My experience of the Catholic Church is limited. My first contact was in 1977 when I was a 6th grader. I have no experiential understanding of the Church prior to those dates. I know that many who do have either a tendency to paint it as a time unparalleled while many others paint as dark and oppressive time.
I do have plenty of experience in the Church after 1977. having been in the seminary system at some point for 13 years, a priest for 21, and a pastor for 18 years. I also have an appreciation of history and its ebb and flow. The same Church that embraced the utter simplicity of Carmelites and Carthusians also embraced the ornate styles of the Rococo and Romance periods.
Through this, though, has been a single thread: the Church consistently teaching the Deposit of Faith through each epoch. How that was lived out from age to age varied into an 'all-in' attitude in times of persecution to a lethargy in low ebbs and time of great indulgence. Oftentimes, these churches grow up side by side.
The Church in Africa, particularly Nigeria, is suffering greatly from persecutions. So too the Church in the Middle East, China, and India. We see priests kidnapped and murdered in such places and in Mexico as well. These are churches in the crucible. In the west, though, I see a very different Church...not a Church suffering, but a Church indulgent.
In Europe and most of North America, I see a Church indulgent. I see a church populated by those with the luxury of time and freedom of movement and expression. This is not to say that are not those who do eschew the life of indulgence and practice the faith well; they are the minority though. I see pushes for every indulgent activity to be at best turned a blind eye towards and at worst embraced. Pornography plagues the society. Any and all perversions of human sexuality have champions and the power to make changes to allow for them. Worship has been reduced to a 'what I like" power struggle where we act as if the Church has no opinion or teachings on what worship is to look like. The teachings of Christ are treated more as an anesthesia to numb us into false joy and condone our indulgence than a wake-up call to conversion and repentance,
Perhaps in fewer places is this more clearly seen than in our attitudes to fasting, abstinence, and mortification. They and any somber style in liturgy and music are almost seen with derision by many. It is as if they simply were wiped off the face of practiced Catholicism. It would seem that the Church simply did away with most all of this and fenced in the woeful remainders of such practice into Lent...as a way of making us miserable. The more indulgent a society becomes the more anathema fasting, abstinence, and mortification will become. We want the spiritual candy without any of the nasty tasting veggies.
But a diet of junk food and candy, as tasty as it might seem, will stunt and hurt the health of the person. It will lead to multiple problems so many of the body's physiological systems. By the same token, when the practice of faith is regulated to only what I like, it is to the determent of our souls. The more we embrace indulgence as a matter of lifestyle, the more we will demand as much in our spiritual life. The worship of God will become what makes me feel something (the worship of the person) as opposed to being directed to God...hence what the Church wants and teaches in worship will become as relevant as the nutritional information of food is in a toddler's mind.
A Church indulgent is a pox to the Church Militant.
We have a job to do. In any field in which one is dedicated to excellence, proper training is necessary. Part of that proper training for us as Catholics is the training that comes from fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and (yes) tithing. How is this training?
Fasting, abstinence, mortification, and tithing train us to be freed of indulgence. In purposely re-allocating the use of our time and resources to that which frees us from enslavement to indulgence is like spiritually dieting and loosing the excess weight that wears on our entire soul. It makes us lean and healthy. It also helps us keep our eyes fixed on where they should be: on the battle waging. It also helps the rest of the Body of Christ become healthy.
Fasting, abstinence, mortification, and tithing also help us understand we are not built for mere life in this world, but for eternal life. It teaches us that valuable lesson that the world need not cater to my every whim. That leads to a freeing posture that Mass is not about what I like, but about the worship of the God as the Church sees fit.
You see, only the indulgent man or woman would see fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and tithing as sorrow inducing misery. The well ordered man and woman would see them a joyous opportunities to detach from worldliness and embrace the life of Beatitude. remember, the life of beatitude is seen by Christ as necessary for the Kingdom of Heaven. The life of indulgence will surely keep a person our of heaven as excess baggage would keep you from entering a narrow gate.
Fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and tithing are not designed to induce misery. They might seem as much to the person trying to transition from indulgence. That is why doing these things not just in Lent, but throughout the year is important. One should take into account one's health into this. This is why mandatory fasting in the Church does not apply to everyone in Canon Law.
Use of the sacraments are absolutely necessary. The grace of God is necessary to transition from indulgence to freedom. The Lord needs you to be a lean fighting machine who can witness to the world the freedom that comes from being unshackled from the chains of indulgence and its powertrain of selfishness.
If we really want to change the Church in the west, it will come through fasting, abstinence, mortifications, and tithing fueled by the sacramental grace God gives us in the sacramental life of the Church. Just as in the human body, the healthy parts bolster and help the unhealthy parts find health again. When a cleric says that you shouldn't have to do acts of penance because you didn't do something, it shows a deplorable understanding of the Body of Christ. We are in this together.
We need in the west, to go from being a Church Indulgent to being a forceful and effective Church Militant.