Faith Beyond the In-Crowd

It’s the kind of remark that gets the acid flowing in your stomach, or at least makes you bite your tongue.

It’s a remark I hear a lot today.

And it goes something like this: “I was raised a Catholic”; or, “I used to be a Catholic”; or, “I come from a Catholic family, and my mom is still a good one.”

Now, to give them the benefit of the doubt, sometimes those making such remarks are very sincere, and then I appreciate their sentiments. Sometimes they are really saying, “Catholicism was a big part of my formative years, and I’m glad it was. I thank God that I have a grounding in the Catholic faith, and that it’s in my family genes. Unfortunately, I’ve drifted some, and I don’t take it with the seriousness it deserves. Maybe I’ll get back…”

When they mean that, I can only smile and open my arms. “Come on back,” I’ll reply. “We miss you, we need you. The Church is your family, and that means we’ll always open up when you come a-knocking. I’m praying for you.”

However, realism forces me to admit that, most of the time, those who make such familiar remarks usually do not have such warm and grateful sentiments about the Church.

No, unfortunately, when I hear personalities on the TV or radio, Hollywood stars, newspaper columnists or famous authors remark, “I used to be Catholic,” or, “I was raised Catholic,” they then continue, “But, I’m beyond that now. Thank God I’m now enlightened and liberated from those silly, irrational, superstitious shackles, and now I’m a ‘free-thinker’, a mature, adult individual.” They might then smirk and remark that they are “recovering Catholics” who are trying to “get over” such a dark, oppressive part of their childhood.

I’m afraid there are a lot of them these days. Recent scholarly religious studies show that one of the largest groups in American society today identifies itself as “ex-Catholics.” While there is also a glimmer of good news in such studies that most people “raised” Catholic faithfully remain so, and that some of those who do leave, in fact, do come back, there’s still no denying that it’s a chilling statistic to read.

It’s a pastoral challenge that’s familiar even to Pope Benedict XVI. I was there on June 28, at the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome, on the eve of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, as the Holy Father closed the “Year of St. Paul.” He eloquently reflected on the letter to the Ephesians, when St. Paul urged us not to be like children “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery.”

Pope Benedict went on to observe that genuine spiritual renewal requires “non-conformism…an unwillingness to submit oneself to the scheme of the current epoch.” While recalling St. Paul’s insistence upon an “adult faith,” the Holy Father realistically cautioned against using that phrase to justify dissent or “liberation” from Church teaching. He observed:

“The phrase ‘an adult faith’ in recent decades has become a diffuse slogan…It’s often used to mean someone who no longer listens to the Church and her pastors, but who chooses autonomously what to believe and not to believe a ‘do-it-yourself’ faith. This is then presented as the ‘courage’ to express oneself against the magisterium of the Church.”

The Holy Father shrewdly concluded that, “courage is hardly needed for that, because one can always be sure of public applause. What takes real courage is adhering to the faith of the Church, even when it contradicts the ‘scheme’ of the contemporary world.”

Yep, it hardly takes courage to brag that you “used to be a Catholic, but have now ‘grown up’ and are enlightened.” Big deal. Join the crowd. The audience will applaud. The critics will rave about your book. The talk shows will invite you on as a star. You can snicker about the Church and get laughs and cheers.

I wonder, though, if the really enlightened, mature, liberated, brave, prophetic folks are those who are humbly, joyfully and gratefully confident in their Catholic faith, who are well aware of the Church’s struggles and imperfections, but still eager to live it sincerely, and pass it on to their kids and those they love.

Our faith in Jesus Christ and His Church is part of our very birthright, our identity, our spiritual DNA. It’s not some childish baggage that is discarded when we become “mature,” or “grown-up.” There’s nothing more “adult,” “enlightened” or “freeing” than our Catholic faith, no matter what the “in-crowd” preens about.

As one woman recently remarked to me, “I guess you could call me a ‘practicing Catholic,’ because I’ve been at it a long time, but have yet to perfect it. But I’m not giving it up!”

Now, that’s an “adult faith.”