"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What about the tares in Catholicism?

The following is a reply to a guy that wants to convert but the nominalism he sees in Catholic parishes worries him. Particularly in how the children are being raised. I post my reply here because my wife and I homeschool 4 daughters and I have this same concern, perhaps someone else can give advise in the comments to the both of us? As far as the lack of faith you mentioned, don't worry about that. If you are convinced of the Catholic church is the one, true church, I doubt anything will stop you from coming to her! If you are not convinced, give it more time and study. But know you will never have epistemic certainty, and will have to make a judgement call eventually based on evidence from all your faculties. Your concern for your family must enter in to every decision. But if this is the MAIN thing holding you back, then I would suggest you work through it soon. Once I was convinced of the truth of Catholicism (4 months ago!), I came to understand that it would become a mortal sin for me to remain outside of the church! So ironically, the closer I came to the church, the more desperate my situation. If you are not fully convinced, then that does not apply to you. Just like the anathemas at Trent are only for Catholics. I'm glad to help if I can. Boy did you ask the right question to me! For me this was THE first "side issue" I was worried about. It is a "side issue" for me because I was not including it into the greater issue of "is sola scriptura workable?" and the next question: "is it possible the Catholic church is true?" After those questions were answered for me, the next was this issue of nominalism and faithless Catholics. Will we be going to a place that is filled with tares!? Who will my children marry!? This is the biggest issue for my wife actually! She is not very theologically interested and just wants a solid church with solid people like our PCA church was. We have 4 daughters and are really committed homeschoolers. My wife had been using a bunch of Veritas Press homeschool curriculum which is Reformed when it comes to history and Bible, and she had everything planned out! I felt so bad to have to make her change all of that. Also our PCA church was VERY conservative. As in not a single kid in public school, and the majority of families homeschoolers! Seriously committed believers every one. So I will give you the bad news and then the good news. BAD NEWS: You (we) are unlikely to find the kind of parish that could compare to a single PCA church in terms of percentage of super conservative, committed believers. But here is my theory why. The PCA as a denomination is a "parish". By that I mean, the PCA is a conservative splinter of a huge, unfaithful group of Reformed churches. It is tiny! It is a very exclusive group that has segregated itself from the rest of Reformed Christianity, let alone the rest of Evangelicalism. So of course the pews are filled with wheat and not tares! How convenient. That makes our job as fathers easier, right? In a way it does, but this is not realistic. We cannot just make the church. We need to go to it. It is our job to raise our children, and to do it in an incubator where every person in the pew must be an uber conservative just like us is not healthy for us I think. It becomes more of a cafeteria that way. There is a comment you should read on CTC, it is more about superstitions, but the drift of it speaks towards what I am getting at here: that our local churches can be a "here comes everybody" place, while we can still remain conservatives. The third paragraph is great: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/03/doug-wilsons-authority-and-apostolic-succession/#comment-7322 GOOD NEWS: The Catholic church is HUGE! As homeschoolers my family will have perhaps few or no homeschoolers in our home parish, but I have already looked into it and in my area there are LOTS of Catholic homeschoolers in our area. Way MORE than the amount of Reformed ones. As far as your concern about children in general in Catholic churches being trained properly, I really think we need to be fair in comparing. The PCA needs to first join up with the PCUSA, then we can compare. We both know what that would look like. Same amount of tares on both sides. And no matter where you go, you will have to be the one to train your children (I know you know this) and that is hard in any environment. This is why I think homeschooling should be almost considered required for christians in our society. I would have no trouble with the Catholic church forbidding government school attendance, (at least for young children). If we want the next generation to keep the faith and spread the faith, they need intensive training. That intensive training should be so overpowering that a teen with a lip ring in the pew in front of you will want to be like YOUR kid. We can no longer be content in our bunkers and incubators, lets start breathing on these dry bones that surround us and the Lord will make an army! Come on brother, these Catholics are wainting for us conservatives to join up and renew them! Peace, David Meyer


  1. As a homeschooling mom of 7 (#8 is almost here) I sympathize with your wife!!! I hope she will get excited about the GREAT materials available to Catholic homeschoolers. I've got many resources on my blog (if she's interested). I've got some friends in PCA who use Veritas Press materials and yeah, it's rather disheartening.

    Anyway, many blessings to you and your family during this time!

  2. Some more Catholic data points: we have tons of friends who homeschool, many who send their children to Catholic parochial schools, and quite a few whose children go to public schools. It's a big mix, but probably the majority of our friends homeschool.

    Certainly there will be plenty of faithful men for your daughters to marry (that is, if they aren't called to consecrated celibacy for the Kingdom!)--that is something I don't worry about for my children. The JPII/New Evangelization young Catholics are tremendously strong all over the place, both in this country and in others. They are the next generation of the Catholic Church in the West.

    God bless you and your friend!

  3. Welcome home, David and family! I praise God for the courage and faith He has given you to take this journey. I'm in my tenth year as a Catholic and I can attest that I've never looked back and have only grown in my gratitude and love for Christ and His Holy Catholic Church. Peace and Joy to you and yours.

  4. Your answers to this question are spot on. Most parishes have a wide variety of people who attend. My advice to someone with these concerns is to join the local homsechool group. And attend daily mass. While there are plenty of faithful Catholics who don't go to daily mass (conflicting obligations), there is almost no one at daily mass who's not serious about his faith. It's a wonderful place to meet faithful Catholics. Beyond that, daily Eucharist is the best way to receive the grace for daily life.

  5. Hi,

    You are very correct that the Catholic Church contains the complete range of people - and yes, this is of course a challenge for parents.

    However, educating our children in the faith is our duty as parents.

    However, the Lord richly rewards faithfulness. If we are but faithful, he makes up for whatever we lack.

    When we were married my husband was agnostic, so naturally, I had to provide the spiritual leadership for our children (with my husbands full support).

    When he converted, the Lord told me to relinquish this leadership. I knew there would be a vacuum - I alos trusted that the Lord loves and cares for my children much more than I can.

    The Lord has been marvelously faithful. When my husband was talking to our oldest daughter (a homeschooling Mom) this Father's day, her husband (also a convert) was at his fourth Sunday Mass, because their daughter Theresa had volunteered to be an 'angel' at that Mass. (Their parish has many people from the Philippines, who have novenas of Masses, and like having 'angels' at their novena Masses.)

    The Lord is good!

  6. Excellent post! I'm so excited to hear your enthusiasm! I still have a whole shelf of laminated Veritas Press card sets in binders. But I am so very grateful to have converted now, when so many Catholic publishers are producing excellent homeschooling materials. Things have improved much in recent years, and the influx of people like you will help that trend to continue!

    Susan Hubbard

  7. Welcome! I am a "cradle Catholic", but I certainly understand your concern about nominalism. I have taught CCD for many years, and sometimes I get so flustered about how to reach the families who seem to be just going through the motions. There is such beauty and relationship in the actual receiving of the sacraments. Merely learning of them isn't enough...
    You have the opportunity to be an encouragement to the fervent, and an example to the nominal.
    May God bless you in your parish, and help you become a blessing to your parish.

  8. David,

    My wife is willing to help your wife out with the Catholic homeschooling resource questions she's bound to have (or already having, maybe).

    I've sent you email (as you previously permitted me to do); if your wife is interested, I can get you my wife's email address.

    I think that a lot of the "nominalism" that you see in Catholic pews is largely explainable by the fact that Catholic culture is different from Reformed or evangelical culture. Reformed (especially Reformed, in my experience, but not only they) are inclined toward pietism, and their views on what constitutes sin are drastically different from what the Catholic Church teaches: the slightest white lie or unkind word is a crime worthy of hellfire in their eyes, whereas (depending upon circumstances) it's probably only venial in the Catholic's eyes. So Reformed folks who are serious about their religion tend to be what Catholics would consider scrupulous.

    Secondly, most Catholics know that they're "safe" so long as they do not commit mortal sin. This tends to make them much more relaxed about things they do (or don't do) that would make a Presbyterian or Baptist blanch. So some folks that you describe as only nominal Catholics might seem that way only because you are perhaps comparing them to the Christians you've known in the PCA (or other Protestant denominations). Being a serious Catholic looks different than being a serious Presbyterian. :-)

    Of course, I'm not denying that there are folks who are just pew-sitting and doing what they think is the bare minimum to get by. And there are lots of them, too. And may God help them to be faithful Christians. But I think it's safe to say that you are likely to find there are many more solid Catholics around you than you might think. :-)


  9. Hi Dave - welcome home!!! One thing that being a homeschooling Catholic family has done for us, is insulate us from the reality that there really are a huge number of nominal Catholics ;-) We are in a group of people who practice NFP, are open to children, breastfeed, and stay married. We live the liturgical year and regularly ask saints to pray for us.

    I go to Mass to be in Heaven on earth. When I truly enter into that, everything else really fades into the background :-)

    God's peace be with you....

  10. David,

    I'm in a PCA congregation that sounds rather similar to what you describe Good Shepherd to be. I would take issue with your description of the PCA as a "a conservative splinter of a huge, unfaithful group of Reformed churches." Firstly, we are the largest of all the Reformed denominations. Secondly, we do not look at the other Reformed churches as being "unfaithful." The historian Phillips Schaff describes the various Protestant congregations at the Reformation as "the Reformed family of churches." This is the way that the Reformed generally look at the situation today. There are certainly some differences between the classic Reformed confessions, particularly on ecclesiology and some aspects of the sacraments, but these are small differences. Thirdly, you are making much too much of the differences between the Reformed and Evangelical congregations. I know all sorts of different Evangelicals and by in large we are in fundamental communion. When people come to our congregation and take the Lord's Supper we tell everyone that they need to be a member in good standing of an Evangelical church. Was it not the same at Good Shepherd?

    The reason why we separated from the PCUSA is that we take seriously the mark of the Church that says it must be holy. The RCC is a blend of very liberal to very conservative because, from all I can see, it no longer takes this distinction seriously. But the Early Church did take it seriously and being holy meant something communally. The situation in the modern RCC would be like the Manicheans and Christians in the Early Church all being in the same congregations and all referring to each other as "catholic." The RCC "solves" the problem of the divisions it sees in Protestantism by calling everyone "Catholic." Do you you understand why we Reformed have problems seeing this administrative unity as true Christian unity?

    When you wrote to your old congregation you spoke of your concerns about the divisions over the FV issue. But this issue is minuscule compared to the fights that go on between conservatives and liberals in the RCC. The liberals feel that their interpretation of the tradition of the Church is every bit as valid as that of the conservatives. And in the RCC everyone does what seems right to them and sides with some faction within the RCC. So I really don't get the concerns in your letter nor how they are solved by a move to the RCC.

    David, I'm writing this because the reasons why Protestants go the Catholic or Orthodox route really interest me. I'm not just being argumentative.


  11. David,
    There is great value that I never understood before joining the Catholic Church in its non-homogenous parishes and people. For one we all are in the boat together and, much differently from the implied perspective in the church I grew up in, I don't get to decide who is really in and who should be out - only God does. The RCC is much more process oriented - believing that the Sacraments work in us and shape us in holiness. We are all equal and Scriptures make it clear that God will sort in his own time when he sees fit. One of my favorite Priests told the congregation once during the homily - "don't just think because you are sitting out there listening to this message that you are "in". God wants much more from you!"

    It hit me like a ton of bricks one Sunday in the RCIA dismissal group when I was interpreting some scripture the way I always had understood it - something to the effect of "see how those Jews rejected Jesus as the cornerstone" and I realized everyone else in the group was sharing about how the scripture made them reflect on if there were ways they were rejecting Jesus as the cornerstone in their lives. Bam - my judgementalism had me so blinded that I could not see how this scripture applied to me. I still do struggle at times with "judging" the way other Catholics choose to live out their faith but I have a wonderful husband who regularly brings me back around to a new and much more gracefilled perspective - one of the beautiful gifts of the Sacrament of Marriage! That Sacrament inches me towards holiness day after day.

    I have also discovered that God is often working "behind the scenes" in the lives of these folks. I would loose a lot of money if I bet on which folks would be come deeply converted based on behavior I observed.

    One of my Prostestant friends listened politely to my story about how I am constantly learning through the RCC that is isn't "all about me" and my preferences, wants or desires but its "all about us" as one, holy, catholic and universal Church. She then this profound observation "maybe that's why the Catholic church encourages you to go to your local parish - you know you really do have to work on loving your neighbors when the are literally your neighbors - ugly worts and all." My response is simply "Amen!" The RCC in her profound and deep wisdom knows what we need and calls us to live it every single day!

    Its been over 7 years since I converted and I can honestly say I have forgotten many of the concerns and questions I had when I was considering joining the church. When I hear someone else ask them I think "oh yeah that used to worry me too". Our God is faithful and he knows exactly what we need to grow us in holiness - including those in our parish who see things a different way than we do.


  12. Thank you David for this post. I have the same concern, though not able to home-school in my country, because it is not permitted, and this post with all the comments included, helped a lot. But all the soon to be converts should remember that the greatest gift that we can give to ll our families and especially our children is that we give them the BODY and BLOOD of Christ Himself.

  13. David,

    I've followed you in the comments over at CTC for a while, and have been intending to congratulate you on your decision and offer my families prayers for your family.

    I can understand your trepidation about bringing your family into the Catholic Church and what you are going to find in a Catholic Parish. Truthfully I am very, very grateful for the area where I live and the choice of very solid parishes I have available and the many very Catholic families we are friends with. However, I know many Catholics in certain areas that crave the benefits of a orthodox parish and a proper (non-abused) liturgy and the availability of solid catechetical opportunities for both children and adults. It is improving, but there are some places out their where being fully and committedly Catholic is not easy. I am pretty sure where you are there are many good parishes. Please contact me if you want any information, I can usually find someone who knows the lay of the land.

    I have to admit that one reason I refuse to move my family closer to my parents and siblings is that the diocese they are in is a wreck and I can't bring myself to suffer through the liturgical abuses. Every visit is a reminder to be grateful for our parish, priests and diocese. I'd probably join the Byzantine Catholic rite parish.

    At the same time all of this is what makes the Church the beautiful Body of Christ that it is. It isn't here for just the perfected, it is the home of saints and sinners. I'll be interested in your observations as you continue your journey.

    I have heard it said by many, and agree myself that "The Catholic Church is a lot bigger on the inside that it looks on the outside." We get criticized for being to doctrinal and not allowing freedom of belief AND then criticized for not enforcing our doctrine strictly enough!

    God Bless, I'm going to respond to Andrew McCallum in another comment


  14. Andrew McCallum

    Your own comment pretty much highlights the vase differences in ecclesiology between the Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. Much of this is being addressed very well over at Called To Communion and I’ll leave the hard work to those more capable than me.

    I would like to address some of your comments from a non-technical (i.e.; not a scholar or theologian) point of view.

    Universal, Sacramental, Magisterail, Parental, are a few words that come to mind that largely distinguish what it is (ecclesiologically) to be the Catholic Church from being a denomination. These concepts are all interrelated, I’m not very skilled on organizing a way to clearly address them individually.

    In being the Universal Church the Catholic Church is limited in its ability to ‘purify itself’ of offensive members. Of course there is recourse to excommunication, but the purpose of excommunication is not to purify the Church but is instead a last ditch effort to encourage repentance, and bring about healing. As the Universal Church everyone ever baptized in a Catholic Church or by a Catholic Priest or by anyone anywhere with the intention of being a member of the Catholic Church is and remains forever Catholics. Even Protestants baptized in what ever denomination are considered imperfectly Catholic.

    This partly gets into sacraments. Baptism is the rite if initiation into God’s family. The Church is God’s family. Baptism is an objective, sacramental act that effects that which it symbolizes. Baptism makes one a member of the Church. All the baptized, are members of the Universal Church. Being a sinner, a dissenter, a liberal, a conservative, a criminal, or a politician doesn’t give grounds for being out of the Catholic Church!

    Our communion is real and sacramental, but the sins of the individual do damage to both the individual and the communion. That is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a matter of healing not only the penitent but also the whole Church. What the Church desires is to bring about the holiness of every baptized person! But how best to do that?

    The Church is Magisterial, it is a teaching Church. As you are familiar with arguing, we Catholics don’t join a Church that has a confession that we agree with. There are plenty of people in the Catholic Church who disagree about a huge variety of things. On many issues there is plenty of room to disagree. The practical application of moral principles in complex situations leaves a lot of room for private judgment. There are other issues where some or many have not yet fully ‘received’ the Churches teaching, like contraception. There are some who dissent from the Churches clear instructions on male clergy, or abortion, or homosexuality. None of these examples diminish what the Church actually teaches.

    The fact that the Church doesn’t purify itself of these ‘problems’ is a matter of ecclesiology and practicality. Ecclesiology in that the Church understands itself as the Family of God and the Body of Christ with the Pope and the Magisterium as stewards or parents of the family. Referring to the Church as “Holy Mother Church” and the Pope (Italian for Father) as “Holy Father” is no mere accident. These titles reflect ecclesiology. Although it would be simpler to purify the Church by purging all who contaminate it, that isn’t the Church’s primary function. She has the ability to discipline and she can use that, but the real purpose is exactly what you accuse the Church of not caring about, which is to bring about the Holiness of each individual collectively, in unity as the Body of Christ. This is parental. Discipline at times, instruction at others. And I guess the “practicality” is redundant if you have ever been a parent! We have been blessed by a string of great Popes! They have chosen to exercise discipline with restraint, and to proclaim the truth patiently.

  15. Hello Paul,

    Glad someone responded.

    Being a sinner, a dissenter, a liberal, a conservative, a criminal, or a politician doesn’t give grounds for being out of the Catholic Church!

    And here is one of aspect of Roman Catholic ecclesiology which distinguishes it from historical and biblical Christianity. The Early Church did not have liberals that denied Christ in the Church, at least not those openly thumbing their nose at the authority of bishops/elders. There was a distinction between those who affirmed Christ and those who denied Him. In biblical churches today we still make that distinction while in the RCC they do not. This is why the term "Catholic" has so little conceptual meaning to us. It is a formal designation with oftentimes no real meaning behind it. Folks in the RCC pick whatever faction within the RCC that agrees with their understanding of tradition, philosophy, etc.

    And this is why I was querying David on his concern over such issues as FV when in the RCC the debates are much more polarized between the respective sides.

  16. Andrew,

    Excuse me, rereading my statement that you quoted, I see that I have erred to a degree and lumped things together too much. I'm sorry, I'm not an expert at these discussions, but I muddle along as best I can. In particular, the term dissenter, as generally understood certainly deserves a more nuanced treatment that sinner. Certainly, dissenters may be heretics and heretics should if obstinately persistent in heresy be excommunicated.

    There was a distinction between those who affirmed Christ and those who denied Him. In biblical churches today we still make that distinction while in the RCC they do not.

    I think this is the heart of your charge against the Catholic Church, correct?

    Rather than me guessing at your reasoning, can you please explain your basis for this charge?



  17. Paul,

    One of David's concerns was over the debates his old congregation had with FV. It concerned him that the respective sides could not come to any conclusion given their assumptions concerning the Bible and authority. So my first point to David was that by his move to the RCC the debates would be much more polarized. There is a huge continuum of belief systems within the RCC from the very liberal to the ultra-conservative and the debates never get resolved and everyone thinks that they are being faithful to the historic Christian Church. David can stick with the small group of conservatives in the RCC and hope that their interpretation of the Church is right, but isn't this like the situation he just came from?

  18. Andrew McCallum: I responded at length with a seperate post. I tried to be like Doug Wilson with a catchy title.