Guest post: Consumer Catholicism

I was sent what I think is a great post by Andrew Infanger of south central Wisconsin. 

If you are a traditional or conservative Catholic, your ears probably perk up and your eyebrows raise a little when you read the phrase "consumer Catholicism" It hearkens to similar sounding ideas such as the "cafeteria Catholic" or the Coffee house Church. The term consumer Catholic however has less to do with pop culture and our materialistic culture and more to do with our free-market consumer economy, and it is an attitude that our more orthodox friends tend embody just as much if not more so than our more liberal or 'progressive' brothers and sisters.

Our pop-culture Catholicism has all but canonized the Republican party (and not without due cause. The removal of God and their vehement support of Abortion on the party planks puts into serious question the support of the Democratic party by serious supporters of the Church and Her Teachings.) The Church has not however canonized capitalism by any means. In fact, among many other prominent teachers and theologians, Blessed John Paul II stated that in his encyclical Centissimus Annus, that "In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing." And while the Church rejects the collectivism of communism, and the person-centered (instead of God centered) liberation theology, Blessed JPII was clear in his rejection of a laissez-faire form of government. I would also think he would have rejected the notion of mass consumerism creeping into our local parishes, and particularly the mindset of those who are looking for a parish to call home.

There is no conclusive statement on remaining within one's parish boundaries, and terms such as 'church shopping' have starting to creep into our Catholic language from protestant communities. Even registering at a specific parish is often overlooked, in favor of following orthodox priests from community to community, or leaving a parish due to a disagreement with council members or certain styles of worship. Shopping for a good new car is quite different from finding a parish community. Let me give some examples of this.

If I were shopping for a new car, I would first set aside my criteria for a car. What is the gas mileage? Do I prefer foreign or US made? Do I want an SUV, a sedan, a coupe, etc…?What is my price range? These are all questions that a smart shopper takes into consideration. Next step is locating a dealership, and seeing if the salesperson is trying to pull the wool over my eyes. With price transparencies today there is no need to over pay for a car. And as an informed consumer, we make the decision to purchase from this dealer, or to find one that better suits our tastes and needs. The key importance here is: we have no responsibility for the quality of the dealer. If a dealer does not meet our expectations we have the right (and in a free market society perhaps an obligation) to leave and buy from a different dealer. This is how strong companies thrive and weak ones are either forced to change or go under. It eliminates the "fat" from our economy (and is the reason why many people were against government bailouts of companies considered too big to fail.)

Choosing a parish community is quite different, precisely because when it comes to a parish community, we have a responsibility for the quality of the church, and if we are true Catholics with an understanding of history, change is only made through a slow and consistent "voice in the wilderness." This doesn't change Church teaching but it does change church practice, style of worship and adherence to tradition. Some biblical examples. John the baptist (not a member of any ruling class or clergy) didn't leave ancient Israel for Egypt because he didn't like their interpretation of the Mosaic Law. He did the opposite. He stayed, and prepared the way of the Lord, so future generations could reap the benefit. Jesus is quite similar. Although he was never accepted by the Jewish people, he never left them. His fate was quite similar to John's (except for the resurrection aspect.) And when the apostles and followers didn't see eye to eye with Jesus (such as John 6) the true believers didn't leave, even if they didn't quite get it. This is an oversimplified interpretation, but it lends a hand to our discussion on staying at a parish even if the priest is straying a bit from the Missal, not wearing his vestments according to the norm or you think the cross and red carpet in the sanctuary is ugly.

Its actually sad that people will leave to attend a more traditional parish often many miles outside away from their nearest parish, when in fact they are the ones needed at that parish the most. If they have the guts to write a letter to a bishop or the Vatican concerning liturgical abuses, they are more than likely not that ones to be hurt by these erroneous liturgical practices, and even more so, shouldn't be jumping ship, but rather helping to steer the ship towards orthodoxy. As a parishioner, chances are you will be around longer than the priest will and your long term influence on liturgy and orthodoxy may very well out last that of a 6 year term priest. It is the primary example of consumer Catholicism.

Although many of us may not consider ourselves "cafeteria Catholics" who pick and choose among the Church's teachings, we may find ourselves having been thoroughly consumed with the ideas of "consumer Catholicism". To quote Walker Percy, we become like the"feeding vacuole of an amoeba seeking to nourish and inform its own nothingness by ingesting new objects in the world but, like a vacuole, only succeeds in emptying them out."

This echoes the sentiment of C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, "Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches."

While a parish community is meant to nourish us both spiritually and socially, it is quite unlike the car dealership. If we aren't satisfied with the service, the quality of the product, the attitude of the salesman, and the look of the car lot, we leave, and rightly so. If we are unsatisfied with a pastor, with a parish council, with the look of our church, or with the community, we have the responsibility to stay and be the voice in the wilderness if need be. Otherwise we risk creating mini-catholic-mega-churches, destination churches, leaving the other parish communities to whither and die, and this in my view is completely un-Catholic, because when a parish closes, we end up with the last thing our country needs; another empty tabernacle.

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Anonymous said...

(Brian from Illinois): I agree that this is a very good post. We had the very sad experience three years ago of having to leave our Parish that's a mile away from our house. The previous Pastor was very traditional (including starting a weekly Sunday Latin Mass). The new Pastor was the exact opposite, and he made a point of changing and removing pretty much everything our previous Pastor had done. We stayed in the Parish for almost six months after he came. I often served Mass for him, and did work in the Parish.
Unfortunately, because of my close working relationship with the new Pastor, he would often confide in me (weather I wanted to hear him or not), how he felt about those Parishoners who were still trying to be traditional. Some of what he said to me was outright heretical, and most of it was malicious gossip. We struggled for a long time about should we stay here with this going on, or should we drive to and join the much more traditional minded parish 10 miles away? Finally, I asked God to please tell us what we should do, and he told us to leave. He also told us to pray daily for the Pastor and everyone at the Parish, which we do to this day.
My point in writing this is that while I like and agree with the post, there are sometimes circumstances beyond our control that cause people to leave a more liberal parish and go to a more traditional one. To this day, we're still suffering from having to leave our original parish (loss of close friends, we could walk to this Church, etc) but God is helping us, and he's "opened the door" for us to meet other people and some excellent Priests! :) So I don't think you can apply this post to everyone who has done this. Some people (like us) have had to make what was a very painful and difficult decision to leave their local parish and go to a more traditional one. Thanks for reading and God Bless! :)

Anonymous said...

First, there is a principled difference between a protestant searching for a church and a Catholic searching for an orthodox parish within the Church. For the former, the nature of the 'church' is different in each location because each is in schism from Holy Mother Church. The protestant is choosing among numerous products, or churches. For the latter, the nature of the church remains the same wherever the church is located because each is part of the Catholic Church. The Catholic cannot practice eccesial consumerism within the Church because there is only one Church. To use the same consumer analogy, the protestant searches for a different 'product' each time he 'shops' for a church, whereas the Catholic searches for the same 'product'. The aim of the Catholic in a search should be 'integrity' or othodoxy not 'product preference'.

Second, erroneous liturgical practices harm not only the priest and the parishioners, but the entire Church. They particularly harm children who because of the liturgical abuses will have a distorted notion of, among other things, the true nature of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the role of the priest and the laity.

Third, one may have liturgical preferences within the framework of orthodoxy. If one finds the usus antiquior more spiritually edifying and beautiful and one's pastor is unwilling to celebrate the usus antiquior despite charitable requests from the faithful, one is justified is attending a liturgy that he or she finds more spiritually edifying and beautiful. The pastor may have firm convictions about the liturgy that the faithful cannot alter despite these charitable attempts to persuade otherwise. To assist at Mass elsewhere does not amount to consumerism, especially when seen in light of Summorum Pontificum which stated that the pastor should willingly accept requests from a stable group of faithful within the parish to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962...

Anonymous said...

Continued from above...

Fourth, there is a difference between orthodox moral teachings and personal preferences. The unorthodox teachings of a priest jeopardize our souls. We have a primary responsibility to protect not only our own souls from errant teachings but the souls of those whom God has entrusted to us depending on our state in life (e.g. spouse, children). The Church does not instruct us to jeopardize our souls for the sake of reforming a parish priest who teaches contrary to the faith or inspires lukewarmness.

Fifth, the unwillingness of a pastor to celebrate the usus antiquior, refrain from heterodox liturgical practices, take stances on moral matters that are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church are not matters for the laity to correct. It is not the responsibility of the laity to remain in a near occasion of sin with an aim to correct pastor who oversees the parish. The priest is not obligated to be obedient to the laity. However, he must be obedient to his bishop.

Sixth, the prevalence of people leaving a parish and searching for an orthodox parish is a response to a crisis. It is not how it should be, but it is a legitimate response to a problem of manifest heterodoxy in many areas of the Church, particularly in the U.S. There is a similarly analogy: homeschooling. Homeschooling is a response to a crisis in education. The Church teaches that children are best schooled in Catholic schools, not at home. Recall that parents are the primary educators in the lives of their children, but not the only educators. But because many schools are failing to school children rightly and in the faith, parents may choose to educate their children at home. This choice to educate at should be seen as unfortunate and sad because it is not ordered. Likewise with parishes that advance heterodoxy.

Finally, the parishioner has options beyond trying to persuade the pastor to change his mistaken ways. An ordered response to the crisis of heterodoxy can be seen in the Diocese of Madison where Bishop Morlino has staffed several parishes with the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest. Heterodox diocesan priests were leading the faithful astray in matters moral and liturgical. Because Bishop Morlino is morally responsible for the souls of his flock, he replaced heterodox diocesan priests with orthodox priests. Parishioners should address their concerns about parish priests to their bishop. He has primary authority over his priests. The laity do not have this authority over their priests. But not all bishops are fervent; some are lukewarm. Heterodox pastors may remain. In those unfortunate instances, and they are widespread, the faithful may choose to assist at Mass elsewhere for the purpose of safeguarding their souls and those to whom they are primarily responsible without falling into the protestant error of ecclesial consumerism.

Felix Culpa said...

I totally disagree. "Parish shopping" is not sad at all. What is sad is that liturgical abuses continue despite the decades of complaints against them to the Bishops & Vatican by many a brave church goer.
I will continue to travel an hour & a half for Mass in the Extraordinary form rather than the ten minutes it takes to reach my nearest church which celebrates the Ordinary form with altar girls & banal music. I do it for the more reverential treatment of the Mass & not for the priest or the color of the carpeting.

Filling the pews and coffers of traditionalist churches will sooner fix the others than letters to a church hierarchy that generally dismisses traditionalists as reactionaries and/or cranks.

As you point out, there is no law against living in one parish an attending church in another. Through such choices & writing the letters you suggest, the change we desire will eventually come.

Keep The Faith!

JoshD said...

On paper, parish shopping is absolutely a sad thing. The connection to the local community is greatly harmed, and as the article pointed out there is harm done to the potential for improvements in the local parish.

This being said, for me there is a justifiable reason (for full disclosure I do drive about 40mins each way for Mass), and that is my primary responsibility to raise my children in the Faith. This responsibility trumps my responsibility to contribute to the local parish. Our closest Catholic Church is horribly fraught with liturgical abuse and with heresy. I actually attempted to go there for daily Mass (alone) and left it was so bad. I was recently told by their DRE, who herself is pretty liberal, that a lot of people are leaving the parish and she thinks a lot of it has to do with the priest's refusal to use the new translation of the Missal.

With all this drama, I will not put my 4 wonderful young children in an environment that will only confuse them and mislead them away from the Truths of the Church. They attend a wonderful Catholic school that teaches them the beauty of the Church in the fullness of Her theological teachings, in the importance of the Liturgy, and in the integration of Catholic Faith into all avenues of learning and life. There is no way I will risk first and foremost my children's souls, along with the much lesser material investments of travel time and school expenses by attending that parish.

When my children are old enough to understand that some priests/ parishes do not do what they're supposed to, we'll talk, because again I'm not a fan on principle of the hopping. Until then I will continue to be a proud parishoner of one of the best parishes in our archdiocese and will continue to pray for our local parish and continue to support its healing in whatever ways I can.

Anonymous said...

(Brian): To add to what Felix Culpa said, many of us did write letters to the Rockford Diocese Chancery and to Bishop Doran (our Bishop at the time). The impression we got from the few replies we received was that they thought the new Priest and what he was doing and saying was absolutely wonderful and how dare we complain to the Diocese about him! :( Argh!!! So We pray every day for the Rockford Diocese Chancery along with our former Pastor and parish. :) Please also pray with us for the new Rockford Bishop, David Malloy. I like what I've seen and heard from him so far.

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Anonymous said...

(Brian): One last comment on this. As I mentioned in my first post above, we only live a mile away from the Parish that we left. I still go there every once in a great while for Adoration and an occasional Mass on the weekends. I can say that things have gotten even worse liturgically there since we left. So I'll gladly keep praying daily for the Pastor and everyone there, but I won't be going there again on a regular basis. Let's all keep praying daily for authentic repentance, renewal, and reform in our beloved Catholic Churches! :)

a pilgrimmage through learning said...

We live in a mobile society in terms of many not living by relatives and similar cultural backgrounds the way it used to be. While it may seem like a negative thing, the church can become our extended family if there are similarities in worship style. We switched parishes a few years ago and were so delighted to find so many "surrogate" grandparents for our children. While we disagreed with the pastor on nuances of social issues, he allowed us to help with many things, like sacristan work, religious Ed, altar serving, lecturing, and others. It feels like home, which never is supposed to be perfection, just a striving for perfection via grace.

Cassandra said...

The writer of the post is hopelessly naive and the analogies are deeply flawed. I started several replies to explain why, but it is pointless to explain to someone that obviously has no experience in being a "voice in the parish" concerning anything substanstial. Put simply, he does not grasp the depth of the crisis in Church today.

Throughout Church history, reform has always, and must, start at the top. This is because God respects the authority of those who hold it, even to the detriment of the subjects. Consider the English Reformation which is the best historical example of today's crisis.

Unfortunately, poor Pope Benedict can not even control his own Curia and the majority of bishops worldwide do not cooperate with his attempts at reform.

We must simply wait this out until the progressive generation dies out. In the meantime if a soul has found an oasis of orthodoxy and reverent worship, it is cruel to trouble his conscience about his choice to seek proper worship of God. Let him live in peace and let the dead bury the dead.