Monday, March 28, 2011

Christianity Too Complicated To Communicate

A priest friend of mine pointed out that in yesterdays Gospel of the Samaritan woman she moves through a variety of titles for, or experiences of Jesus, from "You a Jew", Sir, Prophet, right through to a serious consideration that he might be the "Christ", then the people of Sychar come to realise that Jesus is the "Saviour of the World". Presumably only after Jesus' death will they eventually come to "worship God in Spirit and Truth" neither in the Samaritan or Jerusalem Temple but in his Church, the Body of Christ.

I really do have sympathy with those Liberals who suggest that Christianity is too complicated to communicate, I agree with their analysis but disagree with their conclusion. Their conclusion is that it all so complicated therefore we shouldn't really bother. It is complicated because they complicate it. Liberals present the faith as a series of propositions, all of which may or may not be accepted, it is a relativist approach, which inevitably ends up with an ultimate, "I have doubts but on balance I accept most of what has been presented".

Traditionally Catholicism is much simpler, it is matter not of propositions but simply, "Do you believe in Jesus Christ and His Church?" or maybe more simply "Do you believe in the Church of Jesus Christ?"
The object of belief is not propositions at all but in the Person of Christ, who lives and teaches in his Church and is really and truly present in the Sacraments.
The methods of evangelisation of former times seems to be the teaching of the "Our Father", and a few other prayers and some quite clear moral teaching such as keeping the 10 Commandments, attendance at Mass, that leads to Heaven, not keeping the Commandments etc leads to Hell. It is simple, ultimately: Heaven or Hell: Life or Death. Living a Christian life, conversion, is the real sign of embracing the Faith. As in the Gospels right "doing": loving God and one's neighbour was the sign of right believing.

An old priest friend, quietly, late at night suggests the same thing about the Mass, now it has all become so complicated in the past it was simple to explain: here is Jesus our Saviour, really and truly present under the form of bread and wine.

Yes, we can add details and depth, we can answer questions and indeed in the past the "doing" was supposed to provoke questions but ultimately the Catholic faith isn't about complexity but simply an encounter with the Risen Lord.

18 comments:

Ma Tucker said...

As a layperson I have to say the simplest and most effective form of communication comes from priests who take their faith seriously. How they address God in the Mass. How they handle the host. How they reverence the altar etc. Great preaching is all good but personal devotion impresses the most. I see their love for Him and this makes me desire to love Him too.

Charlotte said...

No, I think you have to believe in Jesus Christ first. Then his church. I am not a liberal.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Frequently in my homilies I simply reiterate the basic teaching that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ and are not symbols of Christ. Surveys in Westerd countries suggest that a huge percentage of Catholics don't know this.

I recently celebrated the First Communion Mass for Deaf children. In my homily I gave them and the adults, mostly hearing people, that basic teaching. I also showed the congregation how to genuflect and explain why we do this. I find that many adults never genuflect, though some bow, even people who go to Mass every day. Despite my showing people from time to time how to genuflect, the message doesn't get through to all. Some adults, including senior ones who aren't physically impaired in any way, are more recalcitrant than the most rebellious adolescent!

On occasion in Ireland and in the USA people have thanked me after Mass for re-stating clearly the Church's teaching on the Eucharist.

I agree with Ma Tucker that the way the priest celebrates Mass is the most effective form of communication. I have observed too in recent years, in a number of countries, that a sense of 'sobriety' has come back in the celebration of Mass.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Charlotte,
First you have to believe the messenger or the witness, that is the Church.
The foundation of the Church is the witness of the Apostles.

Ma Tucker said...

Fr. Ray could it be that sometimes you do not need to put your trust in the messenger initially when the message itself is one you simply could not make up.

R. Wyn Jones said...

Charity is the very essence of Christianity. So, why is it that so called Liberals are looked down upon? It hardly equates with 'Love thy neighbour.'
There is far too much in the way of criticism and unkindness in our church today, especially towards Liberals, Bishops, Archbishops even the Nuncio.
Whatever happened to Charity? If there is no charity in our hearts how can we profess to follow Christ?
As a priests and a priestly blogger you hold a great responsibility to impart Our Lord’s message.
If he were here today, would he be constantly sniping at Liberals and Bishops and anyone who did not share his views? I think not.

santoeusebio said...

Christianity complicated? Well let us just look at the alternatives such as the belief that science has all the answers. Every day we have programs on the TV telling us how the scientists have or will shortly have the answer to everything. But try looking at what all these assertions are based upon. I am struggling with Roger Penrose's "The Road to Reality".
Try getting your mind round hyperbolic geometry or complex-number calculus and you are only one tenth of your way into the book. Contrary to the blurb "a complete guide ... to the universe" Penrose is much more modest. He says you can ask "what?" and "how?" but if you ask "why?" you are into the deepest mysteries where science should be very cautious.

Give me the mystery of The Trinity any day.

But as to Christianity's complexity: should we not be wary of simplifying it? Last Sunday we had a shortened version of the Gospel on the Samaritan women which just got me confused. Why are we patronised in this way as if the full version is too long for us who have taken the trouble to come to Mass? If people do not understand about the real presence is it because the catechism was regarded as too difficult and some sort of luvvy-duvvy religion was more likely to keep people on the right path? It seems to me that the purpose of teaching the catechism is to tell people what our religion is about - if they then reject it at least they know what they are rejecting.

Nicolas Bellord

Gigi said...

In another very recent post, you spoke of the need to find new parables for a contemporary world, a new language to speak about God. I totally agree with that, and I feel it is so do-able because the essence of Christianity is uncomplicated. So many of Christ's teachings make sense even on a cause and effect level! If you do this, that will happen; it would be far nicer for everyone else if you did this instead, and you'll see the benefit yourself. Sorry to be so simplistic, but that is my point.
I do believe that Christianity should look to encourage children and young people by using inclusive language and emphasising the relevance of Christ's message in their push-button, automated response lives.
For me, the beauty of the Word is it's simplicity. There's clearly a sensible and feel-good element to right doing and right living. The challenge and the mystery is faith in the Word. I see faith as magical. You only have to look at the popular appeal of Harry Potter, the Twilight Saga and New Age mysticism (which could be described as the old religions dressed up in crystals and feathers) to see how attractive mystery and magic are.
I look at my friends' kids and everything is on gadget-tap for them: films, games, music, even homework. They can tell me about dowmload speeds, which seem very fanciful to me, but the mystery of faith doesn't extend to the crucifixion. Wizards rather than angels, repentant vampires rather than redemption. There must be a way of channeling the energy for wonder that kids today still have. I'm not suggesting trivialising or cartoon animation. It is still the greatest story ever told, and I do believe Catholics have all the best rituals
On another point, I agree with Father Coyle that people seem to have forgotten why we genuflect, or how to. I see very few people, even those I might refer to as pious, who genuflect as little more than a bob, if at all. Why? We kneel and stand during mass if we are able, so it's hardly a great compromise physically. One of my closest friends is convinced "we don't have to do it anymore" and my sister tells me it embarrasses her when I do it. I'd be interested to know why other people don't genuflect. It seems as natural as signig the Cross.

Fr Gary said...

I am reminded of the Ethiopian who retorted to St Philip, "How can I unless someone teach me?". Belief in Christ comes through hearing of Him via His authentic witnesess, and those witnesses are His Holy Church. We cannot know Christ in a personal vaccuum; that is the Protestant way and leads only to the splintering of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church.

nickbris said...

It would be good to get reminders now & again from the Priest during the Homily,especially about genuflecting.

More and more people walk in as though they were going into a pub

Fr Ray Blake said...

RJW,
I don't think bishops and Liberals belong in the same categorary, that is absurd!

The greatest act of Charity is to tell the Truth, Truth is a person, Jesus Christ, who is here today, in his Church.
Liberalism subverts a relationship with Christ in his Church, to one of propositions, that is not the Gospel, in fact it is the anti-Gospel.

shadowlands said...

I suppose, in a way, God the Father was the first evangelist. He decided when looking at sinful mankind, that He would send his only Son, to die for us.
It was love for sinners that motivated Him, (John 3:16)so perhaps we should take His lead and let it be love for sinners (as he loves sinners) to be our motivation for evangelisation. Now then, where did I put that list of all the sinners I love?????
Do we love sinners? Or do we just judge them and measure ourselves alongside them?
There but for the grace of God.....

Info. said...

"... the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence."
Benedict XVI

45th World Day for Social Communications. June 2011

Gigi said...

Hi Shadowlands! I quite like the idea of God the Father as the first evangelist, by the way... But you've hit on a rather wobbly note for me: "Do we love sinners? Or do we just judge them and measure ourselves alongside them?"
Obviously, with faith in Christ we feel compassion for those who sin and we don't seek to punish them. Yet is it a judgement in itself to identify someone as a sinner? Isn't comparison an initial judgement? I'm not judging you by the way - I'm interested in your view because I struggle with this one!

pattif said...

Charlotte -

Jesus, the Head, is not separable from his Body, the Church.

shadowlands said...

Gigi said:

'Yet is it a judgement in itself to identify someone as a sinner? Isn't comparison an initial judgement? I'm not judging you by the way - I'm interested in your view because I struggle with this one!'

Gigi, I shouldn't have used that word as a means of separating myself from the 'unevangelised' as I still regard myself as a sinner, but a sinner who's heard about the hope to be found in Jesus Christ and His church (visible and invisible). You were right to bring the point up. Thank you for pointing it out.

Richard said...

Fr Coyle said "I find that many adults never genuflect"

In my experience, "many" is something of an understatement.

I have never seen anyone in my parish church genuflect, other than myself and my son (which makes it difficult to teach him to do it).

Other parishes I visit seem to be much the same, other than the traditional-minded ones such as the Oratory.

Gigi said...

@ Richard: I find it somewhat disappointing that I don't see other people genuflecting. I was shown how to by my Dad as soon as I was able to toddle about church; as I said, I thought it should be as natural as signing the Cross. Being half Irish and half French I can confirm that the right knee is still in use in those lands. Surely priests other than Father Coyle must have noted the demise of the genuflection?
@ Shadowlands: I wasn't criticising your post at all. I fully agree that love for "sinners" is a supreme motivation for evangelisation. I genuinely struggle with labelling others "sinners" because of course I am a sinner as much as any one else. And I truly try not to be judgemental, because it's not a trait I like to see in others; which is very judgemental of me, essentially! We admit that we are far from perfect and not free from sin, but we can look to our neighbour and see he has done x,y, and probably z, and we think ourselves not "that bad".
It is a very human tripwire; not judging others but recognising those in need of compassion; judging ourselves to avoid veering off the moral compass, but not imposing our standards. I admit I find it difficult.