Formation of Catholics

Baptism and Indoctrination!

One of the expectations that the Church has for someone to be Baptized is that they be properly trained in the way of the Faith as a condition for being initiated. In the case of adult initiation, this takes place before the Initiation itself. The Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) has been the standard since the earliest days of the Church. In this regard, if the person seeking Baptism is not fully prepared, the initiation into the Church should be delayed indefinitely until such time that the candidate is fully prepared. As is the case even today, there is a fully initiated Catholic who “walks” the journey with the candidate and is tasked with determining the suitability of the person for entrance into the Body of Christ, which includes a solid grasp on the Teachings of the Church.

In fact, every Sacrament has some requirement attached to it that those seeking it be properly formed for the particular Sacrament. As part of the Ordination ritual, the responsible formator is asked if the candidate is judged worthy. For those who wish to Marry, they must make a statement of intention as part of the ritual. At Confirmation, the pastor, who is tasked with overseeing their preparation, presents the candidates to the bishop. At the Initiation of an adult, the “sponsor” presents the properly formed candidate to the priest.

However, as we all are well aware, the initiation of infants has become the common practice in the Catholic Church. The presenters of the “candidate” are the parents in conjunction with the godparents and they are told that in seeking Baptism for the child they must raise the child in the ways of the Faith. In this statement we see the reason for the Canonical requirement that there is a “founded hope” the child will be raised Catholic. This founded hope requires a level of indoctrination (in the positive sense of the term) into the Faith as a way of life.

Yet today, in order to keep the numbers up, we are often asked to ignore objectively disordered situations in the lives of the parents that certainly challenge that there is a founded hope. Not attending Sunday Mass, divorce and remarriage, having a child out-of-wedlock, and same-sex unions are all instances of situations in which the lives of the formators of the newly Baptized are clearly problematic. Today, it is often the case that they are not challenged and questions are not asked lest they be alienated further from the Church, as if the objectively disordered situation of their lives has not already done so.

Should we not be more more concerned with the quality of the formation the child will receive and the extent to which the formator is living the Teachings of the Catholic Church in the objective order?

Access to Priests II

Why is it hard to admit?

There have been several recent “secular” responses to the dwindling numbers of priests but the distressing aspect of these responses is that they have come from internal Catholic circles. In this regard, many still call for the pseudo-solution to the problem and call for ordaining just about everyone under the sun. This error had been influenced by the instrumentalist school of thought that forms the secular part of our education system today. To identify it, this errant line of thought has many sentences that begin with the phrase, “if only.” For instance, there have been those recently who would claim that the problem would disappear “if only they would ordain married men.” Or they may say, “if only they would ordain women.” And the solution would be, “let’s give it a try and see what happens.”

These pseudo-solutions sound good because they offer a knee-jerk reaction to the numbers problem. But they do not admit the deeper problem and the need for experimentation is dangerous because failures in the Church endanger the salvation of souls. When we speak of a vocation crises, we need to admit that it is not just the priesthood and religious life to which we are referring. It has to do with the universal call to holiness and the failure we are now experiencing across the board. The effects of the crises are seen in all the walks of life within the Church. We not only have a problem with the number of priests and religious, the married are also manifesting a real crisis. Tie this in with the lack of Catholics in the pews and the result is what we see before our eyes. For this, there is no quick fix.

Could the problem really be that the faithful are generally not praying and coming before the Lord enough? Could the problem have something to do with the general catechetical failure?

Access to Priests

The Numbers Game VI

As the expression goes, numbers do not lie. In reviewing the Catholic numbers as they are, some conclusions need to be drawn. Of course, as has already been noted, there are a variety of factors that have brought about the numbers. With or without admitting these factors, there are some obvious trends that must be admitted.

At the top of the list is the trend that is already playing itself out in many parts of the United States -- the faithful have less and less access to a priest. Although many priests do their best these days to be available to the flock entrusted to their care, the dwindling numbers will limit that accessibility. This is an area that the priest himself will have to come to grips with -- he cannot meet the demands by himself and will have to accept his limitations.

It is not that the numbers have been better in the urban and suburban areas like the New York City region. Rather, the ratio of priests to parishioners has been about the same, or even worse, than other parts of the country. It is the large congregations that have kept the ratio somewhat in check. Thus, for the most part, there are almost no priestless parishes in our diocese.

However, that is changing quickly and may change faster than the people want. For instance, in this diocese, active priests over the age 65 comprise about 1/3 of the presbyterate. Within 10 years many of them will retire. Combine this with the fact that the seminary is practically empty leads us to the stark reality that parishes will soon be administered by non-resident priests.

The question is, “Are we preparing for this rapid change?”

Case in Point

The Failure is Obvious

Although many who live in New York are discussing the recent legislation regarding gay marriage, it seems few want to discuss what it means to be a “good” Catholic. Senator Grisanti, who claims to be a good Catholic, stated that he had to take the Catholic out of his vote. To do so also means he must take the “good” out of his Catholic.

Based on the principle of cooperation, it should be easy enough for the Church hierarchy to publicly reiterate the Teaching that support of civil laws that betray the moral law are sufficient to render the person in a dubious status with regard to being Catholic. His vote is not a private matter and the New York State Catholic Conference should be issuing quotes that answer the question of what it takes to be a “good” Catholic.

Jesus said to his disciples, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:1-2)

Yes, Sin is real and all the faithful must be aware of it. We are sinners but we do not have to be controlled by Sin. The key to being a good Catholic is that we repent of the sins committed AND help others to avoid sinning, not pass laws that allow Sin to proliferate.

So are we ready to admit that there has been a catechetical failure? Now is the time to begin working more closely on evangelizing our own.

Other Factors Anyone? III

The Numbers Game V

One of the mistakes made over the most recent decades is actually playing the numbers game itself. With a consideration of all the factors that have left the Church in this state, it is clear that the numbers have changed. What we must admit is that it is NOT the Church that has changed, only the numbers.

Too often we spend countless hours examining the numbers without admitting the factors that contribute to them. Yes, there are now generations of confused Catholics in the United States who prefer the cafeteria style of faith. Yes, there are dwindling numbers in the pews. Yes, something has gone wrong. But we must always recall that Jesus promised that the Church will endure through it all. The Church has NOT changed. The numbers are NOT the Church and we should be careful in believing they are. The Church is and always will be, even if many of the pews are empty.

The first error that we must address in the mind of many Catholics today is the composition of the Church. Christ is the Church! It is He Who established Her and it is He Who sustains Her. Those who enter the Church through Baptism are members of Her -- they are NOT the Church Herself. In Baptism, we are joined to Christ and His Church as members. Here is where the American culture has infected Catholics who claim that “we” are the Church. That ideology works in the democratic environment of the United States. The Church is not a democracy and those who are members do not exhaust Her existence. Rather, we humbly submit ourselves to Christ and His Church.

At this point, should we move away from counting and begin to focus on the remnant before us who wish to be faithful to the Teachings of the Church?

Other Factors Anyone? II

The Numbers Game IV

While Jones poses an important question with regard to the actions taken by the U.S. bishops, the real focus has to be on the catechetical system and what has been or can be done about the failure in this area since the council. Briefly stated, Jones reports that, at all levels of Catholic Education, from 1965 to 2002 there was a 94% drop in sisters teaching, an 89% drop in priests teaching, and an 86% drop in brothers teaching. For the most part, Catholic Education was supported by those were 24/7 on board with the message into the 1970s.

As the priests and religious left, they were replaced by competent lay professionals. These educators were certainly well trained in the area of educating youth but were they prepared as Catholics? At least in the beginning they were but in a survey from the year 2000 (page 79), “lay religion teachers in Catholic elementary schools” predominantly do not agree with the Church’s Teaching on Birth Control (90%), Elective Abortion (74%), Infallibility of the Pope (73%), and the Real Presence of the Eucharist (37%). In addition, nearly half do not believe in the indissolubility of Marriage and 70% do not accept a male priesthood. Yet the Second Vatican Council did not change any of these Teachings and clear statements have been made about these issues since then.

Again, it is important to look at generational statistics, which do indicate that older Catholics are more likely to know the Church Teaching in these areas than younger Catholics. If the bishops are to work toward a new evangelization, it will have to start with education.

Other Factors Anyone?

The Numbers Game III

The best we can say about the numbers Jones reports is that there is a real problem. Throughout the Twentieth Century, the total number of Catholics increased dramatically -- from 17.7 million in 1920 to 65 million in 2002, with 45 million in 1965. The most rapid increase was from the Second World War to the Second Vatican Council. Missing in the report on Mass Attendance is a breakdown by generation. Who are the ones going to Mass in the year 2000? This particular stat is missing but if one can guess, it is the older generations who were catechized much better.

When Mass Attendance is examined by generation, there is a clear difference by age. If the changes in the Mass were the reason, logic would say that the oldest group (the Pre-Vatican II generation) would be the most disillusioned by the change and would fall away. As Dr. Gray notes on the link above, “Pre-Vatican II Generation Catholics grew up in an era where deliberately failing to attend Sunday Mass or other day of obligation, without good reason, was quite clearly communicated as a mortal sin. For the Vatican II and Post-Vatican II generations this has not been emphasized to the same degree.” However, the teaching in this regard was not changed at Vatican II and still remains in effect today.

Should we then be asking if there is another factor? Has there been a catechetical failure in recent decades?

Vatican II?

The Numbers Game II

The statistics reported by Jones are very important and need to be taken seriously. However, it should be made clear that his comparisons are to be taken as a measurable fact and not as cause and effect. Such is always the danger when dealing with statistics. Just reviewing the numbers as he reports them seems to indicate that the Second Vatican Council is the culprit.

In fact, in the section on Mass Attendance (pages 72-76) the commentary provided states, “If the post-conciliar changes had been the overwhelming success they very often are described as being, we would expect to see increases in Mass attendance.” While the numbers do indicate that there has been a serious decline since the 1960s, this decline is from reasons far more complex than the liturgical changes alone. Yes, the changes and, as we will see in the coming months, the poor translation of the Missal Romanum, certainly played a part, but it is not the council or the council documents that caused the drop, or the liturgical changes per se.

Anyone who lived through the era knows that there was much more to the decline than meets the eye. As one priest who was ordained just as the council concluded described what he observed, “It was like having an overwound watch spring let loose. Too many priests thought they had more liberty with regard to the Mass than they actually had. Much of what people did not like about the change was never in the ritual books... only in the minds of those who wanted it to be there.” Yet even with all the liturgical abuses that followed, to claim the new missal as the reason is far too superficial and oversimplified.

The Stark Reality

The Numbers Game

There is a very interesting book published in 2003 by Kenneth C. Jones titled Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II. Of course, anyone who even speculates about the Catholic numbers in America since Vatican II can guess what they will reveal. In reviewing the actual numbers, one could easily note that there are some very disturbing trends. The good thing about the book is that, for the most part, he does not interpret the numbers but allows the reader to draw conclusions based on the facts presented.

In the Introduction, however, he does make some very pointed comments. The first is, “Given these alarming statistics and surveys, one wonders why the American bishops ignore the profound crisis that threatens the very existence of the Church in America.” And in the following paragraph he notes that “at their annual conferences, the bishops gather to issue weighty statements about nuclear weapons and the economy. Then the return home to ‘consolidate’ parishes and close down schools.” He offers these statements and published the book in the hope that it will “spur action before it is too late.” Of course, the root causes behind these trends are far more complex than can be addressed in a short essay or document.

However, it is now 8 years since it was published and it does not appear that the forthcoming spurring has occurred. But interestingly enough, at this year’s conference the bishops issued a well worded document on physician-assisted suicide. It is a good thing they are finally playing catch-up on this particular issue because Jack Kervorkian assisted his first patient in 1990, some 21 years ago. Ironically, Dr. Death trumped the release of the document by dying 2 weeks before it was published. That is right, the person who could have benefitted most from the document did not live to see it published.

As for the numbers, it will be good to look at some of them and hope that the spurring begins soon!

Messenger III

The Truth will set you Free...

The Fr. Corapi story continues and, in a surprisingly different approach, his order has released details of its findings. These findings are quite shocking and only go to show how important it is for those who preach the Good News to be immersed in Christ for “the devil is prowling like a lion looking for someone to devour.” We can only hope and pray that he accepts the order’s offer of help and repents of any sins he may have committed. Even in light of these revelations we must all refrain from committing the sin of rash judgment. At this point, we must commend him to almighty God and pray for his superiors.

For anyone who has followed him, we pray that they remain faithful to the message despite the unworthiness of the messenger. In reality, no priest is worthy of the great gift given in the priesthood. Pray for your priests and pray that this revelation be an opportunity for him to seek forgiveness and return to the pursuit of virtue.


A Nation Celebrates...

Each year the citizens of the United States celebrates its independence. This particular holiday is uniquely American and reflects a long history. Unfortunately, too many Americans have taken the idea of independence too far. The Declaration signed was an official statement regarding the reasons for severing the political ties to another nation, specifically Great Britain. The independence declared was from an earthly power, not from God.

It is amazing that in the course of the centuries since, so many Americans believe that we should also declare independence from God. Yet the very document in question invokes “a firm reliance on divine Providence” as the path to independence. So why do so many today believe that the same Divine Providence is no longer required to sustain this nation?

Another Job Well Done

It must be said...

The Archbishop of Santa Fe, Most Reverend Michael Sheehan, recently published a pastoral letter on the care of those who cohabitate. It is good that bishops take such measures and hopefully the faithful are listening and will respond with an assent of Faith. It should also be mentioned that it is a sad state of affairs when a bishop is compelled to make such statements as everything contained in the letter should have been part of the catechetical programs over the years.

With regard to such statements, we must keep in mind that this letter does not open “a discussion” nor does it ask for interpretation by the pastors or faithful. Instead, it comes under the heading of teaching from authority. Yes, the Church is a hierarchical structure and that means that directives are occasionally handed down. In this regard, more bishops should take such a position even though it may upset some of those to whom the teaching applies.

What makes this particular letter a good example is that it does not accuse, insult, or malign anyone... it just reiterates the teaching and demands that the teaching be respected by Catholics. Too many today want to interpret and relativize rather than assent. As the bishop points out, “Our popular American culture is often in conflict with the teachings of Jesus and His Church.” Such should make every Catholic living in America ask himself or herself a very important question - Am I a Catholic or an American first and foremost?