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Lawrence P. Grayson

Being Catholics in Today’s Society

    America is in transition from being a nation in which Christian principles guide public actions to one in which religion has no place in the public square, from a country where governmental policies allow free expression of religion to one in which government can force individuals and institutions to violate Church teachings. In 1965, there were 10,600 Catholic elementary schools, the Legion of Decency, Hello Dolly on Broadway, and singer Julie Andrews; today, there are 5,200 Catholic elementary schools, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, The Vagina Monologues, and Lady Gaga. Culture, wither thou goest?

     Catholics, who constitute 20.8 percent of the population and occupy many positions of power and influence, could fill a moral need in American society. Currently, 31.4 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress identify themselves as Catholic, as do five of the eight sitting justices of the Supreme Court, many Cabinet members and nominees, and numerous leaders in business, industry and the media. Allied with like-minded Christians, Catholics could have a significant role in returning this nation to its founding values. But it is unlikely to happen.

     Since the end of World War II, Catholics have made a decisive effort to blend into the American culture and advance in society. They have been highly successful, but at the cost of subordinating their religious beliefs to the secular tenets of society. Today, their public stances on moral issues are indistinguishable from those of non-Catholics. Nay, as a group, their views are frequently more in opposition to Catholic dogma than are those of their Protestant brethren.

     Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia is a prime example. Raised as a Catholic, his votes as a senator supporting abortion earned him perfect ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro- Choice America and a rating of zero from the National Right to Life Committee. While campaigning to be vice president in 2016, Kaine had the hubris to say that although his position in favor of same-sex marriage was "at odds with the current doctrine of the [Catholic] Church that I still attend," the Church would someday adopt his view. Several bishops soon thereafter issued statements reaffirming the Church’s immutable position on marriage.

     The senator’s opposition to Church teaching is not unique. The 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study found that among self-identified Catholics, 48 percent believe that abortion should be legal in most cases; 57 percent favor same-sex marriage; and 70 percent accept homosexuality. Further, when religious liberty conflicts with LGBT demands, as experienced in wedding-related businesses, 57 percent of Catholics say the business should be required to provide services at same-sex marriages. This fraction of Catholics is higher than the 49 percent of the public-at-large. April 2017

     Too many Catholics, unfortunately, do not believe the dogmas of the Faith they claim. In the Baptismal vows which are renewed each Easter and in the Apostles Creed taught in all Catholic schools and repeated each time the Rosary is prayed, one proclaims, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” At every Mass, the Nicene Creed is said, expressing comparable declarations about the existence of God and heaven. Yet, the Pew study found that among Catholics only 64 percent are absolutely certain God exists, and another 27 percent are fairly certain; the remainder either are not sure or do not believe. Similarly, only 85 percent of Catholics believe in heaven and 63 percent in hell. One questions whether these people understand what they are saying or are simply parroting words.

     One reason for this lack of certainty is that too many Catholics are lax in practicing their Faith. CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) data show that only 23 percent of Catholics attend Mass every Sunday; another 21 percent attend at least once a month and the remainder seldom or never attend.

     It is not surprising that Catholics who regularly attend Mass believe in Church teachings in greater numbers than those who do not. Yet, even among those who faithfully attend, there is doubt about so central a dogma as the Eucharist, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Catholic dogma holds that the Eucharist is the true presence -- body and blood, soul and divinity -- of Jesus Christ. But, according to a 2015 Knights of Columbus/Marist poll, only two-thirds of practicing Catholics (65 percent) agree with the teaching, while 64 percent of non-practicing Catholics say the Eucharist is merely a symbol.

     When such a large portion of Catholics does not believe in the most basic doctrines of the Faith, there is a significant problem in catechesis. Today, one-in-eight American adults is a former Catholic. Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7 percent) say they were raised Catholic, but only 20.8 percent still identify with the Faith. The hemorrhaging among Catholics is significant. While the total number of Catholics has held relatively steady, it is due principally to Hispanic immigration, not births or conversions. The Pew study found that for every two U.S. adults who convert to Catholicism from another religious tradition, 13 adults leave the Catholic Faith. No other religious group in the study has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.

     Before Catholics can have a notable effect on society, they themselves must know the Faith and live according to its teachings. There is a need, even among those who faithfully attend Mass, for catechesis so that they, in turn, can teach the Faith to their children and grandchildren. Then, the faithful must evangelize among the Catholic population-at-large, before they can successfully proclaim the Faith to non-Catholics and affect society as a whole.

     The task of changing society is daunting, but not unattainable. With prayer, sacrifice and living in accord with God’s will, it can be done. As St. Matthew (19:26) wrote, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

     What is your council doing to help your members and their families?

Vivat Jesus!

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Published April 2017


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