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.