Catholic means “Here Comes Everybody!”

I have just finished reading an article by Sandro Magister (“Go forth and baptize”) on the situtation in the Catholic Church in Argentina.

The problem concerned rigorism in application to the question of who should be admitted to baptism. As Magister puts it:

What reemerges here is the ancient and still unresolved dispute between a Church of the elite, a pure, minority Church, and a Church of the masses, populated also by that immense sea of humanity for whom Christianity is made up of a few simple things.

This is relevant to a comment Christine recently made on Acroamaticus’ blog. She commented of the Catholic Church: “A “baptized” membership of billions, even though many are practically unevangelized pagans.”

The whole article by Magister is worth reading in this regard, but I am reminded of a comment that James Joyce originally made in his novel Finnigan’s Wake: “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody'”. By the sheer fact of the universal nature of the Church, we do not have the luxury of requiring a high degree of catechisation of everyone who wishes to be a member of it. The problem is, as Magister points out, a perennial one, but it is one that we live with for the sake of the gospel. Rigourism was rejected by the early Church (against Tertullian and others). We are not about to reintroduce it now.

Christine made another similar comment at the end of the same string on Mark’s blog in response to something I said:

The price of full communion is full acceptance of Catholic doctrine.

Hmmm. Forgive me for being cheeky, but perhaps the Catholic Church ought to work on that premise for her own before requiring it of others 🙂

Well, from my experience, those whom I admitted into membership of the Lutheran Church when I was a pastor were always better catechised than those who were already members of the congregation and who had not had any formal catechisation since their confirmation. I think this is normal. We often require a greater degree of acceptance of the public teachings of a community at the point of admission and initiation than we do of those already in the community. The same goes for immigrants, who are often expected to show a degree of knowledge about our country and loyalty to it which is much higher than that required of those who are born here!

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9 responses to “Catholic means “Here Comes Everybody!”

  1. Yes, this is an important question, David. I’ve often agonised over baptising children of families whom I strongly suspect will never practice the faith, but in the end I’ve always erred on the side of a charitable interpretation of their intentions.

    On the other hand, is ‘raising the bar’ a little higher than simply requesting baptism necessarily equivalent to rigorism? Some Lutheran congregations are now requiring enrolment in a catechetical program as a necessary precursor to acceptance of an application for holy baptism in those cases where a family is non-practicing. The goal, as I understand it, is not to make baptism conditional upon such an undertaking, but to equip the family for raising the child in the grace of their baptism.

  2. jules

    Look all this reminds me of this great and simple truth when speaking about faith , God, and religion. It goes like this…” To know you is to love you.” I really think all Catholics need to be fully informed to appreciate the meaning of their own membership within the church. The confusion out there is shocking and also sad. Not only among the average lay person but educated ones that hold Ph.Ds It saddens me also to hear priests suggest that Confirmation has become the ‘sacrament of farewell’ 😦

  3. Matthias

    I can remember as an Elder in the UCA that we had one minister who would baptise babies of all and sundry ,of people who were active Christians -church members- and of those who just wanyed it done for the social nicety. I recall one young woman who made a show of attending church and of wanting her child ‘done’ and at the service ,which was also a Communion sunday ,her husband ,a non church attended,sat there with the biggest smirk of his face as if to humour his wife. I visited that family once a quarter ,but they never returned to church after the baptism.I questioned at the next Elders meeting about the validity of people presenting their children for Baptism when we knew we would never see them again and I can remember an older wiser Elder making the comment that there should be preparation classes-in the vain that Pastor Mark refers to- rather than production line. The minister was a bit upset,and the Treasurer said that these people gave to the Church annually. Whooppeee. Let’s by our Salvation .
    Perhaps the old process in the Early Church that demanded of serious converts a two year catechumate (is that correct gammar) is worth looking at again. But then RCIA and the catechizing process in Lutherans is similar.

  4. Fr Ronan Kilgannon Erem.Dio.

    The Apostles failed to understand much of what Jesus was teaching in their three years of ‘catechesis’ in His company. Christine’s term of ‘practical unevangelised pagans’ might well be have been applied to them. Their failure to comprehend His the meaning of His Gospel elicited one of the few examples in the Gospels of Jesus’ fierce anger. But He did not dismiss them as hopeless cases. It was the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that brought about the change. We must not forget the grace of the Sacrament and the possibility of the Holy Spirit reviving it in conversion at some time in the future.

    I grew up in a mixed marriage and non-practicing home and attended government schools. Even so, with the encouragement of state school catechists I began attending Mass daily from age 13 years and heard the call to the priesthood. I thank God that some priest (back in the 1940s) baptised me against all odds. ‘Nothing is impossible to God’.

    • jules

      Amen to that Father Ronan. God works in mysterious way and His ways are not always understood. And guess we ought just continue the mission with hope instead of despairing in the current climate within the church and outside as well. Thank you.

  5. Matthias

    Aye Father Ronan for God’s faithful priests and ministers . The work of God the Holy Spirit goes on despite our human failings

  6. Christine

    I really think all Catholics need to be fully informed to appreciate the meaning of their own membership within the church. The confusion out there is shocking and also sad. Not only among the average lay person but educated ones that hold Ph.Ds It saddens me also to hear priests suggest that Confirmation has become the ’sacrament of farewell’

    This is certainly not only a problem for the Catholic Church but it is a much LARGER problem. Even with the “reforms” of Vatican II the Catholic Church is still basically a church of the sacraments and the lack of Biblical catechesis is responsible for much of this sad state of affairs.

    I, too, grew up in a Lutheran/Catholic household. I’ve seen them both play out and I am by no means implying that the Lutheran Church is a “purer” church, but sometimes the Church of Rome has been too accomodating of what she has allowed to infiltrate her walls.

    As for the Apostles, they were for the most part Jews and already in a covenantal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The mystery they wrestled with was the image of the Messiah that they had been taught to expect and the One who actually came. One cannot compare them to the Greeks and Romans who had been brought up in a polytheistic world.

    I wish it had turned out otherwise for me in my ten years as a Catholic. When all was said and done I had to leave for my own spiritual integrity. The Catholic Church I encountered is very different from the one my Catholic dad introduced me to when I was a child.

    • Christine: but sometimes the Church of Rome has been too accomodating of what she has allowed to infiltrate her walls

      Pope Benedict: “I must say that I took a similar route to yours. When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. And then I always used to talk to my parish priests when I was Archbishop of Munich: here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open – according to many official authorities – with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion.

  7. Christine

    David, and yet, may I gently point out, this pope is now speaking of a “smaller” church, a faithful remnant, if you will. Even John Paul II lamented that there are still so many unevangelized Catholics. Catholicism is much like Judaism. Even when the faith is no longer there some hang on for cultural reasons. That happens less to Protestants, who generally leave the church when they lose their faith.

    Yes, the Lord was most merciful with all He encountered, He never refused the sinner who came to Him. But He never left them in the same state, either.

    The letters to the churches in the Revelation are addressed not to the “world” but to the baptized, those who are admitted to the Holy Supper, and they are quite solemn in addressing those who had lost their “first love” and compromised sound apostolic teaching.