In some ways, the topic of this week’s Catholicism in Focus is a trivial one. It is the sort of topic that the Pharisees might have argued about, seemingly esoteric, having no effect on the lives of the poor and no relevance to a true faith.

In other ways, this topic finds itself at the very center of the most important aspect of our lives. How we answer this question is not simply a matter of preference or idiosyncrasy, but is rooted in the very theology that we bring to our Eucharistic celebrations.

Oh, and based on the comments on the video so far, it’s also a controversial question that is dictated more by emotion and nostalgia than a carefully tested Eucharistic theology…

The question that I tackle this week is of the placement of the tabernacle.

As you watch this video, I simply ask that you try to understand what the Church is saying and why it is saying it. Rather than trying to justify your own opinion or challenge what is being said, really try to get to the heart of the issue. In the interest of tradition and familiarity, many have already rejected the prescriptions of the Church, writing them off as irrelevant, out of touch, or just another mistake of the Second Vatican Council. They have looked to things they don’t like in the Church as a way to prove that this “new” practice is the cause. Even some bishops are trying to find their way around the rubrics and return to what the Church used to do. Try to fight this urge. Try to get beneath the surface, outside of your comfort zone, and see what is really at stake.

Reverence for the Eucharist is surely not what it should be. Our worship can definitely be lackluster at times. For some, this is reason enough to abandon our present practices and return to the old ones, a “magic bullet” to fix our issues. My opinion? While there are some obvious pastoral issues at play here and some clear problems that need to be addressed, the placement of the tabernacle is less of an issue than catechesis is. Putting it at one place or another might hide the issues we have, but it won’t actually address them if people don’t know what’s going on. Let’s address what’s going on under the surface, let’s correct what could be lacking in our Eucharistic theology, and none of this will be an issue.

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Eight hundred years ago, a little man from Assisi, a man without tremendous wealth, power, stature, or societal influence, set a movement in motion that would leave the Church and world forever changed. That man was St. Francis of Assisi.

Within just a short decade, there were already more than 5,000 friars in countries all across Europe, the Poor Clares had spread to multiple monasteries and established itself as a new way of monastic living, and the penitent movements had received their rule and amassed a larger number even than the rest.

It’s difficult to underestimate the effect that the Franciscan movement had on history. With its great size and diversity came the ability to spread its culture and values, including a number of innovations, in a way that had never been seen before. Constantly on the move, they could respond to the signs of the times, enflaming a people with passion before moving on to the next place. The way they served the poorest of the poor, living humbly themselves, preaching in new and popular ways, and not asking for much in return challenged the secular priests of their day to serve in a different way. The nativity scene and stations of the cross, while not invented by the Franciscans, are popular devotions today because of their insistence on an incarnational way of prayer. And the breviary, the shortened and compacted way of praying the psalms found in every religious house in the world today, was first employed by these traveling preachers.

At every level of the Church, in every country in the world, the Franciscans have not only been present, but have left their mark in irreconcilable ways.

But why? Why didn’t the Dominicans, who were formed around the same time, not grow as quickly? Why did it take the Jesuits, who were founded to do similar forms of ministry, so long to get its first pope (who took the name Francis!) Why haven’t the Benedictines, who have existed for much longer, had such a lasting effect on the imagination of the Church? And why haven’t the countless other religious orders that were founded throughout the history of the Church been able to match what the Franciscans have done in 800 years?

I ask these questions not to put down other Orders or even to shamelessly promote the Franciscans (okay, a little bit of the latter), but simply to marvel at what seems inconceivable: a religious movement started by a simple man like Francis should have never worked at all, let alone have changed the Church and world as it did.

Why is that? And maybe more importantly, what might we learn from the success of this movement 800 years ago in what our Church and world are facing today? That is what I was employed to talk about last weekend at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Arizona. While I can’t repeat all 5 hours of talks, I wanted to share the central points here in this week’s vlog.

I hope it inspires you to join in the movement, in however you can in your situation, and happy Feast of St. Francis to you all!

When I went to college, I was given a helpful study tip: study and relax in distinct places and never mix the two. The thinking is that your body becomes accustomed to a certain environment and will train itself for a specific task, i.e. you sleep in bed and so you begin to get tired when you get into bed. When environments are mixed, so too do our habits. Studying in bed will make us more inclined to fall asleep while trying to learn, or worse, less inclined to sleep when we want to. By only sleeping in bed and only working at the desk, keeping tasks in a specific and distinct location, one will be able to focus on each better.

We certainly can and have applied this principle to our prayer lives as well. In places like chapels, cathedrals, and monasteries, we create environments that fosters prayer and contemplation. They are generally quiet but acoustically resonant, beautiful yet tasteful, simple yet thought-provoking, and comfortable yet deliberate. They are not the place to eat lunch or watch television, but places to experience what is holy. Over time, they become places of refuge, sources of inspiration for our faith; places that we celebrate the sacraments, gather for communal prayer, and find peace. In other words, these are the places that we find God. These are holy places.

Ah… an interesting concept. Holy places. What do we mean by that? What does it imply? We are absolutely correct in saying that such places are fountains of God’s love and mercy, that God can be found in these places. We know this to be true. But does that mean that God cannot be found other places? Are there places that God cannot be found?

That is the topic of this week’s reflection, looking at what we would describe as the “sacred” and the “profane.” While there is certainly some benefit to applying our common study tip to our prayer life, we have to be careful not to be so quick to cut off God’s ability to reach us when and where we are.

It is often said that, in our world today, more people than ever are “spiritual but not religious,” that they have a sense of God, want to live in communion with others, and do what is right, but have no interest in conforming to the norms of an institutionalized religion. You probably know quite a few people like this.

But what about those people who are “religious but not spiritual”? Now, admittedly, I’ve never actually met someone who identified as such, but I interact with them on a regular basis. People who are concerned with rules and tradition, who attend prayer services and identify with a particular congregation, but have no sense of the sacred, prayer life, or foundation in Jesus Christ for what they do. You probably know quite a few people like this as well.

In this week’s video, I want to subtly address this issue I encounter far too often in the Catholic Church: people can come to church their entire lives without knowing Jesus. As hard as it is to believe, it is very true. People come to mass each week for many reasons and it’s not always for spirituality or a relationship.

I think that this is a problem worth addressing.

Having posted this video a few days ago, I have had some time to hear some feedback and reflect on my own words, and I’d like to offer a few further thoughts. (Please pause this blog post and watch the video before continuing. I’ll wait.)

In one of my more provocative lines on Breaking In The Habit history, I say, “I would much rather people be in love with Jesus in a Protestant Church than wasting away in a Catholic Church. What matters is Jesus Christ, not your congregational affiliation.”

Yeah, I said those words. And after thinking about it more… I stand by it.

Despite what some have said in the comments, I do not want people to leave the Catholic Church; even less so do I think that all Christian Churches are created equal and that it doesn’t matter what you believe. I am very proud of my Church and believe that it holds the fullness of Truth, that it is the sacrament of salvation. I would love for every person in the world to be a practicing Catholic!

But the reason for this is not so that we can all bear the same name; it’s not because I think the way we worship, our stance on Mary or the saints, or the pope himself are constitutive for our salvation. Those things are great, but they are not why I want everyone to be Catholic. The reason that our Church is amazing—and truly the only reason necessary—is Jesus Christ. Our Church is endowed with the special mission of proclaiming his life, death, and resurrection, of caring on the work of the Kingdom. That is what makes our Church significant.

And so, back to my comment, if people are attending the Catholic Church and not living this mission, and if said people are able to live this mission within the bounds of another Church, growing closer to Jesus in holiness through love and sacrifice… you better believe that I would rather they have the option with Jesus in it. Jesus is what matters, not the congregational affiliation, and we do ourselves a great disservice to the kingdom of God when we think that we are automatically saved by being Catholic or that Jesus is unable to save those unlisted in our baptismal registry. St. John the Baptist admonished the people, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father'” (Mt 3:9). He is speaking to that mentality in us.

Let’s not make the same mistake, okay? Let’s not be like the hypocrites in Jesus’ time who confused what was important:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Mt 23: 16-19)

What is more important, the institutional church or Christ who makes the Church holy? Going to mass and receiving the Eucharist without any faith at all, leaving us unchanged, or attending a Protestant service on fire for the Lord in such a way that it causes us to be transformed into different people? Being a Catholic who doesn’t know Jesus or a Protestant who joins him to build up the kingdom?

I honestly hope that the latter choice is always the answer, but more than that, I hope that we Catholics will be unsatisfied with both choices. For those who got upset with my supporting the latter choice—saying that being a Jesus-following Protestant was better than a spiritually dead Catholic—I hope you see my real point in it all: I don’t want either of these things. As a Catholic minister, and without any disrespect to my Protestant and Orthodox brothers/sisters in Christ, I want for everyone to be a Jesus-following, spiritually nourished, on-fire disciples of Jesus Christ… within the Catholic Church. For me, that’s the endgame and nothing less.

I want Jesus, and I want his Church.

But short of that, in a world in which our Church fails to bring Jesus to people, I want people to be where they can find Jesus. Can we do that? Can we be that place? Can we make Jesus our highest priority, our identity as Christian first and foremost, our call to discipleship over our call to parish registration?

I hope so, and that’s my message this week.

My apologies for the clickbait, but I think it’s a pretty accurate title… in a sense. I do think that we should stop referring to the center of our faith exclusively as “God.” I do not think that we should stop believing in a deity in general. Hopefully the video will explain itself.

But since I have gotten some confused responses, it might not hurt for me to offer a bit more explanation! Seems safer.

Put simply, the word “God” is very generic and means a lot of things to a lot of people. When some people say “God,” they mean a spirit in the sky that created the world but remains uninvolved in our lives; others mean a sacred tree that connects all life; still others have been influenced by a certain science fiction saga that takes place among the stars; and Christians… well we mean none of those things.

And yet, we still use the same word. And yet, we get our language mixed up and start to accept theologies about these “Gods” that has nothing to do with our own.

For me, we need to reclaim our own definition of God and our own theology, namely, that God is three in one, personal, and immanent. God is not just a philosophical concept, God is not just a transcendent being. God is Trinity, ever close and ever related to us.

Hopefully that helps to clarify!