Monday, June 1, 2009

The Marketplace of Faith

Somehow, when I read this article, Mercado de la Fe, by Frei Betto on Adital (5/28/2009), it seemed oddly appropriate given what has happened with Padre Cutié and the demonizing responses his decision to switch to the Episcopal Church have elicited from so many people.

Last night at the Pentecost healing Mass, we were led in the improbable -- and inappropriate for the occasion -- chant: "El celibato: sí se puede!" Aside from whatever nausea we feel at this misappropriation of the UFW slogan, the chant begs the question: "Se puede...pero se debe?" Should the Church continue to mandate a discipline that even most of its clergy believe should be optional and that is the primary factor in the lack of vocations and in resignations from the priesthood? We already know that five priests in Puerto Rico plan to follow Cutié (and they are only the first post-Cutié wave and the ones we know about through the media) and yet our Church's leaders find it easier to continue to pretend that this is just a problem of one or two uncommitted individuals rather than take a serious look at the institution. Now I'll turn the blog space over to Frei Betto:

Like supermarkets, churches vie for customers. The difference is that they offer cheaper products and they promise relief for suffering, spiritual peace, prosperity and salvation.

However, there is no clash in this competition. Instead there are explicit prejudices in regard to other religious traditions, especially to those with African roots, such as Candomblé or Macumba, and spiritism.

If we are not careful now, this demonization of religious expressions other than our own can end up as fundamentalist attitudes in the future, such as the "crusade syndrome," or the belief that, in the name of God, the other should be demoralized and destroyed.

The Catholic Church is the one that feels most uncomfortable with the new geography of faith. She who was queen never loses her majesty ... In recent years the number of Catholics in Brazil has fallen by 20%. We are 73.8% of the population today. And nothing indicates that we will regain any ground in the near future.

Like an elephant on a highway, the Catholic Church failed to modernize. Its pyramidal structure makes everything revolve around the bishops and priests. The rest are helpers. The laity are not given any more training than children’s catechism. Compare the Catholic catechism with the Sunday school of the historic Protestant denominations and you will see the difference in quality.

Catholic children and youth generally have almost no biblical and theological training. This is why it is not uncommon to find adults who have a childish concept of faith. Their connection to God is influenced more by guilt than by a loving relationship.

Consider the predominant structure in the Catholic Church: the parish. Finding a priest available at three in the afternoon is almost a miracle. Meanwhile there are evangelical churches where the pastors and servers are present throughout the night.

I am not suggesting that priests should be bothered further. The question is a different one: Why does the Catholic Church have so few pastors? We all know the reason: unlike other denominations, it requires heroic virtues of its pastors, such as celibacy. And it excludes women from access to the priesthood. Such clericalism hinders the evangelizing spirit.

The argument that it should continue this way because that is what the Gospel requires is not supported in the light of the biblical text itself. The main apostle of Jesus, Peter, was married (Mark 1:29-31), and the first apostle was a woman, a Samaritan (John 4:28-29).

Until we put an end to the deconstruction of Vatican II, which took place to renew the Catholic Church, the lay faithful will remain second-class citizens. Many have a vocation to the priesthood but not to celibacy, as in the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

Although Rome insists on strengthening clericalism and celibacy (despite frequent scandals), does anyone know of a vibrant parish? There are some, but they are rare, unfortunately. In general, Catholic churches remain closed from Monday to Friday (why not use the space for classes or community activities?) The Masses are not attractive, and the sermons are empty. Where are the Bible courses, youth groups, training of lay adults, meditation practice, volunteer work?

In what middle-class neighborhood parish do the poor feel at home? This is not the case in evangelical churches -- just go into one of them, even in wealthy neighborhoods, and see how many poor people are there.

Moreover, evangelical churches know how to use the media, including broadcast television. We can argue about the content of the programming and methods of attracting the faithful, but they know how to speak a language the people understand and that’s how they reach such a large audience.

The Catholic Church tries to run behind them with their show Masses, aerobics performing priests and singers, spiritual movements imported from Europe. It is making a spectacle out of the sacred; it speaks to feeling, to emotion, not reason. It is the seed sown in stony ground (Matthew 13:20-21).

I do not want to risk being harsh with my own church. It is not true that it has not found new ways. It has found them, such as the Base Ecclesial Communities. But unfortunately they are not sufficiently valued because they threaten clericalism.

In addition, the CEBs will have their 12th interfaith meeting July 21-25 of this year in Porto Velho (RO). Topic: "Ecology and mission." The slogan: "From the womb of the Earth to the cry that comes from the Amazon." More than three thousand representatives of the CEBs throughout Brazil are expected.

How good it would be if the Pope were to participate in this profoundly Pentecostal meeting!

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