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Fr Dwight Longenecker on Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized Catholics

By Fr Dwight Longenecker
November 3rd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Many of the Catholics I meet are sacramentalized, and many of them are fairly well catechized. They have yet to be evangelized. "Evangel" is another word for the gospel, and the gospel is another word for Good News. So, in other words, many Catholics have yet to really hear with the ear of their hearts the Good News of Jesus Christ.

GREENVILLE, SC (Catholic Online) - Every Saturday night I found myself in a different presbytery somewhere in England. I was working for a Catholic charity making mission appeals, and it was my job to visit the parishes and speak about our work. After the vigil Mass the priest and I would retire to the presbytery for supper and a glass of something to lubricate the conversation.

Many of the priests were good, solid Irishmen who had come to England to minister. They were always interested in my unusual trek from America to England, and through the Anglican church to the Catholic faith.

Often they spoke well of their Protestant neighbors and colleagues. They admired and respected the godly Protestants they knew. They also understood that many Protestants had a different sort of relationship with Christ than many Catholics. We would discuss this difference and one priest summed it up. "The problem with many Catholics is that they are sacramentalized but not evangelized."

He explained that in Ireland when he was growing up the whole population were Catholic. Everyone had to be baptized. Crowds of children had to be educated and prepared for first Holy Communion. Crowds more had to be prepared for confirmation, then for marriage or ordination or service in the many religious orders. "We had to put 'em through on a conveyor belt!" he explained. They came out the other side having memorized a penny catechism and with a list of do's and don'ts and the assurance that if they kept their nose clean they might just make it into purgatory."

The problem I find now that I am a Catholic priest is that this Irish priest's explanation is true here in the United States too. There was a culture here of "putting them through on a conveyor belt." It's assembly line Catholicism. The result is a population of Catholics who think their religion is a matter of going through the actions, keeping the rules and regulations and the most important thing is not missing Mass on Sunday.  What many of them don't seem to 'get' is that this is the minimum not the maximum. The Catholic faith is far more than minding your Ps and Qs and hoping you'll scrape by and make it into purgatory.

Pope Benedict XVI keeps reminding us in his gentle way that the Christian faith is not primarily about rules and regulations or even dogma and set devotions, but it is about an encounter with Christ. He almost sounds like Billy Graham asking people to "invite Jesus Christ into their lives as their personal Lord and Savior"! In fact, if Billy Graham and Pope Benedict could sit down for breakfast one morning (I'm sure they'd eat eggs Benedict.) they would have many points of agreement.

The entire history of salvation is about real human beings having an encounter with God--an encounter that changes their lives and ultimately changes the world. Throughout the Old Testament the stories echo of the astounding and life changing encounters between God and his chosen people. The gospels are nothing if they are not the record of the profound and moving encounters between needy people and the God who meets them where they are.

Many of the Catholics I meet are sacramentalized, and many of them are fairly well catechized. They have yet to be evangelized. "Evangel" is another word for the gospel, and the gospel is another word for Good News. So, in other words, many Catholics have yet to really hear with the ear of their hearts the Good News of Jesus Christ.

This Good News is proclaimed most readily by those who live the gospel day by day in a radical way. If we live out what we say we believe, others will also see that we have encountered Christ. They will sense that we live life in a new and greater dimension, and seeing the transformation in us they will search for that same new life.

This is how the New Evangelization will take place--just like the old evangelization--by lives on fire--lives transformed by an encounter with Christ the Lord.

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Fr Dwight Longenecker's latest book Catholicism Pure and Simple is a powerful and clear explanation of the Catholic faith starting with arguments for God and leading to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, sacraments and spirituality. Check out his website, blog and free weekly newsletter.

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