Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ethnic Catholicism and the Cultural Church

Interesting article here about a Staten Island Polish church which is celebrating both its 85th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of its pastor's appointment there. The article says a lot about the inherent problems of ethnic parishes and the mixed-up priorities of modern Roman Catholics.

A little background: St. Stanislaus Kostka church was founded by Polish immigrants in 1923 and flourished for many years until dwindling numbers forced the church to be put under the supervision of a neighboring parish and almost led to its closure. And why did its numbers dwindle? The original immigrant generation died away, the succeeding generations assimilated into American life and felt little need to cling to an ethnic parish, and the local Polish families who were the foundation of the church moved away as the racial makeup of the neighborhood changed. And since the modern American Catholic Church does not evangelize in the least, the parish was only saved by a massive influx of Polish immigrants following the collapse of Communism. And when these new parishioners had the opportunity to represent their parish and their Faith in an interview with the local newspaper, what did they choose to tell the community at large about their church and themselves?

Did they witness to their belief in Christ and tell how their celebrated pastor has ministered to their souls and facilitated their relationship with God? Did they talk about how the parish is primarily a spiritual community where Catholic believers of Polish descent can worship in their own language, and can preserve and deepen their faith in a strange and spiritually hostile land? No, there was hardly any of that boring religious stuff. Apart from an off-hand reference to Saturday morning catechism classes for children (most likely limited to First Communion preparation), this article made it seem like the raison d'etre of St. Stanislaus church is to be a social club and Polish cultural society.

What were these parishioners excited about? What did they tell us about their pastor's main priorities and projects? Well, we are informed that he renovated the classroom where children learn Polish and he gussied up the parish hall where dances and other events are held. The church also offers art classes and martial arts classes and has a general focus on preserving Polish culture, language and traditions.

I ask where are the Bible studies, the rosary societies, the prayer groups, the adult catechism classes, the charitable endeavors, etc, et al. How could you talk about your church's 85th anniversary and only think to mention the cultural/material services it provides? Yes, a church also ministers to our corporal needs, but when that aspect predominates among either clergy or laity, then something is seriously out of whack. I admit that the media can be selective in its reporting and the reporter did only quote a few people. But is there anyone out there so charitable that they don't think those quotes are representative rather than anomalous?


Anonymous said...

Your insight is right on the money and I believe you know why the RC church you describe is dying as are most of those in Europe and many in the US. And please, do not answer me with treatises, jargon and other official RC citations: you are the man in the pew and you are rightfully angry to see churches reduced to social clubs. What then is the good news of the RC church ? Why should people go to mass, say the rosary, observe holy days or do anything else the church tells them? What is in it for them? Things that are alive grow, why isnt the RC church alive and growing? Is God so incompetent that he has entrusted his only true church to the men you describe? How can that be? If a priest read your blog, what could he possibly say in response? Again, this is not an anti-catholic diatribe so please do not respond with a pro-catholic one. I am no more an enemy of the church of Christ than you are, but I know that when the Spirit has departed a place its time to go.

Staten Pilgrim said...

To answer a few of your questions- you ask what is the good news of the RC Church? It's the same good news that you proclaim- Christ risen and salvation promised. You ask why anyone should listen to the RC Church what with all the problems I describe? Because unlike self-appointed pastors who start their own churches and preach the Gospel as they see it, the RC Church proclaims that Good News with the voice of legitimate authority that is utterly trustworthy because it came from Jesus. Why is the RC Church in Europe dying? Probably for a lot of the same reasons why it has problems over here, and for a lot of the same reasons that the Protestant churches in Europe are in even worse shape. Bad leadership, militant hedonism and secularism, economic and social factors, etc. What does that really prove? The Church is actually expanding in Africa; the Gospel isn't tied down to one place. Europe has gone through many alternating phases of laxity and piety, although this period is surely the worst. In any case, why should I be obsessed with membership numbers? As the Pope said, he'd rather have a smaller church that is loyal to God than a large one that is slack and disobedient. If we want to correlate expanding numbers of devotees to godliness, then Islam and Mormonism must surely be from God, right? What would a priest say if he read my blog? Hopefully, he'd see it for the truth, do some introspection and shape up. As for the Spirit, the thing is that I don't believe the Spirit has left the Catholic Church or ever will.

I say that because I trust Jesus' words. He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church (MT 16:18) and that He would be with us always until the end of the age (MT 28:20). He left us spiritual authorities (Eph 4:11-14) to guide us so we wouldn't be deceived by false teachings. Does that mean that we're guaranteed inspiring, upright, intelligent leadership? No. But I think it does mean that the Spirit guarantees that His Church will preserve the true Gospel in all its purity, that faith that was "once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 1:3) and that's what really matters in the final analysis. I don't believe that God's plan for revelation was for each of us to sit around interpreting the Bible for ourselves. It would be a cruel God who played such an awful joke on us. The problem is that the Bible doesn't interpret itself, as the existence of 30,000 Protestant denominations attests. An infallible human authority is a pre-requisite for interpreting revelation and preventing Christianity from becoming an eternal debating society. So the only question is where that human authority is. I don't think any Protestant church makes any such claim. I believe that only the Roman Catholic Church can historically make that claim. That's why I'd prefer to be counted amongst the bumbling members of the modern Catholic Church rather than with the most ardent Protestants.

The fatuousness of Sola Scriptura really struck me when I agreed to attend a youth group at a friend's Pentecostal church once, just to be friendly. The youth leader told the young people that they shouldn't unquestioningly accept anything that the pastor says, but should always find out the truth for themselves through their own reading of Scripture. The statement was a shock for a couple of reasons. First, it was surprising that a Pentecostal was bringing the pastor down to earth, since Pentecostals tend to elevate their pastors to semi-divine status. Secondly, the contradictory nature of the principle enunciated was shocking. If you can't count on the biblical interpretation of the man who has, presumably, had some sort of theological education and studied the Bible inside and out, why should some uneducated 12 year old- or 40 year old for that matter- put more trust in his own judgement? Because "the Spirit" will guide him to the truth? Doesn't the pastor have the same "Spirit"? Are all the other 29,999 Protestant denominations bereft of "the Spirit" because their interpretations differ from the individual who has made a God out of his own judgement? Sola Scriptura is illogical and bears the bad fruits of disunity and heresy. We need an infallible interpreter of the Gospel, and I believe that is the Catholic Church. Other churches may love the Bible and love God, but don't confuse spirit and Spirit. That's why I'm staying put.

Anonymous said...

You are staking your entire eternal life on the hope that there exists one infallable human who can tell you what God's word says, through a church. Wow. That is a dangerous leap of blind faith. The 12 year old pentacostal, whom you denigrate,who can read the bible in his own language and understand that it is God's word to him, is light years ahead of the average catholic who does not trust the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing, to be able to make it clear to him. If you just once, let down your defensiveness, there might be a real discussion here. No one is going to rip you out of the pew, if you insist on suffering there, but but at least offer a little intellectual curiosity. Otherwise, you are just talking to yourself.

Staten Pilgrim said...

And you're staking your eternal salvation on your own intellectual judgement, or even worse, on Pastor Eddie's? That seems extremely dangerous to me. I'd rather defer my judgement to the legitimate spiritual authorities that Jesus left us than rely on my own intellect or on the judgement of some guy who decides to call himself "pastor". I realize that I am fallible.

I don't think you're responding to my points. The Bible tells me that I should trust the Church implicitly. I cited some verses. Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, is found neither in the Bible itself or in Christian history until very late in the day. In any case, I find it hard to understand how something so plainly illogical can be defended. How can you assert the clarity of Scripture or the guidance of the Spirit for each individual Christian when there are around 30,000 different Protestant denominations? Whenever I get together with born-again Protestants, all they ever do is argue over, discuss and puzzle over the meaning of Scripture. I see absolutely no warrant for believing that they are guided by any "Spirit" except the spirit of discord and confusion, in their interpretation of Scripture. If your assertion were valid, then all Protestants, or evangelicals, or born-agains would agree on every last jot and tittle of Biblical interpretation. However, the very opposite is true. To accept Sola Scriptura is to be in an ethos of spiritual anarchy.

And contrary to the caricature of Catholicism you seem to believe in, we too believe that Scripture is the Word of God. However, like the Ethiopian in Acts 8:31 who needed the guidance of Philip to understand Scripture, we realize that it's all not so clear and we'd not understand it "unless some man instructs me."

Sorry- I thought there was a discussion going on here, at least when you deign to answer my points. How on earth am_I_being defensive or not displaying intellectual curiosity? Please don't descend to ad hominem- I know you can do better.

Anonymous said...

Just count how many times your posts have named Pastor Eddie, then tell me who is doing the ad hominum. You have never named your pastor, and if you did, I would not use him as the icon for all that is wrong with the RC church.
There is nothing in the Bible that says trust the church, because the church is the body of Christ, the people who make up the bride of Christ for whom the Bridegroom will come. The message I get from the whole counsel of God is have no confidence in the flesh, trust God, take Him at His word. So, priest, pastor or pope, no man dare presume to speak AS God, and declare, for example: Mary was sinless or assumed bodily into heaven, or that there is a purgatory that people can be bought/prayed out of; this is all RC doctrine that is nowhere in scripture. So while reasonable people might disagree about what the bible actually says, only the RC church agrees about things that it doesnt say at all.

Staten Pilgrim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Staten Pilgrim said...

I never said anything personally critical about Pastor Eddie, except that his church married divorced people, contrary to Scripture. But is that not true?

I cited several verses in the Ethnic Catholicism comments that speak about the authority of the Church. Another I forgot was that it is the "pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Tim 3:15).

You're right that the RC Church teaches things that are either not found in Scripture at all (such as the Assumption) or are only dealt with obliquely (such as Purgatory). I would answer that Sola Scriptura is not found in either Scripture or early Christianity, the early Faith was preached and lived as well as written down, it was the Church that decided what books exactly made up Scripture, and I would give you my previous arguments about the teaching authority of the Church.

I don't want to argue Sola Scriptura with you though. You know that I find it ahistorical, un-Biblical, illogical, and unworkable. In any case, I think the subject is too large to really do justice to here.

But I would also pose a few questions to you- how do you know which books belong in the Bible, if not for an infallible extrabiblical authority? Do you know the history of how and when the Biblical canon was established? Why do you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, but you are not really interested in a dialog. You have stated your opinion and I have stated mine. The rest is up to God. Read his word and ask HIM for yourself: Is your Word truth? Can I really be guided through it by your Spirit? If I believe that Jesus died for my sins, am I saved by my faith, through your grace, as a free gift, because of Jesus? Just ask. Him.

Staten Pilgrim said...

<"Forgive me, but you are not really interested in a dialog. You have stated your opinion and I have stated mine.">

Actually, I have stated my opinion_and_answered your points. You have stated your opinion and completely ignored whatever you didn't want to hear.

In addition, your advice to just ask God for enlightenment is spiritually arrogant and offensive, implying that 1. I've never prayed before, and 2. that I've never read the Bible before, and 3. that once I do those things, I'm sure to have the scales drop from my eyes and see things your way. Well, I can assure you that I have both read the Bible assiduously and frequently prayed to God for spiritual enlightenment. And I am happy to report to you that He has assured me personally, as well as through His Word, that the Catholic Church is the One, True Church that He founded for our guidance on earth. So, if you can just pass that divine revelation along to the rest of Salem, I'd appreciate it and I guess maybe you should let Blessed Sacrament know that they should be expecting a much larger crowd next Sunday.

What? You don't believe me? But God told me! But that is the message I feel the Holy Spirit telling me on every page of the Bible! How can you question God's revelation to me??

Hmmm, maybe you see the problem with Protestant subjectivism? Perhaps you see the problem when every man is his own prophet and Pope?

As for faith, I realize that there are many Bible verses that speak of justification by faith. However, there are just as many, if not more verses, that speak of justification by works. Historical Christianity, whose theology is based on the harmony of all Scripture (and not just the elevation of certain verses) has always understood the necessity of both faith_and_works for salvation. Here are just a few of the many Bible verses which speak about the insufficiency of faith alone:

James 2:24: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."

Matthew 7:21 (part of the Sermon on the Mount): "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

Matthew 16:27: "For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."

John 5:29: "And will come out--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."

Romans 2:6,7; 13: "For he will repay according to each one's deeds. To those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; for it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; rather, those who observe the law will be justified."

Revelation 22:12: "Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds."