Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Has the Church Lost Its "Muchness"?

Recently I had an opportunity to see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland for the second time - and found the experience of the film just as engaging the second time through. There is one particular scene that has been haunting me - this one:

The Mad Hatter tells Alice "You're not as much as you were before [when she came there as a child]. You've lost your muchness."  The rest of the film consists of Alice trying to prove to the characters of Underland that she IS the real Alice - the one who fell down the rabbit hole as a child and called the place "Wonderland" and had such an effect on the place that they have been waiting for her return.

Why is that line about losing one's "muchness" so compelling? Besides any personal ramifications, I think it is also true of the Church. We, in a sense have lost our "muchness."

As Mass attendance continues to decline, as the Church struggles with the internal and external effects of the sex abuse crisis around the world,  as we continue to "lose market share" (as my office director sometimes puts it) I cannot help but think the Church, like Alice, is undergoing a crisis of identity.  The much-touted recent departure of Anne Rice, while it got more media attention than it deserved, was a reminder that this is happening every day.  Not everyone who leaves does so with such fanfare, obviously, but we are hearing reports that Catholic weddings in the Boston archdiocese have plummeted, that young Hispanics are leaving the Church (wait, weren't statistical forecasts that they would soon be the majority of the Catholic Church?), and in our own diocese, the number of children in religious education continues to decline each year, even though the population of our diocese continues to climb.  The new Roman Missal comes at a time when the Church is already in crisis, with potential to have both positive and negative effects... which it seems to be having already.

Near the end of Alice in Wonderland Alice recovers her "muchness" - in acts of heroism that call her to stretch beyond what she thought she was capable of.  In one scene, she defies the Hatters assessment of her.  "Lost my muchness have I?" she demands. "We'll see about that!"  One cannot help but wonder:  will we, as the Catholic Church, take the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and find ways to do likewise?  We live in hope. Come Holy Spirit.

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