Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bad Catholics

One of the hardest things I have to explain about our Catholic faith to my children is not the truth of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or the infallibility of the Pope -- they understood those things with the childlike faith Jesus would like all of us to have, along with a healthy dose of realizing that in the case of the Real Presence, we have no business telling God what He can or cannot do and if He says "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink," (John 6:47-71) we need to just accept the fact that He knows what he's doing and move on; and in the second case, that the Pope is only infallible when teaching about matters of faith or morals, not in predicting the Powerball jackpot numbers or the local weather forecast in Vatican City.

The hardest thing I have to explain to Meelyn and Aisling is about Bad Catholics.

Bad Catholics seem to abound these days, with the most visible among them being the ones involved in politics. Oh, it would be lovely if every Catholic politician was a Rick Santorum, former Senator from Pennsylvania. I've been very thankful that five of the nine United States Supreme Court justices are Catholics, and seem to be reliably conservative so that they don't shame the rest of us with their freakish pronouncements. Since the most prominent Bad Catholics today are nearly all Democrats (and that should tell you something, shouldn't it?), they're getting a lot of press.

As I write this article, Nancy Pelosi, one of the Baddest Catholics out there, has just met with the Pope -- apparently, she didn't burst into flame, so I'm assuming it took place somewehere removed from the Blessed Sacrament -- in a fifteen-minute meeting in which I hope he roundly excoriated her for her Bad Catholic hijinks, which include her ongoing support of abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and her more recent idiocy in which she said that monies artificial birth control should be included in Barack Obama's stimulus plan because we all know that babies grow up to be children and children are a severe drain on the nation's health care and educational resources. Thank goodness that got shot down, with even Barack himself demurring.

How do you explain things like this to teenage kids? How do you explain that one of the most powerful people in the country, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is a Bad Catholic and that, in spite of her fame (notoriety?) and position, she should be completely dismissed as a role model and I don't care how far she's "advanced the interests of women" in our country because if you can't even get it right with your own religion that you claim to be so devoted to, how could you possibly be expected to get it right anywhere else?

When it comes to explaining things like this, there are some -- and they usually seem to be liberals -- who like to triumphantly fling around the only Bible verse they apparently know, which is Matthew 7:1-5:

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be
judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to
you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not
perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let
me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see
clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."

But really, as you read this, the only way you could ever conclude that Jesus doesn't want us to judge anyone or anything is if you purposely ignored the many other verses in the Bible that support the idea of judging people and situations. For instance, just a little bit farther on in that very same chapter, Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says this:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but
underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people
pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree
bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot
bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does
not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their
fruits you will know them."

Isn't He telling us there to judge? How else will we know false prophets if we don't weigh the evidence of their words and decide whether the fruit they're producing is good or bad?

How will we know the good politicians? The good pastors? Potential spouses? How will we know anything at all if we don't exercise some judgment? Are we meant to just blunder stupidly through life, accepting at face value everything that everyone tells us?

Keeping this in mind, I think it's only prudent to point out to impressionable teenagers that not every Catholic is worthy of the name; that some aren't religious people at all, but call themselves "Catholic" because Catholicism is part of the ethnic culture in which they were raised, and really has nothing to do with the dogma and doctrines of our faith, or even anything as simple as attending Mass on Sundays, which is not optional.

I think the key here might be in knowing beyond a doubt that there are some people who would consider me and my husband bad Catholics: we drink beer; I wear pants; we might say naughty words when we stub our toes, depending upon the level of pain we're experiencing. We have to remember to be humble in our judgment and not feel that we have achieved perfection of any sort.

But back to the Bad Catholics, the ones who veer so far from Catholic teaching that they bring scandal to their fellow members of the Body of Christ. We have to teach our children to make sound judgments on their characters. And above all, we must make sure our children know that the reception of Holy Communion when in violation of a basic tenet of the Catholic faith is a grave sin.

There was a time when I would have confidently stated that you only had to pay attention to whether the person in question was a Republican or a Democrat, but then I grew up. It would be nice to tidy everyone away so neatly into their separate boxes, but then where in the world would you put Rudy Giuliani? When the campaigning for the nomination for the Republican presidential candidate was still underway, I shook my head every time someone asked me if I would vote for Giuliani if he got the nomination. There is no way I could do that, I told people. I would be a complete hypocrite. If I refused to vote for Democrat Catholic John Kerry, an supporter of a woman's right to choose to kill her unborn baby, how in the world could I vote for Republican Catholic Rudolph Giuliani, also a believer in that very same issue?

People pointed out that Rudy Giuliani was a strong and fabulous leader in the aftermath of 9-11, going to something like three hundred different funeral Masses for fallen firefighters and police officers. I commend him for that, I truly do. That must have been emotionally and physically exhausting, especially considering all the other things he was doing other than going to all those different parishes, each with its own set of grieving families to meet. But I can't get past his stance on abortion, and no good Catholic should.

Thankfully, we were all spared having to deal with that problem.

Vice President Joe Biden is another Catholic supporter of abortion rights, as are former senator Tom Daschle, Senator Edward Kennedy and a bevy of others, most of whom have attempted to defend the indefensible by spouting some kind of nonsense that proposes that while they, themselves, would not get an abortion or help someone procure one, they simply can't deny that right to other people and impose their religious values on someone else.

Why not?

To me, those politicans seem to be saying that they purposely raised money for a campaign, spent unbelieveable amounts of that money plus their own personal time on the trail in the hopes of getting elected, and then got elected for the sole purpose of....representing people with whom they are in violent disagreement on what, to them, is a basic human rights issue?

Does that make sense?

I could also argue that people who say that they can't impose their religion on others and that their faith is a personal matter that has nothing to do with their professional lives are the kind of people who tend to show up when the poinsettias are banked around the altar at Christmas and the lilies make their appearance at Easter. To folks who are truly religious -- in the sense of having a personal, daily relationship with Jesus Christ that goes beyond pew-warming -- that religion is a fundamental part of who they are, and they could no more separate that personal part of their lives from the professional side any more than they could decide to use their lungs only on Sunday mornings from 9:00 'til 10:15. It just couldn't be done.

Mentioning Sunday mornings brings me to another area where Bad Catholics can be observed, and that is vested and standing at the altar. It shouldn't be a shock to any thinking person that there could actually be bad priests or bishops, but hello? Consider the Last Supper. All those disciples who attended that Passover meal were all about lovin' the Lord, but where were they later on that evening?

One completely betrayed Him.

One denied Him, not just once, but three times.

Ten fled and hid in fear of their lives.

One stayed with Him until the end.

Those aren't real inspiring odds, my friends. And when you think that those were the men who knew Jesus in person, who lived and walked and worked with Him every day for three years, why would we ever expect perfection in our leaders, who are descended from those same twelve men in apostolic succession?

So how do you know a bad priest or bishop? You can look right back to the seventh chapter of Matthew's gospel to know that: You know them by their fruit.

There is a priest here in our area who has just taken over a second parish due to the retirement of that parish's priest. Ever since Priest #1 has taken over, attendance has fallen off and the offerings are down so far, the parish is having difficulty paying the staff's salaries and even in keeping up with the utility bills.

You might wonder if all this is just because Priest #2 was such a beloved shepherd of his flock (which he was) and that people have just moved on to other parishes -- I think there must be at least twelve within a half hour's drive -- to find a new parish, but that kinds of begs the question Why not just stay here and learn to love Priest #1?

The reason why is because they already know Priest #1. Our city is not that large, and when there are two big Catholic parishes to choose from, it seems to fall that more liberal people go to Priest #1's church and the more conservative, orthodox people go to Priest #2's. Now that Priest #1 is the one-and-only, people are fleeing as if from the plague, which it is.

My family attended the parish where Priest #1 recently took over (not our home parish, but one that is close to our house) around Epiphany and my husband and I nearly came unglued when this priest casually said during his homily, "We don't know if Jesus was really born in Bethlehem or not. Some people feel that Matthew just wrote that because he wanted to make sure that Jesus' story matched up with all the prophecies from the Old Testament."


I sat bolt upright and looked at my husband, who looked back at me with his jaw clenched. I whispered incredulously, "Is that PRIEST casting doubts on the inerrancy of Holy Scripture??!!" My husband nodded his head three times, his ears turning red. I looked over at Meelyn and Aisling and said firmly, sotto voce, "DO NOT LISTEN TO ANYTHING THIS MAN SAYS." They nodded solemnly and later on we talked it all over and agreed that there was a decided necessity to pray for Father, who is so busily teaching people to doubt the divine inspiration of the Bible. (For information on what the Catholic Church does believe about divine inspiration, you can go to the Vatican website and search for Pope Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (dealing with the study of Sacred Scripture), Pope Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu (dealing with the promotion of biblical studies); Dei Verbum, Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 74-141. Don't worry, all this stuff is in English.)

A few weeks later, my husband was attending the Vigil Mass at that same parish and Priest #1's homily was so outrageous that my husband stood to his feet and walked out of the church, right down the center aisle. Priest #1 has been judged by his fruits and it is pretty obvious -- just as obvious as the Barack Obama bumper sticker on the back of his car -- that his fruit is bitter and withered and unworthy for consumption. No wonder people are leaving.

My husband and I were received into the Church during its biggest scandal of the century, that of the homosexual priests and their repellent and abusive relationships with teenage boys. In spite of some new and gloating story appearing in the press nearly every day, we went on our way undeterred. "How can you even think of joing THAT CHURCH?" several people asked us along our journey.

The answer was very simple: We weren't joining THAT CHURCH because of anything that people did. We didn't even know any Catholics at the beginning of our conversion; there was not one single person in the world we could point to and say, "We want to be Catholics because of him/her." In our conversion, which is a fairly dramatic story, our sole focus was on Jesus and what He wanted of us, where He wanted to take us and the renewal of hope He had in store for us.

Like many other American Christians, we learned a long time ago that putting your faith in any person other than the Savior is a big mistake. Consider Jim and Tammy Bakker duping their followers out of millions; Jimmy Swaggart and his frolicking with prostitutes; Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson and their mad pronouncements; even lesser media-blitzed scandals like Larry and Melva Lea's now-defunct ministry. A single glance at any of those people ought to be a good warning to never to put your faith in people, because sometimes, people really suck.

We became Catholics because of a strong conviction, both spiritual and historical, that the Catholic Church was the one founded by Jesus Christ Himself, guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, watched over with loving care by the Heavenly Father. Not because we liked the Pope, although we did. Not because we supported the good priests who were so embattled in that scandal (the priest at our own parish church was refused service in a restaurant because he went in for dinner with his parents while dressed in his clericals), although we did. We didn't join because of strong youth programs or brand-new facilities.

We joined because of Jesus, in hope that He, with His daily guidance, could show us how to be the best Catholics we are capable of being as we climb the steep and narrow path of salvation.

So, Bad Catholics? They're out there. We have to watch out for them. We have to look at the fruit they're bearing and decide if they're worthy of our time and attention, or if they're going to draw us farther away from the faith that has set us free. We have to judge. We have to teach our kids, and above all, we have to teach it to ourselves and form our consciences according to the tenets of our faith, so that we'll know when the sacred is being violated by human pride, disdain and sophistry. Otherwise, we may well be promoting just one more generation of Bad Catholics.

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