The Gap: An Agony in Four Fits Print
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 18 August 2009 17:43
This was supposed to be a simple comment on The Gap: Third Verse, Same as the First but Blogger is refusing to post more and more. Last week, it was pictures and now it won't take my comments. Let's seen if I can still post!

Peter:

Remember the woman I quoted was quoting another evangelical friend who thought her child, used to a much more expressive and exuberant form of worship, might find the typical Mass boring.

I doubt very much whether the comment was stereotyping at all. I can think of members of my own family, who literally haven't a clue about the Catholic Mass, who would spontaneously feel the same way if I shanghaied them into one.

They have acquired a profoundly different sense of what "real" worship and "real" reverence should look like. In fact, they would be likely to regard the typical parish Mass as not simply boring but literally "dead". Since I know my family and what some of them are used to thinking of as "worship", anticipating their response requires no stereotyping at all. Just a simple knowledge of the person involved.

It's much like observing that my daughter, raised on Indian cuisine might well find English food bland and boring. Or that my son, raised in Kansas, might find Indian food too hot. It was a statement about the likes and dislikes of a particular person in light of their tastes and what they have been raised to regard as normal.

Here the gap in lived experience is so great that I despair of ever being able to get evangelicals to stop projecting their expectations upon Catholics and vice-versa. Which is why I won't be shanghaiing members of my family to Mass any time soon.

You wrote:

Orthodox Christians, interestingly enough, were significantly less likely than Catholics to profess belief in a “personal God.” Does that mean that large numbers of Orthodox Christians are functionally Deist?

Actually, I've had long conversations with a couple of very theologically and psychologically sophisticated Orthodox clergy with a broad knowledge of the orthodox scene and the answer seems to be "yes". For one thing, their attendance is far, far below our own. (One told me that although there is supposed to be 1 million Greek Orthodox in the US, attendance at the Divine Liturgy on a given Sunday, was probably no more than 40,000 - in the entire country!)

And when i asked him about discipleship and like issues, he knew immediately what I meant but his own sense of the number of disciples among the Orthodox was exceedingly grim. They seem to suffer from exactly the same diseases we do - but even more so since culture plays a much larger role.

You noted:

As an aside, one finding I found very interesting is that 73 percent of evangelicals worship in congregations of 500 people or less compared to only 44 percent of Catholics. I wonder how much that particular fact affects the rest of people’s spiritual lives. It may be hard to image God as “personal” if your congregation feels very “impersonal.”

It's a interesting question that I haven't thought much about honestly. Partly because I suppose that I have experienced so many evangelical mega-churches who manage to maintain a strong emphasis on the personal in their services and cultural norms. (Of course, they put an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources into doing so in a way that I've hardly even seen a Catholic parish attempt. It has to be huge priority in a gigantic parish to succeed.) But I imagine there has to be some point beyond which the sheer numbers overwhelm you. So an interesting question.

You commented:

The question is whether the additional level of spiritual intensity in those congregations is the result of specific practices that can be identified and transferred effectively to Catholic parishes.

Another great question in which I have a considerable professional experience and background. The immediate answer is "You can't simply import something from the evangelical world because almost always there are serious theological ecclesiological, cultural, and linguistic differences that you have to address or it will fail to have the desired impact. What I have found best is to be "inspired" by evangelical experience and then turn with new eyes to the Catholic tradition and ask "where have Catholics addressed this issue before?"

They have, you know, but most of our evangelical and pastoral wisdom has been relegated to the province of historians. Very few are doing the research into say, the evangelistic strategies of St. Bernadine of Siena as it relates to the work of St. Francis Xavier and St. Vincent de Paul. Evangelicals are reading our history for that exact information (My knowledge about 16th Jesuit missions was acquired from a paper I did at Fuller) but we aren't.

If you have 500 - 600 disciples in a congregation of 3,000 families (let's say a Sunday attendance of 5,000?), you are actually doing quite well. 10% is actually double the average estimate so God bless you!

And honestly, it is our ignorance of our own Catholic history and pastoral practice that makes us think of Bible studies and small groups and mission trips as "evangelical strategies". All of these things have been done many times in purely Catholic settings in the distant and near past.

For instance, i'm just reading a book on the amazing Oasis movement in Poland that developed in the 50's under communism. When American evangelicals heard about it in the 70's, they were riveted because it all sounded so familiar but the practices weren't imported from the evangelical world, they were home-grown in one of the most intensely Catholic cultures on earth.

By a Polish priest who had grown up in a non-religious Catholic family, miraculously survived Auschwitz where he experienced a powerful conversion, went directly into the seminary from the concentration camp, and in his very first parish of 12,000, recognized a serious problem:

"He compared his work at this period to that of a farmer who kept going from field to field scattering seeds of grain with his bare hands but having no time to check what if anything, had grown. Crowds filled the church at each of the many Masses on Sunday.

However Fr. Franciszek saw that most people were coming to Church out of custom and habit more than anything else. To many of his parishioners, faith was not a source of happiness and strength. Nor had it any real relevance to their lives."


It makes sense that for a man jolted out of agnosticism by the horrors of Auschwitz, merely conventional, cultural Catholicism would not be enough. And out of his experience grew a very powerful renewal movement in Poland which emphasized personal relationship with Christ, discipleship, Bible study, Christian community, and Marian devotion, and which received the active support and involvement of the future John Paul II.