Monday, March 28, 2005

Orthodoxy and orthopraxy

There are many who are rightly concerned about correct teaching in the Church. Not having the doctrine of the faith taught has been one of the chief weaknesses since the Second Vatican Council. Because of that, many different groups have arisen to try to restore the truth of the Church to its proper place. These groupings address varying aspects of ecclesiastical life – laity, life issues, parish life, religious, and so on. They have been correctly recognized for the new life they bring to the Church by recalling her to some of her most basic teachings.

There is, however, a troubling aspect to many of these groups. While they will often present a face of adherence to the truths of the faith, they will often in private act in ways contrary to it. It happens in all kinds of ways and all kinds of groups.

I was part of a covenant community in the charismatic renewal for many years and hung around another one long before that. Some of the things I personally saw and experienced there and heard about in other similar communities were enough to make your skin crawl. What happened there was lay leaders assumed authority where they had none. Even bishops and priests will not presume to tell a man when to pray and with whom, or whom to date. The lay leaders of these groups, however, did take that sort of authority unto themselves. A rather large crisis in these groups back in the early 90's helped to clear some of that up, though I daresay it was not entirely excised.

This sort of thing happens in other groups. It is well-known that Opus Dei, the Legionnaries of Christ, Focolare, The Neocatechumenal Way, Alpha and others have all had allegations of abuse of power of one sort or another leveled against them. If these allegations are proved true, I would not be surprised. All too often, unless a new movement is founded by a true saint, pride and arrogance sneak in and the group comes to believe that it is the way that God is going to renew the Church. As one leader of a covenant community said to me once, “I don’t know if in 10 years these people who are leaving the community will still be loving and serving the Lord.” (My reply to him was, “Look, covenant community is not God’s answer to modernity.”
“Well, what is?” he asked to my complete incredulity.
“Jesus Christ and His Church,” came the rather obvious answer.)
Rules begin to multiply for members, recruitment by whatever means becomes a matter of necessity, suspicion about the competency of the rest of the Church rises in members’ minds, and soon the group has almost assumed a parallel structure since they are better than the rest of the Church.

It isn’t just the new renewal movements that have problems, though. Service organizations can have their difficulties as well. I recall some time ago when I had people practically begging me to write an exposé about a certain high-profile group that was treating its employees rather badly, allowing what appeared to be an adulterous relationship by a high-ranking employee to go unchecked and very questionable monetary transactions taking place. I would have done it, but I could not find a proper venue for it (blogs hadn’t been invented yet).

A friend of mine from college was working for a pro-life group when the person who headed it suddenly decided not to renew the lease of the place they were at, and up and moved without telling the employees, leaving them high and dry.

These kinds of practices have to be eliminated by following the truth of the Gospel. We who proclaim the inestimable value and dignity of the human person are all-too-often subject to the sin which brought our first parents down and begin to use others for our own needs and whims. While this is common, it should not, therefore, be accepted as normal. What should be normal are leaders who realize their own human frailty and who seek ways to prevent themselves from becoming entities unto themselves. Our fallen humanity will often believe that a good idea we receive is the magic bullet from God that is going to solve all of the world’s ills rather than simply one more tool in His rather enormous toolbox needed to help fully realize the salvation of the world.

It takes humility to be this kind of leader and that’s not easy. I can’t stand it when my children or even my wife point out some fault I am rather publicly displaying. That does not diminish the truth of what they’re saying, though.

So along with the right teaching, we have to have the right practice. And that right practice is hard to do because the Gospel requires much of us. However, having the humility to receive God’s grace for whatever it is He has asked of us is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, what began as God’s work will end up being our work. I don't know. There's something of that scenario which vaguely reminds me about the story of a garden, a man and a woman, some fruit and a snake. Ring any bells to anyone?


Sr. Lorraine said...

You point out an important reality. All of us are fallen sinners and no group, no matter how orthodox, is exempt from that. It's a constant temptation in religious orders as well. That's why sometimes I feel ambivalent about some of the new groups started. I'm thinking of one person I know who tried to start her own order, not too successfully. She's a lovely person and very sincere and committed, but there's certain aspects of her personality that make her very unsuited to be a foundress. However she herself can't see that. Though she thinks of herself as being very orthodox, she also thinks that the rules of the Church don't apply to her (about starting orders). So the bishop where she attempted to start a new group asked her to leave the diocese and fortunately no other bishop has accepted her. She's a sincere but misguided person.

Dr. Ernie said...

Don't know if you'll ever see this, but I want to thank you for this post, as I was looking for a link to illustrate the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
-- Ernie P, Feb 10, 2006