Saturday, October 29, 2011

Understanding our Mother

Would you believe a scandalous story about your mother that was told by someone who loved neither her, nor you?

Most of us are not famous. We do not face the morning papers with delight or dread at the prospect of an article or an op-ed piece that paints us in a good or bad light. Our relationships are more direct, less mediated by third parties.

Still, some of us get our moment in the news. This is Washington, and sometimes our employers or organizations get the spotlight for at least a moment. Friends or family members enjoy or hate their fifteen minutes of fame.

We have some taste of how unfair and inaccurate even the simplest and most straightforward news coverage can be. If we are honest with ourselves, that little insight makes us highly skeptical of everything we read, watch, or hear about other folks. We know it is not the whole story, not enough to claim we know a person or an event accurately and fairly. The simple process of preparing a news story is itself enough to distort a person’s character simply by emphasizing the immediately interesting and omitting the everyday experience.

We would not allow CNN or the Washington Post to change our minds about someone we know well. We would discredit Fox News or Drudge before we took their word over the story we heard from our close friend or family member. This would be the most common of common sense.

Oddly, though, many American Catholics allow an assortment of strangers and enemies to shape their knowledge and understanding of the Church. Journalists and academics, even when being faithful to the standards of their profession, do not seek to understand or explain the faith and life of the Catholic Church according to criteria or characteristics valued by her faithful ministers or members, much less her divine Founder.

In seeking the story or sensation, journalists have no time for the mundane reality of daily prayer and penance. In explaining her actions and history, academics resort too often to measures of power and politics. We wouldn’t believe this stuff if they were saying it about our moms, so why should we credit it when they are talking about Holy Mother, the Church?

That’s what Father Jim Barron, a gifted Chicago priest, theologian, and teacher, and a number of his friends decided. They have compiled a ten-episode video series entitled Catholicism that explains the Church in terms Jesus would have used, and ways people who know her best can recognize her. They traveled the globe to speak of every aspect of her life in front of the most vivid, and often most beautiful, examples of those elements.

Some of the episodes are being run on public television – MPT carried two. The ten-DVD series is easily available on the internet. Episodes will be shown and discussed by several groups in the parish in coming months. You should give your attention to this lesson. It is an opportunity, rare enough these days, to learn about the Church from someone who loves both her, and you.

Monsignor Smith