Rejection or Renewal: Which Will It Be?

A lot of Catholic bloggers and pundits have spilled a good deal of digital ink on the latest controversy to come out of the Archdiocese of New York:  The St. Patrick’s Day parade will, for the first time, have marchers in it who boldly and visibly support an active homosexual lifestyle.  And this is to be done while Cardinal Dolan is the grand marshal.

Msgr. Charles Pope even put out a post calling for an end the parade itself, citing that it is no longer in any way, shape, or form, Catholic.  He writes:  

“Frankly, lets [sic] be honest, St. Patrick’s Day nationally has become a disgrace of drunkenness and foolishness in the middle of Lent that more often embarrasses the memory of Patrick than honors him… It’s time to cancel the St. Patrick’s Parade, and the Al Smith Dinner and all other sorts of ‘catholic’ traditions that have been stolen by the world. Better for Catholics to enter their churches on their knees on St. Patrick’s day and pray in reparation for the foolishness to end for this confused world to return to its senses. Lets [sic] do adoration and pray unceasingly the rosary and divine mercy chaplet for this poor old world.”

I find it hard to argue with his assertion that a lot of the reverence has left this feast day.  Once when I was in high school, some friends and I went downtown to a St. Patrick’s Day parade.  My only memory of the day was the bitter cold and endless line of drunks wearing green.  

Msgr. Pope also called for the end to the Al Smith Dinner, which is a fundraiser for Catholic Charities where the presidential candidates for both parties, as well as the Cardinal, are in attendance.  He points out that in an age when candidates stand for intrinsic evils like abortion on demand, any appearance of collegiality with them sends out a mixed message.

Now this post is not about what side of the above issues I support.  But I do want to use this to illustrate a constant dilemma faced by the Church: rejection or renewal.

Any institution or tradition is going to have corruption in it over time.  The further you get away from the original wellsprings, the primary intention can begin to become obscured.  For those of us who were old enough, remember what the first anniversary of 9/11 felt like to us: recall the stirring of emotions and passions as we survived that first horrible year.  But just a few weeks ago, we experienced another 11th of September and how many of us went through it mostly like it was just an average, ordinary day.  Time has dulled the sharpness of our memories.

This is a constant struggle in history.  How often do the enemies of the Church like to bring up the medieval excesses of the Papacy?  The princes of the Church thought they were also princes of this world and wrapped themselves in worldly, not heavenly glory.  This brought down the ire of many people, both saints and schismatics.  

It is important to illustrate here the different approaches to corruption between the mainline Protestant and mainline Catholic view.

The Protestant tradition sees corruption as an ever recurring reality into any institution.  Martin Luther believed that the Catholic Church had gotten too far away from the original message of Jesus Christ.  This corruption warped the Church beyond repair and so he left it in his dust and started over.  Of course over time, there were many who thought this new church was corrupt and so broke off from it and started over.  And so on.  And so on.

The Catholic tradition is different.  St. Francis looked at the worldliness of the Church and lamented it.  But instead of leaving, he obeyed the message he received “Francis, rebuild my Church.”  He chose not to leave the Church in his dust and start over.  He chose to roll up his sleeves and save the Church from its worldliness.

It comes down to that simple choice: rejection or renewal.

Allow me to illustrate with a concrete example.  If you ask most high school teachers, even at Catholic high schools, about their school dances, many will roll their eyes in disgust.  Gone are the days of sock hops and swing dancing.  Now is the time of perverse public grinding.  It has gotten so bad that many schools have considered or even decided to end all dances.

At my school, instead of doing this, the administration decided that they had to roll up their sleeves and get involved.  They came into all the classes and laid out what was acceptable and what wasn’t at a dance.  They said that inappropriate dancing would not be tolerated and those involved would face real consequences.  They said it and followed up.  Now our school dances are much more joyous affairs without the cringe-worthy activity.

When we look at the broken and malfunctioning institutions in our society and our Church, do we put for the effort to renew them?  A friend of mine once had a strong conversion experience, but he was grieved about the lack of Spirit in his parish and almost left.  But he instead decided to roll up his sleeves and get more involved.  I remember standing next to him during a parish mission he organized with long, long lines for the sacrament of Confession and he said, “This was an answer to a prayer.”

I know not every tradition and institution can be saved.  Maybe the parade and the dinner are unsalvageable.  But have we tried to save them?  Have we tried to reclaim the Catholic identity of our traditions?

When we complain about the abuses and corruptions and stifling Spirit in our Church, do we throw up our hands or do we roll up our sleeves?  

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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