Pretty much everybody agrees that this sort of thing is NOT what Evangelicals are doing right. :)
But I was more interested in the various comments from Catholics, most of them regular churchgoers, about where and how the Catholic Church might improve in terms of practical matters. One commenter in particular, who uses the screen name Agathonika, wrote what I think was a very important comment, and she has give me permission to quote her here:
We should be careful not to beg the question. Maybe Catholics are not doing something wrong. Maybe evangelicals are not doing something right. Maybe there’s a confounding variable that influences this situation. I think wise leaders will resist any temptation to flail about in response to polls and surveys and trends. Trends, after all, are by definition, fickle and fleeting. We who know the truth must not be reactive. We need to stay calm and placid no matter what kind of fuss–in our favor or against it–the world kicks up.
That said, a friend who is a fellow Catholic convert and I were discussing RCIA not too long ago. We both agreed that it is a mess and often a stumbling block, especially for people who are very motivated to convert. I had to sit through the bored, disaffected ramblings of a lefty DRE who hated the hierarchy to “put in my time” before being confirmed. Another family my friend knew was forced to go through two whole years of pre-baptismal instruction, no exceptions, before moving from their evangelical church to the Catholic Church. This with a gaggle of kids in tow! My husband had to find a priest who didn’t care if he missed almost every session, because he works odd hours and all the RCIA classes in town were during his work or commute times.
The thing I am wondering is, are we trying to bring people into the Church or keep them out? What are we afraid will happen if we baptize and confirm and then let the education mostly happen *after* that, as it naturally will even after the most rigorous RCIA class? What about working people who can’t afford to miss work to get to these classes? What about people who have children already? What about people who are not academically inclined and for whom a year(s)-long sit-down class will not help them in the slightest to have a fruitful spiritual life?
But many Roman parishes in particular are very, VERY rigid and wed to their RCIA ways. You can’t get credit for previous studies, you can’t get time off for good behavior, if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to attend you’ll often get a shrug and “maybe next year.” It’s nothing but laziness and unthinking rigidity, all too often flavored with a dose of lukewarmness from the very people who are supposed to be instilling passion for the faith.
They put out more fires than they start! If you desire the sacraments now, the Church all too often seems to be acting as God’s bouncer, not God’s usher.
And then once you’re in, they won’t leave you alone. They always have a pile of procedural red tape for you to sort through. Six months to a year of tedious workshops before you get married. Four months of sit-down instruction for new parents before a baptism. (With a new baby! And we’re supposed to have big families, so what if you have 6? You have to go through this every time because we mustn’t give credit for prior learning, they want both parents, and they don’t provide childcare!) The bloated, ridiculous first communion proceedings, and getting accommodations for kids with learning disabilities is like pulling teeth at best. The increasingly expanding confirmation requirements, with years of stupid workshops and retreats (which cost money you don’t have if you’re a single income family with 5 kids!) and special projects and classroom hours and…
You end up with a church full of people who have in common high tolerance for bureaucratic silliness, and lower levels of passion. And leaders who have forgotten that GOD does the work in the sacraments. Not DREs, not flashy presentations, not lists of things to memorize and spit back. God’s incomprehensible grace through the rituals we should more rightfully refer to as mysteries. Being seven and memorizing the “Angel of God” prayer doesn’t allow you to comprehend the Eucharist, because the wiser you get, the more you realize you cannot understand. Being droned at for 11 months by a DRE does not innoculate you against falling away from your new faith at the first temptation. Going to workshops on communication does not make your marriage indissoluble.
What if we trusted God to do the work in the sacraments, and then committed to learning together about the faith?
Now, you might ask: Why focus on small potatoes like this when the allegedly and erstwhile Catholic nation of Ireland has just approved gay “marriage” by a vote of people who don’t appear to know how to use the sense the good Lord gave a housefly? Well, because I think that what Agathonika is saying does have something to do with the problem of so many people who still think of themselves as Catholic, and call themselves Catholic, while they dissent from Church teaching and, in fact, leave the Faith altogether (though they think they’re still good Catholics).
A lot of it has to do with what Sherry Weddell calls a spirit of Pelagianism (but in a new and modern form). This new sort of Pelagianism, somewhat different from the historical kind, leads quite a lot of Catholics--more than we may realize--to believe, in all sincerity, that they’re going to Heaven because they have done and do All The Things. They got some sort of diocesan Catholic education: Catholic school, CCD or RE, RCIA. They’ve gotten their sacraments. They go to Mass at least a few times a year (some of them may go every Sunday). They give to the poor. They recycle. They don’t cheat on their spouse or beat their children, so it’s all good, right?
These are the Catholics who will tell you that birth control is okay and nobody but an uber-Catholic thinks otherwise. These are the Catholics who will scold you to “tone it down” if you’re trying to teach a class of high-school aged Confirmation candidates the difference between serious and less serious sins, what makes some serious sins mortal, what the words “mortal” and “venial” even mean as applied to sin; these Catholics will insist, and really seem to think, that “Vatican II” got rid of all those hang-ups. These are the Catholics who still think women will be Catholic priests someday (if they don’t think some women already are, not being capable of understanding that ordinations which pretend to ordain women are not valid). These are the Catholics who are “personally opposed, but...” on abortion. These are the Catholics who lead marriage preparation classes and wink at the number of couples who are living together to make their fornication habit easier to indulge, and who insist the Church doesn’t care if they’re shacked up so long as they can produce their birth certificates. And, now, these are the Catholics who show up in droves to vote for same-sex “marriage” on the grounds that the only commandment that matters is the one about making sure nobody’s feelings get hurt (but they couldn’t list the actual ten Commandments if they tried).
When you look at this situation in light of Agathonika’s comment some things start to become startlingly clear: when you program a system to do a horrible job of actually teaching the Faith in any real or deep sense but to do an adequate--if barely--job of stamping people’s papers and certificates and lining them up for one sacrament after another because they’ve fulfilled all the “requirements,” then this is exactly the kind of Catholic you will get. You will get a Catholic who doesn’t have much knowledge of what the Church teaches on anything, who can’t explain basic concepts or teachings of Catholicism, whose only grasp of Church history comes from Internet atheists, whose relationship with Jesus is based on a sort of warm, fuzzy feeling that Jesus became Man in order to approve of everything we personally want to do in our lives, who has little or no idea of sin and repentance, who thinks the Precepts of the Church is another name for the Church Fathers--but who can produce, in tidy folders, every certificate from every recorded sacrament, and who thinks those bits of paper are the “important” thing about being Catholic, a kind of “Catholic transcript,” if you will, that is all God will need when they arrive at the Pearly Gates.
We can’t fix this overnight. We can’t fix it by our usual liturgical squabbles or devotional sniping. We can’t fix it by leaving it up to the Bishops, but we can’t fix it without their help, either. If I told you I knew exactly what to do and how to do it I’d be lying; I don’t know. This is the first time I think I’ve understood the full magnitude of the problem. But I also know we’d better think of something, and soon.