Every spring brings the Church a batch of shiny new Catholics, and every year I see the same list of complaints. No, not the ones about people “taking your pew.” The ones about the niggling weaknesses in the Church. Many adults who enter the Catholic Church, especially those who were members of other Christian traditions first, are confident that they have found the truth, but they see persistent problems here. For Albert Little, a newly confirmed Catholic, this takes the form of a particular list: “What Sucks about the Catholic Church.” Mildly vulgar language aside, he makes three primary points that caused me to reflect on some blind spots remaining in our faith.
The first thing: Catholics don’t take Bible reading seriously.
Many churchgoing Catholics don’t actually read actual Bibles (even apps or online texts). Too few Catholics are even “Genesis experts.” That’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to starting at page one, as Little did, and reading straight through until you give up, then starting again at page one the next time. Many people who try that only get through Genesis, over and over and over.
We hear the Bible every Sunday at Mass, but many people don’t even pay much attention to the readings as they are being proclaimed. I experienced this firsthand just a few days ago. I lector at my parish, and I had the first reading, which was from the Book of Job and was unusually short. As I finished, paused, and announced, “The Word of the Lord,” one woman with whom I was making eye contact looked down at her hymnal, startled. She’d been reading along—or at least looking along, and she must have been surprised that the reading was over so quickly.
If you preview the readings before Mass (which I suggest, among other things), those short readings are much less startling in the moment. If you take it a step further and look up the readings in context, you will probably know a good chunk of your pastor’s or deacon’s homily! Finding the readings in context is easy to do. Visit the USCCB’s Daily Readings page and click the citation at the upper left corner of each reading. You’ll drop right into the beginning of the reading, in context. Check out what Jesus was doing just before that day’s scene, or what is going on in that Old Testament book, and enrich your Bible literacy.
The second thing: Catholics go to church like it’s nothing special.
I had to laugh at Little’s wife’s description of the “miracle of the multiplying coats.” She pinned it to the recessional hymn, but I see it sooner. Far too often, my pew neighbors disappear after Communion. I’d like to think that they are so inspired by the True Presence of Christ that they’ve rushed into the street to preach the Gospel to passersby, but that’s probably not it.
Little doesn’t elaborate on why this is a pet peeve, so I’d like to offer my thoughts. It’s hypocritical to say that Mass is different than any other church service and yet treat it just the same (or worse). If we really believe that we have the fullness of the truth in the Catholic Church, we should treat every Mass like the high point of our week. Any time spent at church ought to be considered time well spent. With so many people “driving thru” Mass, it’s no wonder so many baptized Catholics don’t even bother going at all.
The third thing: Catholics leave catechesis and the New Evangelization to converts.
This one stung the most, and I was alarmed to realize how accurate an assessment it is. Think of any big name in Catholic faith formation, Bible study, or evangelization. Did that person grow up Catholic?
Scott Hahn? Jeff Cavins? Former Protestants.
Curtis Martin and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)? Inspired by Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ).
Austin’s own Jennifer Fulwiler? Former atheist.
I am sure you could name many more people who emerged from no faith, another Christian faith, or lukewarm Catholic faith into evangelical Catholicism. In many parishes, the best place to learn the “why” behind the “what” of Catholicism (or even all of the “what”) is in RCIA, which is designed only for people becoming Catholic. Shouldn’t years of effort and success in children’s and youth ministry be producing stronger cradle Catholics? What is it that keeps Protestant and evangelical churches reaching out, yet causes us to need to evangelize our own?
This isn’t the first time I’ve responded to rightful claims made against Catholics, and it probably won’t be the last. Lent may be long over, but every day is a good day to ignite your faith. Sign up for the Daily Gospel and get some Bible in your life. Make a plan to get to Mass on time on Sunday and stay all the way through. Find the gaps in your understanding of the faith and seek out answers. Volunteer in your parish in ways that educate and build up others.
What can you do to make the church shine a little bit brighter (and suck a little bit less)?