I’ll Bet You Caused a Scandal Today: A Response to “4 Things Catholics Do”

I used to work in marriage prep. You don’t actually have to be a priest, deacon, or married person to do some parts. Each time I met a new couple, I would ask for one person’s address, then ask if the other’s was the same, and finally ask if they lived together. Almost all of them did. I made no overt assumptions about their sexual relationships, but it was my duty to explain why the church opposes cohabitation, so I had my spiel down before long.

Besides the obvious problem of fornication, the Church opposes cohabitation because of scandal. It’s not the kind of “scandal” that’s really just depressing news about the poor life choices of celebrities. This is Christian scandal: when you, a Christian, do something Christians aren’t supposed to do, and you set a bad example for other people. You scandalize them.

Unfortunately, it’s not just cohabiting couples that are causing scandal. Brantly Millegan, of Aleteia and other web haunts, lists four things Catholics do that scandalize non-Catholics and what to do about it.

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#1: Catholics don’t talk about Jesus enough

I used to work in ministry full-time. These days, I’m involved in my parish, I am a leader in the young adult group, and I attend weekly young adult Eucharistic adoration. Catholicism is a huge part of my life. It’s probably a not-insignificant part of yours, too.

But how often do you talk about Jesus? Not saints, not Pope Francis, not the Eucharist: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

When you share the story of your favorite saints, do you mention their exceptional love for Jesus? Do you remind people that Pope Francis, as popular as he is, works for the same Jesus that Pope Benedict did? Do you explain that we believe the Eucharist is actually Jesus?

Sometimes I introduce myself by sharing my three greatest loves: “Jesus, grammar, and Harry Potter (usually in that order).” It breaks the ice, it makes people laugh…and it name-drops Jesus, not just his Church.

#2: Catholics don’t know Scripture

I’ve made progress on this one, but I used to be in a sad state of affairs. When I began Confirmation prep, my mom had to specifically purchase a Bible for me because I didn’t own one that wasn’t illustrated for children. I rarely opened it again until college.

Then I improved. I started by looking up the daily readings on the USCCB website and then finding the actual passages in my actual paper Bible. It didn’t take very long, and I learned so much, especially on weekdays!

Paying attention to the readings at Mass is important, but do you ever read them yourself? If someone handed you a Bible, could you find your favorite verse? Could you find the Gospels?

We have all the books, yet non-Catholic Christians are often far more knowledgeable about their abridged versions than we are about the director’s cut.

#3: Catholics don’t believe Church teaching

Every time we profess our faith (at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and when we start the rosary, at a minimum), we claim to believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” We point to the pope and our bishops as authorities who have power that came straight down from Jesus. No room for “just me and Jesus” or “just me and my Bible” here, we say!

We say it, but then we don’t act like it.

Are we any better off than the non-Catholics who at least admit they’re not following a central authority? Do you belong to the Church of You or the Church founded by Jesus himself?

Sometimes I try to run the Church by my standards, and then I fail to meet them myself. I am humbled, and I am glad that I’m not in charge of anyone but me.

#4: Catholics don’t live like Catholics

If you claim to be Catholic, then do Catholic things! If you persistently, publicly, and unrepentantly fail to do Catholic things (or you do non-Catholic things), are you sure you really want to belong to a group that tells you you’re wrong?

If you catch me doing something I shouldn’t be as a Catholic, you have my permission to call me on it. I’ve been properly chastised in the confessional; you’ll just get me back into the box and back to grace sooner.

Brantly’s conclusion is that we need to get our acts together and provide a better example to the world around us. He calls for a reformation, but I would suggest a much smaller start. Now that you’ve read my take (and the original post, I hope), I challenge you to examine your own life and eliminate one source of scandal.

Easy Ways to Be Less Scandalous

If you go to Mass every week but you’re usually running late, make an effort to be on time.

If some Church teaching is a thorn in your side, make an appointment with your pastor to talk about it.

If you don’t read the Bible, start with the Gospel of Mark. It’s so brief that it’s like reading a short book (because it is).

And if you don’t talk enough about Jesus, try adding his actual name to your prayers today. Let his name spill out from your heart onto your lips. He’s already there. Let him loose.


Featured image by Doug88888 at flickr.

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  • DanC

    Lindsay, I don’t know if you remember I once said I don’t like converts. That was an exaggeration and a joke, of course, but it had some kernel of truth. An unusually high percentage of apologists (including, per his website, Brantly Millegan) are converts and too many of them want to criticize lay Catholics for not being as steadfast to the rules of the church as they are.

    “Cradle” Catholics, on the other hand, are much more relaxed about getting on others for not attending Mass on holy days, not going to confession often, etc. Converts are such sticklers, it seems, and they just can’t stop viewing faith life through a Protestant lens. Catholics don’t say the name of Jesus enough or know the Scriptures well enough? Compared to who? Compared to low church Protestants, yes. That was always a difference between the two groups. Catholics don’t “believe” (your word) or dissent from” (Millegan’s words) Church teaching? That used to bother me when I was in my 20s, but with age and wisdom I’ve come to realize it’s not a deal-breaker in any way. The large majority of the adults at Mass on Sunday dissent in some way – big or small – but that doesn’t mean they are not Catholic or that we don’t have a living vibrant Church that is doing great things. Cafeteria Catholics and all.

    Millegan ends his blog post calling for a Reformation. We don’t need a Reformation; we need to see the existing world through fresh eyes, maybe. John 4:35 “Do you not say, ‘In four months* the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.”

    • http://lindsayloves.com/ Lindsay

      I’m sorry; I didn’t see this until today, or I would have responded sooner. My apologies!

      You make a good argument that many of those four points are made through a Protestant lens (although I’d rather call it a non-Catholic lens; I think it covers many evangelicals, too). Is that bad, though? Can’t we learn from the successes of others?

      I’m not sure what you (specifically you, not “you” as in “someone”) would call me. I was baptized Catholic and have never been anything other than Catholic, but I wasn’t even going to Mass for most of my life. (Baptism makes you Catholic, at a minimum.) I have high standards across the board, even when I fail to meet them, as I do embarrassingly often.

      I didn’t mean to say that we don’t have a vibrant Church without those four things. I don’t agree that “the large majority of adults at Mass on Sunday dissent in some way,” but I think that probably hinges on the word “dissent.” Many things in the Church are fantastic, but if there were no room for improvement, we’d all be dead and judged and moved on by now.

      Youth doesn’t preclude wisdom (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12ff). I’m suggesting that the harvest might benefit from some practices of farmers in other fields.

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  • Brantly Millegan

    Hey Lindsay, I just came across this. I’m honored you read my piece and wanted to respond to it. You had a lot of great points and really help to flesh it out. God bless

    • http://lindsayloves.com/ Lindsay

      Thanks for the compliment, Brantly, and thank you for writing the original post that inspired me!

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