Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Heartaches by the number, troubles by the score

Catholics should avoid temptations to schadenfreude:
Back in old England, the picture isn’t much merrier. Linda Woodhead, a sociology of religion professor at Lancaster University in Lancashire, recently conducted her own “scientific survey of Catholic opinion.” Dr. Woodhead has determined that “faithful Catholics” in the U.K. are now “a rare and endangered species” (Religion Dispatches, Nov. 24, 2013). Defined as those who attend weekly Mass, profess certain belief in God, take authority from religious sources, and are opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, a mere five percent of British Catholics can be called “faithful.” That figure drops to two percent for British Catholics under the age of 30. Startlingly, Dr. Woodhead found that zero percent of British Catholics “look to religious leaders for guidance as they make decisions and live their lives.”

The problem, as Woodhead sees it, is that “most Catholics don’t think the [Church’s moral] teaching is too hard, they think it’s wrong” (italics in original). This would suggest that dressing up existing doctrines — especially those related to marriage and sexuality — to make them more appealing, or dispensing with them altogether, will have little to no effect. The recent history of the Anglican Communion is a case in point: It is endlessly refashioning itself in order to achieve “relevance” by shedding virtually every one of its distinctively Christian moral teachings — and with disastrous results.
I think the Catholic Church's moral teachings are right, although I don't claim to always live up to them or live as I should. I aim for the ideal even if I fall down a lot in practice. That's much different from thinking the teachings are wrong and not even trying. Ironically, many of my Protestant and Godless heathen friends think of me as a "good Catholic" simply for doing the bare minimum: going to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, and regularly going to confession. In the eyes of the media, I'd be a "devout Catholic." I expect that when I appear before the Judgment Seat I'll be called a bad servant because I only did what was expected of me.

Numbers are a sore topic in the Catholic Church. Everyone with eyes in his head can see the Church has been on the decline for years. The establishment Church thinks it's largely a failure of marketing. If we can repackage the good parts and downplay the hard parts, then modern man will come flocking to our doors. You see this a lot in marketing campaigns to drum up more vocations to the priesthood. The priest isn't portrayed as the intermediary between God and his people because each of us is part of the royal priesthood as Vatican II said. Instead the priest is portrayed, and usually comes across, as a warm and fuzzy community organizer whose job is to recruit the best and the brightest his parish has to offer in order to run all of the different committees, ministries, and general social work.

Mark Shea is fond of saying that Traditionalists "hate evangelism." Speaking only for myself, I dislike glib ad campaigns that try to convince people that Catholicism will mow your grass, cure male pattern baldness, and be an endless tide of heavenly bliss in this world. The truth is, Catholicism can be hard. It's a challenge to us to do battle with the old man as we try to put on the new man. It's a challenge to the world to kneel before the King of the Universe. It's a challenge to our spiritual enemies when we put on Christ. Again, I don't claim to do this well but Christ is a compelling figure. You could say his power compels me, heh.

We shouldn't feel schadenfreude over the continued implosion of mainline Protestantism. There are great multitudes of Catholics - many of whom collect paychecks from Holy Mother Church - who want us to follow the Anglicans into irrelevancy and oblivion.

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