A religious once said, “Being a missionary is like taking a pearl of inestimable value into a land where the people don’t want it, even as a gift.” The sad truth is that today, everyday faithful Catholics are called to be missionaries in their own churches. Why? Because our fellow parishioners are often as in need of evangelization as the remote natives who’ve never heard the Gospel.
Before my conversion, I spent nearly three decades in spiritual poverty. Then I discovered the Catholic Church. Suddenly, spiritual riches beyond my imagination were offered for the taking. Even now, 15 years later, I marvel at the wisdom passed on by our doctors, mystics, and stigmatics, our rare few who have glimpsed heaven itself through apparitions. Not to mention the holy fountains we call the sacraments. The depths of wisdom and grace available through the Catholic Church could not be plumbed if I lived a thousand lifetimes.
But there is another side to being Catholic, one that is profoundly painful. And that’s the sheer disregard so many of my brothers and sisters show for their sacred heritage.
Even among those who sit in Mass every Sunday, the percentage of Catholics obedient to the Church, who treasure her wisdom on major moral and theological issues is scandalously small. In fact, I find that I’m more surprised to encounter a person who actually DOES follow the Church than one who dissents from Her. Having not grown up in the Church, I converted and was genuinely shocked to find people who vigorously claimed allegiance to an institution that they also publicly disdained; I naively assumed everyone who went to Mass was as excited about those great spiritual treasures, too. It was like hearing someone say, “I’m an American, but I don’t recognize the authority of the President, I believe the Constitution should be shredded, and I hope the U.N. takes over. Yes, I’m very patriotic!” Yet this attitude among even the Mass-going Catholics is so common that it’s the faithful person who is the “fanatic.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke about this sense of alienation recently when talking about those rare souls who try to earnestly practice the faith:
“[T]hese wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church!
I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.”
Statistics about American Catholicism speak for themselves: we contracept, sterilize, and abort at about the same rate as the rest of the culture. Mass is optional and more than half of us don’t believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Catholics en masse elected pro-choice political leaders, and openly celebrated the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. We all know that institutionalized dissent is rampant in our Church. It can make following Christ through His Church a very cold, lonely road much of the time.