Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thoughts on CARA Study and Cafeteria Catholicism

Ok, I know I said that I would talk about the Corpus Christi procession in this post, but I changed my mind. Today I was thinking more about the CARA study on the Eucharist. Because such large numbers of people don't attend mass regularly each week, it is likely that most of those people do not believe that intentionally missing mass to be a mortal sin. In addition, of those who don't attend mass regularly each week, many don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which they see as only symbolic. Therefore, it seems to me that one of the indications of the CARA study is that choosing to reject one teaching of the Church generally leads to rejecting other teachings. Were I a betting man, as they say, I would wager that one who doesn't attend mass weekly and doesn't believe in the Real Presence would also not feel obligated to follow the Church's teachings on sexual morality, especially the ban on contraception.

Many have styled this approach to Church doctrine as "Cafeteria Catholicism." As with the a la carte selection of a cafeteria, you get to choose what you want. Great idea for a restaurant. Terrible idea for a church, especially if you believe that church to have been founded by the Son of God.

The problem with Cafeteria Catholicism is that it operates on the presumption that God does not make any demands on us. It assumes that we are never asked to do very difficult things, the purpose for which we may not always understand.

I was reading the book of Jonah today. God asked Jonah to do something he did not want to do: go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance to the Gentiles. Jonah was a religious person. But he did not want to do this. So, "Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3). After a storm threatened the ship Jonah was sailing on, he allowed himself to be thrown into the raging sea, found himself in the belly of a great fish, then was spit out onto land. Then Jonah sings a hymn of praise to God, and proceeds to finally do what God asked him to do: go to Nineveh.

Then, of course, things get more peculiar. Jonah preaches repentance to the people of Nineveh, who then repent immediately. But rather than be content that he had fulfilled God's call, Jonah is angry because the people of Nineveh did repent. Jonah's anger gets back to a similar reason for his first resistance to God. When God asks Jonah why he is angry, Jonah replies: "I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and repentest of evil" (Jonah 4:2).

You see, Jonah didn't think he needed to obey God at first. When he does obey God, then he is angry about God being merciful and loving to Gentiles. Jonah thought he could pick and choose what kind of God he would serve. But that isn't serving God; it is serving ourselves.

Today's second reading at mass was from the letter of Paul to the Romans where he speaks of Abraham's faith (Romans 4:18-25). I thought about how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one who was supposed to be the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham for untold descendants. Abraham could not see how God's promise could come true if he killed Isaac. It seemed to be against the Fifth Commandment. Abraham certainly could not see how these actions would foreshadow Christ's Passion. Despite not understanding why God asked him to do such a thing, Abraham was willing to obey God, and he was rewarded for his obedience. Abraham accepted all that was asked of him; he did not pick and choose. And he found closeness to God as a result.

I was listening to EWTN Catholic Radio the other day, and there was someone on who spoke about the cafeteria approach to Catholicism. The speaker teaches the faith to young people, and he has them blow up balloons and write "Magisterial Authority" on the top of the balloon. Then he has them write various doctrines of the Church elsewhere on the balloon (all-male ordination, ban on contraception, social teaching, etc.). Then he has them choose one of the doctrines to eliminate and prick it with a pin. Of course the entire balloon bursts. Another example the speaker tells young people is to consider what we would think of a husband or wife who said that he or she would be faithful 364 days a year. "It's only one day" of infidelity. And yet, of course, the one day would severely damage, if not destroy, the entire relationship.

I remember once overhearing a conversation with two co-workers a number of years ago. One woman talked about how she did not agree with all the doctrines of the Church. The other person, a man who was a Christian of another faith, said, "So, you're what, 70% Catholic?" At the time, I was a Cafeteria Catholic myself, and although I did not chime in, I recall thinking that "he just didn't understand." It was the woman and myself who just didn't understand.

I don't perfectly live the teachings of the Church, nor do I perfectly do what God requires of me. As we learned in today's Gospel reading: "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do" (Mathew 9:12). But being a Cafeteria Catholic is like ignoring part of the doctor's advice. If, after surgery, you are told to take an antibiotic and avoid lifting anything heavy for the next next six weeks, and then you choose to take the antibiotic but ignore the advice about lifting heavy objects, you may tear open stitches from the surgery. If you decide to avoid lifting heavy objects but refuse to take the antibiotic, you may find yourself with an infection. Our Divine Physician cannot heal us if we don't listen to all he has to say to us.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

CARA Study of the Sacraments - Belief in the Real Presence

It's been too long, but it's good to be back. Let's take a final look at the CARA study of the sacraments as it relates to the Eucharist. This time we will examine attitudes towards the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

While the overall numbers are distressing, again we see that regular mass attendance makes the difference.

  • In 2001, 63% of those surveyed said that the sentence "Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist" best described their belief. That number dropped to 57% in 2008.
  • In 2001, 37% agreed with the statement "Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present." This number rose to 43% in 2008.

Therefore, more than 4 of 10 Catholics reject a central doctrine of the Church and receive the Eucharist without the correct belief and proper disposition. They are unable to receive the infinite grace of the sacrament through their closed disposition. For some, this is due to a poor formation of their faith. For others, it is an inability to believe this profound mystery (think of the John 6:52-69). For others, I suppose, it is an obstinate rejection of magisterial teaching. We should pray for all those who do not accept that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.

And apparently, we should pray that they go to mass, which will greatly increase the likelihood of their belief in the Real Presence. For those who believe in the Real Presence, the breakdown by mass attendance is:

  • For those attending mass weekly or more - 91%
  • For those attending mass less than weekly but at least monthly - 65%
  • For those attending mass a few times a year or less - 40%

Some of the most heartening news comes when we look at the generational breakdown.

Of those believing in the Real Presence and attending mass at least monthly:

  • Pre-Vatican II - 86%
  • Vatican II - 74%
  • Post-Vatican II - 75%
  • Millennials - 85%

As a reminder, the generation breakdowns are:

  • Pre-Vatican II (Born in 1942 and earlier, or 66 years old and older in 2008)
  • Vatican II (Born between 1943 and 1960, or 48 to 65 years old in 2008)
  • Post-Vatican II (sometimes called "Generation X," born between 1961 and 1981, or 27 to 47 years old in 2008)
  • Millennial Generation (Born between 1982 and 1990, or 18 to 26 years old in 2008)

Millennials believe in the Real Presence at very nearly the same rates at Pre-Vatican II Catholics. That would seem to give us significant hope, and I think it does. However, we need to heed the reminder of the CARA report that Millenials get to mass less often than any other group. The breakdown by generation of those attending mass at least monthly is:

  • Millenials - 36%
  • Post-Vatican II - 39%
  • Vatican II - 42%
  • Pre-Vatican II - 65%

The breakdown by region for those believing in the Real Presence is:

  • Northeast - 48%
  • West - 53%
  • Midwest - 59%
  • South - 69%

The Northeast, which was once a stronghold of Catholicism, is now the region least likely to believe in the Real Presence. It should cause us grave concern to see that less than half of all Catholics attending mass at least monthly in the Northeast believe in the Real Presence. Here is an indication of the luke-warmness of Cultural Catholicism at its most pronounced in the U.S. I'm sure that in the Northeast, the more people go to mass, the more they believe in the Real Presence. However, even going to mass is not enough; that can be simply doing the exterior actions without the interior conversion and faith.

Clearly, the CARA study shows us that there is much work to be done catechizing the Catholic faithful on the Eucharist. We need to start with ourselves, then pass that catechesis on to our family, and then our parish.

In that spirit, my next post will be about the Corpus Christi procession we had at our parish a couple of weeks ago.