Sense and nonsense

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Monday, 26 October 2009 13:59
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It seems that wherever you look today, you will either see the results of some opinion poll or survey, or you will be asked to participate in one. Our electronic age has made it easier for everyone to register an opinion quickly and almost effortlessly.

Of particular interest are opinion polls on religion. Recently, one appeared in the Parade magazine that comes with many of our Sunday newspapers. Titled “How Spiritual Are We?” this survey is meant to shed light on religious beliefs and practice in America today.

web mug blairThe results confirm what many other polls show, that “what Americans are doing today is separating spirituality from religion, with many people disavowing organized practice altogether while privately maintaining some form of worship. Some may be members of traditional religions but want to signal that they aren’t legalistic or rigid. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘spiritual but not religious’ can apply to someone who has combined diverse beliefs and practices into a personal faith that fits no standard definition.”

Far from being immune from this trend, it would appear that Catholics form a significant part of it. Throughout the country we see things that earlier generations of believers would find incomprehensible from the perspective of both faith and human reason.

In the sphere of religious practice, for example, many who claim to be Catholic not only fail to go to Mass on
Sunday, but reject the belief that one is obliged to worship God as part of a church community at the Sunday
Eucharist in observance of the Third Commandment. This attitude also applies to the sacrament of penance
and other religious obligations and practices that are the spiritual heart and soul of what it means to be a

When it comes to living the faith, it has to be asked how any person familiar with the foundations of Catholic belief, the interconnection of the mysteries of faith and teaching on faith and morals, could honestly claim to be Catholic and at the same time reject, and even undermine, fundamental moral truths that the Catholic faith believes are part of the deposit of faith from the Apostles.

Another phenomenon is the rise of “New Age” or other practices. Recently the U.S. Bishops’ Doctrine committee pointed out that the widespread practice of “Reiki” healing, even in Catholic institutions, is not in keeping with Catholic faith. Reiki is not based on science, but on a belief in a “universal life energy” that is supposedly subject to manipulation by the natural human power of thought and will. The response by some in the Church is to say that as long as Reiki seems to help some sick people feel better, why get excited about beliefs.

These are just examples of a change in religious thinking that raises questions not just of faith, but also of reason. Put very simply, two contradictory statements cannot both be true. There will always be people who fail to live up to the religion they profess, but it is not rationally coherent to insist that one can be a Catholic and not accept the fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith.

The question then arises: who has the authority to say what is Catholic? Even if one were to reject the answer from the Catechism that I wrote about in my last Chronicle article, what the Catechism says is a simple fact of history that goes back to the very beginning of Christianity.

This leads to an even more fundamental question about the very nature of Christianity and the Church. Is it a human project or a divine one? If it is human, it simply reflects what human beings think at any given time. If it is divine, then it is a revelation of truths about God, human life and the world that require conversion and the obedience of faith. If the core beliefs of Christianity and the Catholic Church are a human project, then they can — to use a favorite contemporary expression — be “re-defined.” If they are of divine origin, then it is sinful humanity that is meant to be re-defined.

Every pastor in the Church, and all Catholics in relation to one another, have an obligation “to speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). The ultimate judgment of every person belongs to Christ alone, whom we await “to judge the living and the dead.” In the meantime, however, as St. Paul says, we must “proclaim the Word; be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).

All of us need to pray and do penance for ourselves and others, because “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:25f ).
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 April 2010 20:07