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?
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.