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What is Casual Catholicism? Its Defining Symptoms and Five Cures

I am re-blogging this from Ascending Mount Carmel. With the Year of Faith looming large, this fantastic post just hit the spot. I know some casual Catholics who pick and choose, condemn and criticize. I find it hard to be around them. This is where practising Catholics need to be strong and courageous enough to continue conversations and ask and answer pertinent questions that will get these ‘Casuals’ to take a closer look at the Faith. In my opinion, the ‘Casuals’ need conversion and straight talking, firing shots straight from the hip!

We all know the term “cafeteria Catholicism” by now – simply put, the one who picks and chooses from elements of their faith and leaves the rest behind.  But what about “casual Catholicism”?  Ever heard of this?

Casual Catholicism cannot be precisely defined, but it certainly has its trademark aspects.  I’ll list a few hallmark elements of what could be said to define a casual Catholic:

1.  A casual Catholic treats the Eucharist as a light snack, as a symbol and nothing else, as merely a “wafer” and some wine.  Holy Communion is just something one “takes” at Mass out of custom, not because they are in a state to do so, or are desirous of receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  No, it’s just the thing that one does.

2.  A casual Catholic really knows about as much about their faith as one might know about the fine print on a box of Lucky Charms cereal by heart.  Ask them who St. Augustine was, and they’ll shrug. Ask them about the Council of Nicaea and they’ll probably give you the most quizzical look of all time.

3.  A casual Catholic only goes to Mass when they have to – Sundays at best, Christmas and Easter at worst.  Casual Catholics never go out of their way to do anything extra.

Those are just a few observations I have made – of course, not everyone has time to engage in copious study of their faith, nor are they able to go to Mass when they aren’t required to.  People are simply busy sometimes.

Nonetheless, casual Catholicism (one might also all it “nominal Catholicism”) as a phenomena is one of the worst ills plaguing the Church.  The world begins to assume that Catholics don’t really care about what they believe in.  Protestants begin to view Catholics as never picking up a Bible, and simply as being duped by “smells and bells” or as merely being born into something they don’t really believe in.  In effect, casual Catholicism can be summed up as being one giant spiritual shrug.

So how do we cure the haphazard, shrugging nature of casual Catholicism, whose only great manifesto are the words “I guess…yeah…sort of…whatever”?  I’ve come up with some ideas – by your leave:

1.  Go to Confession for venial sins, and not just mortal sins.

From what I’ve gathered from the lives of the saints, they went to confession on a continual and constant basis for even the smallest of faults.  Of course, I’m not encouraging over-scrupulosity; no, I’m encouraging spiritual growth.  If we never approach the sacrament of God’s Mercy, how can we know it in that way?  How can we overcome the scars and little wounds of daily spiritual struggle if we only go to the Healer when a limb has been lopped off?  As St. Francis de Sales writes, “Our Savior gave us the sacrament of penance and confession to His Church so that we may be cleansed from all iniquities no matter how often and how greatly we have been defiled by them.”1

Much of the problems in the Church today, I think, stems from the fact that many view sin in a casual manner, that hell is just a symbol or non-existent, or that God will just forgive us anyway therefore don’t worry about it.  Yes, God will always forgive us – but if we presume upon God’s Mercy, then we become little more than antinomians and sloths.  As Seneca once wrote, “You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply – though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last.”2

Therefore, cultivate a healthy awareness of sin in your life – we all do it, we are all sinners.  It is recognizing it, repenting of it, and running to God everytime we do sin, that makes all the difference.

2.  Adopt a devotion.

There is nothing quite like the Catholic prayer life – and yet so many seem to make no use of all its splendorous avenues to the Heart of God.  If one’s prayer life is dry, if lukewarmness is filling one’s soul to the brim with stagnant, muddy water, then it’s time to adopt a particular devotion.

Saints abound – which one speaks to you?  Have you studied their life or their spirituality in order to compliment your reading of the Scriptures?  Choose a patron saint – if you’re lucky, one might voluntarily choose you!

Plus, there is much more to the world of Catholic prayer than simply the Rosary, though the Rosary is arguably the greatest prayer in the Christian West.  Understand too that it is a most beautiful, most wonderfully all-encompassing prayer I think in the Western Christian tradition.  But there is so much more – the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Rosary of the Seven Dolors, the Rosary of the Most Admirable Heart of Mary as prescribed by St. John Eudes, the prayers of the Divine Office, the Angelus, and the sweetest prayer of the Christian East – the Jesus Prayer.

I would also add that a great way to invigorate and give extra meaning to your prayer life is to pray for others in some way.  Pray daily for the souls in Purgatory, pray daily for those suffering in other parts of the world, pray Acts of Reparation to the Sacred Heart, pray for whatever group or persons speak to your own compassionate heart the most.

3.  Listen to sacred music.

I am sure this suggestion probably comes off a little out of left-field, but nonetheless, for me, music is a particularly excellent way to be edified and contemplate the things of God and holiness.  Ignore the vacuous modern praise and worship pop songs, and explore instead the beautiful world of Christian music as it existed for hundreds of years beforehand.

Also worth checking out are Jocelyn Montgomery’s angelic renditions of the music of St. Hildegard of Bingen, as well as the Georgian Orthodox Choir led by Nana Peradze.  If your heart is not moved by such music…

4.  Study your faith.

“It is very profitable to occupy oneself with reading the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently…One should likewise nourish the soul also with knowledge of the Church.”3

I am firmly convinced that if more people took even a little time to really know their faith, even on a basic level, the Church would be strengthened by leaps and bounds.  Put away the pop theology books and Christianity-section “bestsellers”.  Read something of substance – if one is nervous to dive in too deep, always begin with the greats like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.

Frankly, aside from finding the time in a busy life and schedule, it is inexplicable to me why a Catholic would not want to explore their faith and soak it all in.  Bask in the history and tradition and lives of its members, sponge up all the theology and spiritual writings you can!  Ours is a fascinating faith – enjoy it and learn about it.

5.  Ask Yourself – “Who is Jesus to me?”

By asking this question of yourself, you will find out where your spiritual life is at pretty quickly.  More importantly, however, it will cause the gears to turn in your mind and soul.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux used to ask himself daily in the monastery, “Why am I here?” – so should we all ask ourselves why we are Catholic, why we believe, and what we hold Jesus to be.  Who do you say that He is?