A young Catholic's views on the state of the Church in Australia

A young Catholic's views on the state of the Church in Australia

James Connolly

The following are some observations about the state of the Church in Australia from a 22-year-old Catholic, who has a Bachelor of Theology degree, has spent time in a religious order and has been active in parish life.

I am encouraged to see a journal such as AD2000 operating in Australia with a clear sense of orthodoxy, while not limiting itself to certain agendas. As a theological student, I used to describe myself as an "orthodox Catholic" even before reading of such a term. I studied in a place with students of all denominations and often meet people who assumed because I was friendly, easy-going and open to the opinions of others that I must be "one of those Catholics who wants an end to celibacy, rejects Humanae Vitae, and favours women priests, etc."

I would say politely that I was orthodox, that is, I believed nothing more nor anything less than what the Church taught - even all the 'unpopular' teachings. And so people should assume that as I called myself a Catholic, I believed all that the Church taught and that they should not assume otherwise unless I said so.

But their assumption was understandable given the number of people who call themselves Catholic but really adhere to an à la carte form of Catholicism. Such a view is so widespread that when one affirms being orthodox this is taken to mean arch-conservative, which is in fact much different.

But while I am encouraged by your journal, I must say that I am very disheartened that it faces such an uphill battle. I know that one must never lose hope but it is hard enough being Christian in a secular society, let alone having disunity within your own Church. In my own case, I say that I feel called to serve Christ in His Church through the priesthood (as unworthy as I feel), and yet I am not sure I have the strength once I get into the ministry to immerse myself in a culture where many of the clergy I know (and I know many in my diocese very well, due to my involvement at the cathedral and being an active parish member) ignore much that comes from Rome and the Holy Father.

One feels very alone without such support. It is easy in theory to say, adhere to what the Church teaches and you cannot go wrong, but in practice it can be very difficult if you know your bishop (I am not speaking of my own particular bishop) or priests and nuns do not. Rather than passing on the faith they have received, it seems that many prefer to pass on their own subjective interpretations.

State of liturgy

The current state of the liturgy is another matter of concern. Often I am at Mass and I think - as I listen to terrible music and a celebration which seems more concerned about making us "feel good" - that I am Catholic despite the liturgy. What I mean by this is that I adhere to all the Church teaches, but as I see it lived in the current state of the liturgy, I can understand why my friends are not interested in the Church.

It is one thing, however, for someone like myself who is interested in reading Church history and documents, searching for the truth (discerning the wheat from the chaff); it is quite another for those lacking the interest or skills to undertake such research. For these people, the current state of the liturgy is about all that they will see and from which they will judge the Church. And the liturgy, as it is often celebrated, rarely draws attention to the Transcendent, the Other - something which badly needs to be pointed out in secular society.

Most of my friends are not Christian, and I can see that they are looking for real direction and meaning in their lives. They may not always say it in as many words, but they do through their actions and endless pursuit for passing pleasures. But what I find disheartening is that our Church is divided in itself, that some people preach a watered-down version of Christianity, and this does not inspire or provide a true witness to the Gospel.

One of my favourite Scriptural texts comes from Revelation, where Our Lord says to the one of the seven churches, "You are neither hot nor cold but are lukewarm, and because you are neither hot nor cold I will spew you from my mouth." I find this text significant because it makes the point that you are either on one side or the other.

I can respect people who disagree with me if they are clear about where they stand. But I do not, or rather cannot, respect someone who dances between positions. When you try to please everyone you often end up pleasing no-one. Post-modernism has left society in a lukewarm state; people cannot accept absolutes but like to treat all views as essentially equal, no matter how logically inconsistent this inevitably proves to be. The Church could save many from this state, but there are not a few in Church itself who seem enchanted with post-modernism and preach it within the church.

An interesting article was recently written about the English College in Rome in which one of the students commented regarding the staff: "They are so scared of returning to the 1950s that they are stuck in the 1970s." I think this is true in many parts of the Church where people are working from a certain agenda which does not listen to or address the needs of today.

Things will change. We are seeing this gradually, as your journal has noted. But it will take time. What is so lamentable, however, is the number that has been lost and will be lost in the meantime. Our Lord gave serious warning when he said that those who cause others to fall away would be better off with a millstone around their neck and tossed into the sea. We cannot afford to be complacent or idle.

In the meantime it is difficult to determine where one would serve the Church best. Another thing I fear is that if I left a seminary, although I am orthodox now, over time without proper support perhaps I might also be infected with unorthodox views. And I personally know others (not only in Australia but the UK and the US) who feel this way. That is why the current state of the Church in Australia is in many ways in a self-destructive situation.

There are many who feel they have a vocation but do not pursue it because they are discouraged by "progressives" who preach something different from what the Church teaches. Inconsistencies in the Church do not encourage people. So people become discouraged or disillusioned over time. These are good people who could be of real service. Thankfully some dioceses and institutions are becoming havens for such people, but still how many more are lost?

For myself, I have decided to travel overseas and work in the hope that the Holy Spirit will guide me to where I would best serve the Church. By the way, when I refer to people outside the Church and their current state, etc, I do not intend to do so in a condescending manner, as the Pharisee does towards the Publican.

I speak as a child of my generation who experiences all the troubles that it presents, who feels drawn to the post-modernist critique, but drawn as to a black hole. I know it is to be resisted and fought against and yet feel pulled to it. I am a sinner in need of grace and mercy like all else and sit in judgment of no one. I do not write as someone who is angry or concerned with power plays in the Church, but someone who grieves for the current state of the Church, a grief born solely from love of Christ and His Bride.

And so I thank you for your journal and pray for its success and dissemination throughout Australia.

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