Inwardly Absent Catholics

In Light of the World, the new interview-book with Pope Benedict, Peter Seewald asks the pope whether he is the most powerful man in the world. Benedict disagrees and reveals the reality:

Communion with the Pope is something of a different sort, as is membership in the Church, of course. Among those 1.2 billion Catholics are many who are inwardly not there.

Saint Augustine said even in his day: There are many outside who seem to be inside, and there are many inside who seem to be outside.

Some Protestant apologists seek to discredit the unity that Catholics claim the Church has by pointing out that these “inwardly absent” Catholics exist. But we concede that. The unity of Christ’s mystical body is not, cannot be, destroyed by dissenters or nominal Catholics. These Catholics have a moral dilemma, because by staying in the Church and calling themselves Catholic, they are saying they believe that the Church is proclaiming what God has revealed. But with their words and in their hearts, they are denying that.

Benedict’s response also reminds me of something Christopher West said while teaching the Theology of the Body (paraphrasing), “If people really understood what the Church taught, many in the pews would be running for the exits, and many outside would be pushing and shoving to get in!”

Indeed, after answering some questions at Rachel Held Evans’ blog, I was struck by this comment from a young woman named Sarah:

This was highly interesting! What you said about the Catholic Church’s view of contraception and about women honestly changed my mind about the Catholic Church completely. Thank you.

I did a double-take when I read this and actually asked her if she was being sarcastic. No, she said, she was being honest.

It’s not that I am some wordsmith that can make someone believe something false. Rather, the message of Christ as safeguarded and proclaimed by the Catholic Church shines with luminosity, in spite of the paltriness of my exposition.

These inwardly absent Catholics are, I am sure, what made Pope Benedict in the previous interview-book state that the Church very likely needs to get smaller. Needs to be purified. People need to be either hot or cold. Christ will spew from His mouth those who are lukewarm.

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4 Responses to Inwardly Absent Catholics

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  2. Well put, Devin … especially the next-to-last paragraph. In fact, that paragraph is going on my sidebar!

  3. PMG says:

    I don’t know what you’re doing lately, but keep doing it. Great post!

    This was an extremely prescient blog post for me, for as a former Protestant, now Catholic, one of the issues that caused me the most consternation, both before becoming Catholic, and now being Catholic, is this category.

    Before hand, growing up Protestant in an overwhelmingly Catholic Boston suburb, where being Catholic was 99% cultural, and it had no visible affect whatsoever on life choices (IMHO).

    It was quite vexing for a long time, as I never experienced so deep a paradox in my Protestant walk. In Protestantism there is much less of a disconnect between what your church teaches and how you live, because Protestantism is a bottom up religion, and not a top down one. It is more market driven, I guess.

    Again, IMHO, I have found that if there is such a disconnect, you have one of three options in Protestantism: 1) you shop for a church that does believe what you believe 2) by vote, you change the tenets of your denomination to be more in accord with your beliefs (move the goal post), or 3) start your own denomination.

    As Catholicism is a top down faith, it is immune to issue #2 (which is extremely vexing, especially for American Catholics I’m sure, as we are a culture of, as the old Burger King ad used to go …”have it YOUR way”). I remember being trained as an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister that we needed to keep a sharp eye that people consume the Blessed Sacrament in your presence, because, as the Priest told us, that many Catholics don’t know (and what shocked me) or don’t care what the church teaches about the Eucharist.

    And as I mentioned, Catholicism is so deeply tied to ethnicity, I’m sure in some cases it would be as difficult to renounce Catholicism as it would be to renounce your Irishness (so much for #1 or #3). So what is your choice, if you are unwilling, or unable to live a life that corresponds to what your church teaches? Dilute, obfuscate, talk about “conscience,” or more likely than not, don’t think about it at all; i.e., Inwardly Absent Catholics.

    So my rhetorical question is, if Catholics are exercising option #1, and are leaving the church (and I believe that the often quoted statistic is that the #1 denomination in America is former Catholic, and that the #1 source filling evangelical churches are former Catholics) a bad thing?

    Maybe Catholicism isn’t for everyone. I remember a homily where the Priest said that being Catholic is like being a Marine (it aint easy). But to carry it further, not everyone is cut out to be a Marine. Some people only want to be in the National Guard (no slam intended, only illustrative purpose).

    As we know the Catholic church has the fullness of truth, and other ecclesial communities have facets of truth. Perhaps Catholics who can’t or won’t live up to the realities of some of those truths would be better served in those ecclesial communities? Would it be better for them to be really good Protestants than crappy Catholics?

    I think as Papa Benny said, if our church was smaller, and more devout, and we walked the talk, I think it would do a lot more for evangelization than these “Catholics Come Home” ads I’m seeing througout dioceses. I ask myself when I see those ads, is it all about putting A**es in pews?

    Just saying…

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