is not our role model. One of the big disappointments of being a Protestant clergy convert was the number of Protestant clergy converts who seemed to look upon their new found Catholic faith as a license to party. Now, shorn of those pesky puritanical restrictions, we could indulge in endless drinking and partying, dirty jokes and gambling, smoking, cussing, dropping F-bombs - the whole package.
And why not? After all, have you attended a Catholic Church picnic lately? The High Street bars after an Ohio State Football game have little on those. For that matter, sometimes at Mass I've heard the odd F-bomb or S*** bomb. Not to mention the thing that got me to thinking about this in the first place. That thing was the attire that many young (and not so young) women were wearing last week at Mass. Sure, there were some benefits, especially if you are a guy on the make: low cut tops, bountiful cleavage, high, tight shorts leaving little to the imagination; all the ingredients necessary for a successful pick-up.
But there's a problem. This is supposed to be a life of holiness. Sure, Catholics are right in realizing that Protestants can be both fickle and ascetic when it comes to enjoying the fruitful bounties of God's creation. The glass of wine, a nice beer on a hot day, a card game among friends, cutting up on the dance floor at a wedding, even the rare expletive when one hits one's toe on the corner of the piano without fearing an eternity of hellfires and damnation -all of these are fine.
But Catholics appear to take it too far, and that can be a problem. For three reasons really.
Like it or no, people in our society - both Protestant and non-Christian - imagine that being religious means something. They may go overboard, and have unrealistic expectations. But even the most reasonable non-Catholics assume Christian living should not sound like an Eddie Murphy performance. That's just our culture. Many Catholics I've heard and read scoff at this and say it just shows their ignorance of what true Catholicism is all about. Fair enough. But imagine this. Say you were in a strange land where folks assumed that good people never, ever shook hands. Would a Catholic say 'screw them, I'm shaking hands because there's nothing wrong with shaking a person's hand!'? I'd like to think not. Consider yourself a stranger in a strange land, and try imagining yourself as a missionary. And in this strange land people assume following Christ does not make one look, sound, and act the same as a person living a godless life.
This leads to the next problem. Catholics, on the whole, have a reputation. In college, we used to say if you want to get lucky, don't date religious girls....but Catholics were OK. That's not good. In most cases, most of the Catholics I knew growing up could out-drink, out-cuss, out-gamble, and quite honestly, out-screw the most hedonistic atheist. Some carried on lives that an MTV reality show would be hard-pressed to air. This spills over into other, more troubling trends: Catholics who seem proud of not following Church teaching, Catholics who routinely live the way they want to live, be it cohabitation, using birth control, supporting abortion, you name it. Study after study has suggested when it comes to hedonism, you'd be hard-pressed to outdo an American Catholic.
And many Catholics serious about their faith bemoan this. But face it, Jesus said those who are faithful with little will be faithful with much. And that's true. Watching my boy's football practice, I notice the coach has emphasized fundamentals. Don't learn the fundamentals, and you won't win the games. We've all seen the movie Patton. When Patton takes over at the beginning of the movie, what does he say? Does he say 'who cares about the little things! Get your guns and let's charge the enemy!' No, he comes down on them like white on rice over things such as shining shoes, wearing dirty uniforms, not having helmets, having pictures of girls in barracks. Because if you are sloppy in the little things in most areas of life, you won't be much use in the big things.
People used to ask me, when I was a pastor, how they would know if they could take a bullet for the faith. I said look at life now. Do you find it hard to wake up and go to church? Do you skip things? Not help? Not take part in things? Not have much of a devotional life? If you can't do those little things, don't expect to jump out and take the slings and arrows of Satanic opposition to the faith. Likewise, maybe - just maybe - the tendency of Catholics to play fast and loose with that witness of holy living regarding little things may tend to lead to dismissal of the big things, and the reputation Catholics have of being the ones less likely to follow Church teaching than many a non-Catholic.
Finally, the witness.
I can assure folks that at no time in my non-Christian walk did seeing a Catholic student on the floor of a bar, or hearing a Catholic drop the F-bomb, or noticing a Catholic who could out party the frat boys, ever make me consider being a Christian. At no point did I say, "After hearing that well-placed F-Bomb, I must think about this whole Jesus thing!" When my third boy was going through first communion, a rather wild bunch of Catholics were in the pew behind me. Cussing, laughing, generally ignoring what was happening while livening the event with a list of expletives that would make George Carlin blush. All I could think was 'thank goodness my (non-Catholic) family isn't here. It's bad enough for some of them we would become Catholic in the first place. That would all but clinch any hope of them ever following.'
Yes, I'm aware of Romans 14. I know Paul points out that the mature in the Faith know it isn't about this or that little regulation or restriction. Freedom in Christ means freedom in Christ. But Paul is also quick to point out that with this freedom comes responsibility. And perhaps it's time for Catholics to look at the responsibility they have before the mission field in which they live. For not only could a little more discipline perhaps show fruit in reigning in those Catholics who so proudly dismiss Church teaching in a host of areas, but it may actually help bear witness to a faith worth more than a romp with Blutarsky in Animal House. A witness that may help stem the decline of the Catholic Church in the West.