I was involved in an online conversation the other day with someone who was very excited because she had decided she was interested in Catholicism and had arranged to go to an initial meeting for an RCIA course. She said she knew very little about Catholicism, despite her vague interest, and wanted to know what to expect and if anyone could tell her a bit more about it.
Some of the responses she received were along the lines of, "It doesn't matter if there's something you disagree with - just pick the bits you like" or "I'm Catholic and I don't follow everything they say. I think these days you're allowed to just choose."
I had to wade in... I said that some people these days do seem to pick and choose the bits that they want to follow, but that the Church is NOT happy with that. She had specifically asked about Confession, and the general consensus seemed to be that "nobody does that any more". I told her that people DO "do that", explained what its purpose was and pointed her to a few sites where she could read more. It was an open forum, and I didn't want to cause World War III, but I had to point out as strongly as I could that the Catholic Church is not a cafeteria.
She has subsequently asked me various other questions, which I have answered to the best of my ability. I wish she'd asked me a bit later - after I'd read Bishop O'Donoghue's new book 'Fit For Mission? Church'.
In his book, Bishop O'Donoghue asks whether we have forgotten what it means to be Catholic. He says:
Those who ignore their responsibility to God and neighbour forget they are Catholic.
Those who deliberately miss Sunday Mass forget they are Catholic.
Those who never pray forget they are Catholic.
Those who deny they are sinners and avoid confession forget they are Catholic.
Those who live oblivious to the suffering of the poor forget they are Catholic.
Those who dissent from the authority of the Church forget they are Catholic.
Those who use contraception, IVF and embryonic stem cell research forget they are Catholic.
Those who use pornography forget they are Catholic.
Those who have sex outside of marriage forget they are Catholic.
Those who commit homosexual acts forget they are Catholic.
Those who exploit their power and position forget they are Catholic.
Those who cheat on benefits or taxes forget they are Catholic.
Those employers who exploit their workforce forget they are Catholic.
Those who have racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes forget they are Catholic.
Our parish priest has read extracts from this document to us over the last couple of Sundays, and has talked about what it means. I've just downloaded a copy and will be reading it over the next few days - it looks as though I might need it...