Over this past weekend, our holy father Pope Benedict went to the city of Naples to make a pastoral visit to it and the celebrate Mass in a large square in the heart of the city. It rained during the Mass, but the Pope and all the officiants were under a shelter erected for that purpose, and the thousands who gathered for that Mass were under umbrellas or various kinds of rain-gear.
My travel group and I were in that area just three weeks ago, and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. While I watched the proceedings on television, I thought of the religious situation there. Italy is nominally a very Catholic country; about 90% of its people are baptized Catholic in their infancy. But on any given Sunday, about 5% or 10% of those people attend Mass, and even fewer receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. There is something terribly wrong here. A Catholic who does not attend Mass regularly and does not receive the Eucharist is not worthy of the name “Catholic.” An authentic Catholic is one who has a deep and abiding love-relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ in the holy Sacrament of the altar. We are essentially a eucharistic people. Jesus tells us in the gospel: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.” That means receiving the Holy Eucharist regularly, worthily, lovingly.
There are a number of reasons why so many people of Italy don’t practice their Catholic religion as it should be practiced. Cultural, educational, social, political, and so on. But Italy has no monopoly on “cultural Catholicism,” as it’s called. Here in our country, less than half of those who call themselves Catholic attend Mass on any given Sunday. Many of them do not receive Holy Communion; many of them practice contraception; many are living in fornication. Many others make use of pornography to stimulate themselves sexually so as to commit solitary sin. And then, in the political sphere, many believe that a candidate for public office need not allow the moral law to influence his political views. Thus we find so-called Catholics in favor of abortion—the murder of the unborn.
When Pope Benedict looks out over the cheering crowds who gather when he makes public appearances, he knows perfectly well that many of them are not living according to the law of God and the Church. I’m sure that when the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the city on that first Palm Sunday, he knew quite well that the following Friday, they would stand outside Pilate’s palace, howling “Crucify him!” But that is human nature, human weakness, human fickleness, human sin. Let us do our best to be steadfast in our service of our God “in spirit and in truth.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.