In Layman's Terms - Bob Sullivan

Don’t be a crab

Apologetics by Bob Sullivan


Satan loves crabs, but not the delicious crustaceans from the deep blue sea. I’m talking about the ‘Negative Nellies’ who resist new efforts in evangelism and discipleship in a parish. In a way, these types of people can be compared to crabs we find in the deep blue sea, by looking at a phenomenon called “Crab in the Bucket Syndrome.”

One day, Clem and Sam went to the shore to fish for crabs. Clem was busy dropping crabs into his bucket, one after another, but Sam could not keep his catch in his bucket. As soon as Sam dropped one into his bucket, it would scramble up the inside of the bucket, plop back onto the rocky beach and scurry to safety. As soon as Sam would catch another crab, the same thing would happen all over again. 

Sam looked at Clem and noticed none of Clem’s crabs were trying to escape. Sam shouted to Clem, asking Clem how he was able to keep his catch from escaping the bucket.

Clem replied, “Crabs love company. As soon as there are two or more in the bucket, they keep each other from escaping. If one tries to crawl out, the others grab hold of it and pull it back down. As soon as you get two or more in the bucket, they will all stay put.”

We all know crabby people who are commonly negative, skeptical and cynical. It makes it very difficult to be joyful when they are around. 

Doubt, fear, discouragement and hopelessness can play a big part in crabbiness. And it is highly contagious. We can succumb to the pressures of negativity and hopelessness around us to the point where we lose the desire and the courage to live our faith boldly. It can cause us to retreat to the comforts and safety of a private faith where no one can discourage, challenge or criticize us. If our faith is secret, we will not be ostracized, nor do we risk being made to look and sound like a dreamer or a fool. 

We expect challenges to our faith from the culture outside our parish, but when the challenges and criticisms come from our fellow Catholics, it can be devastating. If a parish has a few crabs, the “crab in the bucket syndrome” can cause the whole parish to lose its mission. A few crabs can stifle an entire parish and turn it from a thriving parish to a stagnant and unwelcoming parish. Parishes need more joy and less crabbiness. Thankfully, the parishes around the great state of Nebraska do not suffer from this nearly as much as you see in other parts of the U.S. But this does not mean we are immune to it here. We must remain diligent and keep crabbiness out of our parish.

We do this by working together to take advantage of new ideas on evangelization, catechesis and discipleship in a parish. If we hear someone criticizing discipleship in our parish, we should discourage the negative talk. We should remind them that our entire country is seeing a serious decline in discipleship and that new efforts must be encouraged instead of discouraged.
Too many people want things to remain the same as if our parishes, Catholic schools and retreat centers were bursting at the seams. But this isn’t the case. Catholics and non-Catholic as well are losing followers. It is evident that the old plan isn’t working anymore. The New Evangelization is called “New” for a very good reason.

Although our faith is a very personal matter, it was never meant to be a private matter. Crabby people often see faith as a very private matter. A private faith makes unity and communion difficult. The New Evangelization is anything but private. 

In Romans 7:19, St. Paul wrote, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” It is easier to do good when we have support from others.

Was St. Paul bemoaning the “crab in the bucket syndrome” in Romans 7? It seems to have existed when Christ Himself walked the earth (Matt 13:54-58). If it was present in Nazareth, it can certainly be present in our parishes and in our families and I think you will see it in the culture around us now that you have read this. But this “crabbiness” is more than just negativity, fear and discouragement, it is the active frustration of evangelization and discipleship.

Sin, especially the seven capital sins (pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth) all contribute to the “crab in the bucket syndrome.” But the effects of these vices are much more effective against the mission of the Church when they are combined with fear, negativity and hopelessness.

Fear, negativity and hopelessness are like fuel on the fire, or perhaps better analogy is a bucket of water on a fire. When a parishioner comes up with an idea to help build up the Kingdom of God, we cannot discourage them and pull them back down with the rest of the crabs in the bucket.

Discourage those who undermine faith, evangelization and discipleship in your parish and encourage those who are showing signs of leadership in these areas. If enough of us do this, we can transform our families and parishes into even more powerful sources of light. Our culture may be one big bucket of crabs, but we can be the ones reaching out to help others to freedom. We can also give each other a little push when those around us are trying to pull them back down.

Don’t be a crab.

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