Soft-Bellied Catholicism

Michael Lane

How often have you been told Jesus loves you? Or, God loves you where you are? These are true statements and wonderful encouragement when you’ve fallen for the umptenth time. Numerous times in confession I’ve heard this affirmation of God’s love for me in spite of my sinfulness. Self-doubt dwindles when you hear God’s loving call to holiness. A safe port in the storm.

Each time I hear this sentiment, though, it isn’t completed. God does love you where you and He will meet you there, but only to draw you away from sin and closer to Him. He will always love you, but He will never love your sin. I cannot read souls (surprise), but something I’ve noticed, and heard priests mention, is how everyone receives communion consistently but few seem to go to confession consistently. Granted, a priest may be blessed with a holy parish free from mortal sins, but there is something off-balance about the requirement to receive the Eucharist in a state of Grace and the number of seekers of Reconciliation.


When I say “soft-bellied” I mean an overly easy practice or presentation of the faith. I do not mean simple but a false path to God full of “shortcuts” and no trials, no crosses. We’ve lost the tougher, I’d even say masculine, aspects of Christian suffering. Usually, we offer consolation and prayers to those in suffering. We tell them Christ is with them (He is), but that it is simply a time to be weathered and not a time to grow closer to Christ or develop humility and virtue.

I would argue three aspects of soft-bellied Catholicism exist today. First, and the most prevalent, is an over-emphasis on and primacy of individual feelings, as if how you feel should dictate how you or whom you should worship. Second, there is a withdrawing from the “tougher” aspects of Christianity in favor of no difficulties or unnecessary compromise with the world. An example might be the relatively unknown canonical practice of Friday penance or meat abstinence year-round rather than simply in the Lenten season. Lastly, there is the prevalence of the fear of vice rather than proactive cultivation of virtue in the context of the Christian Life.

The Feelings Directive

Friends who have fallen away have often told me they left the Church because they weren’t getting anything out of Mass, didn’t feel Church was for them, or something else of the sort. Happiness, fun, no doubts, perfect understanding, etc. Without these, they believed they didn’t need the Church, sometimes not even God. Good-feelings, for them, denote the proper place. If you’re happy where you are then that is where you’re supposed to remain. When the good times end it’s time to move on.

In his Prayer for Beginners Peter Kreeft wrote:

If we rely on anything else besides faith to maintain the practice of the presence of God, we will certainly fail, whether this is our feelings, or experiences, or sincerity, or good intentions, or reasonings, or plans. The reason these things will fail while faith will not fail is that these things depend on us, while faith depends on God. It is a gift of God . . . it is not our own self-created thing.

And St. Francis de Sales wrote:

Nothing troubles us so much as self-love and self-regard. Should our hearts not grow soft with the sentiment we desire when we pray and with the interior sweetness we expect when we meditate, we are sorrowful; should we find some difficulty in doing good deeds, should some obstacle oppose our plans, we are in a dither to overcome it, and we labor anxiously. Why is this? Doubtless because we love our consolations, ease, and comfort. We want to pray as though we were bathing in comfort and to be virtuous as though we were eating dessert, all the while failing to look upon our sweet Jesus, who, prostrate on the ground, sweat blood and water from the distress from the extreme interior combat he underwent (Mark 14:35; Luke 22:44).

We face similar situations whenever we deal with hot button issues. There is an emotional appeal rather than one of logic. Within soft-bellied Catholicism, feelings may guide not only the prayer life but also the wider practice of the faith: liturgical participation, social teachings, and our sense of sin.

So, when an individual’s faith is based solely on an emotional experience the relationship with God lacks a firm foundation. A ship without a firm hand on the wheel is susceptible to being tossed about by the wind and the waves. If joy presides then all is well but once events turn sour we struggle beyond the distress of the external/internal disturbance. Does this mean we should not take joy in our faith or accept those spiritually high moments? No, of course not.

We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. As St. Francis de Sales advised though, we must accept joys in peace and not let them carry our soul out of a peace that rests in Christ and not worldly joys. Accept them as a gift, in other words.

Issues develop when we assume our spiritual and temporal lives will always, or should, be times of consolation without any moments or periods of desolation. Furthermore, settling for a feelings-centered faith creates far more stumbling blocks in spiritual growth than it removes. Individuals may come to think they’ve lost God because they no longer feel the “presence” of God, aka good feelings.

Lighter Weights Please

Assuming or believing the Christian life is summed up in letting the good times roll avoids preparation for difficult times. I confess, I lack large, concrete evidence to demonstrate the prevalence of this aspect of soft-bellied Catholicism. It is simply a sense I get by observation and anecdotal evidence. The phrases “redemptive suffering” and “offer it up” were unknown to me until college despite consistent Mass attendance and various homilists (see Col 1:24, Lk 14:27,  2 Cor 4:8-12, Phil 3:8-11, 1 Peter 2:19-22).

Compromises and cafeteria Catholicism seem rampant amongst Catholics trying to have their cake and eat it too. I’ve heard time and again we should be satisfied when an individual at least attends Mass on Sunday once in a while. Or, just as frustrating, we need to make Mass’s music up-to-date with contemporary tastes, Mass should be kept under an hour, priests should not preach on any topics that might cause discomfort for any member of the parish, and the list goes on. All to keep the “tougher” aspects tucked away.

Shunning the broader inclusion of difficult penance, fasting, and the like in favor of the “funner” or “nicer” aspects of the faith does the individual a great disservice. Assuming the Christian life is all valleys and no mountains does not prepare the individual the crosses they will encounter. In turn, they forgot Jesus’ example in His Passion and the consolation we may take from the sufferings of Christ (2 Cor 1:5-7).

A Virtuous Direction

In general, the happy-go-lucky atmosphere I’ve been discussing has contributed to a trend in how Catholics discuss vices and virtues. There is a tendency to approach sinfulness in the following way. A sin, mortal or venial, is identified as either habitual or a simply a particular struggle. The conversation turns to seek out the places, people, topics, etc which tempt the penitent back to the sin. St. Francis de Sales has two points here. First, we tend to suffer when we possess a greater fear of vice than a love of virtue. Rather than focusing on cultivating virtue to combat sinfulness we try to figure a way to escape temptation. Second, we fear our temptations rather than placing our faith in the Lord and His help. Additionally, “no human remedy has proven capable of healing this injury [sin and temptation].” Avoiding a bad thing does not necessarily mean good is being done.

Taken all together, it may seem I would purpose harsh penance, tough fasting requirements, and the like. No. Instead, I would advocate redirection from such a me-centered Catholicism. My feelings only, only the difficulties/challenges I choose, and my sins and temptations. Rather, a faith centered prayer life, embracing the Cross through our own tribulations, a proactive cultivation of virtue, and, above all, a resignation to follow God’s will in all things. A rejection of self-love and pride in favor of humility and charity is needed to accept tribulations and follow God’s will.

This life is such that we must eat bitter herbs more often than honey, but the One for whose sake we have resolved to persevere in holy patience, despite so many kinds of opposition, will give us the consolation of his Holy Spirit in due season . . . This confidence that restores our vigor will allow you suffer and withstand with great courage any battle you face, no matter how grave. -St. Francis de Sales

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43 thoughts on “Soft-Bellied Catholicism”

  1. When you speak about not just getting away from sin, but seeking virtue, you are explaining the parable of the man who had the unclean spirit leave him. The spirit returns finding the house empty, swept, and put in order, and brings seven more spirits with him, and the man is worse than before. If we simply try to get rid of sin, say by going to confession (which is an extremely good start), but then fail to work and fill our soul with a life of virtue, so the house is not empty, then we will surely fall back into sin. Alcoholics Anonymous lives by this principle, a person cannot simply quit drinking, but must replace it with something better.

  2. We’ve lost the tougher, I’d even say masculine, aspects of Christian suffering.

    In a feminized Church, that’s no surprise.

    Friends who have fallen away have often told me they left the Church
    because they weren’t getting anything out of Mass, didn’t feel Church
    was for them, or something else of the sort.

    In an episode of the US TV series Bluebloods the teen-age granddaughter character mentioned during the extended family of NYPD officers’s weekly dinner together that all the homilies at Sunday mass were repetitions of “be good and be nice to people”. The writers of the show vividly illustrated why so many people who were raised by church-going parents have fallen away. (Next season, I think the girl prepares to go to college.)

    One can hear the message “be good and be nice to people” from the neo-pagans too. Even today’s fashionably atheist Cool Kids preach that (although if asked they can’t explain why anybody should.) Add a lack of reverence and a surplus of indifference during the celebration of the Holy Mass and one could begin to wonder is there anything there, is Jesus really Christ Our King and God, Son of God, or just a nice man who lived long, long ago.

    1. Ah yes. Reverence during and for the Mass. This is one of my pet peeves. I won’t go off on it but, I agree that this is a real problem we are facing. People think the Mass is meant to be conformed to whatever the parishioners fancy (wrong) be it music, liturgical dance, the priest preaching on what they want to hear, etc. Frustrating to say the least. Mass is mean to elevate our minds to Heaven. Not be brought crashing down to earth. That means, among many things, homilies that help us and challenge us to live the Christian life.

      Yes, I’ve too have never heard a satisfactory answer from an atheist about why I should treat anyone nice if there is no God, no morality, and no consequences other than legal. Truthfully, there is not one. Based on that criteria I should also not be judged for thinking that way. Being kind and charitable might help make my daily life a bit less conflict-filled but that’s it.

  3. Thank you Michael for a well written article. I am convinced that many Catholics, even those in the pews each Sunday, are lukewarm. Frequent confession is a most efficacious means of securing ourselves against tepidity- or rising out of it.

    1. Yes, I quite agree. Confession, after a good examination of conscience, combined with spiritual direction is a good way to learn where you are succeeding and where you need improvement. Thank you for your kind words. God bless!

  4. great article! some wake up call for all to consider. I do not like washed out encouragements when I feel down. A strong arm or a strong stand is much better even when it hurts.

    I remember confessors who had courage to tell me the truth. I love them for it… blessings to all

    1. Thanks! My biggest moments of growth usually came from an outside example or encouragement. God bless!

  5. Michael, I’m new to this website and very impressed with you article. Once retired and with time on my hands I’ve chosen, in thanks for my gift of faith and conversion sixty years ago, write thank you Notes to our Father and his great love for us. This one seems appropriate for you essay.

    Note VI Struggling with Our Humanity


    Can you imagine the thoughts and anticipation in the hearts of those first
    pilgrims as they began their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean
    to a new land they had never seen? They were leaving behind their homeland with
    friends, family, and familiarity, for a hostile unknown, untamed, and uncertain
    future. What brave souls they were. What great hope they held in their hearts.
    Fear was not an obstacle to their desire for freedom and to partake of a “new

    As Christians our voyage to arrive in the land of the living holds ever
    more eternal promise for us than those humble but determined souls on the
    Mayflower. We’ve been told what to expect. However, just like their pilgrimage,
    our journey will have its own challenges to our will to win our dreams and
    hopes for a better life.

    Fear of those challenges should not steal the zeal to accomplish our goal.
    We need to remind ourselves that through mankind’s sin the prince of this world
    has used his power to approach even Christ himself with temptations. In that
    instance the deceiver knew the power he was up against. He had to take openly
    bold and revealing steps in his attempt to snare this victim. “Prove you are
    the Son of God! If not, worship me! I’ll give you the world for your own!” The
    responses he received from the Word of God clearly identified the deceiver and
    revealed his futility against those who are of truth and light and obey the
    Fathers commands.

    His approach to us is much easier. As part of an already fallen humanity we
    are still prone to make choices based on this current world and how it is
    treating our present existence. We cherish our freedom to choose what is
    pleasing to our body and those temporal needs which have made us comfortable
    with this life. We’re preoccupied with stature, notoriety, affluence,
    possessions, and commonality with the in crowd. This is the deceiver’s
    playground; we can’t blend in here and not eventually bump into or be bumped by
    him. Evil can take your breath away or amaze you with its personality,
    understanding, or assist you in being part of the acceptable society of popular
    people of the day. Satan and his friends will promise not to “cross” you as
    long as you “hang out” with them.

    Our fight is always a battle against the inclinations of our own flesh and
    its yearning for personal comfort, acceptance, and pride. The spirit within,
    uniquely given by God, desires to shine forth to all others but the earthly
    flesh which contains it often prefers to be blinded by the glitter of man’s
    creation and the personal pleasures it offers.

    Jesus had friends who followed Him around town to town. He had them thinking He was something to behold. They loved Him, believed Him, trusted Him and even came to realize He
    was the Son of God because of the amazing things He did. But when the reality
    which the Evil one began to spin against Christ, the “condemned criminal”, took
    control of the streets and closed in on them and their association with Him
    they felt uneasy and some even began to withdraw from Him.

    Commonality with an accused criminal could be a curse and could have
    physical as well as social consequences. Loving, believing, trusting, and
    following had found limitations. Led by the flesh alone, distancing themselves
    from Him even to the point of denying His acquaintance by the leader of the
    pack would be better than their own personal “cross” and humiliation.

    No man has ever been lonelier than Jesus was on His way to Calvary.
    No burden was so heavy nor injustice as great as His complete and total
    acceptance of the “cross of love” for all mankind which our heavenly Father
    placed upon His shoulders for our salvation.

    Do you see the awesome intensity of the Fathers love for us here? That He
    would allow a scene such as this in order that we, His children might be saved.
    This was His incarnate body being ripped to shreds; His precious blood poured
    upon the ground; His blessed virgin mother witnessing the ugly brutality
    against the child they shared together. And at a distance the disciple’s pity,
    though heart felt, was overcome by their fear of religious and political
    authorities. Yes, Jesus our brother was a loner within His suffering but
    universal in His love and eternal passion for our salvation.

    Jesus has shown us how to suffer for the sake of our Father and his people.
    As redeemed Christians we are by choice now a family of suffering souls who can
    rise above pain, rejection, abuse, or ridicule and not wonder why or seek
    answers for its presence in our lives. We know because our brother, the
    crucified, has set the tone of our transformation by and through His glorious

    All Christians, through original sin, are justly tied to the cross with
    Jesus and should welcome a personal measure of suffering that we might share in
    His resurrection. To deny or avoid that cross or that measure would be to deny
    Christ. Accept and cherish our Holy Cross for it is truly God’s gift of eternal
    life for us; our shared symbol of love for Truth.

    Lord Jesus, though we have chosen to follow in your footsteps to the cross
    of our salvation, our human weaknesses often tempt us to recoil at the thought
    or sight of suffering. We pray your infinite mercy will help us to remember
    always the celestial love of the Father and His willingness to suffer through
    and with you on the cross for us knowing that we are truly fortunate for any
    opportunity to share and offer our portion with you that we may one day share
    eternity with Him.

    Bill Sr.

    1. Sandra,

      I read your comment just before daily Mass. I am very sorry if anything I wrote caused you any sort of added pain or self-doubt.This was certainly not my intention. I prayed for you during Mass and thought of how best to respond. I agree with PGMGN, to be a Catholic is to never be alone no matter the struggle. Life may seem like a hill we never find the crest of. We simply keep struggling onward and upward. I know how disheartening this can be. Especially for those struggles you feel you cannot voice or feel no one could truly understand. This is why we pray. This is why we go to Confession. In prayer, nothing need remain unvoiced. God is ever ready for you and wants to comfort you, strengthen you, and guide you. Do not be afraid to come to God. Believing God will not accept you or does not care is the evil one attempting to keep us from God’s love. As if God could ever not desire for us to return to Him after we sin. Confession plays a very important role in this love. When we give voice to our sins and seek forgiveness from God we receive a two-fold love. First, we release ourselves from our sins and repair our relationship with God. Second, through the ministry of the priest we hear those incredible words: “through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Besides other aspects, this fulfills a very human need to receive and hear forgiveness.

      If you are struggling in faith but no necessarily with sin I would advise seeking the help of a spiritual director. Depending on the numbers of your area, this may be a priest, religious brother or sister, deacon, or a lay person.

      Please understand that this article was not meant to make people feel bad or put them down for some lacking in practice of the faith. This was meant to be a wake up call. A path may be traveled unknowingly even by someone who is good and seeking God. God does not expect the impossible from us. Do what you can for as long as you can. If you should take anything from what I wrote please remember this: God in His goodness and love is with us, everyday. Our times of trial can seem insurmountable but all things are possible with Christ. When you take up your cross to follow Christ remember to take heart. You are not alone and God will never abandon you not matter how desolate you feel. Let any feeling of desolation make you seek Him even more. God bless.

    2. The blog Churchmiliant tv has been writing about this for some time—–there regular description is the “church of nice”—-we need to do more than feel good—
      we must worship and honor Him—

    3. I’ve heard of but never watched Church militant tv. Something I didn’t really stress too much in the article is the good feelings are not bad and shouldn’t be shunned. How we receive them or how we prioritize them is the problem. We should enjoy Mass, praying the Rosary, reading, etc. We should also be kind and understanding to those who prefer the “church of nice.” We have no idea what their “spiritual history” is or what difficulties they are facing. Especially since we are well into the second generation that most characterized as poorly catechized. Granted, there are plenty of youth programs trying to fix this.

      So, when we encounter parishes, people, or even priests who try to prioritize making everyone feel good we should take a breathe before passing judgement. Are they avoiding any talk of suffering or sin? Probably. But, more than likely the simply want to help people in a suffering world. In some ways this may be misguided, but understanding someone’s perspective and goals helps facilitate discussion in a healthy way rather than simply telling someone they are wrong.

      God bless you!

    4. I think you are showing “soft-bellied Catholicism” to the founders of the “church of Nice”. As someone who was in high school for Vatican two and lived through all of the changes, it is my opinion that the Church of Nice is really the Church of Lazy – too lazy to ask and answer the important stuff, too lazy to impose the discipline that acceptance of our salvation requires. This is THE explanation for the drop in Mass attendance, loss of belief in the truths of the faith and the decrease in true participation in the sacraments – if the priests and nuns don’t think it’s important enough to stand up for, why should anyone else?!?!
      We have rejected an honest understanding of human nature – we humans NEED to have regular mild guilt trips to keep us on the right track. Eventually we stay on that track out of love for God, but few of us choose it voluntarily. AND if we are not on that right track, we are lost!
      The Church of Nice is really the church of self-centered interests.

    5. I’m in the same age bracket as you Therese and feel exactly the same as you about the Church of Nice. While it’s good to understand the sufferings of others we all need to be able to withstand the desolations of everyday life. St. Teresa of Avila scoffs at people who do not embrace their desolations. To this day, I remind myself, “offer it up”. I also tell my children, now in their 40s, to do the same.

    6. I agree with you for the most part. Laziness is a big part of the drop in Mass attendance, but I highly doubt laziness is anything new to the Church. Spiritual writers and Scripture both point out the sin of sloth. Unfortunately, the problem of fall away Catholics, Cafeteria Catholicism, and less than 30% Mass attendance runs much deeper than simply self-centered priorities. Since I am in my late 20s, I am a part of the second poorly catechized generation. For better or worse, at least the Baltimore Catechism made sure everyone knew their faith even if it lacked a certain call to holiness to live out the faith. People question in one breath why they need the Church, or sometimes God, and then in the next breath question why they lack direction in their life and feel empty. They simply have no education in faith, prayer, or the very logical and clear explanations of why we believe what we believe. They would rather question and sneer rather than engage in an actual search for the Truth.

      Additionally, my generation, and the one coming of age soon, is facing secularism and atheism in our day to day lives with friends and entertainment in a way previous generations simply did not have to face. I try to be understanding of individuals who simply get run down by being the only Catholic in their circle. Faith is strengthen when we share it with others but feels the loss of that strength acutely when we have no one standing next to us. Yes, we should draw our strength from the God and the sacraments but we are humans who desire and need community. We need your generation to keep going, to keep praying for us so we still have an example to look to. Even the most stalwart Catholic can feel as if they cannot go on and they should not be faulted for that.

    7. I wasn’t specific enough – I was referring to the catechists, not their students, in taking the lazy, feel good approach to teaching the faith. Perhaps one could add cowardly in the sense that they are afraid the truth will cause THEMSELVES to experience the discomfort of conflict and disagreement – so they find a way around the hard truths. It is way more about them, and their feelings, than it is about God and His children.

    8. I do feel pained at your frustration as to where the next generation of Catholic catechists, faithful and clergy are going to take our church. I hope you see that the CC is in the beginning of a paradigm shift, that it is going into a higher gear – how many rpm’s can a theology take before needing to use better terms to get its point across ? The second definition of paradigm is: an example of a conjugation showing a word in all its inflectional forms. You, and Therese are so hung up on the word “sin” that you neglect its sequential counterpart :consequences. The consequence for missing mass is not eternal damnation, it is
      failing to fill up your spiritual tank as you drive through life. Running
      out of gas is not only frustrating but may lead to danger. This is the message that a future CC is going to use to return people to Church. Some cars get 50 miles to the gallon while others gobble up that much in only 16. So, obviously the CC is not downplaying mass attendance but showing its important place in our lives knowing that everyone needs to fill up eventually. If we look for a sacramental parallel in
      this motor analogy we have: The church is there when we register a new car, the church is there when you need to fill your life with grace,
      the church is there when you need repairs, it is there when you need to register a new model, it is there when you need to put two on the road and there at the end of its life when its time to turn it in.. The church needs mechanics who can fix lives and they need to be open night and day in case of emergencies. Meanwhile cars go places, they make meaningful stops to help other people, the church needs to point out all the good things you should do with a car. A car in the service of the gospel message is used to make both the world a better place and the driver a better motorist. People who drive aimlessly, without a map, are
      seldom where they need to be and usually get lost. Gas stations are everywhere. Services are quite affordable and no one should ever be refused. Go Francis, go !

    9. To better understand where the church is … now, in transition, let me continue the motor analogy. When someone first gets their license they are required to not drive after certain hours, must not carry passengers and always have an adult to accompany them. At some point they learn the rules, pass a test and are free to drive on their own. They no longer need, care for or wish to be subjugated to a ‘back seat driver’.
      A driver who says ‘ you have now reached 3000 miles and MUST get an oil change. All cars have specs that far exceed the actual limit suggested before service. A BSD who says, the speed limit is30 mph and you are doing 31. A BSD driver who says pull in here and get this
      gas. A BSD who threatens revocation of their license because they perceive each of these examples as a reason to do. The registrar (church) of the vehicle has an obligation to go over the cars warranty manual and point out what may occur if their vehicle is subjected to abuse or neglect. Picking up the wrong passengers may result in a high jacking. Letting someone else control the car may result in the overall performance becoming sloppy – after all, the car has adjusted to every aspect of your
      driving. Using the wrong fluids or inferior brands will effect the overall life of the car while improper use of brakes ( discretion) can delay or fail to respond when they are needed the most. All cars should be stored in a garage for these are less prone to rust and start up in the foulest of weather much more smoothly.
      If your vehicle starts making untoward noise or if an engine light goes on, if this kind of crisis exists then its imperative to get to a repair shop immediately. You have a responsibility as a driver to help others without transportation, ease their lives by running errands and always
      be courteous to pedestrians: they have the right of way. If you get into
      a fender bender and don’t get the vehicle repaired you not only look
      bad but are quite the contrast to other vehicles of your make and model. There maybe internal damage you don’t even know about. There are other mechanics out there who are not fully qualified to repair your particular make and model, using these will most likely keep you on the road but not in the best position. In the end, you are responsible for your driving record and condition of the new car that was given to you. In the end, it does not matter how bruised and broken this clunker is because as long as there’s someone at the wheel who remembers the name and number of their mechanic, chances are their license won’t be revoked.

    10. First time I found your blog. Very interesting article, for a pre-Vatican II cradle Catholic. All I can say is, “guilty as charged! Cafeteria Catholic and proud of it”. Was raised on Baltimore Catechism which the nuns pushed down our throats by wrapping our knuckles and whacking our heads. As I got older realized that what I was being fed wasn’t faith but mechanical religion. People who are this rigid, and fear everything, have very little faith or are so unsure of what they believe that their only outlet is to try and control others. Remember religion is all about control. It’s why the medieval Church frightened people with the grave and raised money for cathedrals.
      It took until my senior year of high school when the nun who taught religion told us, we don’t need to go to mass on Sunday, we can go any day we choose. She also clued us into the difference between having faith and practicing ritual. We do it just because we’ve always done it this way. Sorry you feel as though you don’t know your faith, but it seems to me you and those other generations are better off being raised without all the Rules & Regulations we pre-Vatican II kids had to endure. There’s nothing complicated about loving your neighbor or performing the corporal works of mercy. I don’t fear atheism because I never think about it. We live in a secular world and I believe Pope Francis realizes this. He will address all the major issues in October when he meets with bishops and they discuss what the laity has told them in the survey. We will have a better Church with more people participating in worship because they are welcome and not treated as a leper.

    11. Gonna have to disagree with several of your points and agree with others.

      First, the nuns who taught were wrong on multiple levels it seems. Obviously, beating the faith into someone is no instruction at all. But there is a difference between substance and style. The substance (faith, knowledge, relationship with Christ) was right but the style (rulers for the knuckles) was definitely wrong. As for the nun who told you you don’t need to attend Mass on Sunday what was her grounds for saying this other than her own opinion? Nothing in Church teaching says this save for those cut off from the ministerial priesthood (aka those without priests). Typical healthy Americans in no way count here.

      Second, cafeteria Catholicism is in no way something to be proud of. By definition, this means you’ve thrown out what the Church teaches (possibly including the teachings on Christ and salvation) and chosen to write your own catechism according to what fits well with your preferences and desires. At some point, should it become actual belief contrary to the teachings of the Church, this will become heresy.

      Third, might be some confusion. I’m in my late 20s not a pre-VII cradle Catholic. I may not know every last detail of the faith but what I do know did not come from those who should of taught me. Namely, religion teachers and CCD instructors. My parents did their best and gave me a foundation to build on but as an adult I have the responsibility to educate myself on those topics I am confused on, have doubt, or don’t understand. What the most recent generations have been taught is all good feelings and happy thoughts but nothing with which to combat suffering, sin, and doubt. I don’t think we should return to the Baltimore Catechism but we do need more substance than praise and worship music and food. Youth programs and instruction have this big kick on being as cool as secular activities (not all wrong bad or anything) and do their best to avoid the “uncomfortable” aspects of the faith.

    12. Good pickup on a contemporary phenomena. I’ve said it many times before but will again clarify how and why Catholics fall away or become cafeteria. Vat II came at a time of social upheaval. “ Don’t do as I do,
      do as I say”, became the mantra and symbol of hypocrisy. You have
      no idea, Michael, the effect on everyday Catholics who woke up one day to find out that the church had taken its binding and loosing and condemning of those who ate meat on the Friday before, theoretically sending them to hell, while reversing this stance within 24 hours to those munching meat on Friday next. The CC lost all its credibility in one fell swoop ( as far as imposed penalties is concerned ) when George Carlin asked that week “ … how all those Catholics doing eternity in hell on the meat rap felt about that ?” it was made perfectly clear that mortal sin was an arbitrary curse based on the mood of some college of cardinals. Many Catholics with regular size families quit
      taking such a wishy -washy magesterium seriously that day. You
      don’t play mind games with 20th century people. Another medieval
      fear to fall by the wayside was the church’s insistence that “adultery” meant leaving an abusive relationship and finding someone else to
      have and to hold – without paying an expensive fee for the privilege. The church’s interpretation is not the accepted definition of adultery by virtually everyone on earth. So these Catholics were not only told that
      they were living in mortal sin ( herein seen as arbitrary ) but if they didn’t go to church on Sunday, even though they were considered “lepers” and unworthy to receive Communion, another mortal sin would be added to the tab. I’ve probably accounted for 60% of the 70% you cite as non attending. One Catholic couple left for good and raised their children Baptist all because the church said it could not marry them outside in a beautiful setting. These friends had spent 3 years in Hawaii a few years before where outdoor weddings – and a baptism I attended – were encouraged. How many children of these experiences I’ve
      cited were not raised in the church ? These are real, objective reasons why you see what you do. Francis knows this and I am sure is tortured
      by the binding of medieval theology that invented concepts such as limbo and the not to far removed “bull” that once proclaimed, Sola Catholicism or no heaven at all. In Yeats poem ‘The second coming”,
      one line, “… the center cannot hold …” speaks volumes for all entities
      that grow humongous and powerful, all the while losing perspective over time. When 70% of the mystical body of Christ vote with their feet, you don’t blame the sheep for seeking their Shepherd elsewhere. And all this, before the sex scandal’s devastating effects. It’s amazing how these lost sheep have never lost their faith

    13. Sorry couple more things I forgot.

      I agree Francis has brought new life to an old perspective (Benedict and St. JPII spoke in a very similar vein). In what way are you expecting more people to participate in worship? In the American Church, we have lectors, altar servers, choirs, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, and gift bearers and are both male/female.

      I am also very sorry if the Church treated anyone as a leper. My advocacy of greater education of Church teachings and understanding is to help individuals internalize the faith rather than simply log it away in their brains. Not to know which people to bring in and which to banish. All should be welcome to worship but this does not translate into everyone gets to live according to their own morality and teachings which openly and clearly contradict the Church.

    14. I think why we have a problem with all of what you write here (nicely done, by the way) and in the original article is because we have a culture that loves false dichotomies, and promotes imbalance and incoherence. It’s rather telling, for example, when priests and laypeople will either beg off the “hard teachings” or make things only about the “hard stuff,” because there’s a widespread lacking in balance. When it comes to AmChurch and “the Church of Nice,” what I find more often than not is that priests may not be talking about sin and how serious it is, because they’re also not talking about what– and Who– enables us to actually live the “hard stuff.”

      Sobriety is supposedly antithetical to joy, but Pope Francis said some time ago that “having fun” is good, but “having fun” and joy aren’t the same thing. St. Francis de Sales mentions a “sober joy.” One notices that sober joy on a regular basis in the praying the Psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours, and it is very much at the heart of Gregorian chant. The balance that this strikes can be hard to describe, but it’s tangible in the latter. Mention “sobriety” in any liturgical discussion, particularly in a discussion of liturgical music, and people fly off the handle about being a “kill joy.” But sobriety actually concentrates joy, not least because of the humility, quiet, and stillness involved.

      Moreover, because so many people tend to presume that love is primarily emotional, they have a hard time with Caritas– a love that doesn’t not obliterate logic and truth, and which therefore requires responsibility and virtue. Good feelings are good. But they’re not “it.” Just as faith based on “good feelings” will be weak, marital love based primarily on “good feelings” will be weak, too. Not for nothing should we bear in mind that God’s covenant with us is a nuptial relationship. In the book of Isaiah, He refers to Himself as the husband of the people Israel. Likewise, Christ is Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride. …not for nothing, also, does the Lord refer to idolatry as adultery.

      One flipside to what you write above is how we often think that “religion” is mostly for consolation– as opposed to there being a metaphysical component, also– and that it’s good for when times get really bad. Except that we don’t just pray when life is bad, we’re to pray when life is good, too. We don’t take time off from God when we go on vacation, and we don’t cease to offer even our leisure time to Him (the Morning Offering rather says it all). God isn’t a slave driver, or some vindictive Santa Claus, even as He isn’t some cosmic gumball machine, either; He deepens leisure time that is offered up to Him, and oftentimes, what Pope Francis also called a “theology of duty” can stop us from seeing that. Wanting to be at Mass and loving to be at Mass doesn’t just come from “good feelings,” just as being at Mass every Sunday isn’t just a matter of duty and obligation, but taking “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” to say nothing of “I AM” seriously through constant, persistent, and patient engagement.

    15. Great words. Thanks for sharing. Especially your last bit. I agree. When the faith is portrayed simply as do’s and don’ts or obligations only it loses the love and joy which is at its heart. Thanks again!

  6. Pingback: Pope Francis: Seeking Jesus Outside of Church Bad - Big Plpt

  7. I agree that living up to our faith is and always will be difficult. Faith is a gift and not something we can just decide to have or not through our own means. God is the giver of faith. As this article says, The church should not change in order to make faith “easier”. At the same time, we must realize that we are all at different points on the journey. We need to avoid the temptation to exclude or condemn others in order to satisfy our need for pride and ego nourishment. That is why priests are trained as pastors. A priest should be able to evaluate and guide a person on their journey in a way that is effective for that individual person. That is why I like Pope Francis’ now famous statement “who am I to judge” regarding someone who is truly seeking God. Don’t change the faith, but let people travel the road that God has made for them.

    1. I very much agree with your point that we should never exclude or condemn those who are truly seeking the faith simply because they differ from our spirituality or approach. I simply do not wish to see people settling into their sins simply to avoid the difficulty of overcoming them. There are parishes I have encountered that have told their CCD teachers and youth ministers to avoid the harder truths and to make sure the kids simply feel good. Some go as far as to tell the children there is no such thing as sin. Obviously, the priority in these parishes is greatly off the mark.

      Earlier this week, the daily Mass reading reminded us to remove the speck from our own I first before helping our brothers. This seems pertinent.

    2. Well my 4th graders get taught the truth of sin and I don’t water it down. My assistant says that when I teach, she watches and the kids “hang on every word”… I’m open and trully honest with them.

      something I have discovered in my journey to follow Christ is that on the surface, following the Lord appears hard because we have to stop doing this and that and giving up this and that and we are afraid of the unknown. Once we begin to surrender, His will be done, there is greater peace and joy and I’m 99% sure that as I keep on this path of total surrender to Divine Providence, the storms will not disturb me. i think that’s why the saint in the end could follow Jesus with a peace and joy, not being thrown off ballanced. They were always there, it was a growing process, like I’m going through now and one day, if i persevere to the end I too will be where they are.

    3. I was thinking the same thing as I was walking to work this morning.
      Christianity is hard only when we hang on to sin. But when Christ become centre, it becomes easier because we are no longer bound by this or that created god but truly free in Him. He did says that His burden is light.
      St Peter sank when he took his eyes off Christ. The waves gain ground when we take our focus off Him.

    4. Cynthia Millen

      Thank you for so beautifully explaining how the grace of Jesus lifts our burdens and gives us such joy!

    5. Right, 1968….your analysis doesn’t explain why a majority of “catholics” voted for Obama twice. Did you?

  8. Birgit Atherton Jones

    ‘Me-centered Catholicism’, yes, this describes it perfectly. This essay is so spot on I had difficulty choosing a pull quote to share on Facebook. Thank you for this excellent piece. Now if we can somehow all begin thinking in this vein.

  9. Dear Dear Michael, Why can’t you just feel the love and bloom where you’re planted? Thank you-excellent article. Where are you exiled and do we need to send Pace Picante Sauce? Guy McClung San Antonio

    ps: I confess, commented becasue I want to see all comments and have them emailed to me

    1. Haha thanks. I am not too far away. I am returning soon for a wedding, and I plan on getting my fill of family, friends, and real Mexican food. On a side note, GO SPURS GO!

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