March 24, 2009

Initiatory Dissonance

At this time of year we make a big deal about the Sacraments of Initiation, and as well we should. After all, it is the new life of the Sacraments that communicates to us the life and presence of the Risen Lord. In our Baptism into his death and Resurrection and by receiving his own paschal sacrifice into ourselves in Holy Communion, we become the risen Body of Christ in and for the world. So of course this time of year is all about those who are preparing for their initiation at the Great Vigil. Likewise we look forward with joy to the happy rites of First Holy Communion day and Confirmation night.

But in all of this there is a dissonance that gnaws at us. If the sacraments contain such tremendous grace and are such a big deal, how come the majority of fully initiated Catholics (at least in this part of the world) are not practicing their faith? In my own ministry I can't help but notice that a large portion of the babies I baptize are not seen in church again. The same goes for Confirmation. In a very tired lament, it is noted that what is supposed to be the beginning of a new, fully initiated Christian life is often, in practice, the end.

So what gives?

I'm supposed to be a publicly consecrated Christian and a steward of the sacraments, so whenever I get a chance to get some insight into this issue I try to take it for the sake of my own preaching and efforts at witness. Sometimes I get a friendly chance to ask non-practicing Catholics about their faith. It might be someone who was elected to be a sacramental sponsor, but who can't be immediately certified for the ministry because they are not themselves making the journey on which they now hope to accompany someone. It might be a relative of someone for which we are preparing a funeral liturgy.

I'm often quite shocked by what I hear when I ask folks like these about their faith and beliefs. On the one hand, almost all can easily identify a belief in a benevolent and somewhat personal deity. But many, when asked what they believe, do not easily find their way to Jesus Christ. A large portion seem to be completely unaware of the divinity of Christ, and still more do not seem to have any practical sense of the Blessed Trinity.

So no wonder they don't go to church; if I didn't believe in the divinity of Christ, I wouldn't bother get up to attend the memorial of his sacrifice. A lot of ordinary people make sacrifices, and good for them. But it's no reason to get up on Sunday. And If I didn't believe it is the Spirit that prays within us, praying through Jesus to the Father, I wouldn't bother with prayer either.

So a very hard question remains: How is that someone can grow up Catholic, come to be a fully initiated Christian through the Sacraments instituted by Christ and flowing from the power of his Resurrection, but be more or less totally innocent of the central confession of Christianity, whether it be Peter's version, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" or Thomas's, "My Lord and my God!"

So, what is going wrong such that the point of the whole thing seems to get lost?


Pia said...

Hi Fr. Pia here...I moved my blog to a new wordpress address. hope you'll stop by!

jake said...

It is very refreshing to hear someone talk frankly about this. I think maybe this is linked to your earlier comments on prayer. It seems to be difficult in our culture to explain to someone how to pray to God and why it is the most important thing. I have real difficulty explaining this to people myself. I sort of stutter out with "it is just part of me", which I think other people write off as the general brain washing I've got into.
I'm going for my first confession on Monday. I hope to be recieved into the Church at Easter. I find your blog very useful.

Lee Strong said...

I used to be a Catholic journalist. I don't know how many times we would publish an article on, say, Church rules about weddings, and three months later we'd get complaints about never publishing anything about Church rules concerning weddings.

We can preach and preach and write and write, but if people are not paying attention, if it does not relate to them at that moment, if they are too distracted by everything going on around them and, sadly, sometimes by the temptations out there and within themselves, they do not seem to hear.

I know I have my own checkered past in this area.

But "seem" is the key word.

Because what we write and say may plant some seeds that will eventually grow. We just have to keep scattering the seed and trust in God.

Brother Charles said...

Pia: All set!

Jake: Congratulations on your new life! May the Word dwell in your richly.

Lee: It's true what you say...attention as a virtue is sparse and precious in our culture. I often tell people that one of the real gifts of trying to live a life of prayer is a kind of mindfulness that allows us to live above (or below! pick the metaphor that works for you!) the din of distraction.