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Philippa Martyr: Without hope, Catholic frazzle comes for us all

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Catholic frazzle makes us feel hopeless, adrift, and at the mercy of the worst elements in the church.
Catholic frazzle makes us feel hopeless, adrift, and at the mercy of the worst elements in the church.

Are you hanging on to the church by your fingernails? You can tell me to buzz off, but I’m genuinely interested.

I know a lot of Catholics who have slid over the years from solid fervour into a state of daily Catholic frazzle. Admittedly, a lot has gone on.

The ongoing clergy sexual abuse issue has hurt many Catholics. The Royal Commission was hard work. The trial of Cardinal George Pell was hard work.

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The Plenary Council was very hard work. And the COVID-19 pandemic was the cherry on top of a nasty sundae.

Catholic frazzle makes us feel hopeless, adrift, and at the mercy of the worst elements in the church.

But it has shallow roots, and it needs to be yanked out of your life like a weed.

First, please realise that you’re not alone. Lots of Catholics feel the same way. Also, God is looking directly over your left shoulder as you’re reading this. He’s indwelling in your heart right now, if you haven’t run him out of town.

Catholic frazzle usually starts when you’re trying to cram too much into your daily life.

Your prayer time has vanished because you’ve gotten too busy with things that are going to look really stupid to you after you die.

You try to dart little glances at God now and then, which is great—but it’s not going to sustain you through trying times.

But then we start to feed our Catholic frazzle via the internet and what I call “scaredy-cliques”. This behaviour crosses all states of life, theological camps, and both sexes.

You might think this is better than having a porn habit, but it isn’t. It’s just as bad because you’re choosing to feed your own fear and anxiety.

Then you insist on sharing your latest horror stories with everyone else. It’s nice to see an evangelical spirit at workb ut it actually damages Catholic families and groups that were formed to build up the body of Christ.

I know you think you’re helping people by repeating half-baked gossip and hearsay and conspiracy theory about the church.

But Jesus told us over and over, “Do not be afraid.”

Marinating in fear and loathing is doing the devil’s work for him. A better use of time and energy is to help those around you to grow in trust and love of God. For that, you need steady, daily, prolonged prayer time. Carve this out, says Phillipa Martyr. Photo: CNS, Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review
Marinating in fear and loathing is doing the devil’s work for him. A better use of time and energy is to help those around you to grow in trust and love of God. For that, you need steady, daily, prolonged prayer time. Carve this out, says Phillipa Martyr. Photo: CNS, Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review

So why are you trying to make everyone around you afraid?

Who benefits from us being constantly anxious about the state of the church and the world? Who wants to erode our trust in God, little by little, till we are hanging on to the church by our fingernails?

Is this creature on our side? I think not. And he can come to you disguised as an angel of insight and prophecy on your favourite YouTube channel.

Marinating in fear and loathing is doing the devil’s work for him. If there is a coming chastisement, you can’t stop it.

A better use of time and energy is to help those around you to grow in trust and love of God. Give them a chance to fall in love with him, instead of being frightened by your church scandal stories.

For that, you need steady, daily, prolonged prayer time. Carve this out.

Good prayer time needs a period of peace and quiet. Also, please don’t barrage God with words the entire time. Just shush and listen for once.

As you spend more time with the real God—who is very loving and trustworthy—and less time with the online fever-dream scary “God,” you will quickly stop fearing for the future of the church.

It’s time to stir up the virtue of hope. Hope redirects us—to trust that God is in charge of the church and the world, and that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

There’s nothing effeminate or Pollyanna-ish about hope. It opens the way to perseverance and fortitude, which are two virtues you also need to survive in hard times.

How do you nourish it? Begin with gratitude. Stop marinating in church horror stories and start praising and thanking God instead.

Start the day with the Office of Lauds (Morning Prayer). It takes less than ten minutes and will give you a much-needed reality check about the past, present, and future of the church on earth.

Renewing that hope every day will curb your selfishness, depression and anger. It will make you a happier and more loving person. Your family and friends will also heave a sigh of relief.

If you really want to help the church, and get your fingernails back, you might like to change the record and start singing a new song to the Lord (Ps 96, 98, 149) instead.

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