Most people don’t care what we believe or say but they pay attention when we bear the fruit the Church teaches we are to bear.
Those are the words of Sherry Weddell, a woman I respect and admire, and who I do not intend to contradict with what I’m about to say.
That’s only half of the story.
Now, Sherry is correct, of course. It is the oddball who is attracted to hideous architecture built incredibly well. The majority of us our attracted to gorgeous buildings despite having no idea whether they are built to stand the test of time. And so it goes with evangelization (most of the time). The Catholic faith is judged by what is most evident, those characteristics most easily ascertained. But I’m not talking about the characteristics of the faith itself. No, the faith is usually judged by the traits of those who claim to profess it.
It’s neither fair nor rational, but it is reality; and that’s what makes Sherry correct.
But if evangelization is the goal, and exhibiting the fruit of the Gospel is the means, we must know how to produce that fruit. And this is the second half of the story that Sherry’s comment misses, though it almost alludes to it.
We know about this fruit because the Church teaches us about it. Jesus spoke of it, as did the NT authors. And the fact of the matter is that the same source from which knowledge of this fruit has come is the avenue for the grace we need to bear the fruit. We cannot bear actual fruit without the actual graces that the Church supplies in the sacraments and in her doctrine.
Yes, her doctrine is a grace. What she teaches cannot be ignored if we are to bear fruit. No branch that is detached from the vine can bear fruit. And this is precisely what everyone (almost) is getting wrong about the statistics in the Pew Religious Landscape Survey — namely, that self-report produces a skewed image of the vine and branches, of who is Catholic and who is not.
What the Church Says
This is the criteria by which to determine whether someone is Catholic. (Canon Law is not the topic here, nor should it be.) Has she been validly baptized? Does she profess the true faith?
Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. — Pope Pius XII
What is the true faith? It’s “all that the Holy Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” Nothing less, which is precisely why the Church demands assent to this statement from all adults seeking to enter the Church.
So, while one is not excluded from the Church by struggling to understand and accept the Church’s teaching on marriage, for example, one is not to be included as a member of the Church who denies that the Magisterium has the authority to teach about marriage. And the rejection of the authority of the Magisterium is easily the most common error made by pseudo-Catholics.
The Catholic Landscape
So, how does the current Catholic landscape look today? Well, the people who responded to the Pew survey by identifying as Catholic fall into a few categories, and Sherry knows this well. There are Catholics, by which I mean just that, people who fit the definition provided by Pope Pius XII. Then there are Protestants; yes, there are people who actually attend Protestant services every Sunday who still self-identify as ‘Catholic’. And there are pseudo-Catholics of a few kinds, but what is true in all of their cases is that they have separated themselves from the Church, usually by abandoning the true faith.
Now, hypothetically, what percentage of Catholics, as defined by Pius XII, will report weekly Mass attendance? I bet it’s over 90%; after all, can we really say that people who habitually neglect to attend Mass are also professing the true faith?
Of course, it doesn’t go both ways; habitual Mass attendance is no guarantee that a person is professing the Catholic faith. But this does tell us that we can expect the majority of faithful Sunday Mass attendees to be Catholics (again, as defined by Pius XII). And what is the percentage of self-identifying Catholics who attend Sunday Mass regularly? According to the latest data, probably 22%, but perhaps it’s close to 25%. Either way, it’s pathetically low.
We Are Not Intoxicating
Is the picture becoming clear? Even if 100% of (Pope Pius XII) Catholics are included in the ~25% of Mass-goers, and if only a very small percentage of weekly Mass goers are pseudo-Catholics, we have within the container of ‘self-identifying Catholics’ not more than 22% actual Catholics. That is one low-proof bottle!
What’s presented to the world is a bottle of Catholicism. “Take a sip”, we say, “taste the fruit of our faith.” But rather than getting a mouthful of saints and saints-in-the-making, they get a watered down mess. Do we still not see?! As Sherry said, we must provide a visible witness to the beauty and fruit of the Catholic faith. But when we go along with the falsehood that those unfaithful 75% are properly called ‘Catholic’, we destroy our witness because we are presenting a false picture of what Catholics are.
What About the Departing
The problem is not so much one of Catholics leaving the fold, though that does happen. The problem is primarily one of people thinking they’re in the fold when they’re not. And it’s exacerbated by us going along with the falsehood.
It’s akin to medication compliance. A man is prescribed aspirin. He takes the aspirin, but not as prescribed. When it doesn’t help, be concludes that aspirin isn’t for him. He goes looking for a new medication. And whenever he hears that he should try aspirin, he just dismisses the suggestion. When he hears about how it is helping so-and-so, he thinks, “Good for him, but I didn’t have that experience.”
What he needs to be told is, “Hey, you didn’t actually try aspirin.” Ask the reverts; this is the story.
Getting it Straight
If you’re sending missionaries out to evangelize, will you select two good men and eight unfaithful men? Only a fool would do that. It’s not a question of arrogance or superiority. It’s not that Catholics even sin less. It’s about the faith, and we have an obligation to present the true faith.
Let it be far from anyone’s mind to suppress for any reason any doctrine that has been handed down. Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ. — Leo XIII
We are not helping those who think they’re Catholic or who think they were once Catholic when they were not, if we live according to the same falsehood they believe. Delusions help no one.
We bear a collective witness. It’s long overdo that we start treating like pagans those who have abandoned the true faith and refuse correction. That’s Scriptures prescription! We’d do well to comply.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.