Tuesday, August 1, 2006

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Edward Braxton

H/T to Mark Waterinckx for the email regarding a recent pastoral letter given by Bishop Edward Braxton, PhD, STD, Bishop of Belleville, IL. I have not had time to read and digest it myself. Comments are welcome in the combox, for those who do get a chance to read it.

Here is the header information and table of contents:

We Are His Witnesses:
Our Spirit-Filled Mission as the Church

in Southern Illinois

A Pastoral Letter
The Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., STD
Bishop of Belleville
June 4, 2006

We Are His Witnesses:
Our Spirit-Filled Mission as the Church in Southern Illinois

I. Introduction
II. The Decline of “Common Meaning”
a.) The Liturgy
b.) The Ministry of Bishops
c.) The Priesthood
d.) Women Religious
e.) The Impact of Doubt

I. A New Bishop
II. Our Spirit-Filled Mission
a.) Our Priests
b.) International Priests
c.) Parish Clustering
d.) Deacons, Religious, Lay Leaders, and Parish Life Coordinators
e.) Financial Resources and Stewardship

I. Look to Christ: In Search of Common Meaning
a.) Questions: A Spiritual Inventory
b.) A “Dialogue of the Soul”
II. Conclusion
Appendix: Questions for Discussion

I'll give you just a small tidbid here, from PART 1-e

e.) The Impact of Doubt
When the shared base of common experiences, understandings, judgments, and commitments is intact in the ecclesial community, the Catholic people who live their faith quietly and sincerely day-by-day respect and confidently place their trust in those who exercise pastoral leadership and governance in the Church. They also feel comfortable with the beliefs and traditions of the faith. As Common Meaning declines however, alienation, mistrust, and doubt become inevitable.

The doubt that invades a family, a parish, a religious community, a diocese, or a nation comes in different forms. It may be operational, ideological, ethical, intellectual, or absolute.

1.) Operational doubt may be manifest when people attend Sunday Mass less frequently, when clergy or parishioners show a lack of enthusiasm or interest in new liturgical guidelines from the Vatican or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, when bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters, or lay people abandon past efforts to resolve differences, when theologians dismiss the pronouncements of bishops about the orthodoxy of their writings, when bishops conclude it is not prudent to give permission for certain theologians to speak in their dioceses, or when parents decide to “home school” their children or withdraw them from leading Catholic universities and enroll them in newer small Catholic institutions that they believe are more faithful to Catholic teachings.

2.) Ideological doubt may be manifest when individuals and groups feel compelled to defend their views against their critics with a forcefulness that was not needed before. Often the tone of this defense shows an awareness that significant members of the community are questioning the definitive Church teachings or dissenting from those teachings with new intensity. If ideological doubt is deep-rooted, a vigorous defense of orthodox teaching or of novel theological ideas may delay a crisis, but it will not prevent it.

3.) Ethical doubt may be manifest when people begin to feel in a deeply emotional way that they have been wronged or violated. “Why are so many people allowed to stay ‘in the Church’ these days when they do not humbly accept her teachings as we do? Why aren’t they punished for rejecting the faith?” “How can the hierarchy continue to ignore our demands for changing the discipline of celibacy when they know the only other option is the denial of the Eucharist?” Ethical doubt can be very acrimonious and may lead to severe conflicts and intense emotional reactions. Since it is associated with feelings of having been betrayed, reason and argument are usually not immediately effective.

4.) Intellectual doubt is manifest when people begin to question the “truth” of their faith. This may be subtle or simple. A person who has not had the opportunity to study scripture seriously reads an article in Time magazine suggesting that many scripture scholars think that the star, the exotic magi, the singing angels, and the shepherds found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke might be more symbolic of a deeper meaning and theological truth than a literal newspaper account of the birth of the Messiah. But the reader may conclude that if there were no “three kings,” then the whole story is probably not “true.” If someone concludes that, in their view, Church teaching is “wrong” on some aspect of sexual morality, intellectual doubt may prompt them to question the authority of the magisterium to teach about anything.

5.) Absolute doubt – often a combination of all the forms of doubt – can be the final blow. There may be no display of emotions, but it is manifest when formerly active Catholics become apathetic and disinterested in the life of their parish and the larger Church. They may withdraw into an interior world and “tune out” religious leaders, the sacramental life, regular prayer, and deeply held beliefs that once gave meaning to their lives. Now these beliefs are a source of pain and disappointment. A devoted pastor retires to Florida in his mid-sixties in good health to leave the “shambles of the Church” in the hands of the “liberal” priests who “have destroyed the Church he served and loved.” A seminarian who has a deep loyalty to the magisterium and the traditions of the Church “shops around” for another seminary and another diocese because he thinks the bishop, the seminary, and many of the priests in his home diocese are not faithful to the “true” Church. A Catholic woman, convinced she is called to the priesthood, joins another ecclesial community that allows the ordination of women. Absolute doubt may cause some Catholics to turn away from the Church altogether and, at the limit, embrace agnosticism, or even atheism.

In parishes where the decline of Common Meaning is widespread and the manifold forms of doubt have taken hold many individuals and groups in the Church may begin to feel at a loss; they lose their bearings. The judgments and decisions of those in positions of leadership or influence (the Vatican, bishops, religious superiors, pastors, theologians, parish councils, teachers, parents, peer groups, the media) are questioned, doubted or rejected altogether. Religious leaders, in turn, see a growing lack of cohesiveness in the communities they are called to lead and serve. New, sometimes extreme, unofficial organizations and groups are formed that set out to “reform,” “oppose,” or, “defend” the Church. These groups are usually small. However, they may claim to speak “in the name of all.”

Once the decline of Common Meaning and subsequent doubt gain influence in a community, the Church may be perceived as merely a “political institution.” People are labeled “liberals,” “conservatives,” “right-winged,” “left-winged,” “true Catholics,” even “heretics.” There is less and less talk of faith, prayer, sin, salvation, grace, the need for Confession and Communion, apology, seeking forgiveness, forgiving, and reconciliation. Spirituality all but vanishes as the focus turns to “power,” “influence,” “control,” and “winning and losing battles.” Emotions rise; disagreements disintegrate into personal attacks. Opposing groups seem unable to carry on respectful and friendly dialogue that might help clarify positions and counter-positions and amicably resolve differences. Instead, foes seem to be out to “destroy” one another by character assassination, slander, leaks, and even deliberate misstatements in the media, all in the name of “the Church.” Open confrontation is almost inevitable. In rare circumstances some may need to be reminded that it is love, not hatred that should animate the ecclesial community.

Obviously, when doubt is this strong it becomes more difficult to be a true witness to Christ. But it does not become impossible. It also becomes more urgent. These are the circumstances in which we must remind ourselves that the Risen Christ, to whom we bear witness, never abandons us individually or collectively. The Holy Spirit is ever present with “warm breath and Ah! bright wings.”

Go Read Bishop Braxton - full text