A frustrated reader sent along a note about the politically-correct, doctrinally-suspect goings on at Immaculate Conception [Catholic] Church in Durham, NC.
I myself have been personally subject to the following ( and I swear I am not making this up or exaggerating at all):- Hearing a priest make jokes that George Bush thinks he is God during the Homily- Being told to go see Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth for penance (which I did out ofobedience and respect for the Sacrament, and I assure you, it was truly a penitential act!And it wasn't like I confessed to driving a SUV or enlarging my carbon foot print oranything).- On the feast of St. Francis, the school's children did a skit about St. Francis not beingafraid of the wolf in the woods, with the take home that we need to be inclusive and notafraid of "the Other"- As a new revert from Evangelical Protestantism a few years ago, I met with the parish'shead of Adult Faith Formation to see how I could get involved, She proceeded to sharewith me how she and her live-in lesbian lover feel so welcome and accepted at the parish.(Now, she was a very nice woman, and I know we are to love our fellow Catholics whostruggle with homosexuality, but how a parish has someone who openly rejects Churchteaching as the head of Adult Faith Formation, is beyond me.)
As for Lenten practices at the parish, see this recent post (Feb. 23, 2008) on Fr. John Zuhlsdorf's blog, which includes a description of "The Ecological Stations of the Cross", apparently adapted from a "devotion" created by the Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation, of the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara. It is essentially a mish-mash of New Age blathering and eco-worship and includes lines such as, "Mother Earth, you are alive with Christ’s Spirit. You, like Christ, are the suffering servant." Jeff Miller (aka, the Curt Jester), in a comment on the post, points to a longer description of the "stations," which includes these details:
Holding candles, the group processed around the church from station to station, taking turns reading from a text accompanied by powerful images of global warming, clear-cut forests, environmental discrimination against the poor, and species extinction. The Ecological Stations of the Cross honor Jesus' Good Friday travail, but blend the traditional model with a 21st-century meditation focusing upon the crucifixion of Mother Earth.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has an article, posted today, about Evangelicals who are taking up Lenten practices (ht: Rey):
Some evangelical churches offer confession and weekly communion. They distribute ashes on Ash Wednesday and light Advent calendars at Christmastime. Others have formed monastic communities, such as Casa Chirilagua in Alexandria, modeled on the monasteries that arose in Christianity's early years.
This represents a "major sea change in evangelical life," according to D.H. Williams, professor of patristics and historical theology at Baylor University. "Evangelicalism is coming to point where the early church has become the newest staple of its diet."
Experts say most who have taken on such practices have grown disillusioned with the contemporary, shopping-center feel of the megachurches embraced by baby boomers, with their casually dressed ministers and rock-band praise music.
Instead, evangelicals -- many of them young -- are adopting a trend that has come to be known as "worship renewal" or "ancient-future worship."
Those familiar with the trend say it is practiced mostly by small, avant-garde evangelical churches, though not always. Last summer, the national convention of the 2.5 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, an evangelical wing of the Lutheran denomination, voted to revive private confession.
"I definitely sense a hunger for acknowledgment of life's mysteries and of the mystery and beauty of God," said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Mich., which recently hosted a "worship renewal" conference for 1,500 people. "There's a hunger for deeper engagement -- 'Don't just sell me a product at church, but really put me in touch with the mystery and beauty of God.' "
The articles goes on to note that some Evangelical groups are practicing forms of confession:
Confession -- a staple of Catholicism -- is appearing in different formats.Thousands of people, for example, have posted anonymous online confessions on church-run Web sites like mysecret.tv, and ivescrewedup.com. Those posting have confided feelings of guilt over abortions or their homosexuality, while others have confessed to extramarital affairs, stealing, eating disorders, addictions -- even murder.
"We do believe there is value in confessing our sins to each other," said Bobby Gruenewald, pastor at Lifechurch.tv, an Oklahoma-based megachurch that runs mysecret.tv, which has received 7,500 confessions since it started in 2006. Ministers and volunteers pray over the confessions as they come in. "This process may be a more modern way of people discovering the value of that tradition."
In fact, various Evangelical and even Fundamentalist groups have practiced variations on this theme for many decades. Growing up in a small Fundamentalist "Bible chapel" in the 1970s, I remember the elders of the group anointing sick members with oil and praying over them. And while we didn't speak of "Confession," there was plenty of talk of confessing sins to one another, based on James 5:14-16, which states in part: "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed..." In practice, this basically meant having some sort of "accountability partner", preferably an older Christian. It's easy enough, of course, for Catholics to look at such things and point out that such confessions aren't true sacraments and that there seems to be a complete disregard for how confession in the ancient Church was rooted in Church authority and a sacramental vision.
But the positive, in the words of Dr. Chris Armstrong, associate professor of church history at Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN), is that for such Evangelicals, "their experience is one of churches that look too much like the rest of the world -- a little bit too much like malls or rock concerts"—and they are looking for something more. Unfortunately, some Catholic parishes, such as Immaculate Conception in N.C., don't seem to understand that by perverting orthodox traditions and devotions with politically-correct, even heterodox, mumbo-jumbo, they are stealing a less than desirable page from the Book of Trendy Accommodation that some Evangelicals, thankfully, are starting to toss out the window. Then again, Catholics do seem to always be ten to twenty years behind the times when it comes to being hip and with it, meaning that even when embracing falsehood they somehow manage to look dull and dated.
By the way, an excellent book that touches on some of these issues is The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (Ignatius, 1992), edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock (which happens to be the very first Ignatius Press book I ever bought, back in 1992).