Causes of the Notre Dame Mess

Basically, there are three groups of Catholics in this country.

There are Catholics who know, and who believe, the fullness of truth as revealed by God, broken open down the ages, and taught by the Church.

There are Catholics who know this stuff, but don’t believe it.

There are Catholics who believe, but who don’t know what they believe. They were never taught it, or they never learned or understood what they were taught.

Any of these three groups may be of any degree of fervency in following Jesus. Any of them may hold different views on Church policies and procedures, and any of them may hold any of a broad spectrum of political views. However, if you know and believe what the Church teaches, this will tend to shape and constrain your thoughts and actions even if you’re running around as a partying sinner. In the same way, it will tend to shape your political views. You won’t be exactly like other liberals or other conservatives, because in the back of your mind you will remember how things are supposed to be. Your lodestone and compass will be God Almighty, not anything else.

Now, I understand the people who’ve never been taught, as I’m still one of them to a large extent. My mother tried to make sure I got a Catholic education, and I probably got the best one available in my town in the seventies. But here’s an example. The daughter of one of the singers in my parish just had her First Communion a couple years ago, and yesterday was doing a worksheet in her Sunday RE class on “The Four Marks of the Catholic Church”: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. It was a wordscramble, not one of the great intellectual works of the Western world. But I went through years of faithful attendance at Sunday RE, then parochial school, and then CCD in junior high, without ever hearing of the Four Marks except as a phrase of the Nicene Creed. So clearly, she is getting a fuller Catholic education than I did.

In just the same way, there are plenty of Catholics out there who have never been explicitly taught, “Your religion is what you build your life on, not your politics, because God never does evil and plenty of politicians and political theorists do.” They may be aware in a general way that the Church is against abortion, but their parish has never explicitly taught them that, much less the whys and wherefores and how long this has been a big deal. There are scores of hymns which quote the Didache from AD 70 on “Like the grain that’s scattered on the hills, may we be gathered into one.” But there are no hymns on the first sentence of the Didache, “There is a way of life and a way of death,” or the way it explicitly says that abortion is part of the way of death. There is so much that these Catholics think, and have every reason to think, is undefined and fluid, and so little that they know to believe. If they don’t make bad choices with all this bad information, it’s only by grace of the Holy Spirit and the Sacraments. If they do, it’s not a big surprise. If they make up their own version of Catholicism to fill in the gaps, it’s only what could be expected.

(And indeed, I will freely admit that I’ve done stupid stuff and said appalling things in the full belief that I was doing and saying what the Church allowed, in college and at other times. In too many cases, and on serious topics which could cause someone to sin mortally, I was wrong. I literally did not know better and am not morally culpable, sure. But when I think of how I may have influenced vulnerable people wrongly or driven them away from the truth, my blood runs cold.)

So the ones I can’t understand are the ones who know better, who were taught better by somebody before they were taught wrongly, and smugly choose to disbelieve the truth and believe the lie. A great many of them are dupes, of course. Anyone can be tricked. But some of them really do know better, and yet don’t have the grace to acknowledge that they are off the reservation and doing their own thing. They insist that their teaching is real Catholic teaching, even when they have manifestly pulled it out of their own butts five minutes ago with no reference to Man, God, Reason, Common Sense, Natural Law, or the force of gravity. Their contempt for all the recent popes is a good hint for the ignorant, of course. But since some Catholics have been taught to disrespect the structure of the Church from their earliest days, it’s not as good a hint as you might think.

There’s another factor, though. Plenty of Catholics who think they know, but don’t believe, actually didn’t receive as good a Catholic education as they think they did. They never were taught except in a mechanical way, or never were taught at all. Maybe most of what they were taught just washed over them and was regarded by them as a list of things to memorize, not as anything real that would come up in life. Almost certainly, these people never managed to figure out that God is interested in them, personally. They were probably told that repeatedly and colored in all the little worksheets, but that washed over them, too. Somehow, their parents and teachers never noticed or managed to convince them. So this group is more likely to run into trouble than the folks who know they never went to Mass or RE, because they can bolster their ignorance with “I went to Catholic school” and “I was an altarboy for seven years”.

The cure is evangelism toward these folks and conversion of hearts by them, and both can only be done by the grace of God and the cooperation of His people. There’s a lot of catching up and fixing up to do.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Causes of the Notre Dame Mess

  1. Alan T.

    Here is an article that claims that there are few differences between the opinions of Catholics and non-Catholics in America on social issues: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/05/obama-bystander-at-notre-dame.html. That may be true if you consider everyone who self-identifies as Catholic. But when you click on the links to the actual polls, you find that there are large differences between observant and non-observant Catholics.

  2. Personal peeve:
    “D&D is satanic” Catholics.

    So…much…damage done…..

  3. Alan T. — Yep. But it’s hard for the media to understand that data on frequency of attending Mass is important for interpreting the results.

    Foxfier — Luckily, I never ran into Catholic versions of those folks. Plenty of other people, though. And yeah, it set up so many young kids to think Christianity was only for stupid people.

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