I am really about to have a Mark-Shea-a-thon for the next few posts, because the guy has been posting pure gold of late. The first article I thought he rocked it on was his continuation of a weekly reflection on the seven sacraments on NCR, this one critiquing the Catholic tendency to make fun of the personal Jesus while failing to realize the implications of community in Communion:
Catholics are fond of making fun of Evangelical Protestant individualism, with its “Me n’ Jesus” tendency to conceive of the Church as a mere aggregation of like-minded individuals who all happen to be praying in the same room on Sundays. And, to be sure, there is something to this. Evangelicalism does not conceive of the Church as part of the mysterious revelation of Christ to the world, but as a group of people who have “made a decision for Christ” and who are now living out what Evangelicals regard a life of discipleship. What brings us together as Christians, in this view, is not Jesus Christ, fully present in the Eucharist which is the Body of Christ, but our personal decision to follow Christ. The notion that the Church itself might have some say in how that discipleship happens is looked at with great suspicion. The great thing is to construct one’s life of discipleship on one’s personal interpretation of Scripture and (unconsciously) on conformity to the sundry currents of Evangelical cultural enthusiasms. Communion, if it is celebrated at all, is strictly an audio-visual aid for remembering something that happened long ago. It is not the source and summit of our faith and the Sacrament by which the Eucharistic Body of Christ strengthens and sustains the ecclesial Body of Christ. This approach tends to downplay the mystical connectedness of the members of the Body with one another, and to take a “You aren’t the boss of me” approach to expressions of ecclesial authority—unless that authority happens to be a personally charismatic pastor (in which case he is sometimes afforded a presumption of infallibility and impeccability the Pope could only dream of).
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Catholics can be apt to pride themselves on their “deeper” sense of Communion in contrast to this, especially when engaged in apologetics wars on the Internet and such. But I think the counsel of Christ really needs to be heeded in the matter of motes and logs here. Yes, the Church has a rich theology of Communion. Yes, it’s true that Communion is a more than warm and fuzzy socializing. But does it follow that it should be less than that? I mean, honestly, where’s the beef in practice? What’s the use of boasting about a deep Catholic theology of Communion when (as many can attest) you can join a Catholic parish and spend years there while never forming a single relationship beyond passing acquaintance? The profound loneliness that many Catholics feel in their parishes is quite real. And the polemical excuses made for it (“We aren’t happy clappy Protestants whose focus is on shallow fellowship and church socials”) is just desperate excuse-making for our failure to live out our own theology. The marvel of the early pagans was “See how the Christians love one another!” The shame of our modern, socially inept Catholic suburban parish is that one of the principal reasons people leave the Church for Evangelicalism is that they felt welcomed and loved there, and quite desperately alone, friendless and neglected in the precincts of the Eucharist. Indeed, when they leave, they often hear “Good riddance to the shallow, emotional Protestant” from the polemicist eager to make excuses for our own failure to make them feel like they have a place and purpose in the family of God.
I have heard this from a few friends who are put off by the lack of community in the Catholic parishes around, to the point that these friends don’t want to go back to Catholic Mass. They complain it seems exclusive or cold in a way, which I can see in many parishes whose priests and followers have become static rather than personable and evangelical. We need to do better on terms of our service and our community as to not be so off-putting, and I am glad to see this great Catholic thinker is seeing it as well…
Read it, even though I have posted a significant amount here…