Thursday, October 12, 2006
Terrence asked for it........
When I wrote on Blessed John XXIII's feast yesterday, about growing up Catholic before, during, and after a great Council of the Church, Terrence replied in the combox, and seemed a bit peeved that I loved learning the teachings of the Church and trying as best I could to live them, and also that I loved then, and still love, praying the Mass, and said that it was less than optimal to sit on a pew for the bare minimum amount of time in order to get the stay-out-of-hell card punched. Yet I cannot believe that he actually thinks it is better to remain ignorant of the holy faith, or to refuse to worship fully in the holy Eucharist.
So, I have to sit here at my home sweet anchor hold's virtual window and try to make myself a little clearer, trying not to rant too much.
Now, it is possible to have a minimum Catholicism, and it is really Catholic, though really minimum. This was taught to us way back when as the "Precepts of the Church":
1) Show up at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, at least from the Gospel until Father receives Communion, or else it's a mortal sin and you will go to hell.
2) Confess all mortal sinning within one year. [How can anyone stand to wait even a day after being convicted, I still don't know.]
3) Receive Communion once a year, near Easter; called the "Easter Duty" as though receiving Jesus Himself in Communion was a chore.
4) Fast and abstain when the Church says to, if you make a mistake here that's a mortal sin too.
5) Support the parish, put money in the collection basket and poorbox.
6) Only get married in church by Church rules, not just at the courthouse.
Minimum Practical Catholicism can, in the objective external forum, keep one out of hell. But it comes very much too close to that miserable piss-poor excuse for a question, "What is the least I can get away with to be saved?" Terrifying brinkmanship. This isn't going to sustain a life long-term, or attract anyone else. And, it's sad; crusts for food and rags for clothes compared to all the riches available to any child of God and child of Mother Church just for the asking. All the riches of two millennia of the holy faith, the entirely complete and purest Truth, the fullest holiness and virtue, is available to every Catholic, if they only open their eyes and reach out their hands! The Church doesn't keep any of this a secret.
And, it's a scandal besides, when Catholic people, with the whole Truth and all the sacramental means of grace, are, or at least seem, satisfied with a mediocre life of minimal holiness when we ought not be satisfied with anything less than continually growing holiness of life. Especially when so many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, deprived of many Truths, without the sacraments to help them except baptism (and the Society of Friends and Salvation Army don't even have baptism), with only the vaguest awareness of the Communion of Saints, strive for and achieve such holiness of life with only such remnants of the riches as survived the Reformation or that we Catholics left laying around.
So, how do we bring the CAPE Catholics (Christmas, Ashes, Palms, Easter), the carried-in Catholics (in godparent's arms to get baptised, on daddy's arm to be married, by pallbearers to be buried), our non-Catholic siblings in faith, and the masses of never-evangelized secularized people, to the fullness of Catholic faith and life? We have to begin by living a fully Catholic life ourselves, a life that then will attract others who will want to have what we have.
We need to spend time with God, every day. How can we claim to love God or come to love God if we never spend any time with Him? So, pray every morning before doing anything else. Offer one's day to God. And look over the day with God, repent of any faults, and pray at the end of the day before bed. There's more about this in the Spiritual Fitness Program for Beginners and the Out-of-Shape, including some model morning offering prayers and helpful hints. Morning offering and night examination of conscience is how spiritual fitness has been achieved for at least the last 1700 years. And, pray with the Bible, the words of the Word. Spend some time, find out about the Lord, learn His likes and dislikes. One would do as much for one's earthly dear ones, why care less than that about God?
We need to develop habits of behaving like Catholics. The basic list of the things Catholics do is called the "Works of Mercy" and the way to form a habit is to do something over and over again. So, at least one merciful act every day, until mercy becomes a habitual way of life.
We need to learn what the Church teaches. Not what we think we heard somewhere or what the daily secular paper might have said or what we think we remember from our grade school CCD class, but what the Church actually teaches. For almost all of us most of the time, this will mean some amount of studying, and (Terrence, you may want to avert your eyes...) documents. It could also include lectures, guided retreats, hours listening to wise and holy elders, and paying attention to one's pastor and one's bishops when they give instruction. This study, if it is to be effectual, needs to be with a docile mind and a willingness to live out the teachings in life, no matter how inconvenient that might be. And yes, the teachings of the Church are sometimes quite inconvenient. Counter-cultural, even. This study will not be effectual if undertaken to obtain ammunition against one's pastors or bishops or anyone else, or to try to find ways out of the inconvenient parts.
The Church does not keep any of its teachings secret. They are all published, with as much depth as anyone would ever need or want. That's part of why I found growing up Catholic such a wonder, there was, and is, always more to learn and more ways to grow in faith. Even, Terrence, in the teaching documents of the Church. Good places to start are the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium to the Catechism, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and Lumen gentium and Gaudium et Spes which are two documents from the Ecumenical Council on the nature of the Church. From them one can proceed all over, beginning by simply following the footnotes. The lives of the saints are very instructive also, and often fun to read; and many of the saints left writings behind, and they are not all hopelessly deep or horribly technical.
St. Augustine's Confessions, St. Cyril of Jerusalem's mystagogical sermons, or St. Therese's Story of a Soul, might be places to begin and just one's cup of tea.
We need to take advantage of all the sacraments and means of grace we have. The Lord gave them to us for a reason, and that's because we need them. We need nourished, we need healed, we need forgiven, we need strengthened. So, attend Eucharist every day you can, and receive regularly. Take advantage of Reconciliation and all of that confessional grace of forgiveness. With nightly examination of conscience, one will find those nagging sins and faults that can use that confessional grace, even when one isn't convicted of any mortal sins. When one is seriously ill, or frail from age, do be anointed. Take steps to be confirmed, if for some reason one hasn't been yet, and if one's marriage isn't proper with the Church, make it right. Have a crucifix and holy images as reminders in one's home, and make appropriate use of blessed things, like rosaries and holy water.
And, we need to learn, at least a little bit, not to be shy. As we pray, and study, and behave mercifully, and use the means of grace, it will change our lives, and people will ask us about the change. They will ask the reason for our hope, since they will want it too. Each of us must be ready to answer, to give a reason, to bring the one who questions to the love of the Lord Jesus that we are nurturing, so that they, also, may share our hope and our joy. Those of us with the charisms for it might even go out and about to bring in even those who are not yet asking, but every single one of us is responsible to answer the ones who come and ask us from whence our hope comes.