But . . but . . . they don't have the sacraments! They have no real Eucharist!
I was reminded of an interview I did recently with a Catholic priest who became a Christian through the testimony of his evangelical roommate. He told me it was amazing the faith and holy life this man and other evangelicals he met had even without the sacraments. All the more amazing they were able to have this without the graces that flow through the Eucharist.
Then I came across this post at Leon J. Podles blog:
I just read Pierre Hagy’s Wake Up Lazarus! On Catholic Renewal. In the first part of the book he documents the decline of the Catholic Church in the United States and the comparative success of evangelical Protestant churches. The Catholic Church, like the Episcopal Church, has lost a third of its members in the past generation; the loss in concealed in the Catholic Church by Hispanic immigration.
In the Protestant church 80% of the members tithe, although tithing is not required. In the Catholic parish, parishioners give only 1% of their income, on line with national Catholic giving. The Protestant church has a large number of converts and an international missionary effort; the Catholic parish has about 10 adult converts per year and no missionary effort.
Hegy’s main point is that church involvement does not produce a growth in spirituality, but a growth in spirituality produces church involvement. Successful evangelical churches are constantly leading their members into a deeper life of prayer and a relationship with Christ, and the core 5% of their membership lead a life of spiritual disciple comparable to a Catholic secular institute.
Hegy also says that the Tridentine church’s emphasis on rules does not work, but a cultivate of moral habits does work in forming Christians. In the U. S. A larger percentage of Protestants than Catholics attend church. Other statistics I have seen indicate that evangelical Protestants are stricter in sexual morality than Catholics are.
Hegy sees the renewed emphasis on rules in the Catholic Church as doomed to failure. Instead the Church should encourage all its members to cultivate spiritual growth and discipline, encouraging its members to move up from minimal involvement to the beginning of spiritual disciple to serious discipline to complete commitment to Christ. It is not necessary to enforce attendance in mass under pain of mortal sin if Catholics wanted to come to mass to thank God for Jesus.The Catholic Church focuses on the church; the evangelical churches focus on Christ.
I have been asked whether what I have learned about sexual abuse among Catholic clergy has not destroyed my faith in the Catholic Church. The answer is no, but it has made me realize that simple reception of the sacraments does not produce virtue. With a lively faith and habits of payer the sacraments are fruitful. Without faith and prayer the sacraments have little or no effect. Priests said daily mass and raped children on the same altar.
Very interesting. My devout Catholic friend belongs to a lay movement that encourages a deepened and well-formed faith. Catholics who have both---the faith, the lively relationship with Jesus Christ and all the sacraments have it all.
But those who focus on the Church as an institution and the sacraments but have lost the heart of the faith---that it is all about a living Lord, Jesus Christ, God the Son who died for us and rose again---well, I would spiritually starve among people like that even with a valid Eucharist.
I thank God for the movements within the Catholic Church that encourage deeper faith formation and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.