Letters and phone calls from distraught Catholics regularly decry the local priest, Catholic school teacher, nun, or other Church employee who publicly denies a doctrine or insists on a liturgical abuse.
Callers and writers are shocked at the removal of the Blessed Sacrament from the Church because of the claim that the tabernacle is a distraction during Mass, or the claim that, since humans are on a par with God, we Catholics do not attend Mass to worship God. Faithful Catholics are outraged that such abuses would be allowed in one of the most clearly structured organizations in the world. Why doesn't the Pope, bishop, pastor, or superior do something?
One of the reasons more does not get done is that the offenders can count on certain standard reactions to their behavior, many of which are common among the people who call and write to me. Religion is one of those areas of life in which, traditionally, we expect and desire the stable, solid, and eternal truths of this life and the next. Outlandish actions in the religious sphere accomplish the effect desired by the abuser—namely, shock. Much like the political theater of the 1960s’ radicals, the religious radical seeks a shock reaction to create the environment in which he can attain other goals.
How does this work?
Most people respond to odd behavior with one or both of two reactions. First, they may become immobilized, sputtering, “How can these people do these outrageous things? This is sacrilege!”
Of course, such questions rhetorically ask, “What can I possibly do about this mess?” This question posed to oneself really means, “I cannot do anything about this!” or at least, “I don't know what to do next!” This kind of paralysis serves liturgical and doctrinal abusers well, since it allows them free reign to act while those who object merely splutter without taking concrete action.
The other standard reaction to shock is anger: “How dare they?” Indignation and rage are common expressions of the helplessness felt by those who are shocked when abuses occur within the Church. This reaction equally serves the abusers, since they see it as proof for their contention that “conservative” Catholics are uptight.
As a result, abusers see themselves as “progressives.” And they justify what they are doing as prophetic actions that point out the deep-seated anger and Pharisaism of the other side. Like Jesus, who outraged the ecclesiastical leaders of his day by offering personal freedom from oppressive rules and structures, abusers see themselves as true disciples who are challenging the hypocritical rules and regulations of the institutional Church.
They think this is the only way that the true Church, which is the people, can regain the liberty of the gospel. So their goal is to shock people, making them angry enough to begin to want progress—that is to say, to agree with the abusers.
In conflicts, two factors may determine victory or defeat—predictability and surprise. The general who predicts his enemies’ movements knows where to deploy his resources, and the general who surprises the enemy usually wins the battle. In the present state of the Church, why be predictable, why forsake surprise?
So, when a catechist claims that since Vatican II the Church does not worry about baptism removing Original Sin, or about any sin for that matter, why react with the oh-so-predictable shock? Instead, keep alert to the teachings, liturgical actions, and possible abuses, but stay calm. In fact, smile as you ask to see the paragraph in Vatican II that tells Catholics not to teach about Original Sin. Or in another situation, smile and ask where the “Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy” suggests removing the tabernacle to prevent Jesus Christ from being a distraction at holy Mass.
Instead of being shocked, be confident that the Church does not teach nonsense. Instead of becoming indignant and outraged, chuckle at the silly attempts to deceive the people of God with false claims about Vatican II. Then serenely, peacefully, and cheerfully turn to the Vatican II and post-conciliar documents for evidence that the Church still teaches the same doctrine it always has.
Of course, computers are a big help in finding things; the Bible, Vatican II, the Catechism, the Church Fathers, and many other sources are available on CD-ROM and on the Internet for fast research. Whether in books or in cyberspace, Catholic information is publicly available. After all, the Church is not some secret organization like the Masons.
Peaceful, humorous responses to the shocking ecclesial behavior of the abusers will keep them off guard. They expect stunned silence or outbursts of anger. Surprise them with correct information and with a cheerful, optimistic attitude based on your confidence in Jesus Christ our Lord, the founder of the Catholic Church.
You can find the confidence you need by contemplating Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and in Sacred Scripture. Making the holy hour and inviting other faithful Catholics to do the same has reshaped many parishes, affecting clergy, religious, and ecclesial professionals. Better than shocked paralysis or anger, are prayer, holiness, solid information, and the cleverness of serpents.
Perhaps by the same merciful grace that keeps us faithful, God our Lord will use us for the conversion of the abusers to orthodox Catholicism.