Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Doctrinal Deficiencies?

Father John J. Lombardi 

"You shall know the Truth and the Truth Shall Set you Free" +Jn 8:32. …

Well, what if you're not getting the truth? Suppose you're a sick patient and go to the doctor for prognosis and treatment. The doctor, unfortunately, is not totally kosher, and so decides to repress your sickness and gives you some placebo therapy (false, feel-good medicine). You get sicker and eventually find out the truth and go to another doctor who gives you a challenging, medicinal therapy which changes-and saves-- your life…Been there, done that?

This "hypothetical" illustrates medically what some are saying regarding the spiritual and doctrinal state of Catholicism. Some Catholics aren't getting the whole truth and are instead getting popularistic, pleasing and placating half-truths which don't really nourish and save the soul. 

This is not happening everywhere, of course, but it is occurring in many places. After all, in a world of materialism (which subtlety states there is no supernatural soul) and inmoralism (an almost anything goes mentality) it's hard to be Catholic. Frankly, at times, who hasn't been ecclessially embarrassed to be a Catholic (especially with present day scandals); who hasn't felt like a "doctrinal "dinosaur" and "out-of-step" with a strong, spiritual, hierarchical Church amidst democratism and demolitions of divinity? (or, excuse me: maybe you haven't!) One bishop calls the desire to be popular by negating teachings of the Faith "plausibility".

Sometimes our religious teachers, priests, and bishops today are overly concerned about being accepted, part of the world and avant-garde, so that past doctrinal, spiritual or moral teachings are (take your pick): changed, neutralized or ignored. Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis, spoke of this "bad medicine" to hundreds of catechists and educators, in 1998, and then gave the report to the US Catholic Bishops Conference. We reprint (from a 1998 issue of "Religious Life,") his wise and prophetic text in quotes, and my clumsy COMMENT following).

"The motive of plausibility, the motive not to offend or exclude, is good and important in itself, but not at the expense of important truth. Authentic enculturation of truth cannot be achieved with plausibility as the presumed first principle.

"Surely we agree that evangelizing catechesis or preaching and also worship and prayer cannot succumb to the weight of plausibility (that is, public approval) over doctrine and theology in the practice and life of the Church. Yet there is some evidence that the fullness of doctrine in the resources we use for catechesis and in preaching has suffered in recent times. I submit that the same happens in some of the resources made available for liturgical planning." For examples:

  1. Insufficient attention is paid to the Trinity. A reluctance to use the terms Father and Son to describe the first and second Persons of the Trinity exists in some catechetical texts reviewed by the committee. Plausibility (the desire not to exclude in this case) causes some to allow gender sensitivity to obscure the central Trinitarian doctrine of the Christian faith."

COMMENT: In the last few decades many of us were trained in gender inclusivity and feminist language (our Bibles have been skewed with it)- hopefully it is passing . However: just what did Jesus call the First Person of the Trinity --"Abba=Daddy, and "My Father, " and wasn't' Jesus in His incarnation male? Ignoring, changing or neutralizing these facts attempts to change Ultimate Reality-God Himself --from our whims and passing fancies. "God-speak" becomes "man-speak"

  1. "An obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ in salvation history and an insufficient emphasis on Christ's divinity. At times, we detect a negative undertone in speaking of the divine nature of Christ as if divinity is equated with being 'distant and unreal,' perhaps cold and unfriendly. Apparently, plausibility, and the effort not to intimidate, is a major motive here."

COMMENT: Being divine and compassionate are not opposites, nor should modernist teachings present them, or sway us, as such. The greatest sinner in the world-St. Augustine-saw awe-inspiring majesty in Jesus' divinity and mercy, too-God is One! Making Jesus into a Romantic poet or social butterfly simply brings us more romanticism and socialism-and more trouble.

  1. Indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings. The unity of the Church is at times overshadowed by emphasizing the Church's catholicity and diversity. The plausible motive to present the Church uniquely as a warm and welcoming community eclipses the magisterial and missionary role."

COMMENT: The majesty and uniqueness of the Catholic Church are not exclusive of warmth and welcomeness (think of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa who both welcomed lepers and loved the Pope and grandeur of Catholicism). When the Catholic Church is seen as one among the 32,000 other Christian denominations (roughly counted), then we deny Jesus founding the Church upon the Rock of Peter (see Mt. 16:8) and become something other than Christ-centered.

  1. An inadequate sense of a distinctively Christian anthropology in which the impression is given that the human person is the first principle and final end of his or her own existence. The plausible and important notion of self-esteem and self-fulfillment overshadow the true and full nature of the human person…

COMMENT: When all is centered around the ever- seeking and infinitely-unappeasable self-and not God and His ways-then the true nature of life is hidden. Selfism trumps sane theology and the basic fact that creatures are created by, and for, God.

  1. God's initiative is downplayed while human action is over-emphasized. God's initiative at times appears subordinate to human experience and human action"…

COMMENT: Some teachers think we Catholics have slighted the glory and power of human beings (caricaturizing past teachings that humans were seen only as a worms) and so contemporary teachings overemphasize human endeavors culminating in an unhealthy humanism whereby we downplay supernatural grace as a help toward Heaven--we're good enough, thank you. Besides, we have enough psychologists sociologists and therapists to help us without God. Summarized: Human nature negates Gods helps.

  1. Insufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace. Is the mystery of grace too intimidating or, perhaps, too self-effacing, to be culturally plausible?"

COMMENT: Self-denial is out, self-affirmation is in. Today we are transformed more enough by Americanist money, power and social stature.

  1. Inadequate presentation of the sacraments. Many texts speak of the sacraments only as important events in human life of which God becomes a part. These texts also do not present the absolute ecclesial centrality of the Eucharist and the essential role of the ordained minister. The plausible concern about inclusivity and emphasis on human experience can result in a distortion of sacramental theology."

COMMENT: Current wayward doctrine overemphasizes what humans do (versus what God does), and how good we are at doing things ( without fault or sin), and that Holy Communion and adoration of the Eucharist, as the Pope and the saints encourage, are downgraded and become equal to any other sacrament. Christ is therefore de-throned in the tabernacle from the center of churches.

  1. Deficient teaching on original sin and sin in general. For some, hearing about sin is definitely not culturally plausible.

COMMENT: Marxist communism and Darwinian evolutionism and other social revolutions (scientific secularism) threw out original sin long ago, and some teachings toss personal sin, replacing it, if ever, with "faults," "wrongs" and failures. In essence: Don't diss mankind. 

  1. Meager exposition of Christian moral life. The distaste for certain moral principles and injunctions in our culture is strong, hence a noticeable plausible silence.

COMMENT: Even though guardrails on roadways are necessarily hard to save us from going over a bridge (and actually help us go faster) we Americans seldom want any hard, commanding truths (commands "bark" to our sluggish nature) and clear teachings (offensive to our skepticism) to direct us. Recap: Soft Americans don't want hard truths.

  1. Inadequate presentation of the end times. "Contemporary society tends to consider such teachings as passé, hence not plausible".

COMMENT: Even though some (television and other) evangelists have falsely distorted the Second Coming of Jesus, we shouldn't improperly overcompensate by watering down the true, challenging nature of the Last Days, God's chastisement and final purification of the Earth. Essence: trying to teach the prophetic "Last Day" of the prophets, St. John's fiery Apocalypse and Michelangelo's magisterial Sistine Chapel "Last Judgment," thru Hallmark greeting card cartoons is like giving a cancer patient a lolly pop.

What to do: Seek the truth:

  1. Read your Bible-and study it with the Holy Spirit-guided help of the Church's 2,000 year Sacred Tradition-Church and saints' commentary culminating in the Magisterium (official teachings).
  2. Consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church-it's not impossible reading but challenging and, at times, inspiring and beautiful-like our Religion.
  3. Talk to holy friends and teachers just what the Church teaches on a given subject: dig deeper, and seek more the essence and roots of Faith teachings so you may intimately feed your soul, and thus settle for less, as in: "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and wills top listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths."+ 2 Tim 4:3

Remember: doctrinal truth and holy Faith does not mean we are conservatives but conservationists; and orthodoxy doesn't mean long bearded monks but "the splendor of truth, the beauty of truth."… The greatest saints and holiest people always were guided by true, orthodox doctrine, and this led them to loving, heroic service and pastoral zeal. The clarity of Truth-Jesus Christ Himself-is also compassion. Now, don't you want to be a conservationist, a seeker of beauty and server of the Lord God?!


Prayer of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD

Once you are joined to the Lord, You become as omnipresent as He is. Instead of offering assistance in one particular place, doctor, nurse, or priest, in the power of the Cross you have the ability to be everywhere at once, at every scene of misery. Your compassionate love, drawn from the Redeemer's heart can take you in all directions, allowing you to sprinkle on every side of the Precious Blood that soothes, heals and redeems.

Prayer for Priests

During this month of the Sacred Heart pray this prayer. . .

"Sacred Heart of Jesus, hear my humble prayer on behalf of your priests. I pray for your faithful and fervent priests; for your unfaithful and tepid priests; for your priests who labor at home and abroad; for your tempted priests; for your lonely and desolate priests; for your young priests; for your dying priests; for the souls of your priests in purgatory. Merciful Heart of Jesus, remembering that they are but weak and frail human beings give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope, and a burning love. I ask that, in their loneliness, you comfort them; in their sorrow, you strengthen them; in their frustrations, you show them that it is through suffering that the soul is purified. Loving Heart of Jesus, keep them close to your Sacred Heart and bless them abundantly, in time, and in eternity. Amen."

The Mutual Indwelling of the Divine Persons

Following is a Meditate on the Most Holy Trinity-a mystery which the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares as central and the most important truth of our Faith. (#234) From a book on Meditations on the Faith:

"The three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, although differing as to the personality, are inseparable as to the Essence or Substance of the Divinity, which is absolutely one in Them. So They are said to dwell with one another and in one another. St. John says: "The Word was with God" and "The only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father" (John i, 1, 18). In the same Gospel Our Lord says: "The Father who abideth in Me, He doth the works. Believe you not that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? (John xiv, 10, 11).

Therefore wherever the Father is, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost, there are also the other two Persons. The Divine Essence, which is in the Father, is fully in the Son and the Holy Ghost; for the Divinity, or the Divine Essence, is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. No one of the Persons can exist apart from the whole of the Divine Essence; nor apart, consequently, from the other Persons, who are fully in the Divine Essence. T

he personal relations and productions are not external but are immanent. The Father generates the Son, not as a separate entity, but by an intrinsic intellectual action within Himself; the Father and the Son also spirate (produce) the Holy Ghost by an interior action of mutual love, which is entirely within Themselves.

This indwelling is called the circumincession. You are also substantially in God and God is substantially in you when you are in the state of grace; and the three Divine Persons are with you, as Our Lord promised: "If any one love Me . . . My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him" (John xiv, 23)."

Catholic Things to Do

These pious practices and suggestions were provided by the Mary Foundation. These "little things" are the grout that holds the mosaic of Catholic living, giving it context and texture. .

  • "Say grace in restaurants out loud, whether alone or with others, even for breakfast and lunch. You can say it in an understated way - Catholics are not ostentatious in public.
  • "When you genuflect, you can pray this simple prayer: "I love you, Jesus."
  • "When you drive by a church, whether alone or with others (and whether they are Catholic or not), make the sign of the cross, and tell Jesus you love Him interiorly. Only explain if you are asked.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi