I went to a Pentecostal church as a teenager.
There was a car parked in the parking lot, every Sunday, with the license plate 1MASTER.
It was a Mercedes Benz.
Even as a teenager, myself full of contradiction, I sensed the sublime irony immediately.
One master? Did he mean God or money?
It was wonderfully ambiguous.
And no, I knew the gentleman who drove that car, and he didn’t have a sense of humour.
Where to Score Some Weed
Growing up, the Catholic high school nearest to our house had a bad reputation. In fact, amongst us public school kids down the street the Catholic school was well-known.
And not for their overwhelming love of Christ or generosity.
It was the place to go to score some dope.
In fact, in the wanderlust of my teenage years I found myself blissfully caught up in the local punk rock scene. The kids that partied the hardest? Those would be the Catholics.
Years later, I reconnect with a guy I knew from the scene at an Evangelical youth rally. “I’ve cleaned up,” he said, “Now that I’m a Christian.”
Because you can’t clean up as a Catholic, swear to God.
Miracle of the Coats
One of my wife’s first experiences of Mass was at a parish close to our house. The now-retired priest was an astounding 79 years old at the time and had been the parish pastor for over 20 years. He was tired, and so was the congregation, but it broke my heart when she took my elbow after Mass and said, “I saw a miracle take place during the Eucharistic Prayer!”
“Honey,” I said, always cognizant of the opportunity for a zinger, “that always happens.”
“No,” she chided, “not the Consecration!”
She went on to explain that suddenly, as soon as Father intoned, “When supper was ended…,” everyone in the congregation had their coats on.
“It was the miracle of the coats!” She exclaimed.
(She has a wicked sense of humour and is specializing in Roman Catholic jokes, it seems.)
What disappointed me as an Evangelical teenager was back to disappoint me again as an adult Catholic.
Money-centred and drug-addled Christians. Catholics who can’t wait to get the Host and get out the door.
Bad Catholics. Bad Christians. Bad witness for Christ.
A Benedict Option
There are, inevitably, scores of bad Christians out there. At times, more often than I’d like to admit, I’m one of them. I take solace in the fact that when Jesus sent us out into the world, in the Great Commission, He didn’t say, “And you better be perfect or else.”
We’re often, all of us, bad examples of Christ.
But what should we do with the serial offenders?
The solution, I think, has already been proposed—maybe prophesied—by Pope Benedict XVI. Writing, in 2000, about the Church of the future Benedict says,
In other words, the Church will not be club for everyone, it will be something you intentionally join.
She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.
Because being a member will be hard.
Benedict goes on to say,
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church… It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed.
Hard going, indeed.
Something About a Mustard Seed Comes to Mind…
We are all, at our core, bad Catholics.
But while some are striving for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, some are simply along for the ride. Free floaters. Catholic because of culture, circumstance, or convenience.
This, says Pope Benedict, shall pass.
And isn’t it already?
As the demands and doctrine of modern society rub up against the erudite values of the Catholic Church isn’t it already becoming difficult to hold fast in the faith?
We are living in a decidedly post-Christian reality.
No, I’m not playing the persecution card (that’s absurd) but it’s certainly true that the values I hold, as a Catholic, are increasingly unwelcome in the public square. Truly, even the fairly benign notion that family should come first or that money shouldn’t be everything can run counter-cultural.
Western zeitgeist is not in line with the Magisterium.
So? What do we do with bad Catholics?
First of all, we don’t be bad Catholics. Those of us who are in it for reals: act like it.
Second, we catechize the hell out of the Catholics in our parishes. We liven things up; teach people what it really means to be a Catholic and get them excited about it, damn it.
And, finally, we march on. We’re the Church Militant after all. We keep on keeping on.
A small Church sounds good. A devout and intentional group of believers, witnessing to the faith, hope, and love that comes to those in relationship with Jesus Christ. A Catholic Church that looks like Jesus, through and through.
And what will happen then?
Pope Benedict says this,
Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
Our small, beautiful, and holy group of Christians, our Church, will radiate a love that will begin—as if in the very beginning—to inexplicably attract our fellow man to live a life that conquers death.