Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
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By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.’
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
Many people around the world profess to be Catholic (1.1 billion, according to a poll in 2010), but a very small percentage of them actually practice their faith and live out the Catholic life. The majority do not attend Mass weekly, let alone on the Holy Days of Obligation. Even those who do attend Mass weekly will often fail to make a regular confession. Among those few who do confess and do go to Mass, the great majority of them harbor deep personal misgivings with the Church’s teachings, stubbornly clinging to their own interpretation of the gospel. Poll after poll reveal that the majority of Catholics use birth control and promote it, and that they think same-sex marriage is fine. More importantly, the truth of transubstantiation mostly eludes the understanding of the majority of the faithful even though they hear the words of liturgy repeated at Mass every time—although if most only attend Mass sparingly, and passively, the repetition will not mean anything.
Those Catholics hoping in the future of the Church should probably reconsider their optimism. Many young people ironically leave the Church as soon as they receive Confirmation. Among those who attend Catholic schools, many of them leave their faith behind like they leave behind their old uniforms. With a precious few exceptions, Catholic universities have utterly abandoned their religious identity and have adopted the avarice and boorish snobbery of most private colleges. Even among those faithful Catholics who immigrate from the south and raise their children here often struggle to maintain serious religious practice in their family beyond two generations.
Quite naturally, vocations have dropped. They have dropped as birthrates have dropped and as marriages have dropped. People feel less called to holy matrimony and parenthood, let alone the spiritual parenthood of the priesthood and holy orders. They do feel called to expensive, yet increasingly meaningless, college degrees, new cars, and new houses, that all make them slaves to debt and their jobs for the rest of their lives. They also feel called to cohabitate, to experiment, to hookup, and to fall back on aging parents when all those non-commitments fall through.
The situation has grown so dire that Church leaders now consider loosening some rules to simply bring back a few souls. In the confusion of the recent Synod, only one thing was clear: there is a huge gap between the ideal discipline of the Church and the actual discipline of her members. Like any mediocre person in denial, most modern Catholics blame the rules, not themselves. They went to Church (sometimes), and knew the Church’s teachings (vaguely), and donated to the poor (occasionally), and sent their kids to Catholic schools (for lack of a better option). If they fail to even do these things, they could always say that they “grew up Catholic.” Unfortunately, these are the people that the Church hopes to somehow bring back: complacent, ignorant, selfish, defiant, broken people.
Although the small minority of devout Catholics might feel tempted to compromise with pathetic spirituality to contain the damage of modern secular culture, they should resist this impulse. The way to treat widespread lethargy and indifference is through rigor and zeal, not lower expectations and moral relativism. A lax religious discipline does not bring in converts in any circumstance, whether during times of persecution or times of tolerance—tragically, the Church seems to struggle more with prosperity than with adversity. Neither adults nor children want to emulate people who fail in their commitments, change their minds on dogma, and only follow the rules that suit them. People searching for meaning, for a fuller humanity, will not look to a church that demands nothing except positive dispositions and high self-esteem. Rather, they want the Church, that institution of Jesus Himself, that endured the torrents of persecution, heresy, warfare, and corruption, all while keeping her soul. They want the Church of saints, martyrs, holy orders, missionaries, scholars, an authoritative clergy, and a stalwart laity. Most of all, they want the Church who offers repentant sinners the Body and Blood of Jesus Himself. The faithful need the Catholic Church, and the Church needs the faithful. The faithless and the shameless need to repent before they offer their commentary on what the Church and faithful should do.
Happily, where there is Jesus, there is hope; and hope is not a virtue until it put in hopeless circumstances. In his teachings, Jesus offers a chance at life for those who follow and obey. Of the billion or so “Catholics,” a good many will probably knock on the door hoping to join in Jesus’ banquet. As those in the parable, they will make the same pitiful claims they make today for not practicing their faith, and they will assume that their physical proximity to the Church equates to active devotion. Only a people completely uninterested in God and completely consumed with themselves could be so deluded. Thus, Christ sends them to a place that does not have God — one wonders if people in Jesus’ day accused him of being intolerant and unpastoral for saying this. These many souls may not like it, but they had every opportunity to change their ways. Instead they stayed the same, and God grants them an afterlife that, in the end, also stays the same, forever.