I’m in Indianapolis Indiana leading a parish mission this week, and in the meet and greet session afterwards, the most common conversation I have is with middle aged women who say, “Father, what can I do, my children have stopped practicing the faith!” or they tell me how their children have married Mormons or Methodists or Baptists and left the Catholic Church.
What’s the problem? The problem is not now. The problem is back then. The problem is how we have educated a whole generation of young Catholics. We’ve driven them off with being nice. The Catholic Church over the last fifty years in the USA has become just another nice American institution. Nice like McDonald’s. Nice like Disneyland. Nice like the Mall. Nice like the neatly trimmed suburbs.
We’ve made catechesis nice. It’s all about the sacraments and being nice and the church and being nice and peace and justice and being nice and forgiveness and hugs and being nice. That’s all very nice… but there is another aspect to the gospel which we’ve quietly forgotten. We’ve forgotten that part about, “If anyone would be my disciple he must take up his cross and follow me.” Or that part which says, “The world will hate you as it has hated me.” or “Broad is the way that leads to destruction, but narrow is the gate and few there be that find it.”
So our children aren’t dumb. They grow up and they figure that if it’s all about being nice that you don’t have to go to church to be nice. You can be nice without church. You don’t have to be Catholic to be nice. You can be a nice Methodist if you want. So if they want to be nice they just go along being nice without church, and they believe that because that’s actually what we taught them even when we didn’t know that is what we were teaching them.
Because we never told them it would be difficult and that it would require discipline and that they should have some backbone and determination if they were going to make it in the spiritual life, they learned that lesson, and therefore when it did turn out to require a little bit of grit and determination and difficult things like confession and self discipline and prayer–they went scooting off because they thought it was all about being nice and praise and worship songs that made you feel good and a warm comfy sermon from Father about loving each other more. That’s what they thought it was. That’s what we taught them it was, and when it turned out that being a Catholic required some backbone and self sacrifice and dedication they were disappointed like we are all disappointed when our expectations are shattered. Never mind that they were false expectations to start with.
They felt like they were sold a bill of goods. Everybody said the Catholic faith was all nice and warm and cozy and when it turned out different they scoot off to a church where they are made to feel warm and cozy, and who can blame them?
I think our catechesis should be more realistic. It should be more like boot camp than fat camp. We should tell the confirmation kids up front that they shouldn’t sign up unless they’ve got the backbone to do so. We should tell them up front that being a Catholic is a serious business of soul making and if they aren’t going to be there 100% they shouldn’t bother. Keep your lukewarm Christianity. We want intentional disciples or no disciples at all.
I reckon a bit more vinegar in the water would yield good results at the end of the day, and the wandering lambs the concerned mothers worry about will only migrate home to the Catholic church once they see that it is only the Catholics who have the guts and the glory to stand up for the Truth and fight the good fight.