Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Say Goodbye to "No Offense Catholicism"

A new survey of Americans' religious knowledge was released by the Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life and, quite honestly, the findings are sad. A majority of Americans scored less than 50% on the quiz which covered basic knowledge about the Bible, religions and what the Constitution actually says about religion. Less than 50%. Ouch.

Most Americans can not name the first book of the Bible is and most can not recognize the four Gospels. And Catholics were no exception. Perhaps most disturbing, in terms of Catholicism, is that 45% of Catholics do not know that the bread and wine becomes the actual Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. Wow. That's almost half.(BTW: You can take the quiz yourself here).

Of course I know that this is simply a survey and is not guaranteed to be completely accurate. You also have to consider the (sad) possibility that many of the self-identified Catholics who answered these questions rarely or never attend Mass. But we must admit that the results are probably not far off the mark, and they reflect a systemic failure in the philosophy that dictated catechesis (teaching of the Faith) in many American parishes over the past 30 years or so.

This was a philosophy that I like to call "no offense Catholicism". It often invited Catholics to embrace a very watered-down version of the Faith, one which was sure to take it's place, in the young developing mind, as little more than a glorified social works club. Mystery, transcendence and the majesty of the divine were downplayed in the Mass (often totally suppressed), handled as little more embarrassing curiosities of the past. It's almost as if people were taught to cringe when asked their religious affiliation and answer "I'm Catholic... no offence!" Is it any wonder, then, that many of the now-adult Catholics who were raised under this incomplete view of the Faith do not even know basic tenets of the Church such as Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist? How can we be surprised by that?!?

For decades, we Catholics were so worried about not stepping on any toes that we forgot to fully inform our own adherents about what it means to be Catholic. Anything remotely controversial or potentially exclusive about the Faith was suppressed while we seemed to concentrate, almost solely, on a doctrine of "feel-good lovin'". And we've paid the price by creating a generation of ill-informed and luke-warm Catholics.

The creation of "no offence Catholicism" created a false dichotomy because it is not "either we love and serve the poor, or we celebrate the Mass with dignity and worth." It is not either "social justice" or "beautiful churches." Catholicism is not an "either" "or" faith. Never has been, never will be. Remember, "catholic" means universal and complete.

Our faith is about service, love of neighbor and God's goodness but it is also about the reality of sin, our need for a Savior and Christ's sacrificial gift of his Body and Blood, eternally perpetuated upon the altars of our churches. Thankfully, the silly notion of "no offense Catholicism" is waning. Our Pope has encouraged us to embrace our Catholicism through service and through a visible Catholic identity. We should not only be Catholic, we should be Catholic. Our faith is a religion and a culture - it sets us apart from the world because it should affect all that we do and are.

Remember: the Catholic Faith is timeless and lacking nothing. If we give up part of the Faith, then we lose the whole. Be bold in your faith. Be fervent in your prayers. Be effective in your service. And be Catholic.