Sunday, May 17, 2015

Appropriate faith ..

I remember vividly the night I appropriated the Catholic Faith. That night I made it my own - the faith by which I would from that moment live the rest of my life. I began going to Confession again, and regular Sunday Mass. I began sitting towards the front of the church and answering the responses. I sang the hymns, put some money on the plate, took some care to fast for an hour before Holy Communion and, among other things, got involved in the community.

These days as a chaplain in a big hospital I'm finding it interesting to guess at the degree to which a person has appropriated the Faith. This has nothing to do with how long they have been a Catholic, this has only to do with the question: have they made the faith of the Church their Faith?

Here is a little scenario: Mr Smith is a 65 year old man who has been a Catholic all his life. He goes to Mass with his wife every Sunday.

So, would you like to receive Holy Communion this morning, Mr Smith?

If you like.

No, it's not up to me, Mr Smith, this is about you. Would you like to receive Holy Communion?

I suppose it can't hurt.

So is that a yes, Mr Smith?


Good, let's pray then: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the .. Would you like to make the sign of the cross with me, Mr Smith?

Oh, OK.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The Lord be with you.

silence... I give Mr Smith a meaningful look and repeat: The Lord be with you.

Now a touch uncomfortable: And also with you.

Let us call to mind our sins: I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and si...

Mr Smith, would you like to say these words along with me?

With a slight roll of the eyes: I confess to almighty God ...


So what's going on here?

I think it's all about appropriation, or in this case, the lack of it. I will bet you a sizeable amount of cash that when Mr Smith goes to Sunday Mass with his wife he stands when she stands and sits when she sits and pops the Host into his mouth at Communion time and doesn't answer a single response or sing a line of a hymn.

You may, dear Reader, accuse me of judgmentalism even though Mr Smith is not an actual person. If you read on you'll see it's not Mr Smith I'm criticising. I prefer to see my comments as the recognition of a structural weakness in our way of going about things in the Church beginning with the way we offer Baptism to infants of parents who have already declared their lack of Catholic faith and practice. From there we go on to confirm in the faith the children from these unevangelised families and then bring Confession to them at school and conveniently overlook the fact they don't attend Sunday Mass or make any mention of a host of common sins.

We seem not only to systematically refuse to challenge nominalism we encourage it and foster it in so many ways. It's not good pastoral practice in any way at all and, what's more, it's not working and never will.


  1. Too right Father. Administering sacraments to those who do not really want them (except infant baptism) is not charitable but creates problems down the line. Fortunately things are changing, at least in our parish (in England). For example, instead of Confirming all the 13-14 year-olds, they are all invited and only those who come forward (with a written request) and who attend at least 6 out of 8 classes on confirmation will receive the sacrament. This way everyone present is personally keen--they then become effective witnesses for the other kids at the school who can come the next year if they wish, or the next, or whenever. But foisting it on to them al at once makes Confirmation cheap. The changes that are comin' are for the good!

  2. Great, great, fantastic point Fr.
    Totally agree, what a wonderful example and explanation of the abuse of the sacraments, and how this causes problems later on.

  3. dear father,

    I've been invited to read your blog by my wife, though I have no idea how she came across your blog.

    I find your blog refreshing, and at times its heartening to hear your point as a laymen and not an apologist of the institution. :)

    By the way, I'm from Singapore. Hope to hear from you, and I'd love to share a post that I wrote with you, its a bit long though. Let me know how I can share that with you.

  4. the problem of being "double minded" has not changed:

    Elijah appealed to all the people and said, "How long will you straddle the issue? If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him." The people, however, did not answer him. (1 Kg 18:21)

    No servant can serve two masters (Lk 16:13, Mt 6:24)

  5. I am TOTALLY with you1

    I came * this close * to telling parents this year that if they don't bother to attend Mass EVERY SUNDAY, and they don't intend to in the future, then they should not be baptizing their children or intending them to receive their first Holy Communion.

    And BECAUSE I didn't say that, I'm now wondering about what God is going to say to ME at my judgment. Because I just willingly let a lot of parents bring their children to a Sacrament that they will never experience again.

    If someone doesn't say "NO, you have no understanding of this", then who is going to do so?

    And yet, if I say "NO" I lose my job, (not a huge deal, it won't keep a roof over my head anyway), and people go to Hell because of me.

    I really wish our Bishops and Pastors would take over the authority part like they're supposed to so that people like me can just do what we have to do, tell them the truth, and defer the authority to the ones who should have it anyway. (I hope you know what I mean by this...)

  6. I love the way you help us to stop, reflect and think more deeply. Thank you, Father John.

  7. I think one issue at the heart of this, besides not wanting to "embarrass" people, is not wanting to face the smaller numbers in the pews that may result from not automatically administering the sacraments.

    I have been wondering a lot about marriage. I know so many people (I think we all do) who have every intention of marrying "in the Church" but NO intention of following any of the Church's commandments nor raising their children in the Faith.

    In cases like this, I think it is almost charitable act to point out to the couple in question that if marrying in the Church means nothing to them, then they shouldn't do it.

    Recent statistics about the "drop out rate" of Catholicism has as much to do with automatically baptizing children as it does with active Catholics deciding to leave the Faith.

    What would the Church look like if the automatic sacraments ceased?