Our current Sunday message series, Holy Triage, encourages us to examine how healthy we really are in various areas of our lives, like setting priorities, keeping commitments, and relating to others. Our scrutiny this week is on the practice of faith. As in most measures of salubrity, our level of spiritual health can be evaluated by probing both for errors and omissions.
Obviously, neglecting God and faith will never lead to spiritual growth. For this reason, we’re always working to become a church that people who don’t like church like, so you’ll feel comfortable inviting your unchurched friends to Mass. But in addition to omissions, unhealthy religion also can spring from errors like distorted beliefs and one-sided practices. In contrast, a healthy faith life depends on finding the right balance in many areas, three of which are discussed below.
1.Clerics and Laity.
Jesus Christ established his Church and appointed leaders to act in persona Christi Capitas—in the person of Christ the Head. Never truly absent from his flock, he makes his own action present through priests who carry out the three offices of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. But clericalism eventually transformed the clergy into a privileged elite and promoted their interests and importance over that of the laity. Though Vatican II clarified the absolute equality of laity and clergy, many Catholics still have not fully grasped the dignity of their baptism and essential role in the mission of the Church. At Saint Brendan, however, our program of spiritual growth outside of Sunday Mass relies almost exclusively on a core of small groups led by lay facilitators, because we believe the best way for Catholics to grow in faith is to learn from each other.
2.Devotions and Liturgy.
The Church has been enriched over the years by popular devotions and pious practices, such as novenas, veneration of relics, processions in honor of Mary and the other saints, as well as the use of sacred objects like holy water, scapulars, and candles to permeate everyday life with prayer to God. When distorted, however, popular piety can weaken attention to the liturgy and core truths of our faith. An excessive focus on statues, images, and miraculous medals, for example, may reduce these sacramentals to mere good luck charms, rather than disposing us to receive the sacraments and hear the preached Word of God.
3.Piety and Practice.
Ever come across a crabby Catholic praying the rosary? Too often, church people focus on personal prayer to the exclusion of the needs of their neighbor. Likewise, champions of charity often neglect worship in favor of helping the poor. Both instances result from a dangerous imbalance between piety and practice. As I’ve said before, church is a movement of people in the same direction. Our mission established by our founder two thousand years ago is to make disciples of Christ, which requires both prayer and real outreach.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson