On the Disappointed Catholic

Tell me what disappoints you and I will tell you what you are.

(Image: pixabay.com)

To be disappointed about something means it did not live up to expectations, to some standard. A football or basketball team may not live up to its pre-season hopes. Disappointment implies that something which could have been otherwise was not accomplished. Strictly speaking, we cannot be disappointed in things just being what they are. We cannot be disappointed in the Sun for being hot; we cannot be disappointed that owls hoot. We can only be disappointed in something that might have been done better, but in fact was not.

Of course, disappointment might also mean that our estimates or expectations are too high. The raw material or means whereby some lofty goal was to be accomplished is simply not there. We do not put welterweights in the ring with heavyweights. This living or not living up to expectations applies to individuals such as popes, presidents, executives in Silicon Valley, actors, college professors, farmers, or employees at Home Depot and Starbucks. In a sense, the entire stock market is based on expectations of higher or lower earnings for this or that corporation.

Then, too, we have the Ten Commandments and the two Great Commandments. To be disappointed in ourselves, in the way we have chosen to live, may in fact be our first tentative step on the rocky road to redemption. Today, few think that Catholics live up to what is expected of them. Indeed, deep disappointment with hierarchy and ordinary sinners seems to be the central characteristic of our time

In a sense, disappointment can be a healthy thing. It is a sign that the standards by which we measure things are still implicitly recognized. A passage in Psalm 21 reads: “They called on you and they were saved; they trusted and were not disappointed.” If we did not expect that things could and should have been otherwise, we would never notice any problems. Freedom and disappointment go together. We cannot have the one without the possibility of the other.

I was thinking of this topic in connection with reports that Rome has quietly asked other bishops and prelates not to attend occasions when Archbishop Aloysius Schneider or Raymond Cardinal Burke was to be present. This approach disappoints. It seems so unmanly and petty, so much contrary to that robust sense of responsible discourse that the Church binds itself to uphold. Rather than meet their arguments, we are advised not to listen to them. Disappointment likewise runs high when the Holy Father does not answer questions that need answering, or does not punish those whose actions demand punishment. Disappointment also comes when politicians who maintain that they are in good standing in the Church support abortion or euthanasia in various ways.

In a broader sense, we can wonder if God is disappointed with His creation. He looked upon it and found it good. He presumably was fully aware that, in creating a creature with genuine free will, things could go haywire. He thus found it advisable to enter the world itself to redeem it from its sins. When He did enter the world, He did not do so in such a manner that His disappointments with unworthy human enterprises and deeds would suddenly cease. If we look at the Crucifixion itself, it was the result, in part, of Jewish leaders being disappointed that their kind of Messiah did not come forth to free them from their enemies. And the performance of Peter and most of the other disciples during the Passion and Crucifixion can only be described as a disappointment. When it came down to the wire, they did not come through.

Other kinds of disappointment can be named. Take the rich young man in Scripture. He is invited to follow Christ. He thinks it over and decides not to follow Him. We cannot help but think that he not only disappointed Christ, but also he disappointed himself, which is why he went away “sad”. One wonders how modern divorces look under the spotlight of disappointments. Things that are affirmed “till death do us part” are cut off as not worth continuing. Children are disappointed in their parents’ divorces, wives with their husbands, husbands with wives. Again, disappointment means not living up to an expectation, to a standard.

The disappointed Catholics of today are not so much concerned with the world and what goes on within it. They are ready to accept the famous principle that “if a thing can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Though the world has never been more prosperous, we are hard pressed to find things that are going right. We are Augustinians who do not expect things in this world to go right very often or for very long. Yet, disappointment is not despair. Despair would mean that what is going on in the Church today cannot be reformed and cannot change. The foundations on which the Church was built are seemingly undermined. When the famous “Gates of Hell” became visible, they seem to prevail. But we know that Christ is King and, as Christ told Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

We should be disappointed about many things in our lives, in our country, and in our Church. Disappointment is a sign to us that things have to be that ought not to be the way they are. But we cannot change the past or its disappointments. Again, if nothing disappoints us, we implicitly approve everything, and we are not disappointed just to be disappointed. We can also be disappointed at the wrong things. The positive side of the disappointments that define us reveals those goods that last, that endure, that do not disappoint.

The Psalmist had it right: They trusted the Lord and “they were not disappointed.” Tell me what disappoints you and I will tell you what you are. The reverse of this aphorism is also true: “Tell me what does not disappoint you, and I will tell you what you are.

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted on November 9, 2018.)

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).


  1. Unmanly and petty: the very definition of the post-Catholic Church, now reigning in Rome and Washington etc, the very spawn of the manipulative McCarrick establishment.

    And yet, despite Cardinal Kasper’s denial of this truth, the Lord Jesus “sits enthroned over the world and history as a changeless being,” and He will bring justice, since the unmanly and petty of the Church refuse their own duty to serve the cause of justice.

    • Here is a touch of reality. We do not have a post-Catholic Church in Rome. We have the one true Church that was established with Simon, the rock, given a special role. Only the cultish followers of the excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre like to believe the ridiculous idea you put forward.

      • Dear Mal,
        I agree with you that what is recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew is true; The Gates of Hell will never prevail against the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church!
        God bless

        • Yes, Jesus said that the ates of hell will not prevail against the OHCAC. He also said, and the Church has perennially taught that the road to hell is wide, easy, and many travel that way.

          The gates of hell will not prevail, but demons, being spiritual, are free to roam about the earth. They tempt, make blind, and deceive many who listen to their seductive ideas. That activity happens now and will continue until The End. This too is from Jesus and His Church.

      • I offer a bit of sapiential knowledge and reason for consideration. Chris noted that the words ‘unmanly and petty’ define “the post-Catholic Church now reigning in Rome and Washington etc. To ‘reign’ does not equate to ‘exist’ or to ‘be.’

        Jesus did not appoint Peter to ‘reign.’ So if Chris suggests that some now ‘reign in a post-Catholic Church in Rome AND Washington,’ it is obvious that he does not refer to the Church which Christ established.

        The reigners in Rome themselves have said that some in the Church are divisive. If that is so, then obviously the Church in which they belong is not “one.”

        • Dear meiron
          Catholics are also taught that the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church and Popes are infallible in matters of Faith and Morals. Once we start deciding what the Holy Spirit is doing and not doing it is easy to start sliding downward and then we can start questioning if certain clerics are too sinful to effect Transubstantiation, I’d rather receive the Eucharist confidant that I am receiving the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
          God bless

          • Yes, the Holy Spirit guides and protects THE CHURCH which is the BODY OF CHRIST. Every person is only one individual member of the Body of Christ. Each individual person, be he priest or bishop or lay person, is FREE to reject, ignore, or accept inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

      • The Protestant Reformation/Revolt was a reaction to corrupt Church leadership. It bears a striking resemblance to the division of the kingdom that took place when King Solomon disobeyed God by listening to his foreign wives. There is plenty of unfaithfulness taking place in the Church hierarchy. With all the talk of schism the Church may be heading for another King Solomon moment.

        • Well, there was some corruption in Church leadership at the time, but this movement was also built on many erroneous beliefs. This is why the split over and over again.

          • There were defective worship practices in the Northern kingdom. The tribes that made up the Northern Kingdom were conquered and sent into exile never to return. They are called the Lost Tribes of Israel. They were scattered among the nations.

      • So, Mal, now it’s a matter of infallible dogma that papal “appointments” (!) cannot be, what’s that word again, “disappointing”!

          • The question in many minds is whether we ourselves even know what are talking about…

            While the Church is holy (as you often correctly affirm), it is also true that most of its members are not (a point meriting more of a real response than a predictable reaction). So, as for the many disappointing appointments, and the great damage done beyond and within the Church, we might note yet again the pattern of (dis)appointments: Kevin Farrell, wonder-boy James Martin SJ, Scicluna, Hollerich, Cupich, Paglia and even Tagle.

            About Cardinal Paglia, for example, this: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/leading-vatican-archbishop-featured-in-homoerotic-painting-he-commissioned

            About Cardinal Tagle, for another example, this: “…he holds that some situations exist where universal moral principles do not apply, as in the case of Communion for couples who live together conjugally but without sacramental marriage and issues relating to homosexuality. He opposes ‘harsh’ or ‘severe’ language when describing certain sins and believes the Church needs to ‘learn over’ its teaching of mercy due in part to the ‘shifts in cultural and social sensibilities’ [!!!]. In short, he downplays the gravity of such sins and the public scandal they give” (“The Next Pope: The Leading Cardinal Candidates,” edited by Edward Pentin, Tagle Summary on p. 584).

      • When numerous voices at the Vatican express blatant anti-Catholic bigotry, and boycott the presence of its most saintly prelates, it is ridiculous to call anyone characterizing such a development as petty and unmanly as being ridiculous.

  2. We, who have disappointed God so often, look to Fr Schall whose wonderful homilies and encouragement never disappoint.
    Thank you and God bless.

  3. I am disappointed that Fr Schall relied on reports of some unknown people or person in Rome suggesting that people do not attend services with Bishop Schneider and Cardinal Burke. Even these journalists who do not like Pope Francis were not sure how these suggestions or “orders” were made.

    • Dear Mal,
      You have never heard of anonymous sources before? They are used when knowledgeable people fear repercussions for telling the truth by vindictive men in power who “Cannot handle the Truth!”
      God bless,

    • Bishop Schneider himself reported that both the Vatican Sec. State Parolin as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to Kazakhstan notified him of his restriction. I believe the Vatican also informed that international travel was restricted.

      Italian journalist Marco Tosatti then published the notice. Tosatti has a blog but only in Italian.

  4. Reading Fr. Schaller’s essay on disappointment, I was left wondering if I should pray the Serenity Prayer more often or never pray it again.

  5. My personal disappointment with the Church started when Pope Benedict resigned. I did not understand it, have not come to understand it, do not understand it. I’ll never forget the day he was elected. Never felt so grateful in all my life. “You are the rock.” Obviously, he was not. Over the years I found I can do without the Church. Sad experience, a slow and almost imperceptible heartbreak, and then it was over, and life goes on.

    • Peter, the answer is that PPBXVI did not resign. His personal secretary was very clear in the Extended Petrine Ministry talk (and text reissued in Ganswein’s 2021 book.) PPBXVI stepped aside. He extended the ministry into a Contemplative (Grace, munus) role of the Vicar of Christ and and Active (Ministerium, Auxiliary) role. let me quote it:
      “Since the election of Pope Francis on March 13 2013, therefore, there have not been two popes, but de facto an expanded office – with one active and one contemplative participant. This is why Benedict XVI set aside neither his white cassock nor his name.¨ Peter, this video is a great exposition:

    • You may be able to “do without the church,” but you cannot be saved from eternal damnation without the church. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

    • Peter,
      I love your honesty in a Church awash with PR that we are told is evangelization, and ideologues telling us they are leaders of character and principle. I share the same disappointment as you. The one consolation I have is now I know why I strive to stay with the Church. The only answer is Jesus. I think your closer than many who may appear to be good little Catholics. Thanks for the refreshing candor – something any functional family welcomes.

  6. We set ourselves up for disappointment and even despair when we misunderstand the “gates of hell” passage as a promise of indefectibility . It was never intended as such, and was not originally understood as such. The gates of hell could only prevail if Christ and his church failed to spring the dead from their prison. It’s a promise of the resurrection of the dead. The gates don’t prevail just because the institutional church has gone nuts — to think that is to misunderstand who is the aggressor and who is on the defensive in Matthew 16:18. I hope that’s clear.

    • I think you’ve got this right. “Prevail” suggests “in the end.” Jesus will win. But in the meantime, there will be fails. The Church is reliable, but only infallible in the most specific and creedal of instances. It easily gets emphases and applications wrong. As for politics and elevation of leaders…

    • Absolutely. The Church, too, differs from each individual in the Church. Each individual IN the Church does not equate to The Church. The individual is surely free to defect, in which case, the gates do prevail against the individual but not against The Church as a whole.

  7. Reverend Schall is correct when he says, “It seems so unmanly and petty, so much contrary to that robust sense of responsible discourse that the Church binds itself to uphold.” I am disappointed that the cause of this failure, intrinsically disordered men having hijacked the Catholic Church, and thus our Faith, by twisting it to suit their perverse agenda, which is trying to make themselves feel better about their sinful actions rather than going away “sad” because we have not lived up to our and a wholesome societies’ expectations. I disagree with Reverend Schall that we can ponder “if God is disappointed with His creation” because that would insinuate God did not know what to expect, denying God’s omniscience, and, philosophically, that Christ was not present in the beginning because Almighty God did not know Jesus was needed yet, until He was disappointed with our failure to live up to His expectations.

  8. Oh, someone from high up knows about the persecution of Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Schneider, I am sure a few others are also selected to be shunned. Thank God he does have a few true reapers of souls left.

    • Actually, Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider are not being persecuted. They have the large rad trad media at their disposal to help them attack our Pope.

  9. Funny that an essay on disappointment should be so heartening! I love Father’s wonderfully evocative statement “When the famous “Gates of Hell” became visible, they seem to prevail.”

  10. Gates of Hell has always had a contested meaning. When young I thought it meant that evil would never overcome the Church. Others [in particular Anthony Esolen] that the word of God would never be contained. Some, as assumed here, G. Poulin that it alludes to the resurrection of the redeemed from the dead, from Hell. Hell too has various meaning here referring not to Gehenna, fiery hell rather Sheol where both good and evil men are held in darkness [this is where scholars believe is referenced regarding Christ’s descent into hell after the Resurrection].
    Poulin’s seems the more viable interpretation. The reason is that as indicated in scripture and held by the Church in the Catechism that the final victory will not be through the Church [which suggests the Church overcome by the Evil One a remnant of believers remaining]. Rather, solely by the return of Christ in his glory as conquering King.

  11. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it”.(Matthew 16:18, RSVCE).
    Sadly, while the Church will never be overcome and defeated, Jesus never promised us that the Devil won’t try to do so, or that we will not be tested in our faith.

    • The Church, a sacrament given to us by Christ himself, has always had its ups and downs and scandals etc.. But founded on the rock- St. Peter- it will always prevail. The Holy Spirit is guiding her. We must work to build her up!

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