Seeking the transcendent

Here’s my theory: The shrinking number of American Catholics isn’t just about the hierarchy’s anachronistic politics.

It’s also about Catholics seeking, and not finding, an experience of the holy and transcendent — of God — in their Church.

Without that, who could be surprised when the Pew Center this month found the Church losing adherents faster than any other religion save mainline Protestantism, where numbers have been declining for years?

For decades now, the Catholic hierarchy has declared unworthy those of us who are female, divorced, divorced and remarried, or users of dastardly birth control.

Those of us who are gay, no matter what Ireland just voted, can forget about embrace. Disordered, says the Church.

But constant rejection isn’t the only problem.

“Catholics just don’t have a vocabulary for transcendence,” says a highly devout lawyer friend of mine.

He’s so right. Transcendence is not something we hear much about at Mass or read about in the bulletin. It’s not where modern Catholicism’s emphasis lies, although it’s there if we look hard enough.

Beyond Pope Francis’ refusal to scold us all is his focus on exactly that: the intimacy and joy of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” he wrote the word “joy” 28 times in the first four pages, plus seven “rejoices.”

“The quiet joy of (God’s) love.’’

“The joy brought by the lord.”

“The joy which we experience daily, amid the little things of life, as a response to the loving invitation of God.”
Here’s Pope Francis’ very first paragraph:

“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. These who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.”

Sounds terrific, no? What he’s talking about, again, is an “encounter” with Jesus, an actual experience of God, which changes everything. Continue reading

  • Margery Eagan, spirituality columnist for Crux, is a writer and commentator on current affairs.
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