Catholic in Name Only

The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer

Have you ever heard that question posed by evangelical Christians, “If you were arrested and charged with being a Christian, would they have enough evidence to convict you?” I like that question.

So, ask yourself, “If I was arrested and charged with being a Catholic, would they have enough evidence to convict me?” Sadly, for most self professing Catholics today the answer is a resounding no.

Catholic In Name Only

We all know them. “Cafeteria Catholics”, “C.E.O.s” (Christmas and Easter Only Catholics), and C.I.N.O.s (Catholics in Name Only). Call them whatever you want, these are individuals who, when asked for a religious affiliation on a survey or form, will unhesitatingly declare themself to be Catholic. For far too many of these Catholics today, however, their religious identity is much more a matter of culture than of belief and practice.

They made all of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation. Many were even married in the Church. When a loved one dies, it is a funeral Mass which they attend. Their faith, however, is one of big occasions and holidays. Mass attendance is irregular at best and their values often reflect those of our hyper-secular society. Their Catholicism is much more an adjective than it is a verb. They are neither hot nor cold.

In the Revelation to St. John our Lord addressed these Catholics, and others like them, when he said:

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:16)

In some translations, such as the Douay Rheims Bible the above verse reads, “I will vomit thee out of my mouth”. In this day and age when so many Catholics, both laity and clergy alike, seek not to offend or truly challenge the faithful in their complacency, our Lord’s illustrative language hits you like a hammer.

How is this lukewarm Catholicism often manifested today?

Mass Attendance
What was once a given for Catholics, the idea of fulfilling your Sunday obligation to attend Mass, has been lost for at least an entire generation. The days of 78 percent weekly Mass attendance in 1958 (according to Gallup), has dropped to only 23 percent in 2013 (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University). Even worse, a 2008 study by CARA found that nearly 6 in 10 Catholics who miss Mass DO NOT believe it is a mortal sin to do so.

Real Presence
There are few dogmas of the Church which require greater faith than the belief in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. This is fundamental to our beliefs as Catholics. In Session 13 of the Council of Trent, in it’s Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Church stated:

First of all, the holy council teaches and openly and plainly professes that after the consecration of bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really and substantially contained in the august sacrament of the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of those sensible things.

Sadly, this fundamental belief of the faith has also been lost among so many self-professed Catholics. The same previously mentioned CARA study found 43 percent of Catholics agreeing with the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.” Not surprisingly, this is most common among those who attend irregularly.

For those Catholics who only make it to Sunday Mass once or twice a month, only 65 percent believe our Lord is really present in the Eucharist. And how about those Catholics who only manage to make it to Mass a few times a year? 6 out of 10 stated that the Eucharist is only symbolic of our Lord.

Birth Control
The final example of this phenomenon of the lukewarm Catholic is the intrinsically evil practice of contraception. To understand just how vast this scandalous plague is among Catholics we can look to the research once again. The numbers don’t lie.

In 2012 the Gallup organization surveyed Americans about the moral acceptability of using birth control. Catholic respondents were nearly identical with non-Catholics in their beliefs on the issue. A staggering 82 percent believed birth control was morally acceptable, with only 15 percent adhering to the teaching of the Church.

Intrinsically evil, fundamentally in opposition to a people of Life, contrary to the 2,000 year consistent teaching of the Church, and yet 82 percent of professing Catholics side with pagans, hedonists and atheists in support of contraception.

Just as disheartening was the recent admission by an archbishop of a major American archdiocese that he could not even recall the last time he had personally preached on the topic. This deafening silence from the ambo is nothing short of spiritual malpractice. It is an oncologist looking out at a waiting room full of patients but being afraid to say the word “cancer”. Unfortunately, the lukewarm Catholics aren’t always just in the pews. It is equally tragic when they are in the sanctuary and in the confessional too.

“I will vomit thee out of my mouth.”

Our Lord makes it perfectly clear in the Book of Revelation: He literally has no stomach for the lukewarm. In the explanatory notes for this verse, the New American Bible comments, “Half-hearted commitment to the faith is nauseating to Christ”.

The picture at the beginning of this post is the famous painting The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer by the French painter Jean-Leon Gerome. Our troubled times require martyrs, not more lukewarm Catholics who profess to be one thing while rejecting the very tenets of the faith. Challenge yourself and evangelize those around you to reject lukewarm Catholicism and to embrace the beauty and joy of fully living their Catholic faith.

Posted on August 22, 2013, in holiness, life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. A great post, and problem that starts and ends with the ambo. If priests (and even archbishops) are afraid or ambivalent on truly professing the faith, what hope to the laity have?

    • Thank you for the comment Ron. I agree that the problem starts often with clergy who are either lukewarm or downright disobedient. I would also add, however, that with free will we are all ultimately responsible for our sins. If we know the Truth but still reject it, we are guilty. Personal witness, the Internet, social media, etc. are all great ways we can all catechize the faithful if, or when, our clergy fail to do so.

  2. I think another common phrase is the Catholics who see the church as a faith for the hatched, matched, and dispatched.

    • Hadn’t heard that one Michael. Catechesis is so important for these folks. As my wife always says, and its reinforced by the CARA stats in this post, people skip Mass and often fall away because they don’t believe in the Real Presence. They don’t believe in the Sacraments. Prayers, penance and personal witness is so important!
      God Bless!

  3. I think it’s important to mention that Catechesis starts at home. The first place a child should hear about the literal presence in the Eucharist is from his or her parents. I agree that there has been a failing in preaching and teaching in many parishes and for a great many years, but I am responsible for my household. If my children do not learn the faith from me and any resources I can muster then according to scripture I am accountable to The Lord. As for me and my house, we will serve The Lord.

    • Thanks for joining this discussion Steve! I agree, and the Church does teach, that we as parents are the first Catechists of our children. I wouldn’t let our clergy off the hook, however.

      The tragic decrease in Mass attendance, which is closely tied to the loss of belief in the Real Presence, is a combination of things. As parents we can, and must, instruct our children in the faith. In turn, our parish and priest(s) must reinforce this.

      As I have written before, beautiful, sacred, liturgy that reverently worships our Lord nurtures this belief in the Real Presence. Catholic masses that come off as pseudo-Protestant worship services with irreverent behavior and everyone (literally) “handling” our Lord as if he was JUST a wafer damages the faithful. This visual at Mass can work to undermine a parentd best efforts.

      So, I am agreeing with your excellent comment, but would also ask that our spiritual fathers help, and not hinder, the Catechesis our children receive.

      God bless and looking forward to your feedback on future posts!


  4. This is from the PBS series Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers:

    There’s been a reduction, a reduction, a reduction of ritual. Even in the Roman Catholic Church. my God, they’ve translated the Mass out of the ritual language into a language that has a lot of domestic associations. Every time…that I read the Latin of the Mass, I get that pitch again that it’s supposed to give, a language that throws you out of the field of your domesticity. The altar is turned so that the priest’s back is to you, and with him you address yourself outward [gestures upward with his hands] like that.
    Now they’ve turned the altar around; [it] looks like Julia Child giving a demonstration—all homey and cozy. They’ve forgotten what the function of a ritual is: it’s to pitch you out, not to wrap you back in where you have been all the time.

    • This is great Michael. I don’t think Campbell was Catholic, but boy does he get it! The power of ritual and the danger of “domesticating” our worship. When the sacred is minimalized, the faith is injured at best, and lost altogether at worst.

      God bless!


  5. Interesting commentary. I must agree that the belief in the “real presence” is an essential, if not the central belief of Catholics, Roman Catholics as well as other faithful Catholics. For years I have attended Mass at a Maronite Catholic Monastery. Within the Maronite tradition, the understanding of the True Presence is interesting. In the Maronite liturgy, Christ becomes present in spirit and flesh, during the course of the entire liturgy; yes, essentially it is declared at the words of consecration, yet, if the liturgy is carried out in an disrespectful or unholy manner, the degree and effect of the transubstantiation is diminished. If we study the teaching of the Mass over the course of centuries, we will see, the understanding of the mystery of Consecration is complex, subtle, mysterious and powerful. We see within the Roman Catholic Church an emphasis on the absolute truths of dogma and liturgy. The fact of the transubstantiation is more important than how holy a priest is, or how prayerful and prepared the faithful are. As a consequence, emphasis on personal holiness and virtue is diminished.
    Thus we see irreverence frequently; because the reverence has been de-emphasized through councils and teachings. By dogmatising and inculcating truths, the mystery is often times lost, the grace delivered diminished, and the faithful cheated.
    We need a return to holiness. Without the presence of holy priests and a holy, prayerful faithful, I would suggest the Real Presence is weakened and may not even occur, particularly in Masses where the majority may not even truly believe.

  6. And no I’m not a Palagian. Who emphasized that it was the through the belief of the faithful that Christ’s True Presence occurred. Yes, It is very important that everyone believe, but not essential.

    • Thank you for your comments Chris! Also, thank you for clarifying your final point with this comment.

      I would argue that it isn’t dogma and legalism that has eroded holiness in the Latin rite: the saints of the west abound.

      In the past 50 years it has been the wide spread desacralization of the liturgy and the loss of obedience by many who believed that the Church had to engage the world on secular terms (thinking of Jesuit colleges).

      God bless Chris and please continue with your feedback!

      • I don’t agree with this statement.
        I do not think the Latin rite has ever been focused on the business of saint making. Yes, there are many Saints in the West. I feel the personal Holiness we see in the West’s many saints, are sort of anomalies to the organisation of the Church. Yes, there can be little doubt the past 50 years in Holy Mother Church has been nothing short of disastrous. We must be careful though, to maintain our solid footing in the Truth, and not become overly romantic about earlier periods in the Church. Each and every era, in our splendid Church’s history has not been without its challenges. I would argue that the Church’s growing secularism is not a recent phenomenon. Saint Augustine spoke of the “Civitatis Saeculorum” and the “Civitatis Dei”.(City of Man and City of God) in the 400’s. The tension and struggle between earthly and saecular power has been an ongoing theme in Christian History. I believe, the character of the Church since 325, when Constantine established that Christianity would be a State religion, has taken a markedly worldly and secular tone. The Faith became inextricably intertwined with political reality, power, and the secular order. Why was the early Church established in Rome? Peter felt called to Rome. Though, it is said, Holy Mother Church was established on the sacrifice and blood shed by early church martyrs. In the early church, Christians were not viewed favorably by the establishment political order. Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians.
        Was this the Holy Spirit guiding Peter & Paul to Rome? Perhaps. Was Emperor Constantine guided by the Holy Spirit to establish the official religion of the Empire? Perhaps. Most Roman Catholic historians view the establishment of Christianity as a state religion as a tremendous success for the early Church.
        I have always considered the establishment of Christianity as the State religion as suspect at best. We are called to be saints, we are called to follow Christ, we are not called to be popular. Our Dear Lord Himself wasn’t exactly accepted and loved by the established political orders of the day. Many devout Catholics from the Eastern rites, lovers of the Church, have prayed and studied over these matters.
        And early Church Fathers discussed and debated the wisdom of getting involved in the political wranglings of the day.

        Could one argue the seeds of modern secularism (modernism) that has seemingly infiltrated throughout so much of the Church in the modern era, could it be argued that these seeds were sown at a much earlier time? And only now are we suffering the consequences?

        One question:
        In your opinion what could be the effective remedy to this modernism (heresy) that has overrun much of the West?
        I don’t know if more legalism and canonical lawyers could have preserved us from this.
        Pope Leo and Pope Pius X both saintly Popes, understood the dangers of this spreading heresy. I feel these problems we have are endemic to the inherent political structure of the Church. I don’t know if preserving the popularity of the Faith(What? It’s not popular anymore? Was it ever popular to be Catholic?) will protect us from further slipping down the path of Saecular modernism. Only true earnest prayer, fasting & holiness can protect us from the evils and temptations of modernism and the ills of modern society.

      • Thank you for your comment. Interesting assessment. I agree that ultimately prayer is key to increasing both the individuals holiness, as well as that of the Church. As the Mass is the liturgical prayer of the Church, we need to make sure we “get it right”.

        Modernism, the synthesis of all heresies, must be combated with sound doctrine, catechesis and solid liturgy. If you look at Pope St. Pius X, who tackled the heresy head on, and then look at the reforms implemented (canon law, early and frequent Eucharist for the faithful, solid catechesis, recognition of the sacred-such as Gregorian chant, etc.) we can begin to see what methods are needed to defend the faith.

        Of course, ultimately it is spiritual warfare and so, by necessity, we personally fight the evil one by embracing our Lord through His Church and the sacraments.

        God bless!

  7. S. Kevin Wojtaszek, Cure'of Ares Parish Council, 1972

    Many of my extended family no longer attend Mass because we have been cast aside by the hyper-politicization of what we were once taught should be a celebration.

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