This is why evangelization of the American Catholics in the pew is probably the most difficult task of all. They don't know what they don't know. For three generations now they have been given watered down milk and been told it was wine. They actually think that Catholic lite is what it's all about, and are astounded to think that there are some of us who think that they have actually been fed a version of Christianity that is scarcely Christianity at all. - Fr. Dwight Longnecker, The Smoke of Satan
When I read the excellent commentary of Fr. Longnecker, I was reminded of a "Welcome Home" program I attended at a parish when I returned to the Catholic Church in 2008.
The program was obviously trying to downplay any recognizable Catholic identity within our faith. In fact, there was a man attending who had no desire to return to the Catholic Church. (He was a "cradle Catholic" who left to join a Protestant church and was writing a book about it.) So he sat and listened most of the time. If I were him, I would have thought there really wasn't much difference between being a Catholic or a Protestant, from what was being taught.
There are differences. But what I found astounding is that those who were teaching the program seemed to know less than I did about Catholic identity -- and I had only been digging into the topic for about six months through my own self-study program, courtesy of my local library and the Internet.
I didn't come back to the Church for a watered-down version of Catholicism. I came back for the whole thing. The Real Thing. Catholicism Extreme.
And some may say, "Well, what is 'the whole thing' anyway?" I'll try to explain.
I came back for:
1) The wonderful, awesome, amazing, blessed event called The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and we don't hear that phrase enough, in my opinion...) and the Holy Eucharist, the "source and summit" of the Christian life - the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
I was stunned when a nun tried to convince us that the Holy Eucharist was just "bread for the journey" and symbolic more than anything. She was around her late-fifties and I knew she was a product of the crazy 60's when the deconstruction of our Catholic beliefs was in high gear. I felt a mixture of emotions when she said that. Anger, sadness, disappointment - so much has been lost for generations of Catholics and you have to fight like a tiger to reclaim it because too few of our spiritual leaders will pass along the truth.
2) The Sacraments. Oh, the blessed Sacraments! The Sacraments of: Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Marriage, Reconciliation, Last Rites. How I love all of them! Each one helps us live the Christian life. It places a marker upon each life-changing event with an implied spiritual "I've got your back..." message. When Jesus said He would not leave us orphans, He wasn't kidding. He left us a beautiful, wonderful Church that is committed to helping us through every stage of life. Every sacrament is meant to remind us that God is to be the center of our life and that everything we do, everything we receive, is for Him and from Him.
Recently, I attended one of the most amazing events of my life. It was a funeral for a police officer who was well-loved and respected. The funeral was a Solemn High Requiem Mass - yes, all in Latin, and it lasted two hours. (Note to self: I really want this type of Mass said for my own funeral.) Of course there was much ritual from the police force, and a group of men playing the bagpipes added an even more dramatic tone, but what really impacted me was that this was what the Catholic Church did for her people. No stingy little ceremony that only consisted of a short, little prayer and then off to the cemetery, no group recitation of some Internet poem and then a quick shuffle off to Aunt Melba's for lunch. Nope. The Catholic Church goes all out because when we pass on from this life to the next, it's A Big Deal. And that's what was communicated to everyone at that Mass as we said our final farewell's to a saint. Later I said to someone, "Only the Catholic Church takes care of us from beginning to end."
And speaking of saints, the reason I referred to him as that is because my pastor did. The police officer was shot in the back by a teen during the line of duty and was paralyzed from the waist down. He spent the next few decades as a police sketch artist. But through all of his physical struggles and health issues, he offered up his suffering for the conversion of the teen. In fact, he was praying that the teen would become a priest. As my pastor said, "We have saints who walk among us."
3) Tough, manly, uncompromising-on-the-truth priests. Is it any wonder that Fr. Corapi is so loved and so hated (sadly), by many in the Church? It's because he speaks the truth without fear. He refuses to water down the Gospel message or stray from the Magisterium because a few people are offended or accuse him of being politically incorrect. And why does the Church take their marching orders from the world, anyway? It's backwards. The Church is to be salt to the world, a beacon light that always proclaims the love and truth of Jesus Christ. The Church is not a political party, no matter how hard others have tried to change her into that.
Unfortunately, our society has made many men into wimps. Sorry if that's hard to hear but it's the truth. Men have been feminized by an overly-feminine culture. Now I'm not advocating that men should be brute cavemen who think a woman is only worth cranking out a few kids and fixing a pot roast. What I am saying is that I mourn the loss of masculinity in our culture. The kind of masculinity that would stand up for what's right, help a woman carry heavy luggage, and beat off the bad guys when they tried to attack the vulnerable. These men can usually be found in the military, police force, or firehouses. But there is a relentless battle going on to remove the "manliness" from the man.
Someone once said that the Catholic Church used to have such men, but in the past forty years they've been beaten down by feminism. I don't doubt it. Still, our need for real, manly priests has not been so dire as now. Think about the priestly saints in the past who were martyred, who gave up their life for someone or the Church. Men like St. Maximilian Kolbe and Servant of God, Fr. Vincent Capodanno. They, and many others like them, are real men.
One of my favorite memories of coming back to the Church was when a priest (who would become my priest) told me that yes, it was true -- I could not receive Communion until (and if) my husband's first marriage was annulled. Then he leaned over to me, smiled, and said, "But isn't it wonderful that the Catholic Church will tell you what you may not want to hear, but need to hear?"
I replied, "Yes. And you know what I feel? Cared for. Protected. Like someone cares enough to tell me the truth." We all need the truth and we need brave priests to tell it.
I remember those tough priests when I was a little girl. I say we need to bring them back. Pray for seminarians who won't compromise the truth, who will defend the Church at all costs, and who will lead their flock courageously through the battle between good and evil. If you're blessed enough to have one, send a card or give him a casserole. Whatever you do, let him know how much you appreciate him even if all he does is give a gruff thanks. I know he'll be grateful.
Another note: This may sound quirky or weird, but I like the gruffness and abrupt style of some of those priests from "the old school." It's a refreshing change from the "feel good" pastors who strive to be happy!happy!happy! all the time and bend over backward to try to please everyone in their congregation. I'm not saying I like rudeness. Far from it. But Catholic priests who exhibit some impatience and incredulity with the antics of their flock seem much more real. They're not trying to pretend anything. In fact, many will ask for your prayers. But orthodox Catholic priests seem to have far less time to stroke fragile egos because they're looking at a bigger picture, and it's usually trying to keep their parish running.
4) Calling sin, sin. I'm amazed that sin is not spoken about more often at modern churches. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, especially when many of these churches are seeking to "relate" to the world and preach a message that won't scare them away. Pastors know preaching about sin is one of the quickest way to scare away folks and thus -- lose money in the offering. I love how Catholicism not only preaches about sin but really Makes It A Big Deal by focusing on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Because it is A Big Deal. Sin separates us from God. Sin leads to going to hell. Sin is death. Sin kills. Sin is poison. Thank God that the Catholic Church doesn't mince words when it comes to sin.
In fact, Catholics narrow it down even more with the terms "venial sin" and "mortal sin." Who talks about mortal sin anymore except orthodox Catholics? And guess what? Ever since I've returned to the Catholic Church, I've gotten more serious about avoiding sin and the near occasion of sin. Gosh. Imagine that. Something that never really bothered me as much when I was attending my last non-denominational church. (NB: If you're attending a non-denominational church where they talk about sin and keeps you on the straight and narrow, then excellent! I'm very happy for you. Keep on truckin'.)
It's not comfortable to talk about sin or examine our own life for sin, but the Catholic Church I know and love firmly guides me into such areas. And then she firmly guides me into grace and forgiveness. Praise be to God.
This post has gone on long enough but I could actually list more. (And just may in a "Part II" post.) But the point is, these things are all part of the Catholic Church that has existed for many centuries. Only during the past 40+ years have these truths become watered-down or done away with altogether.
Here's the deal. Christians were never really liked by most of the world to begin with. The world hated Jesus Christ. I've mentioned how Jesus has said the world will hate us too. Now think about this: How on earth can anyone withstand the constant onslaught of hatred and viciousness unless they are grounded in faith? How can anyone survive the daily battle between good and evil unless they're rooted in the truth? It's pretty tough. Unless you've got a strong core, you're bound to give in eventually. This is why I believe we're seeing more churches cave to aggressive anti-man, anti-woman radical feminism and the relentless attacks on families and marriage. It's much easier to compromise and give in to the loud and the few.
For many, many years, I was part of a number of non-denominational churches that worked hard to present a palatable version of the Gospel to the world. It was diluted, and not nearly as powerful as the words of Jesus to His followers. Many of the messages I heard from the podium were little more than slick marketing messages aimed toward aging baby-boomers who wanted a pleasant faith that didn't rock their boat too much. It was the kind of faith that didn't want to get its hands dirty. Don't bother me with suffering, sin, or sacrifice. (I call them the Three S's.) All I want is to feel good about myself. So many churches comply with that request.
But the Catholic Church is remarkable for many reasons and one of them is that it doesn't allow you to drift into "comfortableness." There are a myriad of tough challenges that the Catholic Church brings to her people. Pro-life, rejection of the homosexual lifestyle, condemnation of anti-woman, anti-men feminism, chastity, pain with purpose, celibacy. We as Catholics are called to rise to these challenges and with God's grace, overcome the enemy's deceitful ways. Catholicism -- true Catholicism that hasn't been tainted by modernity, is a rich faith that makes no bones about whom she serves.
It isn't the government. It isn't the world. It isn't some talk show host or a famous Hollywood celebrity. It is God whom we serve and we need the strong meat of our Catholicism more than ever before.
Pray for brave chefs.