8 Reasons Why Augustine & The Confessions still Matter

20140826_152853Pending Update, October XX, 2018: This, and many other posts, have been updated and moved to Augustinian Link.


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5 Reasons I hate the term “Practicing Catholic”

The term Practicing Catholic merits little explanation. It is common. What deserves more critical attention is perhaps it’s origin.

There are Catholics that do not practice their faith, and still staunchly identify as Catholics. There are those who identify, and do not practice, nor believe any of the tenets of the faith, and are still unflinchingly, and irrationally, attached to an identifying label. I’m Catholic but [insert phrase here] I don’t go to Church, I don’t care about what the Church teaches, I don’t care much for the Pope, or my bishop, or the parish priest… the list goes on.

So, in an effort to make it clear that a self-identified Catholic actually attends Church, receives the Sacraments regularly, believes in Church teaching, tries to live it out in their daily life, and hopefully tries to maintain a close relationship with Jesus Christ, they identify themselves as a Practicing Catholic. Perhaps the amount of Catholics who do not actually live their faith or attend Mass has become so normative and rampant, that one feels it so significant to actually use the term. Also in the case of why I brought this up, sometimes people would prefer that Catholic Institutions be staffed exclusively by “Practicing Catholics.” (Although, I suspect that there are some that would wish to purge the world of anyone who isn’t a “practicing Catholic” but that’s another story).

I must admit, I don’t care much for the term.

Obviously, as a priest, it would be incredibly redundant for me to even describe myself as a “practicing Catholic,” that would begin to imply that you could be a priest who is not a “practicing Catholic.” I won’t even begin to imagine what that would entail.

I was impressed, on the flip-side, but by an alternative catchphrase. The high school that I work at never uses the term practicing Catholic in it’s faculty handbook, but it does say that faculty members must be involved in their parish communities. The omission of the term Catholic is not to suggest a watering down of Catholic identity, but merely to acknowledge that a minority of faculty members are not Catholic, and are still to be involved. Involved Catholics.

The majority, however, are very involved Catholics. Knowing the religion faculty, I am not worried about Catholic identity. In fact, I have found myself in numerous situations where faculty members nonchallantly mention something about their Catholic parish. They mention it, not to show off, not to prove they are “practicing Catholics,” They just talk about life, and life happens at their parish. A number of our faculty members lector or cantor at Mass, teach confirmation, give bible classes, and have a variety of connections in their parish.

I think that the term is incredibly outdated. A practicing Catholic made sense before the Second Vatican Council, and perhaps only made sense almost immediately preceding it. You attend Mass when required, you drop money in the collection plate, you say your prayers, you eat fish on fridays, and fast when required, etc. I really believe that this falls short of what the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the Saints, the Second Vatican Council, and our current and recent Popes have called us to. It falls so incredibly short.

In brief, I can sum it up as follows.

  1. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic does not seem to put the Person, Life & Mission of Jesus Christ at the forefront. It is not obvious that one has a living faith in, and relationship with Jesus Christ, recognizing him as the Son of God, and the Savior of humankind. It might be obvious from this term that one attends to the typical Catholic things: Mass, Rosaries, Baptisms, Weddings, Candles, etc.
  2. A “Practicing Catholic” can only be measured or verified by externals: Do they attend Mass? It cannot be verified by internal disposition or attitude, but only upon externals. Someone can easily succeed at making Mass weekly, but not open their heart to the grace of the Scriptures and Sacraments. There is really no way of confirming one’s purity of heart without immediately sounding pompous and conceited.
  3. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic may not necessarily mean that one lives their faith in a healthy way. It is possible to create a solipsistic Catholic world, in which one does indeed attend Mass regularly, practice the faith, says prayers, believes Church teaching wholeheartedly. They can, at the same time, not have another family member who is Catholic, not have a faith-centered friendship with other Catholics, attend a Church without interacting with anyone, go Church-shopping for an extended period of time, have no familiarity with a particular priest as their Pastor, live their faith on Catholic blog message boards. A lot of people have been quite adept at living out the Teachings of the Church, while completely missing Jesus own ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom, and mercifully attending to the needy. It is really easy to imagine one to be in communion of Church, but not actually being in Communion with any particular Catholic Parish Community. That is problematic.
  4. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic may or may not indicate that one is actively engaged in any actual outreach, Evangelization, or corporeal Works of Mercy. It is used only to emphasize one’s proximity to the Sacraments or Catholicism, with NO implication that they live out their faith after Sunday. This term falls dramatically short. In fact, Practicing Catholic might as well be the same as Mediocre Catholic: one who accomplishes the bare minimum. Although the bare minimum might be reception of the sacraments and acceptance of Church Teaching, and may be better off that many others. It is still a bare minimum, qualifying one as mediocre.
  5. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic is 100% conditioned by our time and place. It depends entirely on there being individuals who identify themselves as Catholic who don’t even attend Mass or believe in what the Church teaches. At the rate that “nones” are the fastest growing religious group (those who have no religious affiliation), it is already clear that more people are hesitant to identify as Catholics when they do not practice. In a generation, this term will already be useless. It is entirely conditioned on there being an alleged group of non-practicing Catholics.

Really, if someone says that they are Catholic, shouldn’t it imply that they are practicing?

Beautiful Good News & the New Evangelization

On the Feast Day of Anthony Patrizi & The Holy Brothers of Leccetto, this reflection was offered to Augustinian Student Community on Tuesday, October 9, 2012. The readings for the day are Galatians 1:13-24 and Luke 10:38-42.

I was afflicted with Holy Jealousy years back when I learned about the Rite of Christian Initiation & The Catechumenate. It was a romantic feeling. Something so compelling that people would radically sever themselves from their lives of revelry. There was something so compelling that they took the next three years in retreat, prayer, & study of the faith they would receive. Most of all, they vividly engaged the Paschal Mystery of Christ through the Rituals.

Paul himself, refers to his severance from his own zealous religious tradition. Paul, like the early Catechumens, radically severed himself, was turned on his head, and became a follower of the Way. Paul even refers to three years of preparation. Paul & The early Christians, were recipients of Good News: The invisible God, from the fullness of love, in the Revelation of the Christ, addressed us as friends, moving among us, in order to invite and receive us in friendship.

God drew close to us, and the only adequate response was to cast aside one’s nets, to lay down the swords of war, to put away the masks of the stage, to sign off the social network, to unplug from the matrix of expectations. God’s very nearness in the Incarnation, itself liberative from irrelevant labors. The nearness of the incomprehensible Divine was touched, and heard, and seen.

Paul’s zealous religiosity was silenced by the beauty of this good News. Mary couldn’t busy herself according to custom, but to silence, and listening, before the beauty of Good News. Anthony Patrizi, and the Holy Friars of Lecceto likewise, dedicated the span of their lives to silence and listening to the beautiful Good News of Christ. They provide models for us.

Likewise, the Synod of Bishops gather to listen to the Good News. Under the theme of the New Evangelization. I can call myself a product of the New Evangelization. So I see value in it, and my hope is that we can come to see the beauty of the Good News. I pray that the Bishops, and all those gathered in the Synod, can humbly pray for the guidance of Christ.

This is so necessary today. Often, our public declaration of faith has been reduced to reiterating tenants of the Church, while most Catholics opt out to go Pentecostal or agnostic. If we, as a Church, were graded on recruitment, we would get a fat F fail. Many of us were not conscientiously recruited. Most Catholics in the West, particularly leaders in the Church, don’t understand what it is to be Evangelized to. Many of us have forgotten the core of the good news, that beautiful good news, the beauty that the invisible God, in the revelation of Christ, dwells among us calling us to friendship, calling us before we were born, setting us apart, gracing us with new life in the Paschal Mystery.

The catechumens themselves, called, and yearning for the faith we have already received, ought to serve as an inspiration for us. Perhaps we can yearn for their yearning. Perhaps this is how we can mark the year of faith by entering a sort of catechumenate appropriate for ourselves, the sort that will help us deepen our faith, the sort that will help us rediscover the good news, the sort that will silence us to its beauty, the sort that will empower us to rediscover how close God is to us.

And it is here, it is now that we discover God drawing near to us in our commemoration of the Paschal Mystery. It leaves us yearning to be before the Lord to listen to the beautiful good news, as Mary, as Paul, as Anthony Patrizi & the Holy Brothers of Leccetto. This is where the New Evangelization becomes good news anew. Christ, comes to us, and gathers us together in the one body and blood. We share in his Paschal Mystery, this is beautiful good news.