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Massive Cover-Up

If thousands of years from now (about 5,000 A.D.), researchers studied Catholic and Christian publications of today to find out what they really believed, they would be in for a surprise.

In this dream (or nightmare), our researchers did exactly that. Having read a little about Jesus of Nazareth, who ate with the poor and outcasts, who gave up his life out of Love, and about the power of his Resurrection, they wondered what his followers would be like.

These researchers tried to find significant differences between the lives of Catholics/ Christians in the late twentieth century from those of others, to find the marks of a believer. It was a challenge for them.

According to several newspapers they studied, Catholicism seemed to be defined as a religion in which Catholics on the left (liberal) argued with and attacked Catholics on the right (conservative) and vice versa. Other denominations were defined in this way as well. It seemed that there was a carryover from the politics of the time. Researchers noted a division in which members seemed to write off others who disagreed with them, even if only in one area, by saying, “Oh, isn’t she a conservative?” or “Oh, isn’t he a liberal?” The prayer of their gospel–“That they all may be one” seemed very far from the reality.

Christianity was seen as a religion which included many people whose faith was best expressed in disagreements with or complaints about church leaders. Some even said that many who thought they were on the cutting edge of church matters had gone over the edge. The researchers found that time, energy and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of newsprint were expended in evangelizing each of these points of view.

For example, they thought for awhile that Catholicism was a religion whose adherents argued about whether or not women should be ordained. This argument seemed to be the heart of the religion. Some Catholic publications advertised supplements on their comments on something called a “Responsum Dubium.” But because of the decline in Latin at this period in history, many thought this meant a “dumb response.”

In their studies they also discovered references to a presider, but couldn’t figure that one out. They found in some publications arguments against something called altar girls.

Other researchers who looked at the religious news thought that Catholicism was a religion in which the members argued about closing parishes or keeping them open or about removing the communion rail or about hiding or not hiding a thing called the Tabernacle.

Some researchers, in studying the religious press, found that Christianity was a religion of middle-class rights movements which said nothing about the rights of the poor and the immigrant.

They were surprised to read of conferences and gatherings held by followers of the Nazarene in luxury hotels.

Still other researchers discovered that Christians believed they had a right to amass as much money as possible.

In studying the customs related to liturgy, scholars noted that some had stated that if one changed the language and the rite, people would flock to worship on the “Day of the Lord” as they called it.

But many stopped going to worship when the language changes and other alterations in the rite were implemented.

It was discovered that some academics were convinced that if they kept working at changing things in the way people worship, one day they would get it right. The researchers noted a strange parallel between the concentration on minute details in this period and the emphasis in an earlier period on detailed rubrics.

There was confusion about the word ‘change.’ Some felt changing the Mass was the issue, whereas others stated that what was needed was for people to change, but the latter represented a minority.

The discovery of the battle of inclusive language was interesting to researchers. This religious controversy bordered on violence as people argued about how to talk about the God of love.

Another group said that celebrating the Mass in a language called Latin would make things better and bring people back to church like the old days when the priest (Fr. Murphy) celebrated Mass in 20 minutes instead of one hour (and all that singing) and people flocked to church with beads in hand. This group suggested that Latin could be the inclusive language.

They also found that there was a time when parishioners resisted accepting fellow believers at worship who spoke a different language.

Some others that they read about pined for the way things used to be years ago in their church. Researchers at first thought this meant to return to St. Francis of Assisi (13th century) or St. John Chrysostom (Fourth Century), who loved the poor so much, but as they continued to read they were not so sure.

Researchers found criticisms of some local church leaders at times who apparently became desperate when people did not flock to their churches. They made changes in churches to entice people to come so that the churches appeared to be recreation centers. Some removed the body of Christ from the crucifix so as not to frighten people of the cross.

It got to the point that some critics referred to the Jesus of these groups as “the great playground supervisor.”

Researchers thought that they had discovered a key element when studying the literature about the Holy Bible. Again, one side argued that the Bible was pretty much simple mythology and so conditioned by its times that it was almost worthless. At the other extreme some believed in an absolutely literal interpretation of every word. When the researchers found a copy of the Book and read some of it, especially a part called the Gospels, they were surprised and almost moved to believe. They wondered why those other followers were not as impressed by it.

The researchers discovered that some Christians love war, which seemed incompatible, since these Christians claimed they were followers of the non-war Person, Jesus.

Researchers discovered that in certain publications the word sin never appeared except to lightly mock those who believed sin existed. This appeared strange to the researchers as they read accounts of the time which told of holocausts, mass murders, wars, famines and children overwhelmed by violence.

They noted that there was a tremendous interest in the tragedy of non-married church leaders abusing children sexually. This was called pedophilia.

It was discovered that the problem was made worse by another tragedy–people using these incidents to promote their own agenda, while feigning concern for victims. Their agenda was to stop choosing only non-married men for leaders and choose married men, knowing full well that some of the worst abuses of children in the society at that time were by married men. Others used the scandal to embarrass the church and ridicule church teaching about sex. Still others used the occasion of the scandals to insist that only heterosexual people be ordained, something entirely new for church people (researchers found in the literature that unmarried priests of any persuasion were expected to be celibate).

Researchers could not figure out the many references to something called “patriarchy,” always presented in a negative light. As they searched for this meaning, they found that a patriarch was the rural father of a clan. They couldn’t understand the references in this religion to a patriarchy which had long since ceased to exist in what appeared to be a fatherless and motherless time, especially for children.

Reading magazines of the day researchers discovered that those who wanted to eliminate children in the mother’s womb were applauded even by some religious publications as most religious, enlightened, progressive, educated, compassionate persons: although with a strange kind of ethics which argued that if one made a choice, the choice was automatically ethical.

These publications depicted those who were opposed to eliminating children in the womb as bigoted, narrow, uncouth, violent and against women, even though the majority of people at the time opposed eliminating people in the womb.

It was found that certain publications promoted a scapegoat religion–i.e., if one was unsuccessful, one could place the guilt on the church or on church schools. For example, if one didn’t do well in business or lost a job, didn’t have a great personality or felt guilty, wasn’t a good parent or wasn’t a good lover, one could blame, for example, the Catholic Church. They discovered special classes where people were taught to hate the church so they could be more successful. Some of these Christians appeared to love to hate and declared that the church had interfered with their self-actualization and their sexual freedom.

Some Catholics, amazingly enough, seemed to define their religion by how and with whom they had sex.

Some appeared to suffer from a syndrome of another time close to the time being studied–the Vietnam War syndrome–believing that the way to save the church was to destroy it. Some referred to themselves as recovering Catholics and formed groups called Catholics Anonymous.

Researchers were puzzled by comments about families spending $22,000 a year to send their children to universities operated by their religious group so that their studies could be integrated with their faith, only
to find that the professors at these universities constantly denigrated the Holy Faith. And these universities had some of the largest future military populations in training– surprising for schools training youth to be committed to the Jesus of peace.

Some seemed to set up two magisteria: one of college professors of theology and one of church leaders, both claiming the right to define faith and both claiming infallibility.

Researchers were also puzzled by what appeared to be a religion of subjectivism, a religion where everything was relative except one’s feelings, a faith whose adherents argued that feelings are the basis of moral decisions, declaring feelings infallible.

Researchers were amazed to find a religious sect that absolved people of any responsibility and put the blame for any problems on parental upbringing. This was a victim religion in which the worst crimes were allowed. It thrived for a period.

Another denomination was the religion of tolerance, the church of correctness. It was short on tolerance and long on correctness. It appeared that what had begun as concern and respect for various groups had, for some, become curiously exclusive and lacking in tolerance for those who disagreed.

The researchers were surprised to find that the emphasis on compassion and feelings in this religion led to what a few called “killing compassion,” which preferred to end a life for which one felt pity (almost like a horse with a broken leg). This group could not bear to imagine the difficult life of an imperfect child or what they considered
the uselessness of a middle-aged or older person who was ill. They advocated, in the name of their religion, killing that person–killing compassion.

Also discovered was a word called ecumenism, which the researchers thought meant getting along with people in a pluralistic society. But there were divisions here, too. Some thought that ecumenism meant to downplay differences, since there is only one God (though Triune). Others felt that all would be fine if people would return to the one true Church (theirs); they called this return theology.

The most shocking trend that the researchers found in these studies was that the lives and opinions of many Christians could not be distinguished from non-Christians in what was a very secular society.

The Massive Cover-up

But then they discovered that they had been studying only a partial representation of the periodicals of the time.

Upon discovering several others which they had not previously seen, a whole new perspective emerged for them on what Catholicism and Christianity was all about in the late twentieth century.

The researchers found that most of the topics they had studied appeared to be part of a massive cover-up of what Jesus and the church really taught. They concluded that the emphasis on argumentation, criticism and controversy had been a useful distraction for many from giving up all and following this Jesus, from embracing the cost of being a disciple of one who invited his followers to self-sacrificing love.

They found words like conversion, change of heart and began to pursue new directions in their studies. In newly discovered publications they found that in the consumer-oriented lifestyles of the time many Christians’ most dreaded word was conversion. Someone even suggested that at that period in history when people were tempted to change their lives, they would go to a place they called “the mall” to buy new clothes and furniture. This would usually succeed in driving the devil of temptation away.

The Remnant

As they excitedly scanned the new publications they found a concept unknown to them, but very old in the Judaeo-Christian tradition–that of the faithful remnant, a small group of people who, for example, during the years before the birth of Jesus, lived close to God, open to his will and to the Spirit. (One famous person of that time, they discovered, had been named Mary. She became the Mother of Jesus.)

The researchers were fascinated to find several publications which appeared to in the spirit of this remnant. These editors and authors called their readers to be followers of the Lord in all aspects of their lives: in prayer and contemplation, in Christian community (with all its challenges), seeking to do the will of the Father, and bringing the love of Jesus to the world in which they lived.

While these new publications also pondered theological and ethical questions, their focus was different. The authors and editors involved appeared to read and meditate daily on the Scriptures, and study documents of Church councils, the writers of the early Church and statements from Church leaders.

They shared with their readers a sense of urgency that the disciples had the destiny of God in their world in their hands. They believed the Scriptures that the followers of Jesus were the ones to do His work in the world. They knew God did not impose arbitrarily from above and smash the freedom of human persons. His followers are asked to be his hands. These publications did not follow a party line.

They emphasized that Christianity was not a me-first religion. They quoted the words of their Master, such as “Unless a seed fall into the ground and die, it will not bear fruit…. The sower went out to sow…. Take up your cross and follow me…. He who eats this bread will never die…”

They seemed to have great faith in the Lord they followed. They seemed to believe that He was truly present with them in something called the Eucharist and also in the poor.

They were not afraid to be against the death penalty in Texas or against abortion in the North. They spoke out against war or protested sanctions against some countries when people, especially children, were starving to death.

These journals, along with church leaders, even challenged economic policies and the luxurious life styles of Christians who depended on cheap labor from the poor of the world. They were very conscious of the bonds of unity of the church as the Body of Christ throughout the world.

They defended the dignity of the human person in a society which prized efficiency and progress and wealth above the person.

At first, the students of research thought these publications might have had much smaller circulations, because only a remnant wanted to read them, but further study identified more publications within this focus than those on the fringe of what was considered the left or the right.

The researchers asked themselves, how did these editors and writers keep themselves from the bitterness and more superficial approach of some of the other publications?

It appeared that they had a quite different understanding of the church. These followers seemed to have a profound sense of several complementary realities. The mission of Jesus to the poor, to the wretched, to the outcast, to the mediocre meant that all of these would be welcome members of their church. It would not be a church of spiritual geniuses or perfect people, although the wise and the powerful could also participate.

On the other hand, they had an understanding of the mystery and heart of their church as their Lord himself–his Body and the temple of the Holy Spirit, the divine present among the People of God. What a vision of hope and love! But they well understood that their church was also human and therefore, sinful in its members.

For them, the soul of the church was the Spirit of Christ–but her members were women and men. They knew that as human beings the members were never up to the level of the divine mission entrusted to them. They knew that the power of evil–the principalities and powers which bring war, exploitation, lack of respect for persons–would affect her members as long as she existed in this world.

And yet, they knew that the church also shone with a spotless radiance in her sacraments, her faith and especially in her saints.

This group believed that Christians must engage the world instead of expending their energy on infighting. They knew that they must try to transform the world through pure means and ethical decisions and not try to serve a holy cause by dubious means.

They knew that the best Christians were often those with hidden lives. They knew that as one writer, Henri de Lubac, put it: “Christianity is in every age very much less dependent on all that is discussed and done and picked to pieces on the world’s stage than we are often led to believe. There is a life which it is almost impossible to judge from the outside….”

They knew because of Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland that one cannot begin with what the church or one’s religion owes to its members, but must begin with what one can contribute. As he expressed it, “The active presence of Catholics in the universal Church needs a deepening. We must induce men to break with religious individualism; with the facile criticisms of far-off observers who impose on the Church (often conceived of in a highly abstract fashion) great demands, and forget that these demands should first be imposed upon oneself, since the Church is ourselves.”

Many of the remnant group emphasized Matthew 25 and lived this out through the daily practice of the works of mercy (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, giving shelter to the homeless and the stranger, instructing the ignorant, giving Christian burial to the dead), instead of the works of war and the works of death.

Researchers found that as the twentieth century drew to a close, the remnant grew larger, especially among youth, even though a few publications seemed to continue the old divisions. They were surprised to find that all along the ordinary Christians had known that one’s heart would not rest until it rested in God. They had understood from a Church Council held in the twentieth century that their lives and even their sexuality found deepest meaning in modeling their lives on and participating in the life of the Trinity–Father, Son and Holy Spirit in profound love and respect one for another.

The researchers were grateful to have found the periodicals of the remnant. They made an extensive report, published it, but continued to study on their own some of the authors who were mentioned in various articles. Some had written in the twentieth century, but the authors represented were the many centuries of Christianity. The influence of the remnant, which had appeared small in the twentieth century, brought the researchers and many who knew them to be followers of Jesus in 5,000 A.D.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVI, No. 2. March-April 1996