Father Gerald Murray: ‘The Way Out of the Crisis of the Church Is to Teach the Fullness of the Faith’
BOOK PICK: ‘Calming the Storm’ offers a sense of hope: ‘God is good and helps us at all times.’
CALMING THE STORM
Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society
By Father Gerald E. Murray, in conversation with Diane Montagna
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2022
464 pages, $28.95
To order: EWTNRC.com
The Catholic Church is in crisis.
If one sought to illustrate that statement, the problem would not be lack of evidence; the problem would be determining where to begin. Where, exactly, are we? How did we get here? How do we find our way out?
Father Gerald Murray’s new book, Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, addresses these questions — and many more.
This book provides a backstory to Father Murray’s view of the Church and the world. Born a year prior to the tumultuous 1960s, Father Murray details how his Irish-American Catholic parents influenced his intellectual, faith and political beliefs. He describes his father as a daily communicant, a Thomist and a National Review conservative. Considering Father Murray’s rhetorical skill, it is no surprise to discover that both his parents were attorneys.
Ordained in 1984, Father Murray speaks about his early days in the priesthood, serving as a pastor for the South Bronx in a Spanish-speaking parish. He later achieved his degree in canon law in Rome and served on the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Archdiocese of New York. He explains in the book that he “was on the tribunal for half a year” because he “was not going to engage in rubber-stamping annulment petitions.”
Where We Are
To determine where we are, we need to analyze both the Church and the world. In many respects, that can be a frightening view, because the Church seems lost in a world that is also lost. Father Murray observes how profoundly lost the world has become:
“The essential problem we face in the Western world is the loss of reality. We have entered into a nihilistic view of the world in which nothing is what it is, where there is no such thing as ‘what something is.’ … [R]eality is the key to anything in life: happiness, flourishing, achievement, wisdom, and love. All of this depends on a proper encounter with reality …”
To the denial of reality, the Church has the right and duty to respond with truth, Father Murray says. The problem, however, is that Church leaders have often failed to do so. Rogue priests travel the country promoting open dissent, yet these same men are often praised and endorsed by members of the Church hierarchy. Regarding such matters as reception of the Eucharist for abortion-promoting politicians, prelates have scandalously responded in direct contradiction to canon law. As Father Murray says,
“Canon 915 should be enforced and applied because you are rebuking a sinner, and, in the case of a public sinner, you are identifying to the community that this man or woman’s actions are detrimental to the spiritual welfare of his soul and certainly produce grave and irreparable harm to the victim of abortion.”
Not only is Canon 915 not often enforced, but those who attempt to defend the Church and the Eucharist are often seen as “bad” and unfeeling Catholics. As Father Murray says, “by worldly standards, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.”
Regarding the Church’s teaching office, the past few decades have witnessed not an apologetic (in the classical sense of defense of the faith), but an apology for Church teaching — as though the Church should pronounce a mea culpa for her doctrinal teaching on subjects like human sexuality. Some of the most vocal critics of Church teaching are those who possess high authority in the Church.
How We Got Here
In his book, Father Murray illustrates that some U.S. seminaries formed their seminarians so poorly in the 1970s and 1980s that many of these men who were ordained and rose in the ranks never knew the faith in the first place.
Father Murray illustrates that, in large measure, we arrived at this level of crisis because many men who had no business being priests were nevertheless ordained. There are many priests who lack reverence, theological and moral training, knowledge of canon law, and — as a direct result of this — lack charity toward the laity, according to Father Murray. And this is over and above the horrifying sadness of the widespread abuse of children by men who should have never been ordained. As Father Murray bluntly states, “Men who don’t have discipline and an obvious spiritual life and a knowledge of doctrine need to be shown the door for their own good and the good of the Church.”
Renewing Our Way Out
Notwithstanding the recognition of crises, Father Murray’s book is faithful, hopeful and often joyful. Yes, there is a storm, but the Church has navigated difficulties since Christ founded it. As a newly ordained deacon friend recently reminded me about the Church, “She takes on a lot of water, but she’s still seaworthy.”
Father Murray explains, “The way out of the crisis of the Church is to teach the fullness of the Faith and to do so with confidence and conviction and to express the life of Catholic prayer and charitable living in a way that is consistent with our Faith.”
Echoing many others, Father Murray notes that there has been a loss of a sense of Eucharistic reverence at Mass. He argues that this must be restored, recommending a three-step beginning of this journey: “The first three vital steps to the renewal of the Church are: Communion on the tongue, Communion received kneeling, and the priest saying Mass facing East. If you do those three things, you will increase Eucharistic faith and piety just by osmosis.”
The Church hierarchy must take action to defend both the faith and the faithful, but you and I must work toward personal holiness, irrespective of the actions of others. In this regard, Father Murray counsels:
“The devil is always at work. Ignore him as much as you can and confront him when you must. The surest way to stay faithful is to frequent the sacraments, pray a lot, study the Bible and Catholic teaching, live a sacrificial life, extend yourself for the benefit of your neighbor, and do not worry inordinately. God is good and helps us at all times.”
Father Murray covers many other topics in his book: divorce, remarriage and the sacraments; the place for charitable criticism of prelates; Humanae Vitae and contraception; the necessity for reverence toward the pope; home schooling; same-sex “marriage”; and many others. The book has a panoramic scope yet is very readable.
Father Murray clearly explains otherwise-difficult concepts in an insightful way. Though the book highlights the troubles in the Church, many readers will be left with an increased sense of hope going forward, both for themselves and for the Church.