Letter from Msgr. Schaedel for bulletin of December 17, 2000
Gaudete in Domino semper iterum dico gaudete! (Philippians 4:4) This is the beautiful beginning of the Introit verse for todayís Latin Mass. "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice!" Gaudete means rejoice, hence Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. This season of waiting is more than half over. The celebration of the Birth of Our Savior is near. Hence, the rose-colored vestments. Gaudete! Rejoice!
Just about one week from today Holy Rosary will rejoice with the rest of the world on Christmas. Our church will be beautifully decorated. The Nativity scene will grace Our Ladyís side altar. (I donít think Mary minds one bit. Her side altar gives way to the happiest day of her life, the birth of her Savior and ours.)
As always, our church as well as others around town will be packed, standing room only. And, yes, it makes me wonder too. Where are these people the other times of the year? Is there really such a thing as a "C & E" (Christmas and Easter) Catholic? Iím afraid so.
This brings me to the question: Just who is a Catholic? What is the "minimum" to call oneís self a Catholic?
It seems to me that the "minimum" is one who is baptized into the Catholic Faith, who professes everything we believe in the Creed, and who abides by the Precepts of the Church. (No, the Six Precepts of the Church have not gone by the wayside. They are clearly part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2041-2043) The first precept obliges a Catholic to attend Mass every Sunday and holyday of obligation. This seems to be to be a minimum.
Yet, it is true that once baptized into the Catholic Faith, one is always a Catholic. In baptism, the priest says, "I claim you for Christ Our Savior." Once Christ claims us in baptism, heís not apt to "disclaim us," even when we sin radically. We disclaim Him.
So to speak, there is no such thing as an "ex-Catholic." There are certainly non-practicing Catholics and others who have publicly abandoned their Church. Excommunication from the Church is certainly possible, but usually rare. That could perhaps be an exception to what I am saying here.
What makes me conscious of this issue are a couple of recent events:
One is the story about the recent exit polls that supposedly reveal that a majority of "Catholics" did not vote pro-life. Itís something well over 50%. But letís examine those statistics. The pollsters are including people who identify themselves as "Catholic" but who do not attend Mass on any regular basis. The numbers also include those never study their Faith nor make any attempt to learn what the Church teaches on various moral issues. Who says these folks have a right to throw themselves in the same category with regular churchgoers who do live and study their Faith? I demand a recount!
Another example is even more radical. Last Sunday night (December 10), 60 Minutes did a segment on Catholic Healthcare entitled, "God, Women, and Medicine." The report looked at a recent phenomenon in hospitals in general as well as Catholic hospitals. Many small hospitals, usually in rural areas, are being purchased by much larger hospital systems. This often happens because the small market hospital cannot make it on its own financially in todayís healthcare market.
As the liaison with Catholic Healthcare in our archdiocese, I can tell you that this is true in Indiana. I can also tell you that the whole Catholic Healthcare scene is tremendously complicated! Iíve never learned so much in such a short time. Maintaining Catholic values on the dignity of human life while remaining competitive in the rapidly changing healthcare scene is difficult.
The crux of the 60 Minutes story was that when small town hospitals become Catholic, certain reproductive services are no longer performed in those facilities. This includes abortion, sterilization, contraceptives, and the like. These procedures clearly violate Catholic ethical and moral directives.
Naturally, the report was slanted in such a way as to attack the Church and its values. For example, an unfortunate woman seeking an abortion had to drive 80 miles to another hospital. Another poor soul had to drive 35 miles for a tubal ligation. I would imagine that neither one of them would think a thing about driving such a distance from their rural homes to a shopping mall, but this was portrayed as a violation of their "right to a choice."
Now, what Iím getting at here is that the prominent person being interviewed was a woman named Frances Kissling. 60 Minutes identified Ms. Kissling as "a Catholic." Let me assure you, Frances Kissling is a real piece of work. She is the head of an organization called "Catholics For a Free Choice." This group promotes so-called "choice" when it comes to abortion, sterilization, and contraception in direct violation the teaching of the Catholic Church. Yet they call themselves "Catholics for a Free Choice."
How dumb can you get? "Catholics For a Free Choice" makes about as much sense as "Atheists for School Prayer." We all know that "choice" is a code word for abortion, which is the murder of innocent human life. So, here we have "Catholics For the Murder of Innocent Human Life." Are these people nuts?
Yet here is Frances Kissling yapping away on 60 Minutes as if she is some official Catholic spokesperson. In one interview segment, she says, "It seems to me as a CatholicÖ" Well, letís picture another scene: A registered Democrat does everything in her power to advertise, defend, promote, and spread the platform of the Republican Party. She defends everything the Republicans say, especially that which directly opposes the position of the Democratic platform. Do you suppose the media would then interview her to get an overview of the Democratic platform since she is a registered Democrat? I donít think so! And if they did, and she did, she would be the laughing stock of the country.
Two priests, Fathers James Keating and Anthony Ciorra, recently wrote an article on "Public Catholics." These are Catholics who think and love and act like a Catholicóin public, on the job, in school. (Pastoral Life, December 2000) I donít think Ms. Kissling, the "Catholics For a Free Choice, " (there is no such thing), and these exit poll respondents fit into that category. For them to publicly identify themselves as "Catholics" is deception and hypocrisy.
On the other hand, most of the people who do not attend Mass regularly or follow Church teaching are not quite in the same category as the screwballs Iíve mentioned above. They are "non-practicing Catholics."
Back to the big crowds for Christmas Masses. Who are they? Iím not sure. Iím not their judge. But they are welcome here anytime. We are called to evangelize in the new millennium. Practicing Catholics? Like all of us, they just might need lots more practice.
Let me also remind all of us that our Advent preparation is not complete without the Sacrament of Penance. Let me remind you that there is an opportunity for confession before all Masses, seven days a week here at Holy Rosary. The Advent Penance Service for those parishes who support Central Catholic School (Sacred Heart, Good Shepherd, Saint Patrick, and us) will be at Saint Patrick today, December 17th, at 3:00 p.m. We need Godís mercy and grace for our sinfulness, practicing Catholics and non-practicing alike.
I hope you received a letter from our parish staff this week with our Christmas greeting and small gift for the New Year. Thank you so much for your generosity, most recently proven by your response to our Stewardship Campaign and United Catholic Appeal. God love you all!
Sincerely in God's Providence,
Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel