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Can too much Catholic news make you spiritually sick?

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Keeping up with the news should inform, but not become your spiritual life. Photo:
Keeping up with the news should inform, but not become your spiritual life. Photo:

What’s going on in the American church? Oh . . . the usual. The Pope is swatting down Cardinal Burke, and he kicked out Bishop Strickland; but meanwhile the Vatican still continues to publish and feature the work of Marco Rupnik.

St Michael’s Media/Church Militant is melting down in spectacular fashion, and some bishops are refusing Communion to some Catholic politicians, but not others. And people are upset.

I am reading about some of it and skipping over a lot.

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I’ve written many times about Medieval Peasanting my way through the news:

“Medieval Peasanting” means reminding myself that there once existed Catholics who couldn’t read or write and who never strayed more than 10 miles from the place where they were born.

They had some vague notion that the Holy Father lived in a far-off place called Rome and they ought to pray for him every day.

They said their prayers and did their best to obey the commandments, and when they failed, they repented. That is how they lived their faith.

When they had the chance, they received Jesus in the Eucharist with glad hearts and gratitude and fear of the Lord. And so should I.

This mental image is, I realise, an idealisation of medieval life.

Medieval people, peasants and everyone else, were not automatically holy simpletons just because they didn’t have the internet.

They were just as prone to vanity and pettiness and selfishness and idiotic mind games as I am.

Where I have the distractions of trolls and Twitter ratios and doomscrolling, they had the distractions of toothaches and fleas and runaway infections.

Just because they were disenfranchised, that doesn’t mean they were magically able to fix their eyes on the Lord with unwavering attention.

But they were supposed to try. And so am I.

I am supposed to be pursuing eucharistic coherence in my own life, and if the political and ecclesiastical discourse on eucharistic coherence is distracting me from that, I should chop it off.

This is a real choice, every day.

Every time I suggest something of this kind (which I do periodically, because I very much need the reminder myself), some readers respond with incredulity.

Jesus does not want us to stick our heads in the sand!

It is an abdication of our God-given brains and free will to play dumb and act like we don’t see what’s going on right in front of us! It’s not enough to just pray! We have to act!

All very true. I’m not telling anyone to check out, or pretend everything’s fine in the church or in the world, or to refuse to act when action is necessary.

I’m not even telling you (much to my editor’s relief) not to pay attention to headlines!

Instead, I’m trying to remember what’s really going on when I do let my mind and attention and heart be constantly engaged by these matters. It may not be what it seems.

When I was growing up, my mother was fascinated with theology.

She devoured just about any theological text she could find, and she gave everyone a chance.

She read not only Christian works (everything from the writings of the Church Fathers to The Shack), but the Book of Mormon and the Quran.

She was just plain interested in reading about God, and she never stopped being interested.

But it didn’t make her holy. She said so all the time. She was eager to make sure people understood that she read theology because she found it interesting, the way some people find baking or cryptology or golf interesting.

It compelled her and spoke to some deep part of her.

But she didn’t want anyone to think it made her a better Catholic than them. It was just how she was made. She just liked it, so she kept at it.

Her actual spiritual life was . . . fairly Medieval Peasant-y. She prayed on her knees; she fasted; she humbly begged pardon when she realised she had sinned.

She obeyed the church and followed the rules and kept the feasts and showed up when she was supposed to, and she made changes in her life when she thought she was being prompted by the Holy Spirit to make changes.

There was some overlap, of course, between her fascination with theology and her practice of her faith. I think it spoke better of her than she was willing to acknowledge, that she really, really, liked reading about and thinking about and talking about God.

What she read informed how she acted—of course it did.

But she understood that they were not one and the same thing; and most importantly, she understood that reading about God was not a substitute for acting like his child.

Nothing is.

I know you know this. But it’s something to keep in mind because it’s horribly easy to forget that we know.

Reading about the church, and keeping up with news about the church, and listening to podcasts about cultural issues, and having strong opinions about bishops and liturgy and politics and education and devotions and social justice and canon law and copyrights and anything else that captivates you?

That’s fine. It’s good. Keeping up with these matters can absolutely inform and enrich your spiritual life.

But they’re not your spiritual life.

And if you give them too much of your time and attention, they will crowd out your actual spiritual life, and pollute what remains.

Yes, even though it’s all about being Catholic.

Spending time talking about and arguing about and acting on Catholic issues is not the same as actually being Catholic.

It’s not the same as being a child of God.

Being a child of God means praying, and meeting God in the sacraments, and changing your life when the Holy Spirit asks it.

So what’s really going on in the church in America and the church everywhere?

Jesus is there, forgiving sins in confession, and making himself present in the Eucharist. That’s what’s really going on! That’s the big headline. Don’t miss it.

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