Friday, February 29, 2008

Tough Talk: Fellow Catholic, What do you REALLY Believe?

A typical example of a 19th century anti-Catholic flier
A typical example of a 19th century anti-Catholic flyer
At the risk of being redundant, I am drawn to share my own commentary in regard to what 'gets us to heaven' and the current state of souls all around us. I must confess, I am feeling a mix of emotions and anger tends to flash in my mind when thinking of the most recent findings as stated in the 'Pew Study'. I am working on myself with a great deal of help from the Lord, and am resisting the human tendency to be judgmental. Inside the confessional and out I have discerned when it is that I judge and when I am simply stating the facts. I will do my very best to stick to the facts in my commentary, as difficult as it may be.

I have encountered an immense amount of anti-Catholicism over the last few years while visiting 'Christian' online forums. In my personal life, I never really encountered disdain for my Faith before. Certainly, I had heard jokes (and often laughed right along with many of them) from time to time and heard comments shared in a jovial way by friends who were not Catholic. Much of what I ever encountered was by kind, well-intentioned people who honestly did not know much about Catholicism except for what they perhaps had seen on television or from watching "The Bells of St. Mary's". In the forums I speak of, there are many who just do not understand the faith, and for them I feel a great deal of compassion most of the time. I personally find that the people who are the most vicious and say the most hurtful things are those who refer to themselves as 'ex-Catholics'.

When discussing Catholicism and defending attacks from every conceivable angle, I found myself puzzled as to where the picture they had of Catholicism had come from. When posting one particular thread topic, I asked ex-Catholics to please share their faith history and particular points in their lives as Catholics. Some of the questions I sought answers for were:
  • Were you a priest or other religious?
  • Did you receive all of the Sacraments of Initiation?
  • Were you an altar server, Lector, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion?
  • How often did you attend Mass?
  • How often did you frequent the confessional?
  • Did you believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist?
My memory fades and I don't recall all of the questions, but you get the idea. I gave up visiting the forum I speak of for Lent and will not visit it in order to lend more accuracy here. Sadly, propelled by their own agenda(s), the administration of the forum moved my post to another less frequently visited forum. Thankfully, some folks provided some very heartfelt answers prior to the move. Some of the comments which stood out to me were:
  • Some only went to confession as their 'Easter duty', others rarely and one gentleman said he only made his first confession as a child (was also an altar server) and never went again
  • Most attended Mass every week and sadly many said they 'felt' absolutely nothing
  • Many shared that they went through all of the 'motions' but did not know the reasons Catholics do what we do
  • Nearly all of them had these things in common: they had no biblical knowledge whatsoever, were poorly catechized and were 'bored' at Mass
  • A common thing shared was that the priests seemed to be distant and lacked the excitement and charisma they wished was present in the Catholic Church
Another observation I have made is that most of the people who identify themselves as 'ex-Catholics' on the non-Catholic forum fervently attack things that Catholic Doctrine is very clear on such as:
  • Marriage is forever
  • Jesus Christ is fully present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist
  • Artificial birth control is never acceptable
  • We must never profane our bodies, or treat them or that of another with disrespect
I have some very frank and pointed questions to pose to you, dear reader. Do you agree with ALL Church teachings? If you do not, does the fault lie with the Church or does it sit squarely within you? G. K. Chesterton very wisely said: "We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong." I have noticed the following:

  • People who use artificial birth control never say that it is wrong.
  • People who are divorced don't say that it is wrong.
  • People who prefer to sleep in on Sunday and forgo Mass attendance rarely say that it is wrong.
  • People who co-habitate never say that it is wrong
One can apply the same principle above to any number of subjects. I myself was away from the Church for a period during my 20s. Making a long story short and saving my reversion story for another entry, I will state it plainly. I was not confirmed as a teen, my family no longer attended church, I went to Mass infrequently, I married outside of the Church yet I longed constantly for what I knew I missed. I felt that I was not worthy and that none of my sins could possibly be forgiven. I ached to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and yet knew that it was wrong to receive Him unworthily. I rationalized and convinced myself that it was not I that was in error, but my perceived stubbornness of the Church. People can rationalize all they want, but it does not make it the truth. I lied to myself. The ONLY truth is Jesus Christ. WE place hurdles in front of us and WE place barriers before us.

Imagine the Father watching so many of His children continuing to fall and never accepting the offering of His Holy hand! He knocks and yet we ignore the rap on the door of our hearts! Hindsight shows me that I believed I knew better than He and that I would carry my 'garbage' around with me like some sort of warped image of a trophy. That heap of 'trash' vanished in the confessional on one Saturday long ago. Honestly, the air seems to be a whole lot fresher around me now! :)

Why are people leaving the Church? What can we do about it? How can we instill a love for the Lord and the Church He began in the hearts of our children and grandchildren? Is this the responsibility of the clergy or does some of it lie with the laypersons to do something about it? Do we expect to be entertained at Mass or do we make a true personal sacrifice on the altar? Do we roll our eyes and think uncharitable thoughts about someone immersed in sin or do we pray for them fervently? Do we go beyond evangelizing by example or do we hope that our actions will spread the Gospel? Do we expect to be forgiven more quickly and completely than we afford the same generosity to others?

Show me your hands. Do they have scars from giving? Show me your feet. Are they wounded in service? Show me your heart. Have you left a place for divine love?
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Peace and Love of the Lord Jesus to each of you, dear readers. Pray for yourself, pray for those who are out of the fold, pray for one another.

Dominus vobiscum.

UPDATE: I just received this in my inbox from Catholic Culture and I don't believe in coincidence. ;)

Most of us are all too painfully aware that the Church has been suffering a grave illness for at least the past forty years. In the larger culture, there has been a revolution of increasing secularism and especially sexual license, and many priests and bishops have expressed considerable confusion (to put it mildly) about Catholic doctrine, moral teaching, and spirituality.

In some countries, including our own, there have also been widespread scandals, which have revealed to all who were not yet aware that something is wrong. Many of us have been in the Catholic trenches throughout this entire period of upheaval. Almost as many of us have experienced the reluctance of our bishops to act decisively for the good of souls.

All this and more is documented in Phil Lawler's riveting case study, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture. As you probably know, Phil is the founder and director of Trinity Communications' Catholic World News Service. His remarkable and fascinating book was published a few weeks ago by Encounter. I highly recommend it in this week's column: Why the Faithful Departed, and How to Get Them Back.

*As a side note, if you think you may be interested in apologetics and would like to join other Catholics in an on-line ministry of sorts explaining and defending the Catholic faith, please contact me privately and I will direct you to the forum(s) discussed. I do not wish to link there directly from this blog. If you can read this print, you don't need glasses. :) God bless!

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