What's Wrong With the Church?


After rather a lot of discussion about liturgy and reverence and what's wrong with the Church a couple of commenters have asked me what to do about it.

G.K. Chesterton

You know the old story about G.K.Chesterton. There was a series of articles and letters in the paper about what was wrong with the world. So he writes, "Dear Sir, What is wrong with the world? I am, Yours Sincerely, G.K.Chesterton.

The same might be answered about "What's wrong with the Church?" After rather a lot of discussion about liturgy and reverence and what's wrong with the Church a couple of commenters have asked me what to do about it. It seems to me that the first thing to do about it is to develop an attitude shift. Instead of blaming everybody else I should blame myself. Accepting the blame has the wonderful triple effect of confounding one's enemies, accepting what seems to be an outrageous absurdity (which is always a tonic for the mind and soul) and helping one to nurture that most elusive of virtues: humility.

There seems to be an awful lot of sour grumbling about the Church from both liberal and conservative Catholics. Yes, I know there are liturgical abuses. I also lament the deplorable state of modern American Catholic architecture. I share your antipathy for Sister Sandals and Fr Folkmass. We could go on and on and yawn and yawn. It's so easy to blame everybody else. If you're a grumbling conservative have you ever stopped to consider that the liberals grumble just about as much as you do? They go on and on about 'this conservative, reactionary papal regime and the misogynistic, corrupt hierarchy and the homophobic, medieval anti democratic bishops who cover up pedophilia etc. etc. etc. You think you're right and they're wrong. Guess what? From their point of view they're just as convinced that they're right and you're wrong.

So maybe you are a conservative and you have the church teaching on your side and you really are right and they're wrong. So what are you going to do about it? The first thing we can do about it is stop complaining so much and be a bit more philosophical.

You know, the church has always been troubled with corruption from within and persecution from without. In different ages the corruption from within has taken different forms. There has been sexual scandal, financial corruption, heterodoxy, complacency, worldliness, liturgical abuse, bad music etc. etc. etc. in just about every age in one way or another. You only have to read the New Testament the apostles criticizing the various churches for their inconsistency, false teaching, immorality etc. Guess what? It's all part of being Catholic. It's all part of being human.

The most ordinary source of disappointment in life is having the wrong expectations to start with. If you thought it was going to be all marvelous and to your liking in the Catholic Church you had the wrong expectation in the first place. If you thought all the bishops and priests were going to be perfectly moral, upstanding, totally orthodox saints you were suffering from a major delusion. If you thought every parish would be straight down the line and have wonderful liturgy, saintly pastors, fine music, exemplary architecture and all the rest, you misunderstood. Correct your expectations and you won't be so disappointed.

So I'd say, "Stop whining and get on with it." Be positive. There's far more that's good in the modern Catholic Church than bad. I know there are liturgical abuses, but I've been to plenty of Catholic churches in my fifteen years or so as a Catholic and I've only experienced really awful and crazy abuses two or three times. Most priests do say the black and do the red. The music, the servers, the approach, the architecture etc. is often lacking, but it's real. It's ordinary and very often a priest and a parish are doing the best they can with limited resources.

In addition to all the good work in most parishes, there are also many, many other wonderful things in the Catholic Church. Consider all the apostolates, the good religious orders, the missionary work. Sure they're not all perfect, but look to the heart. See people where they really are. Understand their longings and aspirations. Know that they want to love and serve God. They can't help it if they have been poorly catechized and are victims of the culture they live in. See what's positive about the people and customs you don't like. Cut people a break, and remember the golden rule.

The most ordinary source of disappointment in life is having the wrong expectations to start with. If you thought it was going to be all marvelous and to your liking in the Catholic Church you had the wrong expectation in the first place.

That being said, there are also many practical things people can do within their own parishes and dioceses to make things better. First, support your parish priest. Be his right hand. Help him out. Be his friend. Pray for him. Love him. When he knows your love and support is genuine, then he'll take you seriously when you offer constructive criticism. If he's doing something you don't like, instead of criticizing him negatively, go and ask him why he does this or that. If it is a minor matter let it slide. If he's consciously deviating from the teaching of the church or the rubrics, then do your homework, pick him up on it, but do so gently and with tact. Do you like to be criticized for something you're supposedly good at? I don't think so. Neither does he. If it is real bad, write to the Bishop, but do so with seriousness and respect. Do you know how many cranky complaint letters the bishop must get every day?

If you want something changed in the parish, get involved and work for change. You can do so positively and creatively. If you want something to be different why not offer to pay for it. Don't like the candlesticks or statues or vestments? Buy Father new ones. Get a group together to develop new devotions.  Start prayer groups and study groups. Always support the parish and work with positive joy with your parish priest. You think it's hard working with him? Maybe he finds it hard working with you. That's life. Keep working on it.

What about reverence at Mass? Make sure you and your family dress decently and respectfully. Make sure you kneel in silent prayer before Mass and that you receive the sacrament reverently. Do you kneel to receive on the tongue? That makes a huge impact on others. Is that outlawed where you are? You can challenge that. You're allowed to receive on the tongue if you want. Is the music in your parish awful? Don't just complain. Learn more about sacred music and request particular hymns and music that you like. Offer to buy new hymnbooks when they're needed. I know one guy who didn't like the happy clappy music so he got together with some friends and formed his own schola. They practiced and began to introduce more traditional music to the parish and lots of people liked it and things began to grow.

Remember that most of all, the lack of reverence is due to a lack of proper belief in the Real Presence as well as the rest of the cardinal doctrines of the faith. So do something about it. First of all, know your faith the best you can. Get some people together locally and organize a parish mission. Invite a dynamic, orthodox speaker (I can think of some...) Organize a diocesan conference and promote it not just amongst conservatives, but across the board to all Catholics. Start a local Catholic radio station. Get EWTN in your area if you don't have it. Offer to help with RCIA. Be a catechist.

Get involved with work for the poor. It's amazing how working with the poor helps put things in perspective. When you work with the poor you minister to Jesus and you immediately start to experience him more perfectly at the Eucharist. It also helps you to see everything else more clearly. Working with the poor helps you see that maybe all the stuff you thought was so awful about the church isn't the worst thing in the world and you will begin to see yourself, your world, your church and your Lord from a fresh and more wonderful perspective.

Finally, ask for the spirit of joy. The biggest fault of conservative Catholics is that we often come across as cranky old complainers. Life's too short. Be happy in Jesus.




Father Dwight Longenecker. "What's Wrong With the Church?" Standing On My Head blog (September 13, 2010).

Reprinted with permission of Father Dwight Longenecker.


Father Dwight Longenecker is the chaplain of St. Joseph's Catholic School, Greenville, South Carolina. He also serves on the staff of St. Mary's, Greenville. Father Longenecker studied for the Anglican ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and served for ten years in the Anglican ministry as a curate, a chaplain at Cambridge and a country parson. In 1995 he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He is the author of books on apologetics, conversion stories and Benedictine spirituality including: Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing, Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers, More Christianity, Challenging Catholics: A Catholic Evangelical Dialogue, St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule & the Little Way, Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate, and The Path to Rome. Visit his website here and his blog here where you can listen to his podcasts of his lectures and homilies and read regular updates.

Copyright © 2010 Standing On My Head blog

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