A Simple Plan from God For Church Renewal

As we continue to read the letter of St. Paul to Titus in the reading at daily Mass, we see some important teachings about the “domestic Church,” otherwise known as the family. The insights are important, for if the domestic church is not strong, neither will the parish, diocesan or universal Church be strong. And while there is a tendency today on blogs like this, to often focus on the disrepair that some notice of the parish or diocesan Church, it remains a fact that many of our families are in far greater disrepair.

In effect God gives a simple insight for Church renewal in the reading from today’s (Tuesday of Week 32) Mass. So let’s take a brief look at what the Holy Spirit says through St. Paul says about the family, and its relationship to the Church.

St. Paul does begin with the parish priest, saying that the bishop, the priest, must say what is consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). Hence, it is the role of the clergy to set forth principles and to give, on a consistent and effective basis, the sound teachings of God revealed to us in the Scriptures, and the teachings and sacred Tradition of the Church.

There are many today who lament (often rightfully) the silence of many pulpits, and the ineffectiveness of the Clergy who are often content merely to speak in abstractions and generalities. This has often meant that many critical moral and social issues are going unaddressed. Frankly, too many of us clergy for play it safe. Yet in the world, the gospel is countercultural and the Church is a sign of contradiction. Thus playing it safe means that the gospel goes unproclaimed and the teachings of the Church are hidden from view.

But St. Paul makes it clear that the mouth of the priest is to speak, and to teach that which befits sound doctrine. He must give the teachings of the faith, and set forth principles which the people of God must then apply in their lives.

Therefore, the first step in having the domestic Church in good repair is for the parish church to be a place where sound doctrine is heard, is proclaimed with clarity and with charity, is articulated effectively and without ambiguity.

But this is only the beginning. For the Word of God cannot simply be proclaimed, it must be promulgated in the lives of those who hear. The Word of God cannot simply be announced, it must be applied. And the most essential place of this promulgation and application must take place is not only in the hearts and minds of individuals, but just as essentially, in the family.

It is not enough to say, as many do, “Father should say something from the pulpit.” For it also remains true, that the father of the domestic Church, the father of each family, must say something from the pulpit of his dinner table.

Therefore, in this letter to Titus, St. Paul goes on to describe how older men and women must be examples and models for younger people. Elders, and by extension mothers and fathers, must take their role of leadership.

And thus St. Paul directs:

Older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, under the control of their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. (Titus 2:3-5)

Likewise regarding the older men, including Titus St. Paul says:

Older men should be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance….Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves, showing yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect, with integrity in your teaching, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be criticized, so that the opponent will be put to shame without anything bad to say about us. (Titus 2:2,6-8)

Elsewhere St. Paul develops thought just a bit more when he says: Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).

And thus it remains clear, that what should begin in the pulpit of the parish church, cannot end there.

And yet, what St. Paul teaches here is often sadly lacking in many (not all) families today. The family should be self-correcting, but many are not and the difficulties caused by this overflow into schools, churches and the public square. Beyond the family, it is also a sad fact that, in the wider culture, many elders have developed a “none of my business” attitude when it comes to teaching and correcting younger people.

I remember some years ago, in the early 1990s when in the certain parish we were struggling with many hard issues related to youth. Some of the teen girls had become pregnant, and there were many young men becoming involved with crime and drugs. I remember going to one of the large women’s groups in the parish and asking that they would consider undertaking a vigorous program of mentoring for the younger girls and women. I received a fairly flat no. Some indicated fear, others said they did not understand young women today and wouldn’t know how to talk to them. Still others spoke of these things as being “none of their business.”

I got a similar reaction when I spoke to the men of that parish about mentoring the teen boys and younger men.

And thus we see that the necessary fraternal correction and mentoring of the young by elders has fallen on the hard times in many communities, parishes, and the family. While the problem may vary from place to place, the problem remains a fairly general one in American culture.

Part of the reason for this is, that in the years following the Second World War, a youth centered culture began to set up in this country. Prior to that time, and still today in many parts of the world, elders were generally revered as being those who possessed experience and wisdom. Through the mid 50s and picking up pace in the 1960s, respect for elders steeply declined. Children and teenagers gradually came to see their parents as out of touch, old-fashioned, and often just plain stupid.

Popular music, especially rock ‘n roll, exulted youthful rebellion and generally presented portraits of adults as being confused, boorish, hypocritical, and undeserving privilege, honor, or respect. The presence of an unpopular war and a nihilistic rejection of the past also fueled this. As the exultation of youth culture began to expand many teenagers felt quite righteous in their overthrow of the parental culture.

Now, at least two generations into this loss of respect for elders, even those who are elders do not sense that they have much to offer, or even that they should be in the position correct youth. Perhaps they fear the push-back that many young people feel entitled to give. Perhaps these elders feel humbled by the fact of their own sins. Or perhaps some of simply bought in the whole youth culture mentality and have themselves never really grown up.

Whatever the causes in any particular case, we have come to a place in our culture where fraternal correction of the young is increasingly eroding. This in turn has led to grave problems in our families, in the schools, and most other social settings. Most tragically, the domestic Church, the family, has been severely impacted. This has also led to intensifying problems in the wider family of the Church. For if the domestic church is not strong, the parish Church will not be strong.

Into all of this disorder and confusion comes a simple plan from God. The priest, who is at the head of the parish family, is to speak teach sound doctrine to his people. And from his pulpit the Word must go forth to the pulpit of the domestic Church we call the family. At the pulpit of the dining room table, and the pulpit of the living room elders, having received the Word of God from their pastors, must hand this on to their children and to all the youngsters in their care.

Many indeed are the sorrows and difficulties that emerge from our failure to live this simple plan.

Here’s a song of rebellion sung by some parents of the boomers who threw the revolution. Many of the boomers are soon to be as old as the elders they once scorned:

29 Replies to “A Simple Plan from God For Church Renewal”

  1. You need a weekly nationally syndicated show like Bishop Sheen had. Public television at least should offer a 30 minute prime time slot. We don’t need some liberal bishop from the left coast. You would think the Catholic College of Bishops could find some inspirational talent with a light sense of humor who could get acceptable ratings discussing stories relative to the listeners, about sound moral social behaviors versus moral equivalency. Then you might get family discussions. Most of what kids want to talk about is what they see on television or the internet.

  2. But what were the “tools” which led either gradually or rapidly to the degeneration of respect for elders and moral codes of conduct? My thought is that one reason was that many who trusted authority and who saw Television as authoritative were quickly misled into alternative lifestyles when TV began protraying immoral lifestyles as good…and then actors/actresses began portraying bad conduct for the sake of drawing in revenue and TV show hosts, becoming famous, joined in. TV exposed more crime and injustice and many began to lose hope, and so on.

    Media was misused and a bit myopic perhaps? Media did not follow God’s simple plan at all, and those who trusted the media as somehow being authoritative and exemplary of moral standards were grossly misled. Society has been slow-cooked while not realizing it.

    It’s time to get out of the hot water, cool off, heal, and be renewed again in the Holy Spirit.

    1. Yes, TaillerHuws, the Church, the members of the Body of CHRIST needs ‘renewal’ in the HOLY SPIRIT. A new Pentecost. The spirit of boldness that opened the mouths of the first apostles. If our priests are afraid to open their mouths to combat secularism, relativism, hedonism and materialism, face to face, how can we as simple layman open ours? Our leaders in the government are confused, thy need guidance even more. Media is confused, seduced by the wiles of the world. I, too, am confused. How wretched is my soul? I know, “HE restoreth my soul, HE leadeth me in the path of righteousness for HIS namesake.” ‘My soul is restless until it rests on the LORD.’ Amen.

  3. There is a simple answer why the clergy do not often preach what NEEDS to be preach comes down to one simple word: MONEY. They do not want to see “empty” collection baskets.

    1. No, not fair and far too cynical. The problem is much more human than that. Priests like everyone else struggle with wanting to be liked and like everyone want to avoid tension. At some level the battle must be engaged however and if one wants to be a prophet then hold tension is necessary. Most priest don’t worry that much about money and most parishes are not on the edge of financial ruin.

      1. Thank-you for your answer response and please forgive me for my moment of being cynical. 🙂

  4. Excellent and timely post, Monsignor.

    I would observe, however, that God’s “simple plan” is hard to implement when the broader culture [especially through tv and film] urges young people to forge their own way in life and ignore what their parents and elders say if what they say is unappealing.

    This is why we need to reintroduce something like the Hays Code which the Catholic Legion of Decency successfully imposed on Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1960s.

  5. I have a question.

    What about those who are single and older, who have no male head of the household, and in my case dealing with a double grief, first having lost my very dear SO and now my older only brother. Having no children myself, this article has made me do some reflecting.

    The question I have is, can I still set a good and holy example as a young elder, being in my 50’s ?

    1. Anne Marie,

      I would say the answer is yes, you can set a good example. Despite the fact that you have lost loved ones and are not currently in a traditional family arrangement, you have considerable life experience that comes to anyone who has lived over 50 years. That experience cannot be bought and one does not need to be in a traditional family to acquire it.

      So, I would suggest that you should try to influence younger people [especially younger women] through a Church organization [such as the Legion of Mary] that has some outreach to younger people. Young women have a lot that they can and should learn from older women. In our dysfunctional world, there are many young women today who make bad choices because they have no guidance and they wind up as poor single mothers. They need a “big sister” to help them; even a big sister without children would help.

      1. Thank-you for your helpful word. These couple of months of personal suffering, though I have had my moments of being cynical, I have realized that I have a lot more to offer in the way of taking the lead by thought, word, and action. The deaths of both my longtime Christian boyfriend, of my older brother, my aging mother’s health issues, my own personal health issues have made me realized that for the rest of my life, I have to assume the role of being not only a mentor, but also an elder in the process.

  6. In Eden it would be a simple plan, but in light of Genesis 3 everything changes. Translating the Word of God into real life has never been simple–from Abram and Sarai deciding how God’s promised descendants would come all the way through to the fights at the Council of Jerusalem about what membership in the Church requires. I don’t believe that life (in the Church and outside) only recently became disordered and messy.

    1. No, but the culture is in significant disrepair in regard to what a culture needs to do, and we are far less healthy than we used to be, and cultures, and nations do come and go. The decline in family life is an essential reason for the decline in the affluent west. And the crisis in the Church is strongly tied to that, the Church will survive, though largely diminished in the West, but I do not think western culture will survive, unless we can restore what Paul describes wherein the 4th Commandment is vigorously lived by both elders doing their guiding role and youngsters reverencing the wisdom of age.

    2. Since you mentioned the Council of Jerusalem, I would like to put forth my favorite argument I have heard against the “bible alone.” Fr. John Trigilio mentioned it, in passing, in a pod-cast I heard on the Post Counciliar Documnents of Vatican II: He pointed out that at the Council of Jerusalem, the biblical example of the Church making a decision, the Church didn’t rely on the “bible alone.”

  7. “Western civilization” and the American Catholic Church are too far gone for today’s clergy to save. This “civilization” and church will be destroyed by Muslim conquerors and subjugated for seven generations. (see: Muslim conquests beginning in the 7th century) The only option now is for the truly faithful to fall back to a land where the invading hoards will pass them by. They would be a creche where the Catholic faith can be defended and nurtured until it once again can bring light to the world. “Vengeance is mine!” saith the Lord.

    1. The last couple of years I have been taking an interest in the growing Christian communities, including Catholic communities in what is called the “global south” nations, the same nations that at one time, missionaries from the west were sent to bring the faith to. Now more and more, they are sending missionaries back to the west to plant the seeds of future renewel in the Christian/Catholic faith communities in the west, including the American Catholic Church. Evangelization coming full circle.

  8. Saw a video that was making the Yahoo rounds recently about a young soldier that ‘came out’ to his father. He was a strapping youth. He called his father on the phone from the military base where he was stationed. He wanted to film the encounter with his father on the phone. In the video you could hear everything both the father and the son said. Both had pleasant Southern accents.

    The conversation began with pleasantries. The son then quickly went to the heart of the reason for his call. I paraphrase as best as I can from memory: ‘I’m gay. Always have been, always known it.’

    Without missing a beat the father said, ‘That doesn’t change our relationship.’ It was one of those ‘Lawrence v Texas’ moments: everyone was relieved, crying with happiness that the ancient taboo had not reared its ugly head to shame the gay youth, condemn him, warn him, correct him, etc. All the father gave was love. The mother soon chimed in with bemused unconditional love as well.

    As a father myself that has attempted to raise my son in the Faith, I don’t think I will ever have to face the situation that father did. But if I did have to face it, I don’t know what I would have said or done. I can’t overemphasize the importance of my relationship with my son to me.

    Yet more important than my relation to my son is my relationship to God. And one would imagine that relationship should have to bear upon all our other relationships even if it causes discomfort, or even the loss of those relationships.

    As St Paul said, ‘not all men have faith.’ It can’t be expected therefore that Faith will do all the work of forming social norms in society. In the old days, like, yesterday or something like that, even nonreligious and weakly religious people still had enough sense to know right from wrong. That sense has been exploded by the utilitarian ethic of ‘no harm, no foul.’

    So, I am not laying the blame for this situation on the Church. I blame JS MIll Freud and Darwin, off the top of my head. The Church has fought and continues to mightily oppose the deleterious influence of wrong philosophies while at the same time doing its best to assimilate what the riches of Egypt have to offer.

    Like the church, religious families have also had to balance the fact of living in the world and its embrace of one philosophy or another with the demands of the truth of faith. Msgr rightly calls us to renew those efforts in a godly manner.

    The problem of the rest of society, however, remains. Whereas the early Church eventually won philosophical and moral battles with the pagans, we have been losing now for hundreds of years. Until we begin to win again, we will have to deal with the powerful influence of the majority of society and its laws upon the exercise of our faith, our family and lives, as best we can.

    People have suggested that the best model for living for our time in response to the depredations against our faith is the early church. In that regard though, I also think of the times of Abraham and Lot as being relevant models for us today.

    1. All the father gave was love.

      The right and good thing for a father to say to his son before he “comes out” is “I love you,” and the right and good thing for the father to say after his son “comes out” is “I love you,” and vice versa.

      But notice that one man having full and complete love for another man does not mean them having sex with each other. It is not a man loving another man that is really the issue. What is the issue is the other stuff, which is a pale imitation of love and, thus, one of the reasons it is morally wrong.

  9. If a priest preaches on these things every week, he starts to sound like a clanging gong or whatever the image St. Paul used. Before, I could understand that life went better for people who had self control, but it wasn’t until I read what St. Thomas said about the Divine Processions and things like this: Augustine says (De Trin. xv, 10): “Whoever can understand the word, not only before it is sounded, but also before thought has clothed it with imaginary sound, can already see some likeness of that Word of Whom it is said: In the beginning was the Word.”–that I started to see more happiness in self-control.–of course, I am older now and the wild horse just isn’t has wild as at one time.

    About the video: I’ve always hated it when people smashed instruments and still do.

  10. Re: mentoring
    When I worked ER in my early years as a doctor, I witnessed women who would became upset with their boyfriends then retaliate by claiming rape after clearly consensual relations. Likewise, during divorce, wives who would falsely accuse husbands of sexual abuse of the children, and foster children who would retaliate by threatening to report foster parents for non-existent child abuse.
    Our diocese requires completion of the VIRTUS program for all those serving in ministries involving children. While the program is excellent, VIRTUS does encourage viewing all volunteers with some level of suspicion of ill intent.
    Our parish has a ministry where parishioners receive training over four evenings, then are assigned to befriend a small contact group of ten families in their neighborhoods. Ostensibly this is to make our large parish more welcoming and to have the parishioner-minister serve as liaison between the people and the parish staff.
    Most of my assigned families did not want me to visit or even to telephone. I was given no authority by the parish to directly help in any manner. And whenever I presented specific requests to the pastoral minister, such as questions about how to begin marriage annulment proceedings, secure anointing of the sick, or simply a request for a ride to church, I was always caught in the middle, with refusal of the staff to help, citing the potential for liability lawsuits or not wanting to become involved due to potential privacy violations. And when the families would call directly, they were put on voice-mail, with calls not returned by the pastoral minister, or even the deacons and pastors.
    So for all of these reasons, I often hesitate to help for fear of negative ramifications or false accusations of impropriety. It is sad that we live in such a legal retaliatory climate.

  11. “People have suggested that the best model for living for our time in response to the depredations against our faith is the early church.”

    I agree, yan. I think we can learn a lot from the Church in the period up to and including Gregory the Great. I hope the next pope sets an example by taking the name of one of the forgotten martyr popes like Fabian or Cornelius.

      1. I doubt it. Even the proudest popes of the past [e.g. Urban VIII, Paul II] did not consider it appropriate to take the name of “Peter II”. I don’t think that’s going to change.

        1. Yes, odds are you would be right; but have you heard of the prophecy of Malachy regarding the names of the Popes? ‘Twas that to which I alluded, with tongue somewhat in cheek. Ask Mr. Google; though I avoid the topic of prophecy in general when it refers to anything more specific about the future other than that ‘Jesus is coming again,’ I find it fascinating.

  12. It is interesting that you wrote that most priests don’t worry about money, and that parishes are not on the edge. Most American families *are*. I remember what distress I felt when I couldn’t afford Catholic education for my children anymore. There was another element which made it easier to pull my children from Catholic schools: there weren’t many other serious Catholic families. Besides the one or two kids of the dual income earning households, there were the older parents who had only one child. These children were notorious for their bad behavior and rebellion. These poor kids were always attracted to my big family, as their parents were, because they seemed desperate for a break from their needy “onlies”. I’m not trying to blast only children, as I know there are some prominent exceptions to the “exotic pet” approach, but if there was any word for it, it was sad, as these kids were lonely. At the end of the day, high tuition costs were what forced us away. With eight, we just couldn’t do it, even if they were cutting us a small discount.

    I miss the Catholic culture of Catholic schools. I think it is sad that my Catholic children weren’t considered a worthy investment. I remember feeling shocked when we moved to Marin County over a decade ago, and Saint Hilary church in Belvedere, had a rundown school. This was one of the wealthiest parishes in the entire country. The pastor once stated that they gave more money to poorer parishes than any other parish in the United States. They have since redone the school after years of being in disrepair but what a powerful message it sent that at the height of the economic boom it was a dump. Now they can command the ten or eleven thousand per kid that they charge. Across the freeway in Mill Valley, Mount Carmel school was closed down completely. A Waldorf inspired school moved into the Mount Carmel School. When I volunteered for evening religious education there, my heart was heavy to see statues of Buddha and Hindu Gods next to the Virgin Mary. She was simply “one of many” in the Waldorf pantheon.

    Catholic parents are on their own. Mothers are increasingly isolated by their extremely difficult household budgets, or they have to leave their children in order to help pay for basic necessities. Art, music and dance classes? Nope. Not like it was a generation ago. Husbands have to take second jobs, and are stressed to an extreme. There were signs on telephone poles leading to the freeway on ramp to get to San Francisco, which read: “breathe”. The tension was palpable.

    Long before a “bomb” hit us in the form of some newspaper exposes of the Catholic Church in Boston, we Catholic parents were suffering serious economic duress. It strained our marital relationships and our relationships with our children and neighbors. To see that the church has since spent (a billion?) in settlements to sex abuse victims, I couldn’t help but feel *economically* betrayed. I could see that a minority had wreaked havoc on the Church, but the approach for subsidizing Catholic schools was and continues to be a scandal. Clearly these schools were *never* a high priority *before* the billion in settlements were doled out.

    As a cradle Catholic growing up in a lukewarm household, my first real conversion, and yearning for the beauty of the Church came in the way of a humble film on Mother Teresa that I watched in the fourth grade. I would steal into the church with a couple of my friends to attend 8am mass on occasion.

    My younger five children will never know what it is like to begin the school day with their peers, praying in the school courtyard. They will never hear the voice of a sixth grader reading out the life story of the Saint of the day over the PA system. They won’t attend a Friday children’s mass, and they won’t look up and see a crucifix over the blackboard.

    Yes, I understand that the domestic Church is the family, but having God woven through our day, and promoting Catholic education, friendship and family solidarity was a net positive on so many levels. I wonder if the re-flowering of Catholic education will happen again.

  13. Oh my, yet another post suggesting that somehow we are at fault for the state of the Church or that there is more we need to do. Do the many Catholic bloggers truly hear the heartbreaking comments from the dedicated, faithful Catholics who have struggled for close to thirty years (or more!) with bad catechisis, bad liturgy, bad seminaries, bad hymns, bad Catholic education and bad leadership from the hierarchy?! I have only heard some sound teaching and doctrine in the last year since the HHS Mandate rose up and bit the American Catholic hierarchy in their butts….sorry, I’m just a little too tired and frustrated to think of a nicer word while trying to remain respectful and not use the other word!

    May I suggest another quite recent Mass reading for “A Simple Plan From God For Church Renewal”:

    “A Reading From the Letter to the Hebrews (Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: October 28, 2012)

    Brothers and Sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made THEIR REPRESENTATIVE before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, MUST make sin offerings for himself AS WELL AS FOR THE PEOPLE. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son; this day I have begotten you; just as he says in another place: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

    1. Well, I think I articulated quite clearly the role and the recent deficiencies of many clergy in this post. But that said, there is a shared responsibility for the Church. Ironically in condemning the clergy alone you adopt a clericalism that strangely exults the very clergy you condemn. What is needed in this analysis is balance. A balance which I think your comment lacks, but which the article has.

  14. The deficiencies with respect to mentoring by the elderly is not simply grounded in a lack of respect for older people by the young, but in a lack of respect for older people by themselves. I have read several articles this year — from the NYT to Time mag — people 60+ constantly saying how “relevant” they are, how they are not just going to sit by and “get old,” how they still are “vibrant”, how they want to pursue hobbies like cycling and painting, how they still want to date and enter into relationships and are still “sexual beings.” Frankly, it’s pathetic. Rather than age gracefully and give themselves as a gift to younger generations who are desperate for some hope that life is worth living and that one can really be faithful to the Lord in this world, instead we have an older generation who is as self-obsessed as they were in the sixties. I, as a younger but not young woman (30’s), can no longer look to the older generations for wisdom. It’s pretty depressing really.

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