Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bare Minimum Catholicism

This “Get Religion” writer calls a recent Gallup Poll further confirmation that there are four Catholic voter blocs. He identifies them this way:

—“Ex-Catholics. Solid for the Democrats.”

—“Cultural Catholics who may go to church a few times a year. This may be an undecided voter, but this vote leans to Democrats.”

—“Sunday-morning American Catholics. This voter is a regular in the pew and may even play some leadership role in the parish. This is the true Catholic swing vote.”

—“The ‘sweats the details’ Roman Catholic who goes to confession, is active in the full sacramental life of the parish and almost always backs the Vatican on doctrinal matters. This group is a small slice of the American Catholic pie.”

Let’s rename and redefine that last category. Instead of “sweats the details” Catholics, let’s call them:

“Bare minimum Catholics. Catholics who at least follow the ‘indispensable minimum’: the precepts of the Church.”

They are, says the Catechism:

1) to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation and to refrain from work and activities which could impede the sanctification of those days;
2) to confess one’s sins, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once each year;
3) to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter Season;
4) to abstain from eating meat and to observe the days of fasting established by the Church; and
5) to help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”

The precepts of the Church aren’t a legalistic thing: They are the minimum you have to do to maintain your relationship with God.

If we made a list of “the minimum you have to do to live in peace with your spouse,” the list would be the same:

1) Spend significant time with her every week (the Mass attendance obligation);
2) apologize when you offend her (confession);
3) participate in marital relations (communion obligation);
4) acknowledge her birthday and anniversary (the days of fasting and abstinence); and
5) support your spouse (the obligation to give according to ability).

Continuing the comparison: People who insist on calling themselves Catholics but don’t follow the precepts of the Church are like wives who won’t talk to their husbands, husbands who hurt their wives and refuse to apologize, wives who refuse sexual relations, husbands who are too cheap to spring for flowers or a card on those important dates, or a spouse who maintains a separate bank account and refuses to share it.

If it truly is a small group that follows the precepts of the Church, then Catholics have important work to do: It’s our duty to return as many people as possible to bare-minimum Catholicism.

The group to start with first would be the “Sunday-morning crowd.” Win them over and we’ll be able to grow that category exponentially, because it will transform our churches.

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