The Dropouts

In 08 Musings by Jack Reagan on 2011/10/22 at 9:11 AM

Pollsters who deal in religious topics tell us that only about 21% of those who call themselves “Catholic” attend Sunday Mass weekly.  They tell us further that Catholics and non-Catholics agree at about the same rate on such matters as abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception and other issues.  They tell us further that Catholics in general (with exceptions, of course) have a rather hazy view and understanding of basic doctrine. For example, only 37% believe that Christ is really present in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Obviously and objectively, such persons cannot be called Catholics in good standing.  (We must always leave the ultimate moral judgments to God.)  How did this state of affairs in the Church come about?  How did we descend from relative respect 50-60 years ago to being frequent objects of ridicule in the media?  How is that so many “Catholics” risk the wrath of God?  There is no one satisfactory answer.  Many factors have contributed to this malaise in the Church, and one could debate the causes forever.

In light of this, let me suggest a trio of interwoven and interconnected reasons for abandoning the Church.  In each lapsed Catholic one reason will dominate and the others may follow right behind it.  Regardless of which reason is dominant, it will usually have a causal effect on the other two.

The first is IGNORANCE.  It is a lack of knowledge of both Catholic doctrine and Tradition. (Note the Capital T.)  Also, respect and decorum about religious things will be a low priority.  We used to have a term, “Sunday best”, referring to clothes worn to Mass.  Nowadays, the Sunday attire too often cannot be distinguished from any non-serious wardrobe….men and boys in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Women and girls in apparel they would not wear to meet anyone of high rank.  Is this because there is not an awareness or strong belief in the Real Presence in the tabernacle?  It used to be called a venial sin to talk and laugh needlessly in the church proper.  If that is still the case, many either don’t know or don’t care.  The problem is that often others come to church before Mass to pray or just reflect on holy things, but are distracted by the noise of talkers.

There are other instances of ignorance in the Church. One is the proverbial erroneous idea that once a person is Confirmed, he or she no longer needs to do more than the minimum, if that, to still be called “Catholic.”  There is little interest and response to adult religion classes.  I remember a situation in which a group of 60 people were invited to join a religion class for six weeks.  The average attendance was six and only one person attended every class.  It has been said that Catholic publishing is waning because Catholics are not interested in reading Catholic books and magazines.

One could cite other examples, I suppose, but in all this ignorance, when it is deliberate, it deprives the person of knowing the value of what he should, but often does not, know.  How can we know the eternal advantages of the Church if we know little about it.  We can’t learn the value of anything unless we know what it is.  Remember . . . ignorance is not genetic; it is a deliberate choice.   And, ignorance about important aspects of life has baneful consequences.

Does this mean we should have a degree in theology?  Not at all.  It does mean that we should understand and know the significance of the articles of the Creeds and honestly try to observe the Church’s moral law.  We know what Our Lord thought of those who had knowledge but failed to put it into practice, namely, the Scribes and Pharisees.

The second general reason is INDIFFERENCE, which also involves ignorance.

We begin to believe, along with the culture we live in, that religion is optional.  It is like a hobby, personal to a person and unrelated to his “real” life.  You become your own Pope deciding what to believe or not to believe, what moral code suits your whims, what your life is all about.  The culture tells us that all religions are equally worthwhile while ignoring the blatant contradictions among them.  (Contradiction is the enemy of reason.)  There are those who believe (conveniently) that God is so good that He will never send anyone to Hell, that all will get to Heaven eventually.  (Our Lord warned about Hell more than He talked about Heaven.)

When one lives in a culture that places little or no value in religion, tells us that life is a fast trip to oblivion and that we must get what we can while we are here, it is easy to fall into indifference to a way of life that promises happiness only after death, particularly when it is at variance with cultural standards.  The Romans said it:  “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”  They meant, get it now because this is all there is.  The problem is that our culture is simply wrong in its outlook.  It cares nothing about where we came from, what we are supposed to be doing here and where we are going.  Yet, these are most important questions each one must answer.  A wrong answer will lead to a total loss regardless of whether you believe it or not.

The third general cause is IMMORALITY or habits of sin.  (This refers to mortal sin.)

Many years ago, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote that no one ever left the Church because he or she reasoned his or her way out; it really can’t be done. He said the ultimate reason was some sin(s) that they did not want to give up.  Whenever someone tells you he or she left the Church because of the clerical scandal, or some other “offense”, these are often merely excuses to avoid having to face their own immorality which they prefer to hang onto or simple do not want to face.

There will always be man-made problems in the Church.  There always have been because people are affected by Original Sin which means that no one is perfect or good all the time.  The miracle of the Church is that the human side is offset by the divine element, the Holy Spirit that has enabled the Church to survive all this time.

Sin is not only made up of actions or omission of actions, but sin also lies in attitudes.  Our Lord said that there is such a thing as sinful beliefs and attitudes. One aspect of this is condoning the sins of others. A woman may never choose to have an abortion, but if she believes it to be morally acceptable, then she is entertaining an attitude or belief that is wrong.  Another may not have any intention of entering a same-sex marriage, but if that person approves it in principle, then that person is subscribing to an attitude that is morally wrong. If a person votes for candidates who support immorality when other candidates are available who do not support immorality, it is probably wrong to vote for the former.  To support in any way that which is contrary to natural law (which ultimately is Divine Law) is to have a sinful attitude and to be at variance with the Church’s moral doctrine.  And, that’s a very short step away from being a Church-dropout.

We live in a difficult and dangerous time, probably the worst of any time in history.  It is difficult because there are so many false philosophies out there trying to weave a siren spell on the unaware and the ignorant.  It is dangerous, in a moral sense, because at no time in human history have there been so many means to sin in thought, word and deed.  Yet, in spite of this, we are still told by God that sin is still an abomination to Him and that we are to avoid it, difficult as it may be. The only way to avoid sin is through the Church, its sacramental system and divine liturgy, all given to us by Christ Himself without Whom forgiveness and reconciliation to God would be an impossibility.  It is Christ’s Church that gives the sincere believer the means to overcome a culture of sin. But, if you are a Church-dropout, then you’ve closed yourself off from the very institution given to you, to us all, by Christ as a refuge from sin, a bulwark of the Faith and a vessel of Grace.

I think one of the most terrifying verses in Scripture is one that quotes Christ as saying: “Because you have denied me before men, I will deny you before My Father.”

What, O Dropout, can you possibly say in defense of yourself?

  1. God converts hearts, and “religion” has nothing to do with it, as per John 3:7-8. I was a Catholic dropout, and a Church of Christ dropout, but my heart was converted to Christ, 12 years ago, (October, 1999), without priest or minister….without church building or doctrine…but alone with Almighty God, in my yard. THAT changed the course of my heart, my life, and my church affiliation… and I will never go back, because God has promised to keep me sealed for the day of redemption! And God doesn’t lie!

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