During his homily last week, Father Mike, my priest, passed along a statistic claiming that only 7% of Catholics are engaged Catholics, passionately active in the faith in and out of their parishes, a statistic gleaned from a book he plans on passing out to all parishioners during Advent. The book, by Matthew Kelly, is called The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic and you can read more about the research behind that 7% statistic here:
The 7% are by no means perfect, but there is something about them that is worth exploring. Most of them are not spiritual champions, and they would be the first to admit that. They are also often quick to point out that it doesn’t take much to be at the top of the heap among Catholics today. The bar is not exactly set very high. But the 7% are the most highly engaged among us.
If I've gleaned one thing since my re-embrace of the Catholic faith roughly four years ago it's this. Catholicism is not for the weak-kneed, not for the dispassionate or the lukewarm, not for those interested solely in feel-goodism and superficiality.
Catholicism is hard.
The perfect example supporting that thesis is Marc Barnes latest piece detailing the challenge of the Catholic teaching on how to treat the poor:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church — that beautiful summation of the truth of all existence — says that “those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church…” (CCC 2448) To be absolutely clear, preference is “the selecting of someone or something over another or others.” The poor, then, are the object of the Church’s love over the Church’s love for others.
The meaty implication is as follows: If the Church’s love for the poor is a preferential love, then we who claim communion with the Catholic Church are similarly obliged to develop a preferential love of the poor. If this freaks us out — for it freaked me ever-so-slightly — it may be because we live in a culture that associates love with equality. Surely to love everyone means to treat everyone identically, to grant them all an equal response of goodwill? How then, are we to love one group of people more than another?
Love as equality, while cute, is false. To love a person is to desire his good. The good for some people is not the same as the good for others. To love an introvert may mean to leave him alone, but this is not the same good proper to the extrovert. Since love is personal, and persons are unique, love is unequal.
St. Thomas Aquinas argues this in regards to God’s love for us. God loves everyone with equal “intensity,” sure, for he loves each of us infinitely. In the language of Aquinas, “He loves all things by an act of the will that is one, simple, and always the same.” And so we should everyone with equal fervor. However, since “to love” is “to will the good for another,” Aquinas goes on to say that “God loves some things more than others. For since God’s love is the cause of goodness in things…no one thing would be better than another, if God did not will greater good for one than for another.” (Summa, First Part, Question 20, Article 3) God loves each of us completely, willing for us the good which fulfills us personally. This does not mean that he loves us equally, for he may will a greater good for you than me.
Obviously, this is radically different than our culture’s blanket conception of love, which usually amounts to a general good feeling towards all people, instead of a personal willing of the good for that particular, unrepeatable old lady at the barber’s shop. The latter is the love commanded by Christ, when he told us to “love our neighbor.” Christian love is not leveling of differences that results in equality. It is precisely a love of people with all their differences, and is thus an unequal love, proper to unequal people.
So we arrive back at the point. The Church loves the poor with a preferential love. The good we should desire for them is a greater good than that which we desire for others. (This is obviously connected to the lack of due goods those oppressed by poverty may have — we must desire greater and more goods for the poor than we desire for those who are already secure in material and spiritual goods.) So the first difference between the Church and the culture is that what the culture claims is a good “addition” to life, or just another way of loving, the Church claims as a priority and a love above other loves.
Read the whole thing and ponder the challenge that comes with digesting its contents particularly if you call yourself Catholic.
Despite the hard teaching, I still desire to be amongst the 7% and in fact, it's the hard teachings that seem to spur me on to be a better Catholic.
The Way is indeed narrow but, in my view, oh so worthy.
What do you think?