or those desirous of being faithful to the call of Christ that is upon us, must take to overcome the damage done, and to make the Church the holy place it is called to be.

This is not new stuff.  In fact, what Father has written is being followed by many believers as the Holy Spirit has put it on their hearts to so do.  But Father in obedience to the Holy Spirit has written it down for us to examine.  He claims early on that the list is neither infallible, nor probably complete, but may be a good starting point.  Well, it is a wonderful starting point.

As I read it, I can see that there are points that God has put on my heart as well, and I have begun, as have others I know, to operate in it.  There are a few points that God has put on my heart, and I have been reluctant to deal with, and I take the criticism put forward as both personal and valid.  Here is what he wrote:
In the wake of the Catholic soul searching and hand wringing over the child sex abuse allegations and cover up, I've got some ideas on how the situation might be improved. It involves discipline, and lest this sounds too harsh for our delicate soft, selves, let's remember that 'discipline' and 'disciple' are from the same root.

Here are some problems and solutions. I don't propose this as infallible or as a complete (or even accurate) list. But see if it gets some discussion going.

1. We're soft and decadent. We give ourselves too much of a break. We're materialistic, self indulgent and too easy to let ourselves off the hook. What we need is some good old fashioned asceticism. Let's look to the desert fathers who, repelled by the decadence of established Roman Christianity, fled to the desert to practice mortification. "These only come out by prayer and fasting..."

2. We've lost the idea that we're involved in a spiritual battle and that the devil is like a roaring lion stalking about seeking whom he may devour. What we need is more prayer and a new alert and vigilant spirit that does not give the devil even one toe in the door. We need that vigilance first for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters. St Therese cries out, "Sanctity! It must be won at the point of a sword!" Call on the angels and saints.

3. We lack discipline and direction. People consider it essential to have a coach and strict self discipline for success in every other endeavor. Athletes, musicians, business men, academics all demand professional direction and discipline. We think we can get to heaven by sauntering along in some kind of spiritual feel good hippie trance. We need firm spiritual direction and self discipline.

4. We're good at acknowledging that we're good, but bad at admitting that we're not perfect. We've gone too far in the "I'm OK. You're OK" philosophy. God does love us just as we are, but he loves us far too much to leave us that way. He wants each one of us to be saints, and most of us are far from that goal just yet.

5. We're too cowardly in dealing firmly with one another. All of us, but especially fathers, husbands and pastors need to speak out against sin and speak to family members, colleagues and Christian brothers and sisters who offend or who are in danger of offending. When a person is caught in sin proper forgiveness should be balanced with proper restitution and reparation.

6. We think we can be half a saint. We want enough sanctity to make us feel good and no more. St Therese cries out, "You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!"

7. We think that morality doesn't matter. This is gnostic. It's a false separation of the spiritual from the physical. What we do in our bedrooms, what we do in our boardrooms, what we do with our check books and what we do with our prayer books all affect our spiritual life.

8. We've replaced worship with good works. We've made the church into a social services organization, a fund raising agency, a school, a charity, a glorified soup kitchen, a babysitting service, a luncheon club, a dating agency, a social networking group, a group therapy session, a singalong and just about anything  but the gathering together of the saints of God. Only when we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness will we begin to be transformed not by our good ideas and good works, but by contact with God's awesome grace, and only when we are truly transformed can we hope to transform the world. Thomas a Kempis says, "Why do you wish to change the world when you cannot change yourself?"

9. We are too easy on our clergy. We love our priests. We love our deacons. We love our bishops. We support them. We honor the sacrifices they make. However, we should also hold them accountable. The fact is, money and power corrupt and priests and bishops often have more money and power than they know how to deal with. Together we should uphold the sanctity of their office and the laity should work together to confront and challenge clergy in a respectful and firm way when they go astray. We should not be surprised at corruption, and I think a bit of healthy suspicion of those in power is not a bad thing.

10. We have neglected catechesis and spiritual formation. Instead of teaching the fullness of the Catholic faith, liberals have dished out sentimental, feel good religion on the one hand while the conservatives have dished out dogma and apologetics and liturgical 'correctness' without enough spiritual formation and direction in dynamic life of the Spirit. Christian love is always tough and tender at the same time. Liberals give us tender without tough. Conservatives give us tough without tender. We need both.
Thank you Father Dwight for your insights. The Spirit is alive and well, and we would be wise to follow this sage advice.

I have been bothered by the liberal/conservative choice that we seem to have to make.  But, Father is pointing us toward taking the best of all worlds that present themselves to us, and to be whole persons.

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