Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Persecution of Catholics in Alabama?

For over 20 years I have listened to rank-and-file Cradle Catholics whine and complain about being approached by their Evangelical or Pentecostal neighbors and co-workers. To hear them talk one might think that the Fundamentalists were running rampant through the State of Alabama physically torturing people for the “crime” of just being a Catholic.

Can you guess what horrible thing these Protestant Christians are doing to torment these Cradle Catholics so?

The ask one question: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

There a a few Catholics who hear this question with joy-- because they actively love Jesus. They love praying to him and reading the scriptures-- their faith is active and personal. They are happy to have a chance to talk about him.

But such Catholics are a tiny minority, and they are hard to find. (Trust me, I have been trying for 20 years.)

The majority of people in Alabama who were raised Catholic hate this question for one very important reason:

The question shines a light upon the true state of their spiritual lives-- and exposes them as hypocrites.

The prevailing culture of Catholics in Alabama is one of spiritual passiveness at best. There is very little knowledge of the Bible and I found it common for people to tell me that they just wait for the priest to tell them what to think about scripture. Their only efforts toward a spiritual life were to attend Mass on Sunday (if at all) and a quick prayer before going to sleep.

In the case of most Alabama Catholics: the Catholic faith, much less the Christian faith, is not something that they actively live and do-- it is something that happens to them.

For them, being Catholic is not a matter of the heart that draws them deeply close to the Heart of Jesus Christ, but rather merely a TRIBAL IDENTITY.

Their grandparents were Catholic. Their parents were Catholic. All their cousins are Catholic. They cheer for Notre Dame football and all their major family events are hosted at Catholic churches. They have an aunt or other older female relative whose home is festooned with rosaries, pictures of the Virgin Mary, various medals and brown scapulars.

The Catholic Church is their TEAM and that is all they know. They are unable to intelligently answer an honest question about the teachings of the Catholic Church or even about their own spiritual lives.

Since they feel they do not have a good answer to the question, they childishly respond with anger towards the questioner:

“How DARE you ask me that?”

“Well, I don't think it's appropriate to wear your religion on your sleeve! It's too personal!”

“I'm a Catholic! And I am NOT going to let you trick me into praying to Jesus!”

But how does this encounter look from the standpoint of the Protestant Christian co-workers or neighbors? Like this:

Most Catholics become angry or merely rude when someone mentions Jesus. They deflect and evade the subject, and they say that the reason they don't want to talk about Jesus is because they are Catholic.

After this has happened so many times over so many years Alabama Evangelicals and Pentecostals have been given a very strong impression that the Catholic Church is teaching people to avoid being real Christians.

Who can really blame them, given the behavior of Alabama Catholics?

“By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:16-20)

The behavior of Alabama Catholics towards other Christians is one of the main reasons that I am embarrassed that I was ever called by the name “Catholic.”


Fr. Allen said... @ December 23, 2010 at 12:10 PM

In New Orleans we refer to those with a 'tribal identity' as 'cultural Catholics'. For instance, someone may not have been to Mass in thirty years, but they absolutely cannot have fish on a Friday during Lent! It's just what's done, one often hears.

However, there's always hope. many are 'coming home.'

A part of the issue is the dearth of Catechesis following Vatican II, and the fact that many Catholics grew up with no idea what the faith was all about. (Count me in that number.) People are staring to learn again, and perhaps I am an eternal optimist but, I think things will improve in time.

Displaced Alabama Catholic said... @ December 23, 2010 at 8:28 PM

Thank you kindly for your comments, Fr. Allen.

Thew pews in the parishes are filled also with those who understand being "Catholic" as little more than a tribal identity. Catechesis is a problem, I agree.

But even those who know the Catechism by chapter and verse are very often not evangelized in their hearts, and neither have they learned the way of discipleship.

At present the majority of parishes are pastorally unprepared to minister to the needs of their membership to be catechized AND evangelized and discipled.

Catechesis alone creates Catholics who are little better than a clanging gong.

Anonymous said... @ February 25, 2011 at 12:07 AM

I find myself in the funny position of both agreeing with you and disagreeing with you at the same time. I am curious if you grew up in an evangelical church. I ask because part of me thinks the reason you don't 'get it' is that you didn't grow up Catholic. But if you grew up in an evangelical church, I would expect you to 'get it' even less. -Please don't think me argumentative or angry- I am far from it.

I did grow up Catholic in a small Alabama town that was overwhelmingly Southern Baptist. To put it simply, I was offended by this question and similar ones (When did you accept Christ? Have you accepted Christ into your heart? and mostly, have you been saved?) because I was most often asked when they knew I was Catholic and they considered Catholics to not be Christian. If they didn't already know, I was almost certain to hear how I was not 'saved' because I had not said (what I have bitterly and mockingly referred to as) the "Magic Jesus Prayer". Because I had not gone up during an altar call and asked Jesus into my heart, I was going to hell.

This may sound paranoid, (and I know some early experiences led me to strong distrust for evangelical protestant churches for a long time) but I know it to be true. I remember my sister coming home in tears after she had spent the night with a friend and visited the Baptist church. On that morning the pastor decided to point to 'that' church (our Catholic church across the street) and explain how we were going to hell because we had not accepted Christ into their hearts. They worshiped statues. They worshiped Mary.

I remember being told

Over and over as a child and teenager, I was told my faith was not good enough- it was not 'right'- because I was Catholic.

I do agree that many in the Catholic church are much as you described- Catholic by name and group ID only. They may profess to be more, but do not live it. But I think this is true in every church- it is not fair of you to saddle Catholics with this. I know many Catholics who are deeply spiritual and have a vibrant faith truly rooted in love for Christ. It is sad that the Catholic church is not better able to accept change, but in many ways, that is a beautiful thing.

I can't help but wonder if you take some preconceptions of what a church or Christian is supposed to be (learned as a child and teenager in a protestant church) and apply them to the Catholic Church. You are then disappointed when the Catholic Church and Catholics aren't more like that ideal.

Let me say before I go that I really do not want to offend anyone with the "Magic Jesus Prayer" comment. I truly think it is beautiful when anyone honestly dedicates themselves to Christ in this way. I have found much frustration however in those (and there are many) who see this as the sum whole of Christianity. It is your get out of jail free card. You are now Christian and God loves you and he has given you his mercy and you can't take that away. My ticket to heaven is punched. This prayer should be a beginning, not an end.

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