Casual Catholic, Infantile Catholic

I think that, by far, the greatest misconception about the Catholic faith, among Protestants anyhow, is that we hold to the idea that man earns his salvation. I’ll tell you what, if that were true, we might not have so many pathetic “casual Catholics.” Seriously, the percentage of Catholics, especially Catholic men, who feel that religion is very important in their lives is absurdly low. It is, in fact, 50% lower than among Evangelical men (48% and 74%, respectively). Laughable, except that it’s mortal (LETIM).

No, the Catholic Church does not hold that man earns his salvation. She does teach that “assurance of salvation” is absolute heresy, and she does profess that “faith alone is dead” [because in the sole instance where “faith alone” appears in the Bible, it is followed by the words “is dead”]. What the Church does teach about salvation is that it is a matter of God’s judgment alone [which explains why presuming to know absolutely one’s eternal destiny is heresy; it’s presuming to judge as God judges]. And she professes that one’s actions factor into God’s judgment, vis-à-vis sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell, and “what you did unto the least of these…” [So much for the accusation that the Church isn’t “Bible-believing.”]

But back to those depressing stats. How is it that a Church which confesses the mortal importance of faith and charity has a membership that seems to think otherwise? By all accounts, I’d say that the enormous numbers of “casual Catholics” are acting as if their asses are covered. They are the ones who seem to be convinced that their salvation is assured! They’re sure acting like it. So, how did that happen?

Well, it would be dishonest of me to suggest that I know. I do not know, but I do have suspicions based on every piece of anecdotal evidence I have encountered. Disclaimer made, here’s my suspicion: Abysmal catechesis!

Do I think that some people were basically told that their baptism procured for them a get out of hell free card? Yes, but not a huge proportion.

Do I think that some were told that they needn’t worry about the moral guidance of the Church [sexual ethics, anyone?] but only get themselves to Mass? Yes, but not a great many.

Do I think that some were hardly catechized at all, that their CCD classes were a joke, that their Catholic school didn’t teach Catholic beliefs, that they have had a veritable lifetime of hum-drum, wishy-washy self-esteem boosting homilies that did nothing to move them from spiritual infancy to adulthood? DING-DING-DING Yes, you nailed it!

Think I’m being harsh? Try this exercise, go to Mass as often as you can for two months. At minimum, that should put you at 10 Masses, if you only get to one daily Mass and 9 Sundays. Since there are at most 53 Sunday Masses (and we’re excluding Holy Days of Obligation for now), and since most people will only be hearing Sunday homilies anyhow, that means your sample is a decent 19%.

Now, for each homliy that you hear, write down atleast 5 tags [provided the homily is even long enough] to characterize what you heard. Maybe the priest mentioned abortion, tag it ‘abortion.’ Maybe he incorporated something about contracepting [don’t laugh; it could happen], tag it ‘contracepting.’ Perhaps he said that we needn’t be too hard on ourselves [finally, some realism], tag it ‘encouragement.’ If he gets deep into the Scripture and its context, tag it ‘exposition.’ You get the idea.

At the end of those 2 months, review those tags. If you have even once tagged a homily “fear of God” or “apologetics” or “no assurance” you have won the Homily Lottery. Congrats! [That homily was your prize.]

Chances are: it won’t happen to you. Chances are: it didn’t happen to your parents. Chances are: this is a major factor in the Church being flooded with lifelong neophytes. But don’t worry, I’m not laying all of my blame suspicions on bland, uninspiring, unambitious homilies. No, with great failure comes great blame to spread around.

Parents, you actually bear the brunt of the blame, over and above pastors. The home is the center of spiritual nourishment. Even if you weren’t getting meaty teaching at Mass, you still had the responsibility of going out and digging up some spiritual grub to give to junior. If your children left your home only ever knowing what it was like to subsist on spiritual milk, you did them a great disservice. [Step 1: admit your fault and go to Confession!]

Catechists…well, you get the idea. [tl;dr Confession!]

Ultimately, blame is of no benefit in itself. Feelings of guilt are only good insofar as 1) they reflect reality and 2) they illicit a response to amend. So, let’s amend the situation…Now! This is urgent. Remember the M in LETIM — Mortal. By failing to nourish and raise up spiritually healthy adults, we have done the equivalent of never giving a child solid food. The Devil prowls about like a roaring lion, and we have laid out a feast before him.

How Red Herrings Kill Our Children

For the sake of the children, stop with the idiocy! No, I’m not kidding–think of the children! All of this nonsense regarding gun control legislation, the supposedly inconsistent pro-life ethic, and the maligning of self-defense would be laughable were it not so damn pertinent and morbid.

The Error

First off, the charge that the anti-abortion folks are inconsistent in their supposed lack of outrage of murder by guns is nonsensical. Why? Well, foremost, because the corollary to banning guns in order to prevent gun-homicide is to ban the instruments of medicine. The instruments are not THE problem.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The gun may not be THE problem, but the gun is a lynch pin. Removing the gun from the equation doesn’t solve the existence of suicidal-homicidal sociopaths, but it takes away their capacity for mass murder. (You were thinking that, right?) And you are right. You’d also be right to assert that guns are not as beneficial to society as the medical instruments utilized during infanticide. No argument from me on the validity of these ideas.

What I do object to is the infantile notion that gun control legislation to prevent the continued slaughter of already-born innocents is going to be remotely effective anytime in the next ten years. I’m not saying to not pursue it, but I am objecting to tackling one of the most contentious issues in American politics before doing something to protect our children in the immediate. That is as foolish and reckless as brandishing a handgun in a city park.

The Solution

When I was a student at the University of Cincinnati, I received frequent email notifications about local crime. One of the most frequent events was mugging. Late night, inebriated college kids walking alone make for easy targets. So, every few days, so it seemed, I would read about how a mugger, maybe three, would flash a gun (briefly remove it and then return it to his pocket) and demand some kid’s possessions. In every case, the victim gave up his/her things.

No, I’m not going to take issue with someone turning over her belongings under coercion; I’m not suggesting that they should have risked life or limb to save an cell phone or a laptop. However, I would like to praise the single individual whose response was to pull pepper spray from her pocket and use it on her mugger. That girl got away safely, and the jackass who tried to harm her (caught or not) was in a world of hurt.

Perhaps my point is not obvious, so I’ll state it outright. In the immediate, providing non-lethal force to be used as a defensive mechanism is the best course of action. And I am specifically recommending instruments that temporarily blind assailants. Save for live ammunition, there is not a more effective way to neutralize gun-wielding murderers than to blind them.

The Way Forward

So, why is the conversation not about effective, immediate means to deter this violence? Seriously, why? Realistically, even if a ban on all guns (outside of law enforcement and private security) occurred tomorrow, when would enough guns be confiscated to be reasonably confident that events like those at Sandy Hook would never happen again? Ten years? Fifteen years? Even then, you’d never be able to prevent a cop of member of the armed forces from going off the deep end (and taking a few lives with him)–something that has happened more than once in the last few years.

In the meantime, murderous rampages continue. As for me and my house, we will not waste our breath. First, give some hope of survival for when the rampages occur. Second, address the fact that mental health issues are practically ignored by the government. They are the most stigmatized and disenfranchised people in our world, and services to treat them (without pocketfuls of cash) are few and far between. Finally, only after these more immediate concerns have been addressed, then turn to gun regulations.

True religion (in the 21st Century) before God the Father is this: to care for the mentally ill and fetuses in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (staining includes following red herrings and acting like an idiot).

Is it Foolish to Listen to CNN?

Well, on any issue of faith, morality, or the Catholic Church: ABSOLUTELY!

If you read the idiotic CNN article about Pope Francis and civil unions, which I absolutely refuse to link, please note:

1) Pope affirmed incoherence of the notion of marriage between individuals of the same-sex.
2) Divorced Catholics are not barred from communion, per se.  (The Catholic Church bars those who enter into a ‘second’ marriage without first getting a declaration of nullity for the ‘first.’)
3) Pope affirmed what has always been; didn’t gainsay any predecessor or even come remotely close to contradicting Church teaching.
4) Mercy applies to people, not to the law. (We are merciful with those who foolishly contracept, but that has no bearing on the reality of objectively grave action.)
5) Civil unions are a civil reality, not one recognized by the Church–much like divorce.

Moreover, a civil union is not, in principle, contrary to divine law.  What is contrary to divine law is same-sex sex (aka. homosex [this is not derogatory]). So, two guys who enter into a civil union but remain chaste, are not, by this action, guilty of any particular sin. This is why the Holy Father can say what he did. That this surprises anyone only means that such people have not been very thoughtful.

The Anti-Specific-Vax Trend

In recent months, Mark Shea has hosted his fair share of vaccination discussions.  Reading the most recent Facebook thread–where-in Mark solicited his readers for their moral arguments against HPV vaccination–is a minor exercise in masochism.  However, having tread through those waters, I think I know what some of the Anti-Specific-Vax readers are trying to convey: the problem of moral hazard.

The Concept

Sin is sin because it harms one’s relationship with God, and sin also has temporal consequences that are actually ‘natural’ to the offense–that is, disordered actions result in more disorder. I like to use the analogy of the mom who tells Joey not to run in the house. Joey disobeys and breaks a precious vase in the process. The relationship was harmed regardless of whether or not that vase broke; the disobedience was the real, core offense. Now, we can easily see that Joey may have been reluctant to run around for two reasons: he didn’t want to offend his mother, and he didn’t want to break anything.

Now, the mom has the option of installing a safety device that could rapidly deploy to save falling objects. She is hesitant to install it for a variety of reasons, but one of them is this: she knows that installing the device will eliminate one of the reasons that Joey has for not running through the house. If she installs it, then Joey is certainly more likely to disobey. It will be nice for both mom and Joey to know that valuables are safe, but the likelihood of him committing this sin is greater. Breaking a vase accidentally isn’t sinful, but disobeying, running when against the rules, is sinful.

The Failure

To be clear, I am not advocating that we not bother trying to rid the world of STDs. I think that we are called to always be merciful. If we have the cure for Syphilis, would we not give it to someone infected? Of course, we would, and we would give it even if the infection had just occurred–we don’t demand a period of suffering first. And that demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the moral hazard objection–namely, that the creation of an after-the-fact cure is just as likely to introduce moral hazard as is the vaccine. (Joey is more likely to run in the house if broken vases can be magically restored.)

Also, I believe that intentionality has been forsaken in this discussion. If my purpose, my motivation, for ridding the world of the natural consequences of disordered action is that I want people to be able to act with impunity, that I want them to be more comfortable with their disordered lives, then I would be erring. However, if my purpose is to bring grace and healing, to prevent suffering, then I am following the Master.

Is there a moral hazard? Yes, I think there is, but that is not good enough reason to abandon this healing ministry. Some, of course, will argue that giving Specific-Vax is not a healing ministry, and, on some level, that is true. No individual is healed in the receiving of a vaccination. However, humanity is healed in the process. Nobody was healed of smallpox by receiving the vaccine, but mankind has been collectively healed of the disease by vaccination. Thanks be to God!


Finally, I believe that this makes clear what the Pontifical Academy for Life meant in regard to the use of immorally produced for vaccines for proportionate good. Does the protection, from polio for example, of my child alone justify my mediate, material cooperation with the abortion that took place? Personally, I doubt it. But if my child’s vaccination is relatively important for the eradication of the disease, then, yes, my cooperation seems justified. We mustn’t forget that God uses even the most horrendous evils to produce good fruit.