How Do We Learn to be Catholic?
How well are Catholics of today evangelised? Have they been formed to grow in the faith? Fr Ralph De Hahn reflects on these questions.
If there was a survey of Catholics, I have no doubt that we would find that most Catholics have little knowledge of the Bible and the practice of the Catholic faith. Only a handful of Catholics are able to accurately defend Catholic teachings and practice — and some of those who do try often impair their efforts by their overenthusiasm, claiming the Church teaches things it actually doesn’t. Among those who fill our pews on Sundays, we’ll find many who still live in the mental stage of learning the “Penny Catechism”, having made little spiritual progress since.
Catholics proudly display photographs of that glorious First Communion and, of course, that grand confirmation diploma, which for so many young people signifies a “Goodbye to classes” and, at last, total freedom. But we need to stop fooling ourselves that all is well in the Church. It isn’t! Our people are not being evangelised. We happily grow and mature in every other sphere of human living — but not spiritually. We are seemingly stagnant, living in the past, happy to cherish our childlike dreams. And if our idea of God is still the same as that of our childhood days, then we are in a sorry state of spiritual immaturity. We have so much to unlearn, and a lot to refresh and update.
Of course, good teachers have produced good fruit and we do find them in the present Church. Good teachers, catechists and preachers have enriched the Church by being true evangelists, by simply proclaiming the Gospel, beginning with what is known — the God-man Jesus.
Many parents today — still harbouring the teaching of the past — are no longer in the Church. In others, the sweet and mild Jesus still lives on, and they dutifully take their children to Sunday Mass as it is still an “obligation” — but often with no mention of worship or thanksgiving. And the young have their smartphones — every human person is a number. With all the great technology at hand, what need do they think they have of God? Do parents and preachers inform the “educated” of the source of all these gifts?
All this is affecting our catechesis and evangelisation immensely, but, sadly, we are still hanging on to our childlike concepts. For example, how many faithful believers advance to an adult method of praying, so simple, so spontaneous. If they do pray, many Catholics recall their prayers of old, taught decades ago in Sunday school. If adults find prayer boring and difficult to fit into their busy hours, one may wonder about their understanding of prayer and praying.
Our Lord warned us that new wine must be poured into fresh skins (Luke 5:37). The means for formation do exist. Our parishes have prayer groups, but how many Catholics take part? We have the Catholic media, but what is the Church — all of us! — doing to promote reading The Southern Cross or tuning into Radio Veritas or buying books about the faith in Catholic bookshops and repositories?
A Catholic education begins in the home. The home is meant to be the nest where the growing child is educated. But how many Catholic parents prepare their young adults as they develop sexually in such a marvellous way designed by God himself? How do they instruct them about one of God’s greatest and most beautiful gifts? Do our young and those preparing for marriage have an accurate understanding of love, loving or just “falling in love”? The failure of so many marriages, even among Catholics, is a terrible reflection on our catechesis and lack of evangelisation.
Our teachings on heaven, hell, purgatory, divine grace and the vital role of the Blessed Virgin Mary need to be emphasised in the formation of Catholics. The concepts of the Church as the Family of God and his Mystical Body, and the infinite mercy of our God, must be part of a new wave of evangelisation. The love of Christ must be made real in our Church.
Millions of good people can’t find Jesus alive in the Catholic Church, so they search for him elsewhere or, worse, give up looking for him altogether. And who can blame them?
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.
This article was published in the October 2021 issue of the Southern Cross magazine