Strange quote for a title, no? It was said by a parishioner here during a phone conversation regarding people who have fallen away from the practice of the Catholic Faith. At first glance, it might seem strange, but makes logical sense once you think about it.
Following the Second Vatican Council, there was a renewed emphasis on the love of God for humanity and His desire that all be saved. This, of course, is true and should be a focus by the Church at all times. The problem arises when any truth is taken to an extreme that reduces or denies another truth. It became popular to preach universal salvation, a heresy that denies the existence of Hell and states that all humanity will be saved. Universal salvation states that regardless of how we’ve lived our lives and how well we followed (or how strongly we’ve avoided) the teachings of Christ, we’ll be saved.
The problem with universal salvation is that it denies our free will to accept or reject Our Lord’s invitation to follow Him. It has always been held by the Church, based off Our Lord’s own words, that He died that we all might be saved but we have to accept that salvation by receiving the sacraments and following Our Lord’s commands. If we disobey those commands – in other words, fall into sin – we put that salvation at risk. The existence of Hell and the very real danger of ending up there by rejecting God and embracing sin is a dogma of Church. All dogmas are revealed divine Truth that must be held by all the faithful. Universal salvation denies this dogma, and thus meets St. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of heresy: “a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas”.
As part of the preaching on universal salvation, there was a denial of the need for the Sacraments. Confession was discouraged or flat out refused. General absolution for those things in our lives that “bother us” became the rule instead of the rare exception. People were told not to worry about missing Mass, as it was considered to no longer be a necessity. Baptism became hyper-focused on bringing the child into the Christian community instead of having any salvific role in the child’s life. And so on through all the Sacraments.
On top of the popularity of universal salvation, there was a renewed overemphasis on the meal aspect of the Mass. To be clear the Mass has always been held as a meal: the sacrificial meal through which we participate in both the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Heavenly Banquet. The focus became more on making the Mass into an earthly meal, with symbolism more common to a picnic or potluck. This led to innovations like gathering around the altar, using a coffee table for the altar and having everyone sit on the floor (including the priest!), and an overemphasis on socialization and community involvement. The focus of the Mass was no longer the Sacrifice of Christ, but rather the community that gathers to break the bread and share the cup.
This strong focus on the community led to such ideas as having the cantor begin Mass by inviting everyone to stand and “greet their neighbor”, allowing 5 minutes of socialization before the opening hymn; the priest having those visiting introduce themselves and say where they’re visiting from (which I always found embarrassing as a visitor, by the way); and the Sign of Peace going from a ritual in which ” the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament” with “those who are nearest and in a sober manner” (GIRM 82) to a 15 minute (yes, I’ve seen that) time of visiting and gladhanding throughout the Church.
As people heard the preaching of universal salvation and the overemphasis on community, people started to make a logical conclusion: “I don’t need to have anything to do with the Church and will still get to Heaven. At best, I just need to be a “good person”, and I’ll be fine. Doesn’t matter what I do otherwise.” Don’t have to go to Mass every Sunday? Great! I can sleep in on Sunday or go golfing when every one else is at Mass. Don’t have to go to Confession? Great! I hate having to confront the fact that I’ve done things wrong. Because they got the impression that Jesus loves us so much at we don’t have to worry about Hell, they decided they had better things to do than worry about this Church “thing”.
The overemphasis on community didn’t help matters much. Sorry to those who like the “stand and greet your neighbor”, but there are many people who would much rather socialize during late Saturday night at the local bar or pub than Sunday morning at the Church. In fact, there are many who don’t like these “forced socialization” practices (myself included – if I’m in a group and want to be quiet, don’t force me to do otherwise!) and want to avoid them whenever and however possible. If it’s the choice of spending my Sunday morning how I want or being forced into greeting my neighbor, I’ll take the selfish route, thanks.
Many Catholics have taken the selfish route, and this is what the parishioner meant by someone being “loved out of the Church”. If Jesus loves us so much that there’s no consequences to missing Mass, and it’s uncomfortable to go to Mass, then why go? The problem, of course, that this all based on misunderstanding of the Truth revealed by Christ. Yes, Jesus loves us unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reject that love. Yes, community involvement within the parish is important, but the focus of the Mass is in worship of God and sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ, not in our communal gathering and sharing.
People were “loved out of the Church”. Now, the question is, do we love them enough to love them back in to the Truth?