Saturday, September 02, 2006

I Was Robbed! - Part Two

Anyway, to give you an idea what all of those years of religious training and formation amounted to, allow me to throw out a short list of terms that, for my first 28 years, had no meaning to me:

Sacred TraditionMass CardsScapular
Sanctifying GraceBenedictionPentecost
MagisteriumAct of ContritionFour Marks of the Church
SacramentalsThe "Glory Be"Joyful/Sorrowful/Glorious Mysteries
Corporal Works of MercyApostolic SuccessionFour Last Things
IndulgencesPerpetual AdorationSpiritual Works of Mercy

In my experience, most Catholics of my generation are unable to explain or even recognize the above. And to follow are some terms that may sound familiar to my post-Vatican II peers, but that they don't understand correctly and/or believe for a second:

PurgatoryCommunion of SaintsPapal Infallibility
TransubstantiationMortal and Venial SinImmaculate Conception

The attitudes of my Catholic peers are no mystery. Confession? Sure, great sacrament -- I'll get there one of these years (wink, wink). No pre-marital sex? No artificial contraception? Yeah right, get real! Evangelize? Are you kidding? Why? After all, Buddhism, Islam, New Age, Christianity -- they're all equal paths to God. Who are Catholics to say they have the truth? A mature spirituality requires the understanding that everyone can be right!

In general, Generation X Catholics don't feel any obligation to live as the Church teaches, and I promise you that they do not fear the fires of Hell, nor do they believe in Purgatory. (But really, how could they? They've gone to Mass faithfully for decades and never heard such topics discussed, much less defended!)

The culture we live in is merciless when it comes into contact with a poorly catechized Catholic. American society today is designed to destroy one's faith, as objective truth and moral absolutes are rejected concepts. When modern, "enlightened" catechesis echoes the messages of the culture, and when those charged with informing the Catholic conscience and transmitting the Faith take an "experiential" rather than informative approach, what can you expect? You can expect exactly what was taught. You can expect young Catholics who believe "conscience" means "opinion" and you can expect subjective feelings and personal experience to supplant objective truth. In fact, the prevailing philosophy of my peers is that there is no one "truth" -- truth is whatever we want it to be. You have your truth, I have mine. (Kind of puts the lie to Christ's definitive statement, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" doesn't it? It also doesn't sound like anything worth dying for -- those silly martyrs!)

We reap what we sow, and when pop-psychology all but replaces sound catechesis the results should not surprise anyone. The practices and beliefs of my circle of Catholic friends tell a sad story. Pre-marital sex? Yes, with a series of different partners. Contraception? Of course -- it's a virtue. Living together, a.k.a. living in sin? It's a non-issue. (One Catholic friend did go so far as to find a "compassionate" priest who consented to give her absolution before she moved in with a man!) Active homosexuality? A lifestyle choice. Abortion? Sad and we don't like it, but it's a woman's private decision -- too bad her partner didn't use a condom.

Most of my Catholic friends attend Mass sporadically or not at all. Some get their spiritual guidance from gender feminism (which is a fiercely anti-Catholic movement) and/or New Age philosophies. Overall, the Catholic call to holiness is an unfamiliar concept to them, and I do not for a moment attempt to exempt myself from this scrutiny. Confession is a sacrament that was never emphasized (I made my first Confession at nine years of age while sitting on a priest's lap), and after my first couple of confessions during grade school, I never went back; I shudder when I think of how often I received Holy Communion unworthily.

So how is it that a Catholic who went to Mass every Sunday and went through all the proper catechism programs at her church could continue on unconcerned while carrying several serious sins on her soul? I do not offer this as an excuse for doing wrong, but you must understand my actions in the context of what I was taught. My generation of Catholics grew up with a keen understanding of God's infinite love for us. We knew that His mercy could not be exhausted, no matter how badly we behaved. But at the same time, we heard almost nothing about God's justice. That while God is perfectly merciful, He is also perfectly just. Somehow, that part was lost, or suppressed. I guess no one wanted to hurt our feelings with Church teaching; for example, that by persisting in serious, unrepented sins, we could damn ourselves to an eternity in Hell.

Jesus said, "Enter through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to damnation is wide, the road is clear, and many choose to travel it. But how narrow is the gate that leads to life, how rough the road, and how few there are who find it!" (Matt 7:13-14) Jesus mentions Hell over a dozen times in the Gospels, but our teachers and priests only presented us with the Jesus of the Beatitudes, or the Jesus who continuously forgave sinners. We were never reminded that Jesus forgave repentant sinners, those with contrite hearts and the intention to sin no more.

The God presented to American Catholics today is the Rodney Dangerfield of gods: He gets no respect. Today, God hardly needs to be worshipped, since He's our buddy, our pal, our equal. No need to fear Him or stand in awe, no difficult obligations on our part -- we need only feel the warm fuzzies He showers upon us, until we die and He takes us instantly to Heaven.

Such was the image that my generation got of God our Father. But what would we say of any other father who asks no obedience, forgives every sin unconditionally and automatically, with no requirement for an apology or recompense? We would call him a wimp, a pushover, a sap, a fool. Good and loving parents don't reward bad behavior and disobedience. They set down boundaries that a child, for his own good, must not cross. Should that child choose to persist in disobedience and wrong-doing, good parents don't expand the boundaries to encompass his bad behavior, they hold firm and hope for his repentance precisely because they desire his happiness and success. They do not cease to love him, even as they let him experience the consequences of his poor choices. Such it is with God and sinful man. He loves us infinitely, but He cannot force us to love and obey Him against our free will. None of this was explained to post-Vatican II Catholics.

Although many of my peers will leave the Church and Christianity altogether, many will do as I did. That is, I never once considered forsaking Christianity, nor did I question Christ's divinity (I felt strongly that to deny Christ would be blasphemous and a sacrilege). But I was guilty of presumption. I thought that because of my "deep faith" I could continue in one or another mortal sin and God would forgive me, or make an exception on my behalf. I just knew he would respect my "conscience!"

I never did disagree with the Church's stand on controversial issues such as abortion or homosexuality. I had even heard, almost by accident, some of the Church's arguments against artificial contraception, and they made sense to me. I thought the Church was probably right on this issue (how magnanimous of me!), but of course I could never be expected to actually go along with this teaching! I did plan to learn Natural Family Planning one day, sure, but certainly not now, in my young married years. After all, God understands.

Though I presumed on God's mercy, I still believed in moral absolutes, and I never went the way of moral relativism; in fact, another young mother and I spent a year and a half writing an editorial column for our state's largest newspaper in which we rejected moral relativism and defended the concept of objective truth. This friend, Kim, had spent six years as a gender feminist and New Ager, but motherhood combined with writing our column eventually led her back to Christianity and into a local Bible church.

Kim had been a lapsed Episcopalian and I was a waning Catholic, so we had never really had religious discussions until then; but because of my strong belief in an objective right and wrong, I was attracted to what she was telling me about the Bible church. These evangelicals stood firm on moral issues and were not afraid of offending anyone with Christian moral truths. I couldn't say as much for the Catholic parish I was sporadically attending, where moral courage was sadly lacking and politically correct sermons and liturgies were the norm. A Church that sought to blend in with the culture was not the kind of religious community I wanted. I was raising children in a scary society, and I needed support from others who believed as I did and who would be a refuge from the "pagan world." In my disgust with what American Catholicism had become, I flirted with the idea of leaving it for the Bible church.