Philippa Martyr: Ditch the Church rage

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An opportunity this Divine Mercy Sunday

I recently read a terrific piece in Catholic World Report by Charles Chaput, emeritus archbishop of Philadelphia. He’s a brilliant man, and a great speaker and writer.

Chaput gave an address to a group of US seminarians earlier this month which included a robust analysis of what’s wrong with the Church in many Western countries right now.
But he also said that “we need to be very careful not to hypnotise ourselves with our worries and anxieties”.

This sentence really stood out for me. Especially once I read the comments on the article where some readers said that they’d rather hang on to their worries and anxieties.

Divine Mercy Sunday is a good day to take out those worries and anxieties and look at them frankly. Many of us suffer from “church rage”, when you go to a less-than-inspiring Sunday Mass and come home so angry with everyone and everything that it spoils the rest of the day.

“Church fear” is another aspect of the same problem. Chaput was right to use the term “hypnotise”, because both church rage and church fear have that effect.

A painting of St Faustina with the Divine Mercy image. Photo: Wikimedia

Church fear, like church rage, is addictive. Some people think that worrying about the Church makes them a good Catholic. They can’t let go of their worry, because it feels like not being a good Catholic any more. But being a good Catholic actually involves a whole bunch of other stuff (Matt 5:3-12). God is still in charge of His Church, and not a hair of your head falls that He doesn’t know about (Luke 12:7).

Church rage and fear can paralyse a faithful Catholic, reducing the real good they could do. St James warns us that our anger doesn’t produce the righteousness that God desires for us (James 1:20).

Good zeal can go down bad avenues. Bad avenues include the internet, especially after 9pm. (Very little good comes from being on the internet after 9pm). ‘Pin the Heresy on the Bishop’ is a game everyone can play, but it doesn’t change anything in the Church.

Online wars over how to survive the three days of darkness also won’t save anyone’s soul.
Trolling is awful. Watching apocalyptic YouTube videos made by professional scare-mongers to give yourself quasi-religious thrills is also awful.

Is this how we should be living as beloved children of God? Christ died for us and rose for us while we were still sinners. He’s opened the floodgates of His mercy to us today. What a great day to get off the keyboard, and outside your own head, and bathe in that downpour of graces and mercies.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, I’d recommend an audit of your Church-related online activity. I do a lot of this stuff myself, so I include myself in this audit.

Is this “work” making you more charitable to your spouse and children? Or are you angry and anxious all the time?

Is fear and anxiety about the Church’s future making you impatient and insensitive to the difficulties of those around you? The real and immediate needs, rather than the fantasy needs of a terrible future that may never happen?

Have you cut off your old friends at church because they don’t agree with your world view?
Do you waste time fighting online battles that convince no one?

Is this time that you could spend with your nearest and dearest, listening to them and caring about them?

It’s not Pollyanna-ish to refuse to be overcome by fear and anxiety. It’s resilient, and it’s a Christian virtue (fortitude). Facing difficulties is good for us. But constantly living in a world of fear of the future of the Church is not good for us. It’s also expressly forbidden by the Gospel.

What does Jesus tell us to do instead? He tells explicitly to NOT be afraid (five times in Matthew, once in Mark, three times in Luke, and at least four times in John). If you want to read about His mercy from His own lips, you can read anything in the Gospels about it – they’re all full of examples.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, go outside and play in God’s fresh air. Breathe it in deeply. Bathe in His mercy. You don’t deserve it – but that doesn’t matter.

No amount of scalding comments on articles, or Facebook wars over dubious prophecies, will buy that mercy for you. It’s always been free. You will please your loving and all-powerful Father best today by accepting His mercy, and saying thank you.

Dr Philippa Martyr, a Perth-based academic, can be contacted at: [email protected]