I’m doing an article on a local young adult group. In researching my article, I came upon an article reviewing a book I possess but which I haven’t finished. Hoping I could get some useful facts from the book via this review, I read it. It’s from Commonweal, a well-known liberal Catholic organ.
The article’s author starts off saying nothing with which I wouldn’t agree (more or less, as you’ll see):
Only 7 percent of these young adults who might have turned out Catholic can be called “practicing” Catholics—if “practicing” is tightly defined as attending Mass weekly, saying that faith is extremely or very important, and praying at least a few times a week. [Uhm, how else would we define it, sir? To “practice” something, you have to be its practitioner. I can’t call myself a practicing golfer when I get out and hit a bucket of balls once every three years … at best.] About 27 percent are at the other end of the spectrum, classified as “disengaged,” meaning that they never attend Mass and feel religion is unimportant. In between these two poles is a complex landscape of the marginally attached—perhaps willing to identify themselves as Catholic, attending Mass sporadically at best, and in general living life with their Catholic identity as a more dormant, if not entirely irrelevant, force.
Perhaps the most depressing chapter is one where we hear not numbers like these, but the actual words of some of these younger should-be Catholics, a small sample of whom the authors interviewed in 2008. Most were “out,” considering themselves estranged from the church or no longer Catholic, and only twelve met an expansive definition of “active.” For everyone, active and not, “church” seems associated primarily with morals [If Jesus didn’t care about “morals,” by which I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume he means sexual morals (in my experience, it’s a safe bet), then why did He talk in the Gospels about sex outside of marriage (i.e., “fornication”) as being something that pollutes us and as something that keeps us out of heaven? (cf. Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Revelation 21:8, 22:15) If we look at someone with lust in our heart, we commit adultery. If we are aggressively angry with someone, we’re guilty of their murder. Same if we call them “fool/raka,” which also makes us “liable to hellfire.” Jesus does nothing but talk about morals.] and obligatory Mass attendance rather than anything that sounds like Jesus and the Gospel. [It’s “obligatory” because, well, there’s that pesky, darn Third Commandment, doncha know — “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy” — which requires Mass attendance (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2168-2183). And didn’t Jesus say in at least one Gospel if not more than one that we have to keep the Commandments?] More disturbingly, their vague priorities of “being a better person” don’t seem likely to generate much of a desire for deeper answers to life’s questions, at least in the short run. [Pardon me for the question, sir, but isn’t that the whole bent of post-Conciliar catechesis, that Jesus loves us as we are, that we just have to try to be a better people, that concern over the deeper meanings to life’s questions is really just the purview of those “obsessed” with dogmas and doctrines? Just sayin’.] “It’s just easier not to follow a religion, is what it comes down to,” says a typical young adult—and even though I feel that way some of the time myself, it’s hard not to agree with the authors’ sense that this is a generation largely lost to what we oldsters think of as Catholic identity.
But then the piece’s author shows himself to be a typical smug liberal (don’t take it from me; take it from The New York Times‘ own liberal commentator Nicholas Kristof). The author writes of those “naïvely assuming that our crisis of membership and allegiance is primarily a failure of ardor in education and explanation.” [Smug, smug, smug, smug, smug.]
It seems to be an appealing idea to some that our bishops could have prevented the collapse of Catholic culture in the 1960s if only they had preached doctrine and Catholic obligations more heroically. [No. Really, it’s if they — and their priests and those priests’ catechists — had done so with any real conviction at all and not given us The Green Bay Catechism- and The Dutch Catechism-inspired garbage. For my First Communion, I heard nothing of Transubstantiation. I did, however, make some really nice felt banners.] However, from my years in business, I can tell you there are few sadder phenomena than a company that thinks its failed product could surely have been successful if only customers could have had its greatness fully explained to them.”
If a tree falls in a forest
Again, this assumes that people have had it explained to them at all.
Take for instance Mozart’s Requiem. I think it is the most perfect piece of music ever composed (and I’m a post-Beatles era 40-something).
I would never expect anyone to agree with me if:
a) no one had heard this piece exists;
b) had never had it described to; and
c) had never heard it and been shown it in all its beauty and grandeur, much less “fully explained to them.”
Let’s talk about sex, bay-bee
Take sexual issues, much less other doctrines (Transubstantiation, the Virgin birth, Mary’s perpetual virginity, etc.).
I’ve had confessors wink-wink/nudge-nudge at me in the confessional when I confessed such peccadilloes in my own young adult years.
I remember once, I confessed two sins, one sexual and the other of anger. The confessor got purple with me of the sin of anger. Picture being royally castigated by someone whose voice sounded like Droopy Dog with an Irish lilt to his voice.
“OK, Father, duly noted, but what about the other one?”
“Oh, yes, well, don’t worry about that too much. Try to do better, if you think you must.”
In confirmation and as a teenager, no one explained Humanae Vitae (click here for a summary; here for the short encyclical itself), much less the Theology of the Body, much less the glory of the Church’s other teachings in this realm. I didn’t even know HV existed until I was in my late 20s. When I discovered it, I thought, ‘Why was this hidden from me? It would have answered a lot of questions.’
Nike ain’t the only one sayin’ it, kna’m’sayin’, G?
So when the rest of the culture is telling you, “Just do it, especially if it feels good” (and what feels “gooder” than sex?), and most people — even Catholics loyal to the Magisterium — can muster nothing better than, “Well, the Church says it’s sinful … but we can’t really tell you why,” to expect a different result from today’s young adult is idiotic.
The problem with the publisher/author of this piece and the rest of the Commonweal crowd is this: Far from promoting a better understanding of the Church’s teachings and letting people accept or reject them on their merit without need of the typical liberal colorization, they feed into the culture’s rejection of these teachings.
They actually encourage dissent from them. They effectively say, “We have deemed the Church stupid and wrong in these areas. Therefore our young must think this way, as well, and we will do whatever is in our power to ensure they do.”
Then when the young do what the Commonweal crowd wants and rejects these doctrines — without ever knowing just what they’re rejecting in the first place — the Crowd points its long, accusing finger and says to the Church hierarchy, “See?! We told you this would happen! It’s because of these stupid ‘dogmas’ upon which you insist that they’re leaving. You must jettison them if you have any hope of getting them back.”
Or as the author puts it, stop making so many “doctrinal and moral pronouncements.” That, he averts, is the best place to start.
There be the door
There is a perfect Communion for people like the author and his sympathetic readers who believe this: Anglicanism. Or the Old Catholic Church. Or the so-called American Catholic Church.
Really, why union with Rome? You’ve already rejected so much of what is in the Catechism in your heart (even if you haven’t had the courage of your convictions to say so publicly). So why not just swim the Tiber in the direction away from the Vatican and find a home where you’re content and just leave the rest of us who do agree whole hog with the Church’s teachings in peace? You’d be happier. We’d be happier. Let’s all just be happier.
Otherwise stop being such obvious tools of the devil (I don’t say this lightly but from careful observation of history). For if you want to know why these young adults have left the Church, do your fair share of looking in the mirror. Realize that the finger you’re pointing is often pointing right back at you. (I realize this advice applies to me, as well, but I’m not the one in full-throated dissent.)