As I stood in what seemed like the longest line on earth—penance for something, somewhere, I’m sure—I couldn’t help but notice the exaggerated golden crucifix hanging around the neck of the nearest cashier.
The cashier who ever… so… slowly bagged item after agonizing item for the shoppers ahead of me as if she were a robot whose batteries were just… about… fully… drained.
In the twelve eternal minutes I spent waiting, I rolled my eyes so many times I’d be surprised if I haven’t done long-term damage.
Anyway, she was s-l-o-w.
And as I waited there in line, slightly over-caffeinated and wired from a week of desperately trying to, once again, sleep train our toddler, I got to thinking about what bugs me about “cultural Catholics.”
You know, Catholics who wear the cross like an accessory instead of carrying it like Christ.
They really bug me.
As Evangelical converts to Catholicism, it’s Catholics like these that haunt the dreams of my wife and I when we think about raising our son.
Here, where we live in Canada, the Catholic school system is paradoxically publicly-funded alongside of our normal, public school system. And while it may surprise my American readers both systems are well-staff and incredibly well-funded.
In Canada, being a teacher is a well-paying, highly sought-after career, and the education system benefits as a result.
And even though it would be the norm for us, a Catholic family, to send our kids off packing to the local parish school it gives us the shakes to think about who they’d encounter, and if they’re better off going through the ordinary, secular system instead.
Because cultural Catholics are killing the faith and whatever we can do to avoid them seems legit.
For the most part, in the hay days of our Evangelical existence, the churches we were part of would’ve been filled, by and large, with people who’d actually wanted to be there.
Sure, there is such a thing as a cultural Evangelical; you could likely add entire American counties onto that roster—and I’m pretty sure I know how many of them voted in the last Presidential election—but the sheer force of the casual Catholic conglomeration, at least in our neck of the woods, is sometimes overwhelming.
One can easily, and far too often, look around and wonder who’s here because they have to be and who because they want to.
Or, maybe it’s just my perspective?
Maybe I’m still working out the kinks in my Catholicism?
As a teen I became a Christian. I wasn’t born that way and converting at such a pivotal time in my life has left a lasting impression. It was something I chose and, to be fair, I know lots of cradle Evangelicals—those that didn’t choose like I did—who, like the casual Catholics, are merely punching a ticket and taking their leave.
Too often we take Catholic education for granted.
(Something my Evangelical friends do much better.)
Case and point: almost every graduate from the publicly-funded Catholic education system I can think of.
Sure, lots of my incredible Catholic friends who went through the system know lots about their faith; they practice it daily, they carry their cross, but for every one awesome Catholic graduate that I know I can name ten more who are essentially a smoldering mess.
The system is broken because the system isn’t teaching Catholics how to be or, more importantly, why it’s important.
And if it’s not doing it’s job (which I don’t think it is) we need to get serious about filling in the gaps in our own parish communities.
In small groups where intentional spiritual formation is made a priority.
In parish education outreaches; it should be the norm for every parish, everywhere, to provide on-going religious education outside of the Sunday morning homily.
And in the way we live.
We need pastors and pastoral staff who model what it’s actually like to live a Christian life; not those stalking the backstreets of Twitter to defend their candidate to the detriment of their Christian witness.
In an increasingly non-Christian, and fundamentally non-Catholic world, the light we shine matters, makes a difference, and is noticed.
And on that point, back to me, in line, rolling my eyes.
Because there, in that moment, I was a casual Catholic, too.
I was judgy and impatient and unsympathetic.
I was not the contrite or understanding Christian that Jesus describes in his Sermon on the Mount. I was not in a rush to offer the proverbial coat-off-my-back to someone who might’ve needed it, to offer a helping hand or, heck, to even offer a little bit of empathy.
I was pathetic.
I was, honestly, everything that’s wrong with Catholicism all bundled into one trite, snivelling little man.
But I guess that’s kind of the root of the whole problem, in the end. We are, all of us, a bunch of lazy sinful human beings. We twist and groan and occasionally throw up prayers for help from a higher power but if we honestly knew what the heck was going on we’d be on our knees, at every opportunity, mumbling, “Lord, have mercy,” and awestruck when He, without even pausing to take a breath, does.
We’re so small, after all. And if we pray and try to move ourselves, try to move our parishes and those around us, to feel a little bit more, to be a little bit more like Christ I think we can accomplish a lot.
To move from wearing the cross to carrying the cross.
To move from being born a Catholic to being born again, through the Sacraments, into the Catholic life.
Back there in the longest line on earth I know one thing for sure, it begins with me.