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  • Christian Patin

Why the Church Needs Radical Catholics

The Real Definition of Radicalism

What does it mean to be “radical?” One would have you believe that radicalism is always a bad thing. In fact, radicalism is often likened to terrorism, evil, and any sort of over-the-top “crazy” behavior. But what if I told you that Jesus was considered a “radical” person? Further, what if I told you that Christ loves us radically? The reality is far from the conception, the idea that radicalism in itself is problematic. Concisely stated, it’s not. In reality, the first actual definition of “Radical” is, “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough” according to Oxford Dictionaries.

In a manner of speaking, a radical Christianity, especially a radical Catholic Christianity, is the very definition of the life we are called to live. To live our faith in a radical way is to live life in a radical way. A radical Catholic is one who is so convinced by, and so in love with the Church, and so passionate about the love of Christ, that they strive to please God in all of their work. It isn’t about being the best Catholic (although that is a side-effect), nor is it about proving yourself to the Church or to the faithful. It’s about truly dying to yourself so that you can live for God.

Often, I am “accused” of being too radical, too hardcore, or too serious about my faith, and while it is certainly a compliment, it’s far from true. What is true is that I’m always working toward that goal. My end-game is not to be misunderstood, but to be recognized as a faithful Catholic at my judgment, and I think that extends to others as well. I don’t want anyone to think I wasn’t Catholic. Hardcore? Maybe, but Catholic? Definitely. All too often, I overhear or am involved in conversations about other Catholics in which, inevitably, the question of their Catholic faith is raised, and I’ll hear someone say, “Oh really? I didn’t know *so and so* was Catholic.” The truth is that many Catholics have lost their way. Being Catholic is no longer an identity, but a mere inheritance that boils down to something akin to ethnicity; something that, in many ways, is who they are, but not exactly something to talk about. I’m referring to the more than half of all American Catholics who say, “I was raised Catholic but I don’t go to Mass” or, “technically I’m Catholic, but I don’t really believe anymore.” More frequently, people are becoming blind (or ignorant) to the truth. What’s worse, they don’t even care to be corrected.

How Is This Relevant?

Collectively, we are being force-fed lies that do nothing more than separate us from our Catholic identity and from our Creator. Society will have us believe that we are living longer (because we are living a little longer) so we can be wild, crazy and careless. It tells us to throw caution to the wind! “After all, you’ll live longer, and be safer than ever before. Everyone’s doing it. You don’t want to be a sissy, do you? Just do it.”

The culture within the Church is unfortunately not much better. Some act as though the Eucharist has lost its value (even though it’s still certainly Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in the flesh). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is treated as nothing more than a “do-over” after a bad decision. The Sacrament of Matrimony is no longer “til death,” or at least it isn’t lived out as it should be. And that’s if co-habiting couples even get married. Serious moral issues, like contraception, homosexuality, fornication (sex outside of marriage), abortion, divorce, and countless others are no longer talking points within the Church, and they’re more frequent, or more accepted, than ever before. Even more problematic is that if these issues are brought up, someone’s bound to be offended and someone will resort to name-calling, labeling you as “judgmental” or “intolerant” (as if those words mean the same thing). Needless to say, it’s evident that many Catholics have lost their way, and we’re all to blame.

What's The Actual Problem?

None of these issues are for lack of faith, by the way – at least not in most cases. The faithful I’m referring to aren’t always the non-believers who don’t go to Mass. They are church-going, regular-attendance, “coffee and doughnuts,” fellowshipping, family-friendly Catholics. I’m talking about the people who attend weekly Mass, those who love the Church. I mean the ones who volunteer to work for the Church as altar boys, ushers, lectors, and the like.

The people who need to step up, those who are most responsible, are Catholics who claim to want the best for the Church and for other fellow Catholics. If I’m not mistaken, that would include helping those who have fallen away and those who are in spiritual danger. But what do we tend to see instead at the Mass and at Church functions?

We see acceptance and tolerance of unacceptable and intolerable things. And I think that this is due in large part to the lack of a real passion for the faith and even a fear to speak up. For example, when is the last time you heard a homily discussing the dangers of birth control or pre-marital sex? When is the last time you heard someone after Mass discuss the pitiful attendance that day? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a priest talk about the importance of the precepts of the Church and the need to follow Church teaching as closely as we can.

So what do the faithful who do go to mass hear instead? They hear that we should be loving, and accepting, and compassionate, and merciful, and kind, and patient, and friendly. We’re even told, by so many priests and bishops today, that we shouldn’t take the rules so seriously. We ought to live like Christ and somehow disregard some (or most) of his Church’s teachings. We aren’t told that we should also be firm, and pious, and resilient, and faithful, and that we should hold ourselves and our fellow man accountable for his actions. Nor are we instructed to remain intolerant to sinful things and resistant to the near-occasion of sin. No, it isn’t a lack of faith, but a lack of passion, or rather a lack of radical Catholicism, which translates to a lack of formation and education.

So, would that mean that people who follow the teachings of the Church closely are too Catholic? As laughable as that sounds, I hear it often. Someone will say, "you're taking the faith too seriously" or, "you're taking that teaching too literally." I think if somebody took a step back and just listened to how ridiculous that sounds, they'd blush. But in all seriousness, can you be "too" Catholic? I wonder what Christ would say if you told him, "I love you too much" or, if in confession, you told the priest that you were too sorry for your sins. Certainly, you can't be "too" Catholic. But you can be too lax in your Catholic faith, and that's the real issue here.

...And To Conclude

I’m sure most of us have heard to very typical complaint by many modern Catholics about the way the Church “used” to be. People, even priests, will say, “The Church before Vatican II was calloused and hard.” In many ways, that’s true. The pre-Vatican II Church was quite different, at least in tone, than the Church is today (in most places). People, even now, will express their discontent with all of the rules and regulations. They push for a softer, gentler, more accepting Church that isn’t so “radical” and serious. The Church, since Vatican II, has made quite a few changes with respect to those complaints. But where has it gotten us? Mass attendance is at an all-time low. Catholics are leaving the Church in droves. Religious vocations are fewer than they’ve ever been in America. Divorce rates and the use of birth control and other contraceptives have skyrocketed. Many Catholics don’t see the problem with cohabitation without marriage. It hardly seems as though things are better, and we’ve only gotten more lackadaisical, not more holy.

In all fairness, a radical Catholic is anything but evil, and if that’s true, we should all aspire for radical Catholicism, right? Catholics who not only accept, but embrace and fully live, to the fullest extent, the teachings and practices of the Church are certainly the key to a better future. It’s not easy to follow Christ. Lent shows us that. But we only have two options when faced with the truth: We must change our beliefs or change our behaviors, and my bet is that most of us don’t want to face those options. After all, who wants to change their behavior? Our problem is that we’ve started deciding for ourselves what is good and evil. Sound familiar? Let’s not eat from that tree…

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