The Lonely Road of the Church’s “New Minority”


walk-in-the-fogA religious once said, “Being a missionary is like taking a pearl of inestimable value into a land where the people don’t want it, even as a gift.”

The sad truth is that today, everyday faithful Catholics are called to be missionaries  in their own churches. Why? Because our fellow parishioners are often as in need of evangelization as the remote natives who’ve never heard the Gospel.

Reprinted with permission from

Before my conversion, I spent nearly three decades in spiritual poverty. Then I discovered the Catholic Church. Suddenly, spiritual riches beyond my imagination were offered for the taking. Even now, 15 years later, I marvel at the wisdom passed on by our doctors, mystics, and stigmatics, our rare few who have glimpsed heaven itself through apparitions. Not to mention the holy fountains we call the sacraments. The depths of wisdom and grace available through the Catholic Church could not be plumbed if I lived a thousand lifetimes.

But there is another side to being Catholic, one that is profoundly painful. And that’s the sheer disregard so many of my brothers and sisters show for their sacred heritage.

Even among those who sit in Mass every Sunday, the percentage of Catholics obedient to the Church, who treasure her wisdom on major moral and theological issues is scandalously small. In fact, I find that I’m more surprised to encounter a person who actually does follow the Church than one who dissents from Her. Having not grown up in the Church, I converted and was genuinely shocked to find people who vigorously claimed allegiance to an institution that they also publicly disdained. I naively assumed everyone who went to Mass was as excited about those great spiritual treasures, too. It was like hearing someone say, “I’m an American, but I don’t recognize the authority of the President, I believe the Constitution should be shredded, and I hope the U.N. takes over. Yes, I’m very patriotic!” Yet this attitude among even the Mass-going Catholics is so common that it’s the faithful person who is the “fanatic.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke about this sense of alienation recently when talking about those rare souls who try to earnestly practice the faith:

“These wonderful people today often feel themselves a minority, certainly in culture, but even, at times in the Church! I believe there are many more of them than we think, but, given today’s pressure, they often feel excluded.”

Statistics about American Catholicism speak for themselves: we contracept, sterilize, and abort at about the same rate as the rest of the culture. Mass is optional and more than half of us don’t believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Catholics en masse elected pro-choice political leaders, and openly celebrated the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. We all know that institutionalized dissent is rampant in our Church. It can make following Christ through His Church a very cold, lonely road much of the time.

G.K. Chesterton once said that all the reasons for being Catholic boil down to one reason: because it’s true. I could leave the Catholic Church, and likely find a vibrant evangelical Christian church where the people are serious about their faith and where my concerns about weak church governance are taken seriously. But as tempting as that may be, I’d rather be a nobody in the church founded by Christ than a somebody in a house of cards.

The Catholic Church is both human and divine, and there are times when I loathe the human part of our Church. (And that includes this human being; I don’t exclude my own sinfulness at all.) I hate our weakness, our pettiness, our brokenness that makes it impossible for me and so many to find consistent support in our quest to get to heaven. I hate that this redeemed world still seems so broken to me. But I also know that I’m bound to be disappointed if I insist on seeking perfection in fallen humanity, when perfection can really only be found in the very person of Christ himself.

The sacraments are valid regardless of the holiness of our priests or parishioners; they still radiate the awesome power and love of Christ regardless of the irreverence shown in our churches. Jesus still is and always will be on our altars. God alone is faithful, wholly good, and unchanging. He keeps his promises even if we don’t.

That’s why I’m still and always will be a Catholic.


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  • OutsideTheGate

    The sacraments are valid regardless of the holiness of our priests or parishioners; they still radiate the awesome power and love of Christ regardless of the irreverence shown in our churches. Jesus still is and always will be on our altars.

    Try telling that to your minority who travel 90 minutes or more to go to a parish that’s ‘pure’ so they don’t have to sit next to or mix with those whom they consider unorthodox scum.

    These ‘New Evangelisers’ are mostly leaving mission territory for cozy holy huddles where they get the Mass served up, just as they like it. It seems more a sort of Protestant Liturgical Epicureanism than anything Catholic.

    • Pax

      There are some that do just that.
      However, there are many more who stick it out and try to make a difference where they are planted.
      The are real problems with the idea of dealing with an unorthodox pasture who teaches heresy from the pulpit. Especially if you have children , then it is hard to explain to them why father is wrong, but should still be respected, sometimes it is easier to just leave.
      besides that I think you are refereeing more to people who seek traditional liturgy. There are many people who have no problem with the current liturgy , even like it better, but who have to deal with parishioners and or priest teaching heresy or worse modeling it for their children. Priests ignoring the rules of the church and teaching children that disobedience to your parents and the church is ok so long as it ‘feels like the sprit’ etc.
      In some places it is worse then others , but I have seen both sides of the coin and realize it is a complex issues. We all should pray for the church and it’s leaders everyday.

      • OutsideTheGate

        I agree with your very fair assessment, but I would still say there are more than we’d like to admit, who ‘abandon parish’ or, if they stay, are more of a polarizing, than evangelistic, influence…

        • Pax

          It is very hard to evangelize when your pastor is opposing you. It is hard to teach your children when those around them preach by action what is not catholic. It is difficult to understand why the bishops often refuse to take the needed action to correct the situation.

          • OutsideTheGate

            I am so with you on that.

        • Pax

          I can be really difficult to deal with a priest teaching heresy even outright and directly. It is even harder to see the people in the pews teach heresy through their actions , clothing , etc. Part of the problems comes from the unwillingness of the bishops and priest to address these problems.

          • OutsideTheGate


    • Michael

      I don’t know how you discern the motives of people so easily. I have done what you say is right: stayed in my parish and fought the good fight, but I’ve lost, and my children haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about when I try to teach them the true Faith. Maybe these poor folks are just wiser than you and I.

    • Justin M

      The road to heaven is narrow, the road to hell wide. I have a hard enough enough time maintaining my faith and that of my wife and kids while in an orthodox environment (yes, I go almost exclusively to the TLM), let alone in a let’s-have-a-party average American parish. I’m weak and I need the good sermons, the good confessor (the availablity of a confessor in the first place), the environment of people who are putting some effort into getting to heaven, etc. I would drive more than 90 minutes for that. Fortunately, I have all that only 10 minutes from my house, but that’s in part because I chose to live where I live because of the availablity of said parish.

      • OutsideTheGate

        I can’t comment on your circumstances, but I’m certainly weak, too. But, I just don’t see Faith being about meeting my need, and I cannot believe that God would abandon us or his Church on the ground, however bad it is, if we desire to remain faithful to him.

        I do wonder how much an atomistic and historicist thinking is affecting our view of the big picture. Under persecution people have always had to fend for themselves to a degree, whilst not forgetting their mission. Being at the furthest outposts of the empire (Modernist parishes) might not be an error, but providence.

        God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

        — Blesed John Henry Newman.

        • Justin M

          I certainly agree that God won’t abandon us. At the end of the day, I worry more about my kids then myself. I think I would survive a modernist, nightmare parish, and hopefully even add something positive, but I’m not sure my kids would.

          Your comment seems to fit well for the feast of St Francis Xavier today, who intended on being an academic, but ended up at the far reaches of the world as a missionary. It’s true that we don’t know what God intends for us!

    • Therese

      I find your attitude phenomenally judgmental. Maybe they seek out another parish for the same types of reasons you choose to remain where you are. You are the one who just doesn’t get it!

      • OutsideTheGate

        Actually I don’t seek out a parish because I don’t see the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, nor the people as there for my benefit. I have always supported the parish I live in, warts and all. They are the people God has given me to love.

        If making judgements based on evidence is wrong, what sort of world do you live in? Haven’t you ever listened to what they’re saying closely with all your senses and intellect? Don’t you ever read combox posts that agree with your position with any modicum of a critical stance just in case they’re utterly biased, and you’re just seeing what you want to see? Do you have a conscious blindspot for all those nasty condescending comments they make about ‘them’?
        Of course, you’re bound to reply that it doesn’t happen in your clique, because yours is perfect. Yeah. Right. I always heard that from Protestants, too, as they used to church shop. They were always happy ‘until’: normally until their pastor changed, then they were off shopping again for the service they liked, just like lots of these Catholics.

        God gave me senses to attend to experience and a brain to observe and discern. I use them.

  • Pax

    I question weather or not the minority is really ‘new’ though. Even in ‘catholic’ Europe , what percentage of people truly believed what the church taught and how fervently? Between all the different heresy that rose and fell, the wars, poverty and all the saints that had to go out and ‘re-evangelize’ and re- build the church (Ex. St. Francis, St. John of the cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola). Perhaps it has always been a minority that were truly devoted to and embraced the truth in it’s full brightness. So how can we get everyone to love him and how can we get the church to be ‘of one mind’ as Paul encourages in his letters? Great questions to ponder, better questions to pray about.

  • BXVI

    “Even among those who sit in Mass every Sunday, the percentage of Catholics obedient to the Church, who treasure her wisdom on major moral and theological issues is scandalously small.”
    Well, Pope Francis seems to think there are way too many of these rigid fundamentalists. He has actually mocked people for prayingn the Rosary. Last week he humiliated an altar boy for reverently holding his hands together in paryer. He physically tried to pull them apart and asked the kid if they were “stuck.”

    • Pax

      well, the word ‘fundamentalist’ is a protestant by definition in English at least. I looked up the Italian word he used and it seemed to be something more like ‘extremist’. We do have people who are extremist in the church and sometimes make it very unwelcoming. I think everyone is always pulled between being the Pharisee and the heathen and ‘the way’ which is the the will of God is only come to through humility and prayer. That isn’t to suggest the truth is ambiguous , but because we are frail human beings , mysteries even to ourselves, because we are nothingness held in existence only by the will of omnipotent power. our ability to comprehend what is true is often a tension between two poles. Too far one way, heresy , too far the other heresy also. So we must love and accept sinful persons with deep seated homosexual desires or who are living in adultery because Christ died for them , but must hold them accountable to that love that says the things they desire or are doing is unhealthy for them and us, and insist they deserve better. It is a difficult balance that can only be reached through the action of the holy spirit.

  • Therese

    You have totally described my life as a Catholic since the implementation of the “spirit” of Vatican II when I was in high school. It took me decades to lose my shocked naivete and have come to expect that a fellow parishioner, the parish priest, Catholic school principal, family members, my children’s Catholic school teachers, MY OWN EMPLOYERS IN A CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, would all feel justified in deciding for themselves what was acceptable Catholicism.
    The result of all of this self-centeredness (rather than God-centeredness) is an utter loss of faith for most of our children, family members and friends. Those that remain active in the Church are the cafeteria Catholics who shut you up by labeling you as thinking in “black and white (really, I think in full color because I have read the catechism and see the bigger picture), shut you out of volunteering for teaching CCD classes, get offended if you don’t accept their version of mercy without repentance….
    I always held out hope that at least the Pope and the magisterium were on the truth track – but lately I’m having guilt-ridden doubts about that, too.