Friday, October 3, 2014
A reflection on priestly life -- part 15
Letter to Ann T. Klerikuhl, the thrilling conclusion in two parts!
Time to wrap this up. Have you ever been asked, “Are you saved?” or “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
Perfectly good questions. When some evangelicals say they are saved, they mean that they have an absolute assurance of heaven (unless of course it is a false assurance about which you can never really be sure and you may be doomed to hell anyway, but they still say that you can have an absolute assurance of eternal salvation, though you may wrong about it. Go figure.)
A Catholic recognizes that we have free will for our whole life and are free to reject God at any time. As St Paul says, we are “saved in hope,” (Romans 8:24) but we Catholics think it is legitimate to say we are saved because we know, love, trust and serve our Savior. We also have no problem claiming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is personal, not private. It is not just an “I-Thou,” but an “I-we-Thou” sort of thing. You can’t love Jesus without loving his wife, strange as she may be. (I am of course speaking of the Church.) Another way to phrase the question is “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” This, to my lights, is the best way to ask the question.
So what does a “saved” Catholic who has a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior look like? He goes to the Sacrifice of the Mass and lives a sacrificial life. This business about Jesus being Lord and Savior is problematic. Everybody is good with the “Savior” part, especially when they see death and disaster looming on the horizon. The “Lord” part is a little less popular. Protestant and Catholic alike want Jesus as Savior. I know a couple dozen people who actually want Jesus to be the Lord of their life because that would mean that they have to do what Jesus tells them to do, like not sleep around, be generous to the poor, accept children lovingly as gifts from God and go to Mass every Sunday. Remember what Jesus said? “Do THIS in memory of Me.” (“This” being the sacrifice and communion in His Body and Blood) (Luke 22:19 and 1Corinthians 11:24) and in the Letter to the Hebrews, (10:25) “Do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.”
A good friend of mine says that he can pretty much tell where you are as Catholic by two things: first, what you think of Pope Paul the Sixth’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in which Paul VI laid out what the Church teaches about marriage, family and the destructive nature of artificial birth control, and second, what a person thinks about Sunday obligation.
Here is what the Church teaches: Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2370:
Every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.
And Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2192:
Sunday is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.
I am a pastor and as I have explained, am obliged to serve the faithful. So who are the faithful? They are the baptized who pray, obey the Ten Commandments and precepts of the Church, who do the works of mercy, go to Mass on Sunday and think that sex is about families. In short, a Catholic is someone who tries to live by the teachings of the Church. By these standards the Catholic Church in most places is a pretty small organization.
Let us look at Argentina, a country of 42 million people. 70% or about 30 million of these are Catholic. However, 20% or 6 million of these go to Mass regularly on Sunday. So the case can be made that there are 6 million faithful Catholics in Argentina, and I bet that half of these are senior citizens on fixed incomes. Fixed incomes? I’ll get to that later. Let us look at Honduras, the home of his Eminence Cardinal Maradiaga, a great visionary of the progressive Church. 47% Catholic 41% Protestant 10% non-religious. If the same statistics apply, in a country of 8 million people, 4 million identify as Catholic, and of these perhaps one million go to Mass on Sunday. How about Puerto Rico, a beautiful tropical island whose population has been in steady decline since the year 2000 in which year 38% of this Catholic Island identified itself as Catholic . One and a half million Catholics. Two million Protestants and a lot of pagans. Doing the same dreary math, which comes to perhaps 300,000 people at Mass on Sunday from a population of millions that everyone assumes is Catholic. Catholicism is dying in Latin America where unlike the dying European Church; it is being replaced by evangelical Protestantism.
Let us look at that exotic land just south of the Cheddar Curtain. In the City by the Lake, the City in a Garden, there are 2.2 million Catholics. The congregations are counted every October. In 2012 there were 446,000 people in church on an average Sunday. If the Church-On-Sunday definition of Catholic is accurate, then there are about 450,000 Catholics in Chicago. Perhaps.
It would be interesting to do a July count. In October schools and religious education programs are back in session. I suspect that a July count would be closer to 350,000, taking into account those who only come to church because it is a school requirement and pastoral exaggeration. Two point two million Catholics are impressive. Sounds good on paper. It’s really pretty thin on the ground. The archdiocesan area has a total population of around 6 million which means that active Catholics comprise around 6% or 7% of the local community. We are a small Church by the Church-On- Sunday criterion.
Those more high minded and inclusive than I will take umbrage at (that means not like) my narrow definition of “Catholic.” Personally I still believe that to miss Sunday Mass without a serious reason is gravely sinful. You can’t live the Catholic life unless you are fed at the table of the Lord. I don’t really see a great difference between a lapsed (fallen) Catholic and a non-Catholic, except that a non-Catholic is not morally to blame for disregarding the Lord’s command to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass.
But, let us assume, for the sake of argument that I am crazy and all you have to do be a Catholic is to have a pulse and a baptismal certificate. This is where I talk about senior citizens on limited incomes. Of the 2.2 million imaginary Catholics in the above-mentioned archdiocese, only 446,000 (probably more like 350,000) have a collection basket pass in front of them on a weekly basis. Of these, 400,000 plus or minus, a large portion of them are children and those adults who are throwing in a wadded up one dollar bill. A very large portion of them are very generous, deeply religious senior citizens who are truly giving sacrificially, but have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the kingdom of heaven. Over the next ten years a large portion of these older people whose generosity sustains the Church will have both feet in heaven and probably not be able to send in their monthly contributions by mail. In short we will be in debt up to our eyeballs at the current rate.
There are collections, second collections pledge drives, second pledge drives, and emergency collections a diminishing number of faithful are expected to tolerate. The brilliant bureaucrats of religion will probably invent the fourth and fifth collection when we are down to 200,000. We have never taught the young about Sunday obligation or the obligation to support the Church. We have believed that out of the goodness of their naturally Christian hearts they would shell out the shekels and things would roll merrily along. Instead we have raised a generation of people who are about as philanthropic as hermit crabs.
I know a priest whose parish is a million dollars in debt. It is in constant need of maintenance just to keep the roof on the building. He has a school of a couple hundred kids that takes up much of the parish budget. He also has a thriving congregation of not very wealthy Hispanics. He has a successful religious education program and a church full of young adults, teenagers and children. Of this congregation of thousands, perhaps 50 people from the school, including the teachers go to Mass on Sunday.
It used to be that to close a school was the kiss of death. Now it’s the kiss of life. My friend told me that if he closed the school tomorrow it would have no effect on his congregation. This means that all the parents and children who are getting a private school education at reduced costs never once throw a nickel in the collection basket. They howl when there is a rise in tuition to partially cover the spiraling costs of the private school education provided by the parish in which they refuse to participate. How long can this go on?
Next week the thrilling conclusion... Finally!