On a recent trip to the states, I had the pleasure of reuniting with some high school classmates I had not seen since our graduation in 1974. We had found each other on Facebook over the last few years and agreed to a get-together while I was in Los Angeles visiting my parents.
As you may know, Facebook provides a profile page where one can post personal information including one’s religious affiliation. Only a few of my classmates had entered “Catholic”, though most of us were the products of Catholic homes and twelve years of Catholic schooling.
Like many Catholics of our generation, most had wandered away from the Church after graduation. In fact, in those heady days of the 70’s, graduation from a Catholic school was synonymous with liberation from the practice of the Faith.
My “Catholic posts” are quite noticeable on Facebook, so it was no secret to my former schoolmates that not only was I still a Catholic, but a rather fervent one at that. And, at our short reunion, several of them wanted to discuss Catholicism with me.
In speaking with those who had left the Church and questioning why they had left, I encountered the “usual suspects: a negative experience with a priest, a story about how “Sister so-and-so did this-or-that”, a marriage irregularity, and the standard “I didn’t get anything out of it”.
But beneath it all, it seemed that the real reason they no longer practiced the religion of their youth was because they simply saw no reason to. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in God, most did, and some even more fervently than when they were in high school. It’s just that they didn’t see any reason to be Catholic. They had “found God” in some other church or were comfortable being “spiritual but not religious”.
In my decade or so of being involved in the practice of Apologetics (explaining the Faith), I have often found this “no reason to be Catholic” to be the root cause for both Catholics who had left the Church and others who had never been Catholic. It’s not that they were hostile to the Faith, it was simply that no one had ever made the “case for Catholicism” to them.
By the “case for Catholicism” I mean a thorough and reasoned explanation, documented by Scripture and history, as to why the Catholic Church is the one, true Church, and why they not only either need to come back or come in, but what the consequences are for not doing so.
I couldn’t blame my classmates much for having wandered away from the Church. During the 70’s our religion classes had quickly morphed from catechetical instruction into some sort of experiential hodgepodge that had us high on feeling good and low on knowing anything.
And if we learned anything at all, it was that Catholicism was only one of several “paths to God”, and a good Buddhist could just as well go to heaven as we could. It was an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” approach to religion, and in fact, a book with that title was required religion-class reading.
One could argue, that maybe this was the right approach. My classmates at this reunion were essentially “good people”. They didn’t seem to be harmed by their lax religious education and their decades away from the Church.
But Jesus did not come that we might be “good”. He came that we might HAVE HIM. And HAVE HIM not in just an intellectual, emotional, or even spiritual way, but to HAVE HIM REALLY in HIS BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY. This is precisely why He made Himself a “Lamb to be slaughtered”, that He might be made FOOD for us.
Of course, there is only ONE place where Jesus Christ becomes FOOD for us: at the Catholic Mass. Indeed, only the Catholic Church takes Christ wholly at His Word when He commands: “Take and eat...take and drink...for THIS is MY BODY, THIS IS MY BLOOD...”
Sadly, my generation was terribly short-changed. We watched as altars were turned into tables, chalices into cups, confessionals into broom closets, tabernacles into moving objects, religious instruction into psycho-social navel gazing, and ultimately - at least to our high-schooler sensibilities - the Eucharist back into mere bread.
It’s not that we weren’t taught that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, it’s just that It was less and less treated as such, and perception became reality. However, a generation hence, and if the content of my conversations was any indication, there is a rising consciousness, perhaps wrought by age and the disintegration of our own body and blood, that His Body and Blood is our only hope in the age to come.