Some years ago a young man in my congregation used the term ‘Hot Muslims’ for some of his friends. Seeing my puzzlement he explained that they were young people who were dissatisfied with the formulaic Islam of their parents. They studied the Koran, kept the fasts and festivals – believing their faith, practicing it and sharing it with others as opportunity allowed. At the time I borrowed the expression, so that it became ‘Hot Catholics’ – those who believe the Catholic faith, practice it in their lives, and share it with others.
I suppose that the opposite of a Hot Catholic is a Cold Catholic: but why should Catholics ever be ‘cold’ and how do you ‘warm’ them up. The process is called ‘renewal’ and ‘evangelisation’ and is the work of the Holy Spirit.
What is soilèd, make Thou pure;
What is wounded, work its cure;
What is parchèd, fructify;
What is rigid, gently bend;
What is frozen, warmly tend;
Strengthen what goes erringly.
As Catholics in the Ordinariate we shall be involved – within our groups, within the wider congregations and in our daily lives in the New Evangelisation. We have been called by both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis to draw back into the life of the Church the many Catholics who have ceased to take part in Sunday Mass, and to live the Faith in their daily lives. In doing this work of evangelisation, we seek to renew our own commitment. No matter how devout, every Catholic Christian needs repentance and forgiveness, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” (I Corinthians 9:27)
Why do baptised Catholics lapse from the Faith: we have to know and understand and empathise with the reasons before we can know the best way to bring about their return?
Angry Catholics are to be found everywhere. At the deepest level they may well be angry with God, perhaps after something like a tragic bereavement. Argument with them is not the way, and the evangelist needs to feel their sorrow and their bitterness. A shared experience may help. Some Catholics are angry because of the behaviour of other Catholics: at its worst one thinks of those abused by priests or teachers. The anger may involve misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching on divorce or contraception, and there is no shortage among the articulate, middle classes in the media ready to dismiss their Catholic upbringing as narrow and stupid! It is easy to get drawn into the anger, to return one bitter jibe with another. It is not disloyal to admit where Catholics at all levels have gone desperately wrong; it is important gently to counter false arguments, and to direct attention to the countless millions of faithful and good people in the Church, and to the wonderful and sacrificial work of love done by the Church throughout the world.
Indifferent Catholics may well be the next generation on. Baptised, Catholic school maybe, they have never really learnt the Faith nor seen it as having any relevance for their lives. They have absorbed the behaviour and beliefs of modern secular society, and their belief in God, if it is there at all, is on the edge of their consciousness. This group is rarely influenced by the clergy, for they just do not meet them. It is Catholic friends and colleagues who are most likely to be their evangelists. But what will they see in them? If it is mere routine or inherited culture which they see, then they will dismiss it as irrelevant or a hobby. An evangelistic Catholic needs inner renewal in the Holy Spirit.
The clergy are likely to meet Cultural Catholics when they bring their children for baptism and First Communion preparation, or when they are pleading (or demanding) a signature on the school form. And it is easy to get frustrated as they sit through your lecture on the importance of Sunday Mass attendance, and it is easy to accuse them of lying through their teeth! Remember that we live in an age where what you want is what you are entitled to, and you get what you pay for. How then, are we to evangelise them? For Cultural Catholics it is often the quality of the Sunday liturgy and the attitudes of the people worshipping around them, as well as the welcome they receive which draw them, little by little to a deeper encounter with the Lord.
These three groups never, or only occasionally, attend Sunday Mass. Among those who do I want to identify two groups in addition to those I have characterised with the name Hot Catholics.
Dutiful Catholics make up a significant proportion of our congregations. Now I do not want to be misunderstood. The Christian Faith has a strong element of duty in it. I am reminded of the phrase from the modern Anglican Eucharist, where the Celebrant begins the Preface, ‘It is not only right, it is our duty and our joy.’ There will be dutiful Catholics who come regularly to the Daily Mass, say their prayers, and make their Easter Confession. For them good preaching and teaching, and a warm and affectionate relationship with their priest, are often enough to move them to a stage where duty begins to be infected by joy.
But there are dutiful Catholics at the lower end of this group who are only just there. The arrive late for Mass and leave after Communion. They put a few coins in the collection, and any challenge to this may well give them the excuse to stop coming. In many ways they themselves are the worst evangelists: their friends do not understand why they continue going to Mass, nor do they really understand themselves. Any move for renewal or evangelism in the parish will divide this group: some will respond and others will leave. While respecting their right to be there, the challenge must not be avoided because of the unspoken threat: ‘If you put any pressure at all on me, I shall leave .’
In many smaller congregations the Dutiful Catholics are dying out. At the centre of parish life now are to be found the Community Catholics. Warm hearted, happy people, most of them, regular at Mass, they are just the people to whom we turn for the Pastoral Council, the House Group, and anything to do with unity. In fact some of them cast a longing eye at the local Anglican church, and they wonder why we can’t have women priests, and whether the Pope couldn’t relax the no-communion-for-the-divorced rules. They are the generation who grew up with the excitement of Vatican 2, and they have become used to the relaxed and informal style of Sunday Mass. Evangelisation to this kind and well-intentioned group may be difficult, for they see their own needs, but have bought into the your-faith-is-just-your-opinion-but-you-mustn’t-ram-it-down-other-people’s-throats doctrine so beloved by the world. Maybe their own children have become angry Catholics, or Indifferent, but they love them dearly and don’t want to upset the family. What we want to do is to give their deep faith an urgency and an edge. We do not want to make them hard and judging of others, but rather to get them to see that other people are losing out by not being offered the Christian faith in all its fullness. Helping them to understand that the Council Fathers did not advocate the doctrine of universal niceness may be a start. And they may well be challenged by the presence of those who once were Anglicans and can warn them about where unchecked liberalism leads.
The children of the Angry Catholics and the Community Catholics may well slide into Indifferent Catholicism, but it is not inevitable. There are those who will be renewed and rediscover their faith. I call them Hot Catholics. The Catholic Faith becomes the heart of the way they live: it brings them joy and with it a deep desire to share their ‘pearl of great price’ with others. They are evangelical. They are not always easy to live with. They may want to challenge the tired liturgy churned out Sunday by Sunday. They insist on fasting and having large families, and they are the despair of their friends! They are a challenge too to dispirited clergy and older laity who can see nothing but ‘change and decay’ in their Church life. But there are also older (sometimes very old) Hot Catholics. They are people who shine with the light of a life lived close to Jesus Christ: in spite of age and infirmity the Holy Spirit is still young within them. They are full of wisdom. Hot Catholics long for renewal, for themselves, their parishes and for the Church.
Is my analysis a right one? It is only three years from by Reception, and less than eighteen months after my Ordination. I admit that I was much more confident analysing Anglican ‘types’. Criticism (constructive if possible) gladly received.