Catholics are no strangers to rules and guidelines with regard to faith and morality. In a manner of speaking, it is the strictness and the structure of the faith that attracts so many. But for all of the Catholics who love those rules, there are droves who leave the Church because of some misunderstanding of the rules, decrees, doctrines, disciplines and guidelines by which all Catholics are obliged to live their lives.
Often, it is easy to think of these things as restrictive, boring, square, you know… awful. I’ve even heard the Church referred to as “oppressive,” or “prejudiced” against people or against the way people want to live their lives. There is something fundamentally problematic with this point of view, however. It appears some people don’t want to be “restricted” by rules of faith and morals, but, at the same time, they expect others to follow them.
Many Catholics have heard it before, right? We voice our opinion about a certain way of life, or that we’re against a certain sin; we might tell somebody that we don’t believe in homosexual marriages or that abortion is intrinsically evil. Much of the time, somebody will say, “You’re a hypocrite, you sin just like everyone else!” That’s partly true. Catholics, and every other living person is a sinner. We fall short of our purpose as God’s children every day… but does that mean we shouldn’t follow the rules or that we’re hypocrites for upholding them? Of course not. That doesn’t even make sense! If there were no rules, how could we even begin to know who’s hypocritical and who is not in the first place?
Okay. So, as Catholics, we follow a set of rules… lots of them… in order to make ourselves the best, most Christ-like, most pious people that we can be. It is a life-long process that we can never perfect here on earth, let alone without rules and guidelines. Now that that’s established, I’ll get to the meat of the topic.
When a member of the Catholic Church attends Holy Mass, or when they go to the store for that matter, we are expected to live as Christ lived. We have promised, by our vows in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, and Marriage or Holy Orders, to the Eternal God that we will live as we should live; to amend our lives to reflect that of Christ’s life, and to seek sainthood in all that we do. The implementation of this promise starts in the Church, it’s practiced in the home, and, if done correctly, continues its cycle in the world.
More often than not, however, many Catholics are becoming complacent and lukewarm. The passion that was once burning within the hearts of hundreds of millions (even a billion) of Catholics is now a single ember in some of us, even some of those who are ordained. Sometimes when a person has it good, it’s easy to take it for granted, and that’s exactly what going on.
Human nature is to strive for greatness. We were created to live for the greatest being in existence, God, the King of the Universe. When put into perspective, if that’s even possible, it’s an incredible calling and an honor to boot. Unfortunately, however, we as humans tend to grow used to the things we are given and the things that we have; and we strive for things that we want. In today’s world, the Church has made many things too easily available to us. At the drop of a hat, we can receive the sacrament of Confession. What used to take months of preparation, namely matrimony, can be done in just a few sessions with the priest today. The Blessed Sacrament, Jesus Christ in the flesh, is often no longer something viewed and worshiped with extreme reverence, instead, it seems that anyone is permitted to receive the Eucharist without proper preparation… We have lost our way.
Catholics far and wide seem to have become careless in the way we worship our God, if we worship him at all. Ordained clergy of every kind are providing what the people want instead of what Christ instituted. There’s a disconnect that has been made because nobody is saying anything about it, and it needs to change.
Sacred Scripture, in reference to being lukewarm, reminds us, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:16-17).
Perhaps that’s the real problem. We’ve become so accustomed to the finer things, especially in some places in the world, like developed countries, that we are blissfully ignorant to the fact of the matter. The fact that we need God, and there’s nothing funny about hell or allowing others to go there. So, what are we to do?
It is the obligation of all Catholics to uphold the true teachings of the Church. If we believe, if we really believe that Jesus Christ started the Holy Catholic Church in order to maintain his teachings and to guide his people, then we ought to act like we believe it. That starts with a life-change and continues with guiding our brothers and sisters to encourage them to make the same changes.
We all need the Church, but we can’t all see it. It is essential that we all do our part. For most of us, the laity, it means holding our leaders accountable. Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made this abundantly clear in 1972 when he said, “Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops, and your religious act like religious.” (my emphasis added)
One of the common reasons that I believe we tend to keep our mouths shut is for fear of judgment from our peers. There is certainly the real possibility that saying something to your fellow parishioner could turn them off, even cause them to dislike you. More than that, what if word gets out that you are just some bible-thumping, holier than thou, do-no-wrong, Catholic beacon who just thinks you’re better than everyone else.
Something to keep in mind when talking about the faith and how we ought to carry ourselves (and how we ought to correct our neighbors in love) is that Christ is not going to ask us how many feelings we hurt, how many people we made upset, or even why we pushed the faith so hard. Why in the world would Christ chastise us for doing exactly what he said to do? Unless he didn’t mean it when he said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15, emphasis added)
Sounds to me like Christ Jesus is pretty clear. To paraphrase, “Go out and tell the good news to these people. If its rejected, it won’t end well for them.” The obligation is to tell our fellow man the truth, to correct our brothers and sisters, our priests, our Bishops, everyone. And if they reject you, if they get upset with you and don’t want to listen, if they cast you out, then it becomes their problem. We can only claim ignorance and naivete when we don’t know the correct route; once we do, we become culpable.