On being “in touch” with the world

“Yet you say, ‘The ways of the Church are “out of touch”.’ Hear now, O Fr Hodgens: “Are the ways of the Church ‘out of touch’? Is it not your ways that are ‘out of touch’?” Ezekiel 18:25 (modified)

Once again, Fr Eric Hodgens has given us a blue print of the contemporary “what’s wrong with the Church” gripe. It ticks all the usual boxes:

  • Pope John XXIII – a prophet who said “the times were changing”
  • Second Vatican Council – “redefined the Catholic self-image”, changed the liturgy from Latin to vernacular to be “more inclusive”, replaced the hierarchical church with “the People of God”
  • Opposed by “rear guard” in “power positions in the Vatican bureaucracy”.
    Pope Paul VI – a pawn of the power holders who made a mistake with Humanae Vitae in 1968
  • John Paul II – appointed bishops “less sympathetic with the Council vision”, “immovable in his vision of a fortress Church”, “defensive”, with a “strong, but uniform and unreconstructed view of the Church”, “authoritarian and autocratic”, who “silenced theologians he disagreed with without transparent due process”.
  • The view that there are “two Catholic Churches in the Western World today”, “the hierarchy” (bad church) who are “irrelevant to today’s world” and who “have their lay supporters; although active and noisy, they are very few in number”, and “the rank and file laity, together with their local priests” (good church), who want an end to celibacy, women’s ordination etc. etc.

Etc., etc., etc.

There is nothing new in this story. Fr Hodgens seems to think that if he just keeps repeating it, people will listen. And it is true. They do listen to this version of the story and they have taken it as truth without any examination.

It all boils down to the complaint that the Church is “irrelevant to today’s world”. The Church (defined as the “Vatican hierarchy” and a few noisy but irrelevant laity who support them) is “out of touch” with “today’s world”.

The devil “Screwtape” in C.S. Lewis’s famous “Letters” points out to the junior devil “Wormwood” that he should never let his patient think about anything too deeply, that he should just believe what he reads in the papers, what people are saying most loudly and continue to hold in his head as many contradictory and unexamined ideas as possible.

Let’s just think about this one idea: that the Church is “out of touch” with “today’s world”. Since when was it ever the duty and purpose of the Church to be “in touch” with the Zeitgeist of the world? Has it not rather ever been that the Church should be “in touch with”:

  • Jesus Christ (as he truly is, and not as he has been re-imagined)
  • The Holy Spirit (who points us to Christ)
  • The Gospel (that Jesus Christ is Lord, that he has redeemed us from sin and death, and that he is coming to inaugurate the Kingdom of God)
  • The Scriptures (a deep knowledge of which is fundamental all the above and the below)
  • The Truth (as committed to the Church by Christ through his apostles and transmitted faithfully by the teaching authority of the Church)
  • The Apostles (who received the revelation of Christ and passed it on to the Church)
  • The Fathers of the Church (who developed our understanding of the apostolic faith)
  • The Saints of all time and all places (who lived the Gospel in the world and remain in a holy communion with the Church today)
  • The Eucharist (which is Christ present among us till the end of the age)
  • The poor (who are not, as it happens, to be found mainly in “the West”, on which Fr Hodgens focuses)
  • The sick (to bring hem God’s healing)
  • Sinners (in order to call them to repentance and to reconciliation with God)

2012 will be for us here in Australia a “Year of Grace”. In October, starting with the Synod on the New Evangelisation, we will begin a “Year of Faith”. All this is to call the Church (of which there is only ONE, and which is the communion of ALL the faithful with ALL the Bishops AND the Successor of Peter) to be “in touch” with our true identity and purpose, so that the Gospel may proclaimed to all the world.

“Today’s world” does not call the shots for the Church. It never has and it never will. The Church will indeed be “irrelevant” – to “today’s world”, to the East and the West and the North and the South, and to the world of tomorrow – if it ever loses touch with its Divine Calling to be the Body of Christ – of ALL time – in ALL the world.

“Yet you say, ‘The ways of the Church are “out of touch”.’ Hear now, O Fr Hodgens: “Are the ways of the Church ‘out of touch’? Is it not your ways that are ‘out of touch’?” Ezekiel 18:25 (modified)

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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8 Responses to On being “in touch” with the world

  1. Alexander says:

    The view that there are “two Catholic Churches in the Western World today”, “the hierarchy” (bad church) who are “irrelevant to today’s world” and who “have their lay supporters; although active and noisy, they are very few in number”, and “the rank and file laity, together with their local priests” (good church), who want an end to celibacy, women’s ordination etc. etc.

    Well, there is also an episode in Numbers 16 in which the congregation rises up against the hierarchy appointed by God . . .

    “And when they had stood up against Moses and Aaron, they said: “Let it be enough for you, that all the multitude consisteth of holy ones, and the Lord is among them: why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord . . . you take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi” . . . And they went down alive into hell, the ground closing upon them, and they perished from among the people.”

    On second thoughts, maybe it isn’t such a great idea, after all.

  2. matthias says:

    The Church grew because it did not need or want to conform to secularism but to the leading of the Holy Spirit. As a result it suffered persecution -and grew.
    fr Hodgens wants the church to be relevant to today’s secular society. if there is such a crisis ,why do i see large numbers of young people at both forms of the Mass, as well as young families. Why is the Uniting Church predicted to cease by the year 2030 or is it 2050? This is the church that is so culturally relevant it is in some congregations the Labor party at prayer

  3. Dan says:

    That should Schütz him up! lol

  4. Adam says:

    Reading Hodgens is something of a mental challenge throwing up thoughts of anger, resolve, agreement, bewilderment, threat, stupidity, heresy and a load of other emotions and reactions. Immeidiately I see his name I think he will be attacking every recent pope except of course the ‘rolly-poly’ beloved and saintly John XXIII who did not live to see the outcome of vatican II. Had he done so and lived another decade pershaps our views of him may be different. But John XXIII was still a pope of another era and no John Paul II whom Hodgens attacks with such a vehemence and anger that all objectivity is thrown out the window. And this was the pope who was almost assassinated in St Peter’s, who was a young priest saving jews in WWII in Poland (beat that Hodgens in your cosy melbourne flat), who took the Gospel to the whole planet personally, who lived in his last decade in agony, suffering and extraordinary witness to the Cross (and see him I did at close range and also every Sunday at his window suffering). See John Paul with the youth of the world who were inspired by this this man of faith hope and extraordinary love. This was the man who spent hours in prayer every day of his priestly life (try that out Father).
    What Hodgens fails to focus upon in his attack on the ‘hierarchical Chuch’ are the people who count, the ordinary unseen and unheard faithful often at the back of the Church praying the rosary or the old man I once saw kneeling on hard marble and beding down before the cross. He fails to mention the power of witness of people like Jean Vanier, M Teresa and the thousands of great faith-filled Catholics who never complain, never moan, never attack the bishops or popes, but who just get on with it and love in pain and hard work. I’ve seen this in India in many countries in Africa, places Hodgens has probably never been to as he is sitting comfortably in semi-retirement in melbourne.
    Perhaps if he had been a bishop (and no he has nver been) he might understand the awesomeness of the role and what it requires. No bishop can be unmoved by the call to the episcopacy. I know of some so terrified of their role. Would anyone want to archbishop of New York, Paris, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, or even Sydney in these times of vehement secularism and the scourge of rampant hollow atheism as it charges ahead with total nihilism? Any man in their right mind might refuse the request to be a bishop, so it is far easier for Hodgens to attack them from his cosy lounge. Try being a bishop in Zimbabwe and living under a brutal dictator who was himself a catholic; or being a bishop in Burma under a brutal regime or Vietnam or Cuba. Should I go on? But Hodgens never mentions these places where Catolics suffer and yet men still offer to be priests and women to be nuns. Oh, and he forgets the monasteries in Europe and elsewhere where men still offer to give up everything and spend their time in work and prayer away from the comforts of modern life.
    Enough of what goes on in the Church outside Melbourne. But it is where people live their lives of simple faith.
    Yes we would all like more priests and good priests especially. The pope could remove celibacy at the stroke of a papal pen, but to date has not. This may change one day and a new pope may do it. But remember that now the Anglican Church finds itself in turmoil, division and recriminations over women bishops, gay priests and gay bishops. Does he really want that turmoil, anger and division in the Church now?
    Read the British press, read the Irish press and make a judgment.
    Yes, let us debate and discuss matters that are of real concern. let’s attend conferences and seminars. BUT, what is really required is men and women of faith, of prayer and love who witness to the Beatitudes. No mention there of anger, hierarchical issues. Just what is required to be blessed. And John Paul II had what it takes as do millions of other unknown Catholics across the planet.
    pax semper.

  5. matthias says:

    Eric Hodgens writings are like a person straddling a barb wire fence-for there can be no middle comfortable ground on this or any other issue of Faith.
    There are millions of Christians ,and Adam’s excellent answer ,shows that it is those who are at the coalface of interaction with a world in need of Christ ,is where it really counts.
    (Sorry i shall not hear you sing Schutz at 1030 Mass ,I willsing as well as i can at the 9.00am one)

  6. Hannah says:

    Thanks Adam a really good reply.
    The Church is always meant to be “in the world” but not of the world.
    It is planted in the world to continue to ministry of Jesus in a visible way and not to be “relevant” to the transient fads which human beings are capable of devising. The One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has withstood all attacks since its inception and no doubt it will withstand many more.
    The thing that angers me most is when Paul VI is defamed and demeaned because of Humane Vitae. This is the most prophetic document of the modern era. Other Papal documents are excellent but Humane Vitae/Donum Vita/Evangelium Vita these documents need to be understood better. This is what has been lost the vision to see behind the words that these documents utter.
    Society has lost its way and truth because these documents especially Humane Vitae was rejected.

  7. Schütz says:

    thank you all for your comments on this. I agree with all of you (except perhaps Dan – I don’t think anything or anyone will have the effect you suggest, certainly not my rantings).

    But the choice is clearly before us. This is not the first or last time that the Church has had to face down deep dissent within the community, but it is certainly a crisis time for faithful Catholics.

    The news in recently that some within the Belgian Church are joining the dissendents of Austria in their “protestations” make it clear that “in the West” (as Fr Hodgens is at pains to point out) the spirit of rebellion is very strong indeed. What is the source of this? It is pretty clearly a twofold problem:

    1) A lack of authentic catechisation in the Catholic faith, coupled with
    2) the filling of the vacuum by teaching from “theologians” peddling their own ideas rather than the authentic faith of the Church.

    There is no doubt that at the present time the lay faithful of the Church in the West are better educated and more conversant in theological matters than ever before. For a good part of the latter 20th Century (certainly since 1968), however, this education has been dominated by theological mavericks who have exercised their own “magisterium”. 1968 and all that was quite clearly the point at which a large percentage of Catholics chose to listen to these mavericks (and accord them greater authority) rather than to the authentic teaching of the authentic magisterium (the pope and the bishops).

    Catholics today are faced with a choice: to whom will we listen? To whom will we go for the “Words of Eternal Life” (to quote St Peter)? Naturally, the answer now is the same as the answer then: to Jesus. But who authentically speaks with his voice and authority? Pope Benedict (and his predecessors) or Pope Eric (and the infinite number of other mini-popes just like him, who claim no less of an authority than that which is authentically claimed by the Successor of Peter)? Will we – those of us who are determined to listen to the voice of the Magisterium – stand firm in the conviction that we are indeed – by listening to the voice of his Vicar – listening to the Voice of Jesus? Or will we roll over and play dead and accept the designation with which Pope Eric has designated us: an “active and noisy” (though “very few in number”) rabble who have no authentic claim to “being Church” (unlike Pope Eric’s followers)?

    Am I being too harsh? If so, please forgive me. But be assured, now is the time to answer with St Peter the question “Lord, to whom shall we go?”.

  8. Christine says:

    No David, you are not being too harsh. One of the columnists in our local paper ran a piece today lamenting the “new” Mass translation. I am so very tempted to write to the editor of the paper that now perhaps this columnist knows how it felt to Catholics brought up on the Tridentine Mass who were forced to convert to the vernacular without so much as a fare thee well. I am speaking tongue in cheek, of course, but it amazes me that here in the U.S. American culture in general has such a poverty of exposure to other languages and knowledge of history that it is easy for the dissidents to sound credible when they say that Jesus founded a totally egalitarian church and it was bad old Constantine that brought a halt to women’s leadership in the early church, etc. etc.

    The columnist also wrote that “lofty” language is not the way people speak and not necessary in addressing God. Somehow I don’t think that’s how a trembling Moses felt in front of that burning bush.

    Those of us who consider ourselves Catholics in union with the Holy See must indeed stand firm.

    I read recently that the Episcopal church in the U.S. reports that 68% of this once proud body is now made up of congregations with less than 100 members. Numbers, of course, don’t tell the whole story and the ECUSA is not known for a particularly high birth rate among its members, but here we have a church that has everything the dissidents want. It is also telling at how little the mainstream media knows of Eastern Orthodoxy’s position on the ordination of women, etc., as well as confessional Lutherans and Evangelicals. It is always the Catholic Church that is singled out on these issues.

    I will stand with Peter and his successors.

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