The Church has gotten it backwards. The Church has put the cart before the horse. The Church came to a fork in the road and made the wrong turn. It turned left when it ought to have turned right.
As a result, the Church is rapidly plummeting down the tubes into irrelevancy. Fewer and fewer of the children of Adam and Eve are going to Mass. No one is going to Confession. The only sacrament holding its own is the sacrament of extreme unction and this is so only because the dead do not have much of a choice. The Church is hemorrhaging the children of Adam and Eve from the Catholic holy places that define the escape route from godlessness to God.
There are many scandals in the Church but none worse - none worse - than the failure of the hierarchy of the Church to lead the new exodus of the children of Adam and Eve on the escape route through the hostile desert of godlessness from slavery under the yoke of Pharaoh to freedom with God and their holy family in the promised land. If the abysmal decline in the numbers seeking God at the Catholic holy places does not suggest the complete sacking of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, it, at least, ought to suggest a change in strategy.
How do we turn the ship of the Church around and head it in the right direction? How does the Church retrace its steps back to the fork in the road and, this time, take the right road?
Some self-styled orthodox Catholics who exude sanctimony would rather have the Church plummet down the tubes into irrelevancy than change. A smaller, purer Church they argue may be better. The argument makes a virtue out of a necessity - an abysmal failure into a faux success. They fear that any change would necessarily require a change in doctrine. However, this is not the case. All that is required to turn the ship of the Church around is a change in emphasis not a change in doctrine.
The foundation of the Church is the thirty-three year Visit of the Son of God to us at and about the city of Jerusalem in a region of the world called the Middle East more than two thousand years ago. [What an infinitesimally thin slice of time compared to the thickness of eternity!]
From the thirty-three year Visit, two extrapolations can be made.
From the thirty-three year Visit, we can extrapolate to a code of conduct to govern the children of Adm and Eve as we make our escape from godlessness to God.
From the thirty-three year Visit, we can extrapolate to details about the nature of God. [For example, see the post entitled, The Owner of the House is Back]
These are two very different though equally legitimate extrapolations.
The questions for the Church to answer is, "Which to emphasize?" and "Why?"
The emphasis of the contemporary Church is on its official code of conduct and our obedience to it. The contemporary Church seeks our immediate, total and abject surrender to every jot and tittle of the official Catholic rule book. Nothing less suffices. [But see, the post entitled, 'Safari']. The Church is so preoccupied with pushing its official code of conduct down the throats of the children of Adam and Eve that it has neglected to proclaim its knowledge of the nature of God. For more than two thousand years the Church has conducted expeditions exploring the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. During its exploration, the Church has accumulated a vast treasure chest of knowledge of God. Yet, the Church has stopped sharing it with us. The Church assumes we know the nature of God. We do not. God is a stranger to us. The children of Adam and Eve no longer know their God.
The contemporary Church no longer understands the steps in the process of making a Catholic. Obedience to a code of conduct is a step in the process that only comes after we understand the nature of God. At the starting line is knowledge of God. Obedience is found closer to the finish line. The self-styled orthodox Catholics want to skip all of the steps before obedience and go straight to the obedience step itself. However, it does not work this way. There are no shortcuts in the process of making a Catholic. The steps in the process leading to obedience to God must be followed in order to achieve it.
Unlike coffee, there is no such thing as an instant Catholic. It takes time to make a Catholic. We do not become Catholic overnight. A human being develops from a baby in the womb through other stages of life including infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. A similar framework of development takes place in the thinking of Catholics. A Catholic whose thinking is not quite up to speed with the thinking of the self-styled orthodox Catholics is still a Catholic for the same reason that a baby in the womb is still a human being.
Where do we start?
Isaiah told us where to start. Isaiah said that “the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea “ (Isaiah 11:9). Because the nations knew God, they streamed to God for instruction (Isaiah 2:2-3). Therefore, to start, the Church must proclaim its knowledge of God. [See the post entitled, The Owner of the House is Back] Knowledge of God is honey for the bees. Its sweetness pulls the children of Adam and Eve through the door of paradise. The Church must introduce us to God and God to us.
Proclaim the knowledge of God. Who is God? Answer the question. Tell us about the nature of God [See the post entitled, The Owner of the House is Back]. From a taste of God arises the desire to learn more about God - even the desire to meet them. The tug of the Holy Spirit at our souls begins to be felt and the curious start to follow the tug back to its source. We begin to explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. Where do we explore? Like foolish children, Adam and Eve ran away from their home in paradise with God and took us with them into godlessness. Godlessness is not a nice place. To rescue us from godlessness, God established an escape route, defined it with holy places, made a map of them and entrusted the map to the Church. We go to the holy places to explore the mystery, majesty and magnificence of God. At a holy place, we include God in our lives and God includes us in theirs. At a holy place, a connection is made between earth and heaven. Through the connection, the light of paradise illuminates the darkness of godlessness. No one walks away from a close encounter with God unchanged. No one walks away from a close encounter with God empty handed. From close encounters with the living God, we become intimate with them. Intimacy begets holiness. Holiness begets obedience.
There is a process that must be followed to achieve obedience. The Church cannot snap its fingers and expect obedience. It just does not work like that. In fact, when the Church skips the needed preliminary steps and demands immediate, total and abject obedience, the children of Adam and Eve rebel against the overreaching of the Church.
Moreover, we have yet to talk about the most important ingredient in the process of achieving obedience: love.
Obedience arises when the teacher loves the student and the student loves the teacher. Love opens the ear of the student to the instruction of the teacher. Without love, the ear of the student is closed. Obedience comes into existence only when the teacher holds the welfare of the student at the center of his heart and ahead of the teacher's own welfare and the student realizes this. Obedience cannot be coerced. It is only won by love. In these circumstances, obedience does not make us a slave - obedience liberates us.
However, obedience without love is a trap for the foolish.
Therefore, the Church needs to open up its treasure chest of the knowledge of God and share it with us. The Church must contain itself and content itself with the role of herald for God. The Church must suppress its tendency to claim that it is God. The Church is not God. The Church only leads the new exodus from godlessness to God. This role is big enough - plenty big enough.
More revelation and less regulation.
More humility and less arrogance.
Moreover, the methodology of the Church is missing one key element found in the methodology of the Son of God. Love. We tortured and killed the Son of God; yet, the Son of God continues to love us nonetheless. The survival of the Son of God demonstrated His omnipotence. The survival of His love for us demonstrated so much more. The survival of His love for us demonstrated the very essence of divinity itself. God is indestructible love for us.
The Church cannot match the love of the Son of God for us. The Church ought not to even try. The Church must herald God's love for us. The Son of God has given us proof of His humility, kindness, omnipotence and love [See the post entitled, The Owner of the House is Back]. The Church has not provided us with similar proof. The indestructible love of the Son of God for us opens our ears to His instruction. Because the Church has not provided us with similar proof, our ears are not quite open to the Church's instruction. It is not about the Church. It is about the Son of God. The Church must stop masquerading as God. The Church is not God.
Yet, to succeed, the Church must love more. Do the priests of my parish love me? They have never declared their love for me let alone demonstrate it. The Son of God went about His business with His heart filled to the brim with love for us. The Church, not so much. The Church is not succeeding because it is going about its business without love. The Church can rub the noses of the children of Adam and Eve into its magesterium all it wants, but without love, rubbing our noses in it is doomed to fail and destined to backfire. Without love, the magesterium of the Church is nothing more than “a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). To rule us, the Church must first win our love [easier said than done] not to the Church but to the Son of God. Nothing less than winning our love will work. A catechesis of love must come before a catechesis of a code of conduct. No love; no obedience. It is that simple. Devotion before doctrine. Revelation before regulation. When love speaks, the children of Adam and Eve listen. Only when love speaks do the children of Adam and Eve listen.
A Church without love just does not work. It is an empty gong.