“Most Catholics don’t know the Bible,” “most Catholics use contraception,” “the religion of most Catholics is dead,” etc.
There’s nothing new or shocking about these and similar criticisms, especially if you’ve spent any time defending the Catholic faith on the Internet or elsewhere.
But they still sadden me, for at least one important reason: they are absolutely, undeniably, and scandalously true.
And they make it easy for non-Catholics to dismiss the Catholic faith they need for their salvation.
Yes, we Catholics are sinners just like everyone else, and nominalism plagues every every religion.
But we can do better. We have the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and full access to his infinite grace. We should be held to a higher standard.
Now, it’s important to note that none of the problems I list here are inherent to Catholicism itself, but come from Catholics not living out their own faith. Further, none of them apply to all Catholics, at least not in a significant way. Nonetheless, all of these things apply to enough Catholics that they cause scandal to non-Catholics, giving them easy reasons to not take Catholicism seriously.
I also do not pretend to not be a part of the problem. I am. But I’d also like to be a part of the solution. So here are four things that we Catholics unfortunately do that rightly scandalize non-Catholics – and that we need to improve to better bring the Gospel to the world.
1) Not talking enough about Jesus
He’s depicted on the cross front-and-center in most Catholic churches, it’s his Gospel we are charged to take to the ends of the earth, and he is mysteriously made present on the altar at every Mass. Jesus is the absolute center of the Catholic faith, the beginning and end of everything.
At least he’s supposed to be.
This problem is huge and can’t be overstated. Even among otherwise faithful Catholics, it sometimes seems we can spend a lot of time talking about the Church, the clergy, the Pope, the Mass, moral teachings, the Sacraments, and yes, Mary and the saints – all important things – but hardly ever mention Jesus.
Yes, I’m saying it: evangelicals sometimes have a point when they say it seems all these things can be a distraction. And they are right to be scandalized by it.
Of course, the solution isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater, reacting to the other extreme and engaging in a certain sort of minimalism, but to have a proper ordering of things. Catholics must follow the teaching of their own Church and put Jesus first, for he is God incarnate and the only one who can save us. Everything else is only meant to help bring us closer to him and must be regarded as such.
2) Not knowing Scripture
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
This isn’t a quote from some fundamentalist Bible-only preacher, but from the 4th century Catholic saint and Doctor of the Church Jerome. It’s also quoted in Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
It seems, then, a lot of Catholics are ignorant of Christ.
The Catholic Church agrees with our Protestant brothers and sisters that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and final in all that it teaches. It is a primary way that we learn about Christ and the way of salvation. We Catholics have the Bible and are encouraged to know it, but most of us don’t.
3) Dissenting from Church teaching
This might seem counterintuitive, but this especially applies to those teachings with which other Christians or non-Christians disagree. Because why should they take Catholic teaching seriously when it appears that Catholics themselves don’t take Catholic teaching seriously?