So, just what did I learn on my own that I never learned in religious ed.? Almost everything, but here are some of the biggies that shocked me: I learned that after Christ's ascension into Heaven, He did not leave us floating out here alone on Earth with just a book to try to interpret individually until He comes again (and since the vast majority of humanity was and is illiterate, why would He?). I learned that the Catholic Church is the one Church explicitly founded by Jesus Christ on the rock of Peter, the first pope, and that the Bible is a product of the Catholic Church (and thus subject to her interpretation). I learned that as Christ promised, the Holy Spirit has been protecting and guiding the successors to Peter and the Apostles for all these 20 centuries. I learned that, because of this promised guidance, the teaching authority of the Church cannot err when speaking on issues of faith and morals; the Church does not, has not and will not change such teachings because she cannot! The deposit of faith has remained pure and intact since public revelation ended with the death of St. John, the last Apostle. I learned that the Church has always rightly claimed to be the protector of Christ's Truth, with the authority to proclaim, explain and apply that revealed Truth to the world. I learned that submission to Church teaching is submission to Christ.
I learned that the crown jewel of Christianity, the Eucharist, is clearly evident in the New Testament, and that it was brilliantly prefigured in the Old Testament by many different writers, thousands of years prior to Christ's institution of that sacrament. It's no wonder, then, that the earliest Christians and all of the Church Fathers were staunch believers in the Real Presence, and were thoroughly Catholic in the rest of their doctrine. The writings of the Fathers would stun any Protestant and most Catholics as well! I learned that the seven sacraments of the Church were explicitly instituted by Christ and are the direct channels of God's grace into our souls, the surest links between Heaven and Earth. I learned that God did not make it difficult for man to find the Truth, provided that man seek the Truth.
The thing that shocked me most of all? Everything I mentioned above can be proven biblically, historically, and through an exercise of reason. Catholicism is not a religion of blind faith. Kim and I have played devil's advocate for every controversial claim or issue regarding the Church, and the Church has won every time -- in fact, the Church's case gets stronger and more exquisitely beautiful every time it's tested! Yet young Catholics were never told any of this.
As I said at the beginning: I was robbed and my peers were robbed. The loss is incalculable, as how do you count the cost of even a single lost soul? As for blame, well, there's enough blame to go around, and I am fully aware of my own culpability in all of this. I could have asked more questions, and I could have sought to do God's will as best I understood it, but in many cases I did not. I have had long discussions with my parents, and they have willingly accepted their share of the blame as well. But if I were giving a prize for biggest subverters of the Faith, it would have to go to dissenting Catholics, especially those in positions of power within the Church, be they theologians, bishops or catechetical directors. They have witnessed an entire generation raised up in complete ignorance of the Faith as a result of catechetical failure, they see wide-scale rebellion and disdain for Church teaching and authority, and yet they still push to further liberalize the Church, pushing more and more people out of the Light and into darkness.
When I hear of dissident movements such as Call To Action and We Are Church, and when certain bishops, priests and sisters support and even lead these causes, I am indignant. While these so-called "progressive" Catholics work to undermine the Faith and fall all over themselves apologizing for the teachings of Holy Mother Church, I just wonder when any of them is going to apologize to me? Or to my contemporaries? When will they apologize for putting a generation of souls in jeopardy?
Maybe they should be reminded of the Second Epistle of St. John, verses 9-11: "Anyone who is so 'progressive' that he does not remain rooted in the teaching of Christ does not possess God, while anyone who remains rooted in the teaching possesses both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you who does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house; do not even greet him, for whoever greets him shares in the evil he does."
Or how about St. Paul writing to the Galatians (1:8-9): "For even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel not in accord with the one we delivered to you, let a curse be upon him! I repeat what I have just said: If anyone preaches a gospel to you other than the one you received, let a curse be upon him!"
Here are Jesus' words on the subject: "Whosoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt. 18:6)
Catholics -- be they priests, bishops, religious, theologians or laymen -- who do not profess loyalty to the Holy Father and the Magisterium should have the integrity to identify themselves as Protestants, for that is what they are, i.e. they exist in a state of protest against the Roman Catholic Church. And those influential Catholics who have so obviously lost their faith have no business teaching or influencing the next generation.
I am not so naive or despairing to believe that even wide-scale apostasy among American Catholics at every level will destroy the Church. We know from Christ Himself that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against His Bride. So even though we needn't be concerned with the Church's survival, we should all concern ourselves with the Church's primary mission on earth: the salvation of souls. Too many souls have been allowed to slip out of the Church due to catechetical neglect, and it's time to stem the tide.
Perhaps the first step in reversing this trend is to throw ourselves at the mercy of God, begging forgiveness for the mess we've made in His Church and His world. Second, we must pray for the conversion of those within our Church who seek to undermine the very Faith they claim to profess. Third, each Catholic must take it upon himself to learn the Faith, and then commit himself to a life of proclaiming the Truth to others -- this is the "new evangelization" by the laity advocated by His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
Finally, I humbly propose a Catholics' Bill of Rights, to be handed out to every new Christian along with his baptismal candle. Maybe it could go something like this:
You have a right to your Catholic heritage. You have the right to hear the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. You have the right to have the Faith of the Apostles transmitted to you unfiltered and undefiled. You have the right to be catechized by an instructor who must first be required to profess his loyalty and obedience to Rome, and who humbly submits to all the teachings of Christ through His Church. Anything less is not only nonsensical but scandalous, and might lead you away from the truth of the Church. You have the right to expect Catholic orthodoxy in all Catholic classrooms and institutions, and you have the most blessed and merciful right never to hear radical feminism or pantheism taught as if it had anything remotely to do with Catholicism. You have the right to remain Catholic. If you give up that right, it will be your free will choice and not the result of poor or scandalous catechesis. (In other words, you have the right to know what you're leaving before you leave it.) And finally, you have the right to be indignant if you look back 28 years from now and realize that most of these rights have been denied you.
Praise God, my joy at having found the Faith is greater than my righteous anger at those who had a hand in keeping it from me for so long. I know that I cherish my faith so dearly precisely because I almost lost it. I know that God's ways are not man's ways, and I am forever grateful that He chose this way to lead me back home. I only pray that He might somehow lead my contemporaries back home as well.