Friday, February 24, 2017

The Catholic Church Needs to be the Daddy

Along with Star Trek: The Next Generation, my joint favourite television show is The Office. (The American version. The British version, though a work of genius, is too cringe-inducing and doesn't have the same heart. Besides, there are only two short series and one Christmas special of the British version, so the viewer doesn't enter its world in the same way.) 

There's one scene in The Office that came into my head today, when I was replying to a comment on the previous post. I've mentioned this scene before, on this blog and in a Catholic Voice article, but I'll mention it again.

Michael and Erin in a different scene
It features the central character, office manager Michael Scott (in his forties), and the ditzy office receptionist Erin (in her twenties). Erin grew up in foster homes and there are frequent funny-but-poignant references to this. She's dating another character called Gabe, who nobody likes (either in the show or, as became increasingly apparent, amongst the audience. They eventually dropped him, and none too soon).

This is the transcript of the scene. I find it touching and profound. (The dialogue is confusing without knowing that they get into Michael's car at one point.) They've left a viewing party in Gabe's house and Michael had earlier sabotaged Gabe's cable box:

Erin: [Michael is outside fixing the cable box] You did this?
Michael: No I was just check- Yeah. Yes I did, yeah yeah.
Erin: Why don't you like him?
Michael: What is there to like? He's just, he's a weird little skeevy guy with no waist, why do you care whether we like him or not?
Erin: I care if you like him.
Michael: Why? I'm not your father. [Erin looks sad] All right.
Erin: Okay...
Michael: Go to your room.
Erin: What? [confused]
Michael: Go to your room young lady!
Erin: [slowly getting it] Uhm, I'm not going to my room.
Michael: You listen to me. You listen good. You are are not, to see that boy, anymore.
Erin: You listen to me. You are not to tell me what to do.
Michael: As long as you are living under this roof you are going to do what I say.
Erin: I hate your roof!
Michael: Oh do not raise your voice to me!
Erin: I'll raise it how I want! I'll raise the roof!
Michael: Gahh, I will pull this car over!
Erin: I hate it! I hate your car!

Obviously (as should be apparent even from the dialogue, without the visual cues) Erin is delighted to have found a father figure; someone to to advise her, admonish her,  watch out for her, care about her. Not to mention someone to rebel against.

I honestly believe that the Catholic Church fulfills this role in Christian and post-Christian societies, even for non-Catholics and non-believers. How often are parents warned that they shouldn't try to be friends with their children, and the last thing they should ever be is pushovers?

I'm frightened that, today, the Catholic Church is trying to be friends with its children, and even becoming a pushover Daddy. And no kid wants that. Even the ones that say they want it and might even think they want it.

Indeed, the Church is all-too-often becoming the embarrassing Daddy that tries to be 'down with the kids' and speak their lingo. Which does nothing but makes the kids bite their fists with embarrassment.

I believe that liberals want the Church to be Daddy. Feminists want the Church to be Daddy. Non-denominational Christians want the Church to be Daddy. Broadsheet columnists want the Church to be Daddy.  Atheists (is anyone entirely an atheist?) want the Church to be Daddy.

Does being Daddy mean being tyrannical and cruel and uncaring? No, but it does mean being firm, consistent and principled-- maybe even stuffy and old-fashioned.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker says something similar in this post

Fr. Longenecker mentions the power of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Indeed, I can rarely hold back tears when this reading comes up at Mass.

Yes, indeed-- I think we all want the Church to be Daddy.

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