Dear Friends in Christ,
You’d be surprised to learn how many requests we receive each month from people who want to get married at St. Mary’s or who want to have their baby baptized at St. Mary’s or who have been invited by a friend or relative to serve as a sponsor for a Baptism or Confirmation somewhere else. But you’d be even more surprised to learn that the majority of these requests come from people who do not belong to our parish family in any meaningful or measurable way and who are not regularly practicing the Christian faith by (at a bare minimum) participating in Sunday Mass. The number of such requests is truly stupefying, and it is but one indicator of something I have explained many times from the pulpit: the majority of baptized Catholics in the United States live their lives as though they are not Catholics, but when asked they still identify themselves as Catholics. And when it suits them (but only when it suits them), they want to exercise “the privileges of membership” in the world’s largest organization: the Catholic Church.
But, friends, the Church is not an organization; she is an organism. She is the Bride of Christ, the spotless bride for whom the Savior gave His life. And our Baptism is not a permanent membership card that confers privileges; it is an indelible mark that brings obligations. Baptism brings the Cross into our lives, both the burden and the victory of the Cross. I ask you who are reading this column to understand and be ready to explain all of this, because those confused souls who call our parish office looking for a spiritual commodity will not read these words. They will almost never join us in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. They will not hear the Gospel proclaimed and explained. They are not atheists, and yet they live their lives as though God does not exist, though if asked they would deny this. These are the 35 million “baptized pagans” who constitute the largest religious body in the United States: lapsed Catholics. But while I cannot reach them, you can. You live and work side by side with them, and you may be the only evangelist they ever hear.
Of course, I cannot grant permission for a non-practicing Catholic to serve as a sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation, and I cannot allow a nonpracticing Catholic to be married or baptize a baby at St. Mary’s. In fact, though they do not know it, those non-practicing Catholics who ask for such sacraments without a willingness to receive the Gospel are asking for a terrible burden to be laid upon them, and this we cannot do. But despite our best effort to turn these disappointments into an invitation to return to the practice of the Faith, the discipline of the sacraments is usually greeted with indignant anger by the one who lives without the burden or the victory of the Cross. When you meet someone in this condition, remember that you have a precious opportunity to teach by precept and example what it means to say, “I am a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.”