Saturday, July 01, 2006

Pay, Pray, and Obey

This post is largely a placeholder for an extended exploration I would like to write on the expression, "Pay, Pray, and Obey." My views on the expression itself are mostly critical--if used out of simple cynicism, it is trying to say something which it has no authority or position to say. That notwithstanding, the critical use of the phrase does point to some serious issues that cannot be ignored. More later.


OK, let's get on with this. Now, in order to look at the intended use "Pay, Pray, and Obey," I will have to indulge in some guesswork. Examining hypothetical intentions always runs the risk of unfairness. That's why I'm going to start off in a sympathetic way.

I imagine that the root of the situation which might justify the critique of P.P.O. lies in legalism. A quick survey of the Catechism and the Code will reveal that all of the things that the laity are required to do by the law of the Church themselves follow the pattern of P.P.O. For example, let's look at the Catechism's version of the precepts of the Church:
  1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.
  2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
  3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
  4. You shall observe the the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
  5. You shall help provide for the needs of the Church.
  6. (The 1908 Catholic Encyclopedia adds...) not to marry within a certain degree of kindred nor to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times (i.e., Advent or Lent).
Indeed, nobody expects to find anywhere in Canon Law or the Catechism a precept such as, "You shall do service in a parish soup kitchen at least twice a month" or "You shall assist your pastor in making wise decisions for the good of the parish." Someone who did not know any better and learned the Catholic faith simply by reading its laws, would indeed believe that the charism of the laity is exclusively to P.P.O.

One should keep in mind that when I call this "legalism" I do not mean the belief that all of the Church's laws should be followed (this is not legalism; it is faithfulness). Rather, by "legalism" I mean that one's concept of Christian life is determined exclusively by laws. Another word for it is "minimalism;" it presumes that one who rigorously obeys the written precepts has a claim on God's and salvation without the necessity of charity. When it is overt, it can be deeply idolatrous.

This legalism has a double negative impact: first, it feeds into the moral laziness of the clergy and the laity. A lay legalist may believe that once he or she has a hang of the Ten Commandments and the six/seven precepts, he or she has salvation "in the bag" (even if that person lacks charity). Clerics have a substantially greater number of laws they must follow; hence legalism is more tempting for the clergyman because its inherent laziness is not so obvious (heck, even as a seminarian I struggle to do even most of them; if I could do everything required of me, I imagine I would be very proud of myself).

Second, this legalism can feed into the temptation of the clergy and the laity to have contempt for one-another. On the part of the clergy, there is the bittersweet myth that the life of the laity is easier because it has fewer ecclesiastical restrictions. The legalistic clergyman 'naturally' assumes that his laity don't do anything beyond Church law (indeed, if they follow Church law at all), and so inflates his ego with the gas that is his own rigorous obedience. Moreover, and ironically, the clerical legalist becomes exceedingly uncomfortable when the laity do actively go beyond the P.P.O. model. The active Christian life becomes a kind of personal territory of his that he will not cede to the rabble and the mob. Thus--in the guise of rightfully reminding his flock not to abandon the precepts of the Church--the cleric may in fact be insisting that they also not go beyond them.

The converse temptation exists for the laity--that they could imagine that the priest is exactly just as described, when in fact he may not be. This is where the cynical application of "Pay, Pray, and Obey" comes from. It is an anti-clericism which supposes--rightly or wrongly--that the cleric has a kind of contempt for, and patronization of the laity. The critique invokes an image of a church which does not view its lay members as living active Christians and children of God, but rather has the human fodder for the perpetuation of power structures. In its extremes, it may serve as a justification to ignore the precepts of the Church altogether--an anti-legalism, as it were.

I submit that this anti-legalism, in cases where it is rash and inaccurate, can itself be a breed of legalism, for two reasons. First, both legalism and anti-legalism share the assumption that the external obedience (or disobedience) of laws is the true theatre of the rise and fall of values; neither has sufficient regard for the interior dispositions of the other party. In other words, the legalist priest misinterprets lay activism for lawlessness (even if they broke no laws); and the anti-legalist laity misinterprets the priest's discipline for heartlessness (even if he were a man of great kindness).

Second, both legalism and anti-legalism indulge in minimalism; one seeks obedience as a substitute for justice; the other seeks justice as a substitute for obedience. Neither has a strong care for the emphasis of both or the recognition of complementary roles in the Church.

The #1 reason why I have a deep animosity toward the cynical application of the "Pay, Pray, and Obey" critique is that it seems to harbor a thinly veiled, ideologically anti-legalistic contempt for these three actions. It is less a call to the renewal of active Christian life and more an indictment of all humble submission to the visible continuation of Christ's authority on earth. By this, I do not imply that there are no priests who really are legalists and who do have an unfair disdain of the laity. Nor do I imply that the lay vocation is confined to P.P.O.--it must not be. But I have the feeling that people are indulging in Enlightenment fantasies of Christianity without humble prayer, generous tithing, and willing obedience (which itself is as much a clerical virtue as it is a lay virtue, of course).


Br. Thomas said...
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Br. Thomas said...

Unfortunately the relative use of this term, even as a joke, by contemporary seminarians shows the growing gap between laity and clergy.

No, we don't have to be hippie-priest social workers to be respected in the parish. But, maybe our vocational strategy attracts people who don't already fit in with the larger church.

Sure, Jesus' first disciples were all "freaks and geeks" and public sinners. Yet, why don't the 'popular' kids want to be priests anymore? Did they ever, or is that my pet illusion? Where are the charismatic (not the '70's variety of that term) leaders inspiring vocations today?

Am I making sense, or is it too early in the morning?

(By the way, I hope you can visit the monastery in August.)

Jeff said...

I think it's too early in the morning.

It's true that the lion's share of seminarians now tend to be radicals; and sometimes, unfortunately, clericalists. But that may be the sign of the times. Remember Sr. Katarina Schutte's presentation at Louvain? In the 1990's, the number of newly ordained priests who believed that Ordination effects a real ontological change nearly doubled! But I think Fr. Dennis demonstrates well that it's possible to have a high sacerdotalogy without being a clericalist.

As far as the 'popular' kids go, actually, I've found that Mundelein is jam packed full of one-time 'popular kids'--charismatic former youth-group leaders fresh from their high-achieving college days and still holding their beautiful ex-girlfriends' perfumed hankerchiefs.

Of course, it has it's share of "freaks and geeks," too. I think the highest concentration comes from liberal dioceses, where Catholic vigor is more likely to separate a guy than to win him lots of groupies.

return to righteousness said...


The old testament says to rest on the sabbath(saturday) An encyclopedia will show that is the sabbath. It is the 4th commandment too. Nowhere does God command us to change that to sunday.

Be careful who you listen too.

as for legalism...

Paul was a false apostle who preached we could be free from the law when in fact that is not the case.

Psalm 111 instructs us that the commandments are for ever and ever.

Deut 12:32:
What thing soever I command you, observe and do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it

Deut 13:4:
Ye shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice...

Paul was not ordained an apostle (Mat 10)

Paul DIDN'T qualify to be an apostle (Acts 1:16-26)

Paul's gospel is caught in error..
he tells us there were 12 apostles seen by christ after his reserection...remember Judas was dead. Luke, Matthew, Mark and acts all tell us about 11..
but Paul told us 12 in 1 cor 15:5. His conversion story is caught in error his stories in acts 22 and acts 26.

There is so much more.

But what it really comes down to is this question...whom will you listen to? God (who says to obey) or Paul (who says we are free)?

Jeff said...

Pardon my confusion; your perspective seems rather new to me. I mean, I know there are 7th Day Adventists out there, but I didn't think they rejected Paul's epistles as the inspired Word of God.

But I fear you may be misunderstanding Paul. He is not an anarchist. Moreover, Paul did not regard himself an apostle of the same authority as the other apostles, since he made himself subject to Peter. Peter, the "Rock", approved of Paul and himself taught that it was no longer necessary to obey the dietary laws of the Mosaic code.

Moreover, Christians have never been confused about the meaning of the word "Sabbath." Even most other languages make the connection obvious--, e.g., Spanish, "Sabado," means Saturday.

But the celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday was happening even within the Apostolic Age:

Acts 20:7 - "On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight." (Note, the first day of the Jewish week is Sunday).

Christianity is not the abrogation of Judaism, but neither is it the mere continuation of Judaism. The Church of the Apostolic Age realized very soon that the revelation they received in Christ could no longer fit within the containments of the Mosaic Law. This does not make them anarchists, for they had laws, but those laws now had a new foundation: a living, breathing man-God, Jesus Christ, and no longer a mere code.