From Fr. JC’s Desk: “Cultural Catholics”

“Jesus Christ did not come to suffer and die so that he could make ‘cultural Catholics’” (Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles).

When I first read Archbishop Gomez’s comment, I found it very provocative.  What did he mean by “cultural Catholics” and of course, what did Jesus Christ suffer and die for?  

In the past, I think we called “cultural Catholics” C&E Catholics — “Christmas and Easter Catholics.”  Maybe if you were a bit more optimistic they were CAPE Catholics — “Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter Catholics.”  The point was the same; they were the Catholics who only darkened the parish’s door a few times a year.  They received the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist), but pretty much stopped coming to Church after Confirmation.  They come for the “big” Holy Days, and maybe for a friend or family member’s funeral or wedding, but that was about it.  Of course they wanted the parish to be available to them (when and how they wanted it) when they decided to get married so that they could have the “Big Church” wedding where the gown, tux, flowers, and reception was given more thought and importance than the prayers and Scriptural readings for the Nuptial Mass.  Then you would not see them again until they had a child which they wanted baptized.  Baptism really had become just a “naming ceremony” and a reason for a party, than an entering into a new life as a son or daughter of God.  Another long absence from Church followed, until it was time for the child to receive Holy Communion; another absence and then a return for Confirmation.

These types of “cultural Catholics” are still among us.  We would like to think that they are the minority of Catholics, but sadly that is not true.  Regrettably, “cultural Catholics” are the majority of us today.  The other week, during his video presentation, Bishop O’Connell mentioned that only 18% of Catholics in the United States go to Mass each week.  Let’s make that concrete for us here at Resurrection Parish.  We have about 1700 registered families, if we say that an average family is about 3.5 people, that means we have about 6000 people in our parish.  We average about 168 people at each of our four weekend Masses for about 672 people coming to Mass each weekend.  That’s 11% of the registered Catholics in our parish attend Mass each weekend.  11%!!!  The vast majority of our parishioners are “cultural Catholics.”  

This is a crisis.  This trend has been going on since before I arrived two years ago, and if it continues, not only will we not survive as a parish, but the Church of Jesus Christ will suffer.  What can we do?  What MUST we do?

Jesus, of course, gives us the answer;  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).  WE MUST MAKE DISCIPLES!  This is the mission that Jesus has given us, and it is the mission that we are going to be focusing all our efforts at here at Resurrection Parish.  Let each of us commit ourselves to being disciples of Jesus Christ, to deepening our discipleship, and to doing everything we can to invite others to discipleship.  

About Fr. JC

Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Trenton, NJ, in 2004. Currently the Pastor of Resurrection Parish in Delran, NJ.
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