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Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Culture of Lukewarm

There's a phenomena that is very disturbing to me, and it SHOULD be disturbing to us all.

This morning, when Mass ended, as soon as Father walked by, a woman sitting a few rows up and across the aisle from me glanced over her shoulder, just waiting...and surely enough, she and her daughter darted from the pew, not even bothering to bow or even genuflect. And once this began, it continued, more and more people leaving Mass as quickly as they could, not even seeming to realize that the King of Kings was present, not giving Him another thought.

Maybe it's unfair for me to assume they don't know He is present, but then again; we tend to pay attention to those things we think are important. Is it fair to suggest, that, given the lack of reverence, perhaps people don't realize that Christ is Truly Present in the tabernacle? I won't say it's a deliberate snub towards Our Lord; the behavior of all too many Sunday-Mass-attending Catholics simply unfortunately suggests that if they have any faith at all, it is lukewarm and it is something they do not understand.

I say this because even a small understanding of what happens at Mass and WHOM is present is a life-changing realization, and the first thing we tend to do once we realize that Jesus is really there is to do things outwardly as a signal of what has gone on inside of us. As in genuflect, or bow, or make the sign of the cross. It may be small, and doing this might make us feel weird if we have had this conversion experience; for we might wonder what our friends or family will think of us if we suddenly realize that we've been ignoring Christ and experience even a small change in behavior that signals an even greater change in our hearts.

But, I have learned, it's not easy to be Catholic, even in a Catholic church! Those who actively pursue holiness are often regarded as being "odd" or "a fanatic" or even "holier-than-thou", a catch-all phrase that encompasses all the disdain and disrespect in the world. God forbid that someone receive that ultimate insult!

It is for this reason I question why people don't genuflect; is it that they don't believe or don't understand, or is it that they are afraid of being seen as "holier-than-thou"?

I suspect that the answer leans more towards the former, although I'm certain there are a great number of Catholics afraid to practice their faith outwardly, completely suppressed by the culture of secularism that surrounds them and tells them (and all of us!) that "faith is personal".

Yes, faith IS personal...and it is also social. For if the social aspect isn't expressed, then faith dies from simple disobediece to Our Lord's commission to us spread the gospel. If we're afraid to even genuflect because of what other Catholics might call us, then how can we possibly take the next step and be willing to verbally proclaim Christ in even the most mundane ways?

We have a problem in the Church, and the problem comes from within, thanks to pressure from without. I learned a harsh lesson last fall, when giving a talk to people who claim to be good Catholics; "good Catholics" become VERY agitated VERY quickly when in a Catholic Church being provided with Catholic teaching by another Catholic. There is a VERY dangerous culture even within the Church that suggests that those who dare to believe what the Church teaches and follow what has always been true, and even worse, to PROCLAIM it, that those people must be silenced as quickly as possible.

The culture of the lukewarm is in charge. The "lukewarm" are those who claim to be "good Catholics" because they attend Mass "most Sundays and some Holy Days if convenient", send their children to Catholic school, support the school and church sometimes and if it's fun (and convenient socially!), but pick and choose what they want to believe. Because of their high status as "church-going Catholics" they also get to sit in judgment and gossip over those Catholics who spend more time working hard to BE Catholic as opposed to talking about or thinking about what good Catholics they are.

The Lukewarm Catholics are those who work hard to suppress any good Catholic teaching, for they have become comforted by the secular status-quo; if someone or something calls to their attention that they have to do more than just show up when they feel like it, they can't bear the discomfort. And, as it is natural to seek to escape that which causes pain, they first try to deny the Truth. When they can't deny it, they attack the messenger; for that messenger MUST be quashed! They seek to discredit, to villify, and will go so far as to outright lie about what was said and how it was said.

For, you see, the culture of lukewarmness must be preserved at all costs!

In reality, most Lukewarm Catholics aren't so vile; most simply disregard those things with which they have chosen to disagree, and refuse to be affected by what happens at Mass. They can't be bothered to sign up for Adoration, for...why would they? What a waste of time! To sit for an hour in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament? That's for religious and fanatics!

And so they go about their lives, not even considering that they should be genuflecting when they arrive at Mass and when they leave...for they don't even realize Jesus is Present. They don't go to Confession because they think Vatican II "did away" with the sacrament.

There is only one way to TRULY fight the culture of unabashadly Catholic. Genuflect. Make the Sign of the Cross. Go to Confession...frequently. Let Christ into your life and your soul, and let Him change you. Quit worrying about what anyone else thinks...if they have a problem with YOUR seeking holiness, they truly only have a problem with a lack of their own. Ignore them and let them's God's place to change them. It's YOUR place to be a humble example and place your focus on Christ, not your social circle.

We also ALL have the responsibility to educate ourselves; we all have questions. The bad news is that the Church is over 2,000 years old, with theology that goes back to the beginning of time. The GOOD news is that all of the questions we have, in reality, have been asked before. The most common questions are those too many people are afraid to ask...yet if they did, they would be changed forever.

There's a lot of fear out there among the Lukewarms. It's ALL ABOUT fear for them; about what their friends and family will think, about having to change, about those questions they have about the answers they think they should know...but have never been taught.

Catechesis needs to happen, but we have a couple of lost generations out there, adults running around knowing that they should go to church, wanting to raise their children Catholic, but having NO IDEA what it really MEANS to be Catholic! The result is a sort of spiritual paralysis as these adults struggle to live a life of faith in a culture that says faith (and life!) has no value.

Speak to anyone who works in a church; they'll lament the vast majority of parishioners who refuse to get involved, who refuse to engage in conversation, who refuse to attend events. They may be fine people, pillars of the community, wonderful parents...who have placed their souls in the backseat. Because that's what the world says to do. And so they show up to Mass on occasion. Or maybe they are the type to bring their children for the sacraments, and maybe for the major holidays, but otherwise, they refuse to darken the door of the church.

It's an outright battle for the souls of Catholics (and I know it happens in all the Christian religions) and those on the frontlines are taking a beating most people can't even imagine. How do we inspire conversion in those we love, those who can't seem to break out of the relativism and apathy that holds them bound? Some get ticked off and leave the Church if they are provided with authentic teaching. Some get ticked off and, through argument and discussion, eventually convert. Others simply disconnect and practice their faith with all the passion and understanding of a headless zombie.

I don't know what the answers are; I'm constantly wracking my brain trying to figure out how to reach people through the barriers they've put up, and even the most gently phrased teachings have placed me on the wrong end of a marginally-Catholic person's ire. And I'll do it again, over and over again, because at least anger is a reaction - anything other than that blasted apathy that grips so many self-proclaimed Catholics!

I can't help but think of the early martyrs, and all the martyrs throughout the history of the Church, even those of today. They were and are Catholics like all of us, but whose practice of the faith led and leads to death in horrible ways. They were men and women who stepped forward even as their bishops were torn apart by lions, and there, in the face of that reality, in that very presence, they were not afraid to declare themselves to be Christians and follow the bloody footprints into the arena.

Many of us fear the rolling eyes and deprecating comments of our contemporaries, and yet...our ancestors didn't even fear the ripping, tearing, bloody-gory deaths that came just from CLAIMING to be Christian. Never mind what happened to those actually CAUGHT IN THE ACT of practicing their faith!

I'm going to make a bold statement, one I thought I would never make, but I'm gonig to preface it with a brief exposition. Firstly, I can tell you right now our country is headed to hell in a handbasket called "secularism". We sacrifice our faith on the altar of political correctness, and we continue to give quiet obesience to those who desire to quash the voice of Christianity. When we do speak, we speak through the political arena where compromise is the game and the only definition of that word means "leave God's laws at the door". Thus, it is no wonder that the secularism of our culture has fed the lukewarmness of "practicing Catholics."

When I consider where we're going and the state of Catholicism in this country, I think that maybe the BEST thing to happen is for the charismatic political candidates win. Let them win. I won't vote for them, but if they win, I hope they bring about an even greater persecution of the Church. I think ONLY if the practice of our faith is punished will the zombic-majority be converted; when their friends are imprisoned for speaking their beliefs, when priests are imprisoned for preaching the gospel, when Catholic teachers are imprisoned for daring to suggest that marriage is between a man and a woman...then people will open their eyes. When the housewife next door is forced to send her children to a substandard-school that teaches things contrary to her values, or when the everyday-dad loses his house to legal fines for simply speaking to a group in a church somewhere about objective truth...when people can't go to Mass anymore because churches will have to close due to a loss of tax-exempt status, and the practice of all Christian religions resembles those of China....then people will convert.

I hope we get the leadership that feeds the Church once again through the innocent blood of the martyrs.

Do I think I'd be strong enough to be one of those martyrs? I don't know. I hope so. Because I think it's coming and those of us who believe all that the Church teaches and try to embrace it, and seek to preach it and live it...I think we're going to suffer. And maybe that needs to happen.

Nothing in this world is permanent; we are here in order to prepare for eternity. Let's get on with it!


Anonymous said...

Adoro, how sadly true! Let me tell you my story. I live in a very affluent area west of Montreal, Canada, where the Catholic faith is very much a "social" thing. People send their children to First Confession and First Communion classes, go through the ceremonies, and then -- nothing! I was organist at my own parish for 20 years, and saw some things that really should not have happened. One example: a former priest who left and married, and worked as a teacher at our local Catholic high school. His wife, a charming and kind woman, died a few years ago after a long illness. A year or so later, he began dating a much younger divorcee with 4 kids and behaving like a love-stricken teenager. They eventually married in a lavish Nuptial Mass -- it turned out later that she hadn't even been comfirmed! To make a long story short ( and believe me, there's lots more), our pastor let all this happen. When I spoke out against it, I was met with a "so what"? or, "that's your problem". As well, during my time as organist, a conflict developed between me and the two choir directors, both socially prominent and (as we used to say) "worldly". One's an actress, the other a bit of a social climber. Anyway, their musical choices got more and more secular, and we often had words over that -- God forgive me, I often "lost it" in frustration because they didn't seem to want to change. Last October, I gave notice of retirement, effective New Years' Day, but by Christmas they'd done nothing about finding a replacement. So I said I'd stick around till they did. At the very first Mass back after Christmas vacation, I played the "wrong" Gospel Acclamation -- we got into an argument after Mass, and that night one of the directors called to say they'd made "other arrangements" and wouldn't be needing my services. So instead of a retirement party, all I got was a gift still in its shopping bag, no card -- and technically speaking I retired, but feel like I got fired. Again, our pastor did nothing. A couple days later, I went to see him and he said he "didn't ask any questions". I told him he should. Even after 6 months, the pain is still there. I actually stayed away from Mass altogether for a while, but then went to Confession and started attending Mass again at another parish. The pain is still there, though, and it's hard to believe that NO ONE from the other parish has called or asked about me. It's as if I'd never existed. They did hire a new organist, but the choir has dwindled to fewer than 15 members. I pray often about this, but I guess a lot of people, even after years of faithful service, have found themselves in this situation. Right now it feels like being in a desert. Oh, BTW, my former pastor once said that "whenever anything comes from Rome, we close our eyes". Doesn't sound very Catholic to me. Apologies for the length of this -- but I bet you'll get other comments in a similar vein.

Christina said...

"I think that maybe the BEST thing to happen is for the charismatic political candidates win. Let them win. I won't vote for them, but if they win, I hope they bring about an even greater persecution of the Church."

I was debating with a friend about politics a while back and actually ended with almost the exact same line.

"Do I think I'd be strong enough to be one of those martyrs? I don't know. I hope so."

I used to think I'd be able to withstand torture and martyrdom, but a few weeks ago I had a nightmare that changed my mind. I awoke in the middle of the night and suddenly was faced with an unspeakable horror that terrified me to the bone. I knew that I needed to accept this, "kiss the cross," but the fear was overwhelming. I tried again and again, but my prayer was more of "No, not that!" and not "thy will be done." I ended crying and simply asking that the Lord prepare me for whatever comes my way. That when evils come that He'll provide me with the graces I need to face them, for I know I cannot do this on my own.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and right on the mark. This must be the same experience in many parishes. One thing I have noticed though is that there are some fellow parishoners who think the same way and you just need to find them by hinting around and asking the right questions. There are also some who can be educated slowly (emphasis on slowly) to come onto your side. What makes it very difficult is when the priest is lukewarm as Anonymous' story points out. (Thank you Anonymous for your story and your service to the Church, you may not be appreciated in this world but you are in the one we will inherit)
In my own situation it is very hard to be humble and patient. I am easily frustrated and desire to leave my parish for a more orthodox one which there are a couple to choose from in the area. But I have yet to get my marching orders from the One who is in charge. However, when I look back to when we first joined this parish I can see some improvement (brick by brick as Fr. Z says). In my own spiritual life I can see a great improvement, part of which can be attributed to lessons in humility learned through mistakes made in dealing with my parish.
Anyway, it is nice to see others think the same way and put it so well in the written word.

Anonymous said...

For those upset with their parish and/or their pastor, I say document! My pastor is pro-gay marriage, women priests, the whole nine yards. I collected his statements and sent them to the bishop, citing the Catechism. He's had his first warning. You can google canon law provisions to bolster arguments. You don't have to accept white martyrdom as the outcome without trying legal (church legal) options first. Write the bishop. If you're lucky, you may get action.


Adoro said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I'm blessed to be in a wonderful parish (with really BAD and heretical music, ironically...anon, please come and displace our MD...our Pastor will welcome you!)....but things are coming.

As I told a friend last night, I'm not a conspiracy theorist...most of them are nutjobs. I'm just looking at what's happening here and what has happened in's a strong indication of what is happenening already and will happen here in the US.

Document, sure...but if God is calling us to martyrdom of any sort, documentation will only help future archeologists as they sort our our bones. Let us document. And use pottery in doing so for that'll last longer than the celluloid and paper that are our common methods.

Unknown said...

I suggest you read Michael O'Brien's books (Ignatius Press). They are eye-openning, but hopeful also.

Adoro said...

Thanks, Jim...I read them about 2 years ago.

Anonymous said...

It is for this reason I question why people don't genuflect; is it that they don't believe or don't understand, or is it that they are afraid of being seen as "holier-than-thou"?

Part of it is simple ignorance. They haven't been taught the how and the why of genuflecting.

When I was a young boy, I was taught to genuflect when I entered the pew. I was never taught why, I was taught to genuflect toward the front of the church toward what I assumed was the altar.

30 year later, as my faith was maturing and deepening, I understood that you were to genuflect toward the real precence of Christ housed in the tabernacle.

At that time, our tabernacle was in a side chapel. The most remote and darkest part of the church. I began turning toward the chapel and genuflecting (to the odd stares from some of the parishioners). A couple even asked me why I did it, and I used it as a "teaching moment".

Fairly recently, our tabernacle was moved front and center, and I am now able to genuflect toward the front of the church again. I also genuflect when I pass before the tabernacle (when I move from the choir area to the ambo to cantor and back).

Some priests even have this "spirit" of Vatican II idea that we no longer need to get down on our knees (or one knee) before the King of Heaven. At a confirmation, I actually saw a priest walk between the tabernacle and the "people's table" and bow to the table with his back to the tabernacle!

The education of modern Catholics is going to be a long process, sometimes painful, but worthwhile if even one is brought to the fullness of his or her faith by the humble outward signs of piety from a true believer.

Joyful Catholic said...

DITTO ADORO! You wrote:
"There is only one way to TRULY fight the culture of unabashadly Catholic. Genuflect. Make the Sign of the Cross. Go to Confession...frequently. Let Christ into your life and your soul, and let Him change you. Quit worrying about what anyone else thinks..."

I am "odd" and am getting used to it! ha ha : ) I also wonder why people are so in a HURRY to leave Mass. Some are there in the early a.m. when we usually go, and they're mostly retired, or at least there are many gray heads. Perhaps they have to leave for work, but some are also the same ones who "speed" through the prayers to beat every one, including the priest to the end... as if it's going to get them out even faster? Sheesh. Oh well. We're one mixed bag of mixed nuts in this glorious Church aren't we? I had a strange experience one day. To my right was a man who was praying aloud v..e..r..y s..l..o..w..l..y and behind me was the Evelyn Wood of "speed pray-ers!" It was one weird vortex.

ignorant redneck said...

"Being neither hot nor cold...I will spew you out of my mouth". Rev.

I think that we soon will all feel the lash. And, i do believe in a conspiracy. It's just not a human conspiracy, and this particular one began in the garden of Eden.

I worry a lot about my kids and Grandkids.

Oz said...

We were leaving St. Patricks (Church Hill, Sydney) and the priest at the end of Mass had left the Real Presence (in a monstrance) on the Altar for adoration. When leaving the pew, both my kids (8 and 12 yrs) genuflected with both knees (kneeling in the aisle) without prompting. A kindly old lady told them they only needed to go down on one knee at which point Master 12 said that it was two knees when Jesus was on the altar and one knee when he was in the tabernacle. She smiled at me and said something like "kids will be kids". I left the pew and also knelt down so she hurried out of the church....

Reminds me of a story about the Real Presence - a Catholic and a Protestant are talking about their differences:
C: One difference is that we believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.
P: You don't really believe that.
C: Yes we do.
P: No you don't.
C: Of course we do - the Church teaches it.
P: If you truly believed that Christ was physically present in the church in front of you, you would never get off your knees....