The faith sure seemed more vibrant 50 to 60 years ago. But was it really? What was really driving these Catholics?
From one who lived during those times, I can tell you that the main motivation was fear. Many priests and nuns were nothing more than tyrants. We either saw or were actually beaten by some of these nuns and priests. We remember being afraid to go to confession because we knew Father would just yell at us and tell us how terrible we are.
The poster child for mean religious is Ireland, once the most *Catholic* of all countries. For far too many Irish Catholics, the Church did not mean the love, mercy and forgiveness of God. It meant only fear and oppression. It is estimated 100,000 girls were kept as virtual slaves in laundries run by nuns, and of course there is the terrible legacy of physical and sexual abuse of both boys and girls by priests. Many Irish Catholics practiced their faith not out of love of God but out of fear.
|Magdalene Laundry in Ireland|
This was espoused by one of the heroes of Catholic Conservatives/Traditionalists, Cardinal Raymond Burke, in this interview quoted by courageouspriest.com:
We as Catholics have not properly combatted [evils of the world] because we have not been taught our Catholic Faith, especially in the depth needed to address these grave evils of our time. This is a failure of catechesis both of children and young people that has been going on for fifty years.In an interview from The Wanderer, Cardinal Burke also faults badly celebrated Liturgy as a cause of the crisis in the Church:
The Sacred Liturgy is absolutely the first act of the New Evangelization. Unless we worship God in spirit and in truth, unless we celebrate the Sacred Liturgy with the greatest possible faith in God and faith in the divine action which takes place in Holy Mass, we are not going to have the inspiration and the grace to carry out the New Evangelization.Many also say that we need really hard hitting sermons at Sunday Mass about sin and hell. If priests would just let the people have it and tell them their sins, then people would come flocking back to the Church on their knees, devoting their lives to God.
Or we need to get rid of the "wimpy music" and "feminization" of the liturgy. Then, too, there is reception of communion in the hand rather than on the tongue that is destroying people's faith. And everyone knows the world started on the road to hell when the nuns stopped wearing habits and went to street clothes. The Traditionalists. of course, sum it all up by saying we need to get rid of the "Novus Ordo" and have only Tridentine Masses. "Save the Liturgy, Save the World." Father Z has made lots of money on that one.
But are all of the above-stated reasons causes for fallen-away Catholics, or are they symptoms of a deeper cause?
I think it is important to understand what motivates people in the first place to repent and turn to God, surrendering all to Him and allowing Him to work in us. What is the common denominator among saints? We have saints ranging from the brilliant St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Bernadette who flunked out of Catechism class. We have saints like St. Therese of Lisieux who never committed a single mortal sin to St. Augustine, who lived a debauched, immoral life. The very first conversion - the good thief on the cross next to Jesus - died within a couple of hours of his conversion. He did not know the first thing about dogma, never attended Mass, didn't hear one sermon, never did any of the things that so many say are necessary to keep the faith. All he did was say to Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Presto! He was saved.
So what do all of these vastly different people have in common? What is the one thing that you can say is true for all of them? It was the heartfelt and unwavering recognition of their sinfulness and the further recognition of the great mercy and love of God. They all acknowledged their utter inability to overcome sin on their own. They knew that, apart from God, there was nothing in them that was worth saving.
We are told that St. Bernadette's last words were,
"Blessed Mary, Mother of God, pray for me. A poor sinner, a poor sinner."
Part of St. Thomas Aquinas' prayer after communion:
I thank You, Lord, Almighty Father, Everlasting God, for having been pleased, through no merit of mine, but of Your great mercy alone, to feed me, a sinner, and Your unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.St. Augustine:
“Who am I? What kind of man am I? What evil have I not done? Or if there is evil that I have not done, what evil is there that I have not spoken? If there is any that I have not spoken, what evil is there that I have not willed to do?”St. Therese of Lisieux was told by her confessor:
Before God, the Blessed Virgin, and Angels, and all the Saints, I declare that you have never committed a mortal sin. Thank God for the favours He has so freely bestowed on you without any merit on your partSt. Therese later reflects on this:
It is not because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I lift up my heart to God in trust and love. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit, I should lose nothing of my confidence: my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the Arms of my Saviour. I know that He loves the Prodigal Son, I have heard His words to St. Mary Magdalen, to the woman taken in adultery, and to the woman of Samaria. No one could frighten me, for I know what to believe concerning His Mercy and His Love. And I know that all that multitude of sins would disappear in an instant, even as a drop of water cast into a flaming furnaceThese sentiments by St. Therese contain the answer to the crisis of non-practicing Catholics. We can become saints only when we recognize our sinfulness and our utter inability to overcome our sin apart from God. To look honestly at yourself and recognize your sin is to sink into desolation and hopelessness. It is being told that you have an inoperable, untreatable disease, and you are going to die, and even worse, you deserve to die because you did it to yourself. But then we look at Christ on the Cross, our Creator who poured out His Precious Blood for us to wipe away our sin and bring us into an loving and eternal relationship with Him. It is this motivation that drives people to completely give their lives to God, even to the point of martyrdom.
The stereotypical answers given above - bad catechesis, bad liturgy, weak sermons, communion in the hand - none of these make any difference in the life of who who truly loves God. Are these things important? Absolutely they are. But obedience, learning the faith, devout participation at Mass are not the cause of conversion but the result of it. We are saved only through the Cross of Jesus Christ, which brings us to acknowledgement and repentance of our sin. Physical actions - no matter how outwardly reverent - and intellectual understanding of the faith - even if we can recite the Catechism and the Bible by memory - will not convert a single soul.
Acknowledgement and repentance of our sins and the loving, merciful and forgiving response of Our Lord is the only path to conversion.
Why do we have bad liturgy? Because the people do not recognize they are in the presence of their Creator and Savior. Why are they unaware of the reality of the Mass? Because they don't know they are sinners in need of a Savior. Why do people leave the Church? Because they don't know they NEED the Church.
Why do we have bad priests? Because they do not recognize their sinfulness and have no fear of God. They know their religion. They spent years in seminary learning their religion. But they don't know who they are!
How was the good thief on the cross next to Jesus able to recognize his sin and repent? Because he first saw the great love and mercy of Jesus Christ. He saw our Lord being abused and tortured, punished for crimes he didn't commit, and not only did Jesus not condemn the people, he prayed for them and spoke words of compassion and forgiveness! When the good thief realized he was in the presence of perfect Love, he was then able to see himself for what he was and how desperately he needed a Savior. It was this perfect act of contrition that saved his soul.
This is the message of Our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Here are just a few quotes from His Holiness:
It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! ... "Oh, I am a great sinner!" "All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things!" He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more" (Jn 8:11).
— Homily on March 17, 2013
Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again." Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. "Great is God's mercy," says the Psalm.
— Angelus on March 17, 2013
God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). ... Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.
— Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013
In today's Gospel, the Apostle Thomas personally experiences this mercy of God. ... Thomas does not believe it when the other Apostles tell him: "We have seen the Lord." ... And how does Jesus react? With patience: Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief ... He does not close the door, He waits. And Thomas acknowledges his own poverty, his little faith. "My Lord and my God!": with this simple yet faith-filled invocation, he responds to Jesus' patience. He lets himself be enveloped by Divine Mercy; he sees it before his eyes, in the wounds of Christ's hands and feet and in His open side, and he discovers trust.
— Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2013
All of us have an emptiness we carry around inside. As St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You." Our job is to lead people to the only thing that will fill that emptiness and restlessness, and that is Jesus Christ. Will we do it by giving them rules to obey? Will we do it by entertaining them with beautiful liturgy if they don't understand the meaning of that liturgy, that it is all about Christ's sacrifice that erases our sins? Does receiving on the tongue somehow help us to understand the mercy of God? Does a nun wearing a habit instead of street clothes explain my sinfulness and the mercy of God?
I go to Mass every day. Why? Because I think I should, or because it makes me somehow better than everyone else? No, I go because I want to go. I realize what a worthless sinner I am, but I know that my salvation is at the Mass. The One who loves me better than I can love myself is at the Mass, and I want to be with Him. And for me, the more simple the Mass, the better, because I am not distracted by everything going on around me. I can truly pray and be that much closer to my Savior.
A person who has come to a true awareness of his sin and the mercy of God wants to learn as much about his faith as he can because that will bring him closer to his Savior. A person who has received forgiveness will strive to obey God in any way possible, and greatly mourn each sin no matter how "little" it may be because he knows that all sin separates us from God.
When we are aware of our sinfulness and the mercy of God which forgives that sin, we will not judge other people because we know that we are as great of a sinner and probably more than they are. When we realize that we have received unmerited forgiveness from God, we are compelled to pass on that love and forgiveness to others. When we are accused and reviled in any way, even and most especially falsely, we actually rejoice because we are sharing in the suffering of Our Lord who brought salvation to the world through that suffering.
Cardinal Raymond Burke and others are wrong when they say if we just *do* the right things, we will somehow become the *right* people. Our actions mean nothing if the right motivation, namely love of God and love of neighbor, is not there:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. [I Cor. 13:1-4]Our Lord also warned of this
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ [Mt. 7:21-23]Jesus makes it very plain that we must "do the will of the Father." What is that will? Jesus summed up the will of the Father in Matthew 22:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.So although our specific actions are important, the most important factor is our motivation. And the only motivation that really counts is love - love towards God and love towards neighbor.