by Fr Richard Heilman | April 10, 2022 8:17 PM
Transactional Catholicism by Fr. Bill Peckman
I know this is really long… but trust me and please read it…especially my parishioners.
I am going on Fr. Heilman’s Grace Force Podcast tomorrow and we are talking about a topic that has really pushed itself to the forefront of my spirituality and how I view being a pastor. This will also be the core of my Easter homily.
Question: What did Jesus bring into a being with the His Passion, Death, and Resurrection?
Question: Did what He founded and what the Church is (especially in the west) look like that anymore?
Question: If it doesn’t, how do we get it back there?
Did He found a religion? Depends by what you mean by a religion. He did leave behind a definitive set of teachings called the Gospel that built upon the already existent teachings of the Old Testament. He did leave behind an institution, the Church, to be the guardians of those teachings till He comes again. The Gospel and the institution were specific though. They were to have a certain feel and be upheld and passed down in a certain manner. The Christian religion points to what He founded to be sure. But the faith is more than mere writings and institutions. The writings and institutions serve an end.
Nowadays, that institution has taken on a disturbing and destructive face. The institution has become akin to a store. Call it transactional Catholicism, retail Catholicism, mercantile Catholicism, or as Card Mueller called it, secular Catholicism. It is the same thing: the Church in many areas has definitely taken a turn towards being a retail establishment. It uses the same wording. It uses the same strategies. Success is seemingly measured in money. People play with the teachings as if they were invitatory to be upgraded or cycled out if they’re not selling (I am talking to you German Bishops, et al). The core is not the quality of truth but the ability to move merchandise. Churches start catering to people’s tastes as do restaurants. People shop parishes (what do they offer, what manner do they worship, what level of commitment do they ask) as if they were looking at the menus of restaurants. They pick over the inventory as if shopping. The people will certainly respond to how we present ourselves.
This leads to several critical and even fatal flaws. To give an example: I am a 56-year-old male. When I shop, I do not go to the women’s departments or children’s departments because there is nothing there that I want to buy. I go to the sections that have something I want. I don’t have relationships with the staff, management, and fellow shoppers unless they were previous friends. I go in and get out with as little damage to my wallet as possible. I can change which stores I go to with great frequency. My reasons can be trivial or large. I feel no real sense of belonging nor necessity to go unless I need something. The store is not central to my life.
For many decades, this has been the vibe most churches carry. I have noticed that many parish renewal books can diagnose the problem accurately, but usually the answer is to put out a better product. It becomes a renovation of the store…brighter, flashier, more comfortable, and lower prices. Usually when stores do this, it means sales are down and they are trying to stay open.
I believe…no know…that Jesus Christ did not offer His life on the Cross, give us His Body and Blood, and preach the Gospel to set up a multinational corporation with branches throughout the world. That we have gone this direction has been to the severe detriment of our parishes and dioceses. It is a desecration of what Christ gave His life for. The sooner we kick this model to dust bin of history the better.
So, what did He found? Let’s look at the Scriptures. He instructs us to call the First Person of the Trinity “Father.” He reveals Himself as “Son.” From the Cross, He gives us His mother, Mary, to be our mother. Both the Old Testament and New Testament compare the relationship between us and God as a marriage. We are called adopted sons and daughters. We are called brothers and sisters. What is the language being used? Does this sound like a retail store to you? No!
Say after me:
Jesus came to establish a Church that would be a familial bond between us and God and with each other.
A family bond. Not a store. Not a restaurant. A family bond.
Jesus wasn’t looking for loyal customers, but for us to be drawn into an eternal familial relationship with God and each other. But we are not there. The surest sign of this is our attitude towards stewardship.
For most, we wince at the word stewardship. It sounds like a store saying we are raising the price on our goods and services. It sounds like the Church store wants more money. There are many clerics that treat stewardship as exactly that. Let’s be honest, if we are a store, that is all stewardship can really be…a plea for greater monetary profits. By golly, won’t that just breed cynicism?
Now, place that word, ‘stewardship’, into a family setting. A good functional family supports one another, looks to the good of one another, tends to family members in need, wants to educate and form their children to be the best, and values their time together. A functional family defends each other and grows the family by adding more members via marriage and birth. A great family draws those who are seeking family into the warmth of their bond. A strong functional family is a force to be reckoned with. This is why every totalitarian form of government wants to destroy the family.
My attitude for the last 25 years is that I am called “Father’ for a reason. That is my role in the local parish. That is how I try to relate to my parishioners. That means they are always on my mind and in my prayers, that I want what is good for them, and that out that love I will say things that people do not want to hear. I know my place in these parishes is exactly where a good dad is: in that breech between my family and that which would prey on them. It will not always be noticed of liked, but you got to do what you got to do to be a good dad.
While a pastor can have a positive influence, it is not enough. The parish must buy in as well. My brothers and sisters in my parishes, we need to purge any idea or vestige of mercantile/retail/transactional/secular Catholicism from our parishes. How we see our parish must be reformed to what Christ set His Church up to be. We are a family. Not in some hallmark squishy overly sentimental way. Not in some ersatz redefinition given to us by a society who hates the family, not in some cynical marketing scheme. No…we must return to what Christ set up. We must support one another out of love for one another because, in Christ, we are a family that stretches throughout time and space and beyond.
For those in my diocese who are cynical about the stewardship program that Bishop McKnight has set out, if you come from at a vantage point of the parish as a store, yeah, you’re going to see this as bunch of hooey. If however, you are coming from the vantage point of parish as family, then it makes total sense. Why do you think he puts so much primary emphasis on coming to Mass? Why do you think he is pushing the sacrament of reconciliation so hard? Because he wants more people to buy those products? Oh, my heavens no! He wants the family to start seeing the value and necessity of us gathering as a family, so we revel in that identity, and we see the fathership of God as what binds us together, especially in the Eucharist! Why does the bishop talk about the volunteering? Because a functional and growing family sees the value of supporting each other and bringing out the best in each other! He lastly talks about sacrificial giving in the same manner the Sacred Scriptures. It is not a ploy to raise prices or force people to buy our product, but to use what God has given us to support our family’s mission and to provide for our family and the family members yet to be brought in. When we see each other as the family God intended, it makes a big difference.
Use this Easter as new beginning. Lay the dysfunctional and fatal visage of Church as store at the foot of the Cross to be nailed to it along with all the other sins nailed upon it and so rise from it as the family God sent His Son to eternally establish.
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