The Internal Revenue Service would not be impressed by someone who paid taxes not in the formal way, but in a spiritual sense.
Yet the equivalent of that has be come an esoteric mantra among many who identify as Catholics but reject Catholicism as their religion. The Pew Research Center found that 13 percent of those surveyed, who regard themselves as "indelibly Catholic by culture, ancestry, ethnicity or family tradition," do not practice the precepts of the Faith.
That "cultural Catholicism" does not work when challenged by Catholicism's despisers. There is much to be said for inheriting the faith of ancestors, but ancestors are betrayed when that faith is a patrimony that is squandered by a spendthrift heir. In the Middle East there are Christians who can trace their religious identity back to the apostles, but theirs is not a mere cultural religion. A year after Christian towns of northern Iraq were liberated from the Islamic State, many families still live in refugee camps. Various organizations are providing assistance, but the challenge is to encourage resettlement, not by temporary financial relief, but by restoring and developing local economies to revive ghost towns. The pope's creation of the Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Sako of Baghdad, as a Cardinal affirms hope of revitalization.
In those areas, the faithful have had to resist attempts to make them renounce the Gospel by force. In decadent Western cultures, such surrender has been voluntary. Much of Europe has long since abandoned Christ through indifference. More recently, the illusion of Ireland as a Catholic country was shattered by the overwhelming vote for abortion, following the vote in 2015 for redefining marriage.
Cultural Catholicism abandons the Holy Spirit for the Spirit of the Age, a seductive chimera that haunts once-holy halls. Saint Patrick could say once again: "I dwell amongst barbarians, a proselyte and an exile, for the love of God." He preached Christianity as a vocation and not as an avocation: "That which I have set out in Latin is not my words but the words of God and of apostles and prophets, who of course have never lied. He who believes shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be damned. God has spoken."
Here in New York, the virtual evaporation of candidates for the priesthood, while vocations have grown in many other parts of the country, is like the canary in a coal mine. Facts are shrewd mentors, teaching that cultural Catholicism is not enough. Yet consider some of the most significant and diverse figures in the history of the Church in New York: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Isaac Hecker, Orestes Brownson, Paul Wattson, Rose Hawthorne, Thomas Fortune Ryan, Joyce Kilmer, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Clare Boothe Luce, Avery Dulles, Bernard Nathanson. As converts, they were counter-cultural, and they did not degrade the Sacrifice of Christ by being Catholic in a cultural, but not a religious sense.
Father George W. Rutler. "Facts are shrewd mentors." From the Pastor (June 10, 2018).
Reprinted with permission from Father George W. Rutler.
Father George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City. He has written many books, including: The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.Copyright © 2018 Father George W. Rutler
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