Keeping Faith Real: How Catholics Don’t and Why It’s Killing Us

girl-candle-real-faithCatholic religious education is failing.

Catholic children are instructed in the Faith, yet the Church is hemorrhaging members.

Most of them are going to evangelical protestant churches. They’re not leaving Christianity, just the Catholic Church. Why?

I’ve found one clue in Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, “The ‘One Thing’ Is Three.

One concept with powerful implications. It’s called the enrichment of faith.

It was the key to John Paul II’s pastoral strategy. It could be the key to making a new evangelization actually happen. Here’s what keeping faith real is all about.

What is the enrichment of faith?

The enrichment of faith is a concept Archbishop Karol Woytyla (later Pope John Paul II) developed from his interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.

It’s the idea that faith is only truly enriching when it’s a lived reality in the heart of the believer. And, it must be communicated that way.

Vatican II was called to address a problem–the split between what modern Catholics said they believed and what they actually lived. It would do this by re-proposing Catholicism in a new way, a way that would appeal directly to modern man and heal the split.

Archbishop Woytyla made this his primary mission.

Everything, “all pastoral activity,” Woytyla wrote, was to be directed toward fostering a mature faith that was fully lived. According to Fr. Gaitley, the enrichment of faith also became the backbone of his pontificate as John Paul II…a “key pastoral priority.”

“Everything he did flowed from this idea,” Gaitley said. “He was constantly making the faith concrete and livable. He was constantly helping the faithful to bring the Gospel home to their hearts and into their lives.”

How real faith is communicated

According to Fr. Gaitley, Blessed John Henry Newman is an example of someone who made the enrichment of faith happen.

Cardinal Newman’s homilies and books boil down to one thing–making the faith real. “Newman throws himself into his writing such that you actually meet him there,” Gaitley says. He communicated real faith, enriched faith, by telling us how he lives it.

Gaitley cites a Newman scholar who says:

“Whoever reads Newman…cannot fail to be fascinated by the way he lives in his writings and speaks to his readers through them….Newman is also present in his words, not only explaining how he personally came to the truth, but also giving witness to the truth.”

Newman’s secret was communicating real knowledge verses notional knowledge. The notional is any knowledge that is general, abstract, or merely conceptual. According to Gaitley, he found the “old Anglican platitude-laden sermons that used so many words yet still said nothing” soaked in the notional.

The opposite of notional is real knowledge. It’s born of experience, passion, and life. This is knowledge acquired because faith has changed you. Conveying this kind of knowledge moves the heart and enriches faith.

“Enriched faith gets passed from one heart to another,” Gaitley says. Newman’s episcopal motto–“cor ad cor loquitur,” or “heart speaks to heart.” The real, personal, and lived knowledge flows from the heart, and this has the power to change another’s heart.

“Vagueness doen’t move people,” Gaitley remarks.

The Catholic presentation of Christianity is no longer real

So, why do so many Catholics need to leave the Catholic Church to actually convert to Christ? Because evangelical churches make Christianity real!

Their sermons are personal, passionate, and witness real faith. They preach about real issues. Their small groups address real problems.

Their biblically based theology is incomplete, but it’s in touch with the Word of God and the words of Jesus. That is real, and it works to move toward initial faith.

Catholic religious education is the epitome of notional. It’s abstract and impersonal. It stresses learning doctrinal formulas, not living them. In Catholic schools where religion is just another subject to learn, it’s the worst.

Most parish adult education and RCIA classes are like theology lectures. Most homilies are abstract and sterile because priests are afraid to share too much of themselves.

The enrichment of faith and the new evangelization

The mandate of Vatican II is not even close to being accomplished.

This is the reason John Paul II called for a new evangelization. Catholics are not living with enriched faith.

The Council sought to update the presentation of the Faith in a way that would seize the imagination and soul of modern man. In reality, the new evangelization is an extension of the mission of Vatican II.

I think John Paul II had the enrichment of faith in mind when he called for evangelization with new ardor, methods, and expressions. He envisioned new ways of presenting the Faith to make it real in the lives of today’s faithful. Blogs fall into this category. They bleed the author’s personality.

I’m continually stressing this with my concept of evangelizing catechesis. By telling your stories, sharing how you feel about your faith, and sharing yourself with your students, your catechesis conveys real knowledge that can enkindle the hearts of your students.

Faith must be real to be attractive, to convince others to want to take it up. It must be communicated through the transparency of a real life that has been transformed, a real faith that has transformed.

Catholicism has the power to change the culture, to change society. But to be an effective force for change, it must be lived.

Is it fair to say a notional presentation of the Faith is killing the Catholic Church? What are some examples of the notional you experience in the Church? How do you keep it real in your classroom? I’d love to know.

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc


Subscribe and start receiving free updates via email.
I guarantee your email address will never be shared.


  1. Amen! This is what we try to do with each of our groups–not cover every page in the book, but bring your real life into it. Don’t just tell them who Jesus is, introduce them! Show them! Show them love.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Yes Tina! That is exactly it! I wish everyone had that attitude and understood that. We really, really have to introduce Jesus to them. It sounds cliché but that’s exactly what it has to be.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great article Marc, this needs to be said more often.

    1: Have you read George Wiegel’s book Evangelical Catholicism? I’m almost halfway through. If not, you need to at least read the first 30 pages.

    2: This reminds me of why we need a new understanding of catechesis proper “The primary aim of catechesis is to put not just in touch but in intimacy, in communion, with Jesus Christ.” Catechesi Tradendae #5. I suspect this was so explicitally harped upon because the catechesis, or handing on of the faith that occured in 1960-1990 and even today was all about doctrines, not about communicating the belief that touching Christ is like touching fire.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Thanks Edmund!

      1. I haven’t read Evangelical Catholicism yet but I’m really looking forward to it. It’s on my shelf. I love George Wiegel. Maybe I’ll take a peek at the first 30 pages right away.

      2. That’s right! That’s exactly what CT 5 is saying! Thanks for pointing that out. I think that’s exactly why that’s so stressed too. I love that analogy…touching Christ is like touching fire. Awesome!

      • I read it…basic idea was good; execution was dry and not very compelling. Both my wife and I have read a lot of Weigel, but be both labored over this, I think it would’ve worked better as a long essay in First Things. Of course everyone has an opinion.

        • Marc Cardaronella says:

          Aw, I’m sorry to hear that. I’m really excited about the title and the premise. Still very much looking forward to reading it.

  3. I don’t say anything I don’t believe or can’t explain.

  4. Amen! Thank you for this! Well done Marc.

    Continued blessings +JMJ

  5. midwestlady says:

    You have keyed into a very important set of ideas. Nice job.

    Good reads for you along these lines, very helpful resources:
    “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus” by Sherry A. Weddell.
    “I Once Was Lost” by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Thanks! I have read both of these. They’re very good. Especially the book by Schaupp.

  6. I don’t quite understand your criticisms. What exactly is “notional” about Church doctrines? Are you suggesting doctrines such as Transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception are “notional knowledge”?

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      That’s a great question. Notional knowledge is like knowledge from textbooks. Yes, the pure theological explanation of doctrine is notional knowledge. According to Fr. Gaitley, the Summa Theologica contains notional knowledge, as opposed to Cardinal Newman’s sermons, which contain real knowledge. It’s important to understand that the notional is not bad. Of course we need to have precise definitions of doctrines and full, logical, detailed explanations of what we believe as Catholics. Teaching notional knowledge isn’t bad either. It’s just not evangelizing. Though there are examples of intellectual conversions, people who are so moved by the reasonableness, cohesiveness, and beauty of Catholic doctrine they want to convert, that’s not the norm. Most people make decisions from the heart.

      Real knowledge has to do with how the Faith is in more evangelizing situations. Homilies and adult education are not the place for the notional. They need to move the heart. Most of the people in the pews are not converted. They need to stirred to belief and action. In the case of homilies, the notional shows itself in a sort of vagueness that speaks about God’s love for us, sure enough, but only in abstract terms, textbook kinds of terms. I’ve heard this for years but could never put my finger on it. I really dislike homilists telling stories that aren’t about themselves and clearly they picked up from a book of homily helps. They’re disengaged, distant, aloof, and devoid of the personal. Children absolutely need to be evangelized. They aren’t converted yet…they’re just kids. Kid’s religious education, even high school too, needs to be oriented towards conversion, toward having kids understand things in concrete terms.

      That doesn’t mean it doesn’t include notional knowledge. It has to in order to hand on the Faith. And, the real knowledge has to have some basis in doctrine or else it doesn’t mean anything. But in presenting we have to work to make the Faith real. Later, after kids, and adults, are converted, they’ll hunger for the precise, theological depth of doctrinal knowledge. In the beginning, they need the basics and need to have it mean something in their lives and be relative. That will speak to their hearts and help them believe.

      • midwestlady says:

        The difference between notional vs. actual is like the difference between listening to a lecture on the rotational inertia of a bowling ball vs. going bowling. We insist for some strange reason on lecturing about God instead of experiencing or knowing God. That’s the problem.
        Closely associated is the force involved in trying to get everyone we’re related to into the Church, even in name only, and the therapeutic Deism we keep trying to use to accomplish that goal. It doesn’t work.

        • Great analogy! You’re exactly right, that is the problem. I think it stems from the fact that my intellectually oriented people are the ones giving the lectures…and perhaps making up the textbooks. Priests are trained in theology and homiletics but not catechetics and persuasive public speaking. The problem of getting people into the Church any way we can, even in name only, comes from a bit of desperation and not having a clearly defined sense of what we’re trying to accomplish. We want converted people not merely bodies. That is not widely understood.

      • Beverly says:

        I just came across this article. So very good and true. I believe this is reason for restored order of the sacraments of initiation. If Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist come first, then the door is open for evangelizing catechesis to heart, mind and body that is receiving all of those actual graces imparted by Christ in the sacraments. Then we can spend our time making disciples and growing children, adults and families in the love of the LORD.

  7. medievalIrish says:


    Thank you for your notional and real delineation of Catholic teaching. It is so true.
    Listening to homilies every week, if they are good, they give the notional; they almost never make the leap to the real.
    I remember the old Baltimore c Catechisms always had, at the end to each lesson, examples of what might happen in life and asked how you would react to that situation.
    This is sadly lacking in today’s instruction.
    Catholics today need the words to use in real life. Many ordinary people sincerely follow the teachings, but run into a wall when they try to explain or talk about them. Perhaps the homily is a place to at least begin to give us the words. If not, then a group, even if just two people, can work on how to talk about our beloved faith.
    Thank you again.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      That is really fascinating about the Baltimore Catechism! I have one and have read through it some, but I never noticed the questions giving that kind of real life application. I’ll have to take a closer look at that.

      Interesting idea about the homily. Yes, maybe that is the place to give parishioners the language to speak about the Faith with others. I think we definitely do need to provide that. I think that’s what so many of the best priests and national level speakers do for us. They give us those words and explanations and teach us how to speak on the level of the heart.

      Thanks for the comments!

      • St Donatus says:

        Just wanted to let you know, the new printings of the Baltimore Catechism don’t have the real world applications of the teachings. You have to get a copy printed prior to about 1965 to get this. I have a couple of these old printings. There are reprints of these older Baltimore Catechisms. You will recognize them by the two color (red and black on a white background) pictures of Jesus on the front. The pictures are all from the 1950s but they apply today as well. I ordered some newer ones for some people I know but found all of the illustrations were gone. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. By removing the pictures, the newer ones gut the personal application. Here is the ISBN Info:
        ISBN-10: 089942242X
        ISBN-13: 978-0899422428
        It would be great if a publisher created some updated illustrations etc for these books.

        • St Donatus says:

          Sorry, the ISBN I listed are the ones WITH the illustrations.

          • Marc Cardaronella says:

            I do have an old one. It’s the one by Fr. Connell from 1949. It has the illustrations and I see the “Problems and Exercises” that are like practical case studies applying the doctrine. Very interesting! Thanks for pointing this out.

      • Robert A. Rowland says:

        When I entered the Church in 1949, my mentor was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and evangelization was at the highest peak in my lifetime, and I don’t expect it will ever be reached again. That is an indictment of the Second Vatican Council. Discipline and doctrine were shunned, and false ecumenism all but destroyed evangelization. I do indeed understand the necessity of the New Evangelization,but it will prove ineffective.unless we can regain the respect for the Real Presence that existed before the council. I am as always completely dedicated to the Magisterium lest yo think I am other than a practicing Catholic who deplores unconscionable loss of belief in the preeminent doctrine of our faith. God help us…

        • St Donatus says:

          @Robert, I don’t know that I would blame the Second Vatican Council. From what I have heard, the seeds of what happened to the Church were planted at the end of the 1800,s and that is why the Popes of that time were warning so much about the damage of ‘modernism’. The Second Vatican Council was vague enough and so new, that it just gave the ‘modernists’ the opportunity to reap destruction. Not that many were not well meaning, but in reality, Satan couldn’t have done a better job of causing confusion and destruction in the Catholic faith.

          I myself have seen very pious Catholics turn into almost agnostics due to parish teachers (priests, nuns, laity) telling them to believe things in opposition to Church teaching. The Church has gone through this before and it has survived but it took people with love of God and his Church to fight these forces of evil. We each must do our part to stay close to God. As a priest told me, don’t let some prominent Catholics lack of faith cause doubts in your mind. That is exactly what Satan wants. Worry about your own faith. It is the shield that will protect you in this battle.

        • Marc Cardaronella says:

          Robert, you are right about Vatican II and the loss of evangelization. Some misinterpretations of Vatican II on ecumenism have lessened the zeal for evangelization in the Church. Have you read Ralph Martin’s book on that? I think he’s correct. I’ve had people ask me what the point of evangelization was if people can find God in every religion. It’s a dangerous notion.

          Ah, Sheen was a master! Now he’s someone who could communicate the Faith. I have hope that we can reach those heights of evangelization again. It will definitely take the devotion and dedication to the Eucharist. That’s for sure.

        • midwestlady says:

          That kind of “evangelization” creates someone who often believes in the Church, but may or may not believe in God. It’s one of the reasons we are now where we are.

  8. Robert A. Rowland says:

    I am not sure this problem will be solvable until we can regain respect for the Real Presence. Before the Second Vatican Council everyone who said they were Catholics believed Jesus was there. Fifty years after the council, only one in four still believe the preeminent doctrine of our faith. That is an indictment of the council. I don’t think we can recover it until only consecrated hands are again allowed to handle the Eucharist and sacred vessels, and we receive communion only once on the tongue.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Certainly, respect and proper adoration of the Eucharist is key to an authentic living out of our Faith. John Paul II showed us his enriched faith in his Eucharistic-centered life and worship. It is the source and summit. It must be at the heart of an enriched faith, and I think also, a person that would seek to convey real knowledge of Catholicism. We have that model in so many Saints and, in particular, Pope John Paul.

  9. St Donatus says:

    I left the Church for the evangelical churches. There were two differences between the Catholic church and the evangelical churches that I was drawn to. 1) The evangelical churches were open and welcoming to me. They had Bible studies and pot lucks that we were all supposed to attend. 2) When they preached a sermon, they came right to the point. They told us how destructive sin is, how Satan works in our sin, how Satan is our enemy, how Satan can lead us to Hell, and they went into specific sins we should avoid. They also talked about how we can show our love for our neighbor by preaching to them, how we can show much more kindness to our neighbor by bringing them to Jesus then just giving them food, etc.

    I agree with the author for the most part but I don’t agree with one comment that ‘handing on of the faith that occured in 1960-1990 and even today was all about doctrines’. I received that 1970s, 1980s poor catechesis and I don’t remember ever learning the ‘doctrine’ of the church at all. Most of what I remember is talking about Jesus loves me and we should love our neighbor. They were trying to instill a love for God but what doctrine they were teaching us was in opposition to Catholic teaching. I learned more in my first three years in Catholic School from the nuns, then I ever learned after that. The nuns taught us how much Jesus loved us by his suffering and how he treated his followers. (When I got home my Grandma asked me why I was crying. I said ‘Because they killed Jesus’.) The nun showed us how God loves us by how he cares for us. She showed us how God loves us through the Sacraments. She showed us how to love our neighbor by following Jesus example.

    I joined a Catholic Bible study here at the local parish recently. All the study book goes into is the various theories of what each parable might mean, about the history behind the parable in Jewish culture etc. It is all about the intellectual and nothing about the spiritual. Most of it even contradicts Catholic Teaching.

    I also attend a Latin (Extraordinary Form) parish about an hour away on Sunday. They follow the old Catholic practices from pre 1960. Guess what, just like the evangelical church, they have lunch every Sunday and the sermons are hard hitting. Every sermon tells us how, in concrete terms, we can become better Catholics.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      See, I think those two points you make are exactly what I’m thinking of. And the welcoming/hospitality is definitely another aspect of making faith real. It lives in the inviting and welcoming attitude. I think that attracts a lot of Catholics to evangelical churches. I’ve heard that from several people that have left the Church. And that concrete advice for living the Christian life is exactly what is needed. Many Catholics act like they don’t want to be challenged to live their faith deeper but I think they’d like it more than they think.

      Now, I don’t advocate not teaching doctrine at all. Doctrine is the light along the path. It is how God has revealed himself and his life (and consequently our lives) to us. I just want the doctrine to live through a vibrant, active, personal presentation. That 70’s and 80’s catechesis without doctrine was hollow. That kind of catechesis is still hollow today.

      Of course, not all catechesis was bad during that time, and there are many people doing a fantastic job now. The nuns you speak of are a perfect example of what we’re talking about here. I think we lost quite a bit when the religious sisters left our schools. Those nuns were living their faith…radically. They were dedicating themselves to it, and if they were faithful, were being transformed by it. It was permeating every aspect of their lives. And, consequently, they were speaking to you about it from a “real knowledge” viewpoint. They were talking about God’s love from a place of being truly changed by it. That’s conveying real knowledge, and it makes a difference.

      I hate those kinds of Bible studies where everything is theoretical and doesn’t even conform with Church teaching. It’s even worse when that kind of presentation of Scripture is in middle school and high school textbooks. I saw one that taught the historical origins of the different books and suggested that the apostles didn’t really write them. Also that the accuracy was in question. That is not the kind of knowledge that inspires faith in children. It just makes them question whether anything the Church teaches is true. Middle school is not the place for those kinds of discussions. They need to learn how the Bible can help them in their lives, how it puts them in touch with the words of Jesus, how it can guide them in life, and how they can pray with it.

      Very interesting about the Extraordinary Form parish. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this!

      • St Donatus says:

        I know that the most of the old Catholic Churches were not built for having ‘lunch’ and donuts etc but back then Catholic families were much closer. You knew most everyone because most of us lived in a kind of Catholic getto, not literally but all our friends were Catholic, we went to Catholic school, etc. The Latin groups don’t necessarily want to go back to all that was before 1962 or whatever, they want to see the kind of reverence shown for the real presence (and more reverence all around), the strong hard hitting sermons, the deep love for the poor, orphans, etc that was so obvious through the many Catholic institutions. When Vatican II ended, many Catholics seemed to think that it was an excuse to do what we wanted to do, that they could join society, that the Catholic church would be accepted. Most nuns left the orders and got married or whatever. We became a much more ‘Me’ centered religion. Prior to this, we were, in a sense, protected by the prejudice against Catholics. We had to stick together. We slowly were absorbed into society and we absorbed the attitudes of society.

        Personally, I don’t really care about whether the mass is in ‘Latin’ or not. What draws me to the Extraordinary Form parishes is the deep sense of faith, the deep reverence they hold for God, the beauty of the mass and the Churches. You have to be a pretty serious Catholic to drive an average of an hour each way to go to Mass every Sunday.

        I think that we learn in many ways. We learn not only by words but also by example. When I see people kneeling for the body of Christ on the tongue, I see with my own eyes the faith in his real presence. It seems that most priests still don’t seem to see the importance of this ‘forced’ reverence, but as we do it, we feel it.

        • Marc Cardaronella says:

          Thanks for that insight into the Extraordinary Form churches. That’s fascinating. You know, I have a friend that goes to a really old parish in downtown Chicago, St. Cantius, that’s an Extraordinary Form parish. The church was never changed after the Vatican II architectural purge and still has everything original…the communion rail, the high altar, the whole bit. The priest says Mass in Latin using the Extraordinary Form and faces the altar. There’s a communion rail and everyone receives on the tongue. It’s pretty cool. I’d never seen that before with the full deal. I only remember Mass in the Novus Ordo. Although, I did make my First Communion at an altar rail. Anyway, I was at my friend’s child’s baptism and there were huge lines for confession. They were wrapping all the way around the church. So, I see what you mean about devotion. We could definitely, always use more reverence for the Eucharist. There’s never too much of that.

  10. “Most parish adult education and RCIA classes are like theology lectures. Most homilies are abstract and sterile because priests are afraid to share too much of themselves.”

    Marc, you haven’t experienced most parish adult education/RCIA classes, nor have you heard most homilies.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      True, I haven’t heard ALL the homilies, but I’ve heard enough to recognize the disturbing trend. Let’s not sugar coat the magnitude of this problem. I’ve seen bad homilies nearly break a parish because close to half of the parishioners go someplace else to hear better homilies. Catholic clergy are not taught effective methods of homiletics. I had a DRE friend who was in the diaconate program in our diocese. One day I saw him and he said they had their lesson in homiletics. I talked with him about it and tried to share some of the stuff I was reading about public speaking and teaching the Faith. He brushed me aside and said nothing could beat the class they just had from a priest who showed them how to read a syndicated homily helps book, pick out the main points, and have a homily ready in 15 minutes. I know you won’t always have the time for in depth preparation but come on. You know it’s in bad shape when they’re told to shoot for 7 minutes because people can’t listen for longer than that. However, protestant pastors regular hold a congregation for 45 minutes or longer. No, the truth is they just can’t listen to you for longer than 7 minutes. Now, I know there are some fantastic homilists. There are many in my local area. And, whenever people encounter them they’re overwhelmed because the usual experience is so underwhelming. They used to having low expectations.

      I take homilies very seriously. Homilies are of the highest importance in pastoral ministry. It is the primary way the priest teaches his flock. The majority of parishioners are not formed to appreciate the Eucharist and receive deep spiritual grace from it. The homily is where they get anything spiritual out of the Mass. If it doesn’t resonate and deliver the gospel, they’re not getting anything. Homilies have to be one of our highest priorities, and the truth is, nearly every homily is operating in an evangelization situation because the congregation is not converted. Clergy need to continue to develop their speaking skills and study the art of effective communication and persuasive speaking. They can’t stop at the seminary classes or deacon formation. They need to practice and grow as speakers. And, I know it’s possible because I’ve done it myself. It’s not just the case that some people are naturally talented speakers. It can be learned.

  11. Great article — thanks so much! I try to make the faith “real” through my blog, where I comment on various topics of interest to the secular world from a faith perspective (sharing my own insights where appropriate).

    I will share this article with my Priest, who is currently working very hard to revitalize our church. God bless.

  12. Dwaller says:

    It’s no secret that kids are leaving all Christian faiths in record numbers due to secularization from the media and in our own homes among other reasons (the fall-out from the advent and institution of the Pill and abortions, the complacency and acceptance of divorce, the redefinition of marriage and family life, etc). And it’s no secret that the Catholic catechesis in the last several decades has been woefully lacking. But there has also been a HUGE increase in efforts in not only our Church but in our clergy and laity as well in trying to bring about a stronger and more faith-filled catechesis. Will this be fixed over night? Obviously not. Is every Parish making changes as quickly as others? Obviously not. But the movement and effort is there being made by hundreds of thousands of faithful!

    You state that “the pure theological explanation of doctrine is notional knowledge” which you say is not bad but is not evangelizing. The definition of “notion” is a “belief or an opinion” – The Church’s doctrine is NOT a notion and should not be taught as such. I agree that teaching our young needs to be more engaging IN ADDITION TO teaching the Catholic doctrine – otherwise you are left with the “feel-good, yes I’m saved because I believe in Jesus” Evangelical (among others) way of faith. It’s not enough to share one’s feelings along with a sing-along and a pancake breakfast (tongue in cheek there) without instruction on the Catechism of the Catholic Church or waiting until the children get older. It’s like teaching 1+1=2 with a smile but not explaining why and how… Or like going to a party but only stopping at the appetizer table instead of partaking in the entire banquet (which is the Catholic Church in her entirety!)

    You state that “Catholicism has the power to change the culture, to change society. But to be an effective force for change, it must be lived.” If you read the history of our faith, the apostles, the early Church Fathers, the saints, men and women who have defended, lived and died for our faith, the reasons for the many Church Councils and WHY we have our Church doctrines, you would see not only the copious amounts of changes the Church has already made (and continues to make) throughout history, but also that the Catholic Church not only has the FULLNESS of faith in EVERYTHING she teaches, but that it has been lived and evangelized throughout Christian history and is STILL being lived today! Is it perfect? Obviously not. But to discount or minimize Her doctrines, Her many faithful and faith-filled adherents and to suggest in any way that the “notational” (which is a truly misleading and wrong characterization to begin with) is in any way killing the Catholic Church can only be declared as harmful. Pope Francis has been clear on this. One simply cannot say that one is Catholic but doesn’t want to teach Her doctrine – whether to diminish Her doctrine or not teach it altogether – that is to be outside the faith – that is to be NOT Catholic.

    I applaud anyone who works hard to teach our Catholic faith, to evangelize and to live it everyday, but there is absolutely NO justification for not teaching doctrine. This is not what the Year of Faith or the New Evangelization is about.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      First, notional is not my term. It comes from Cardinal Newman, and I took it from the text of Fr. Gaitley’s book. And, I don’t think it refers to the doctrines of the Church being “notions” as if they’re merely opinions. I think his meaning is far from that.

      Second, why do you assume that because I’m talking about presenting the Faith in an engaging way that I want to leave out teaching doctrine? Nothing could be further from the truth. I suppose for many years that’s what catechesis has been…a hollow feel-good, sing along. I’m completely opposed to that. I suppose also one of the problems with blog posts is you have to be fairly brief and can only explain one thing at a time. I’m in complete agreement with you. I want to pass on doctrine too. I just want to do it in a way that compels people to want to learn. The “real knowledge” has to have a basis in doctrine or else it’s nothing. Doctrine is the revelation of God. It’s how we know and understand who he is and ourselves.

      However, you have to respect the stages of development and understand what should be taught when. That’s how the early Church Fathers and saints spread the faith and formed future generations to defend it. It’s the ancient structure of catechesis, the way the Faith has always been passed down, and has now fallen out of use. Go ahead and teach kids all kinds of doctrine without converting them and helping them to know and love Jesus. You’ll get just what you have now, a lot of well educated pagans who can tell you everything about the Catholicism but don’t believe any of it. Or, more likely, kids that don’t remember any of what they learned because they didn’t care at all.

      What I’m talking about is respecting the stages of faith development and sharing the right doctrines at the right time in an engaging and evangelizing way. Building on the foundation of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, imparting an understanding of salvation history and how everything fits together, and helping them to live their place in this story. Of course, I didn’t say all that in the post because it was about one thing, how to make doctrine engaging and how to present it so people will want to learn more instead of being bored to death by it.

      You are mistaken. I’m not minimizing any of the Church’s doctrines. In fact, I respect them all the more because I care that people know them and I want desperately to figure out ways to impart them so they’ll be remembered, loved, and taken to heart.

  13. Robert A. Rowland says:

    Sorry about the basically repeated input at the same place in the blog..

  14. anonymous says:

    “So, why do so many Catholics need to leave the Catholic Church to actually convert to Christ?

    The inability to answer this question is a major reason why this Evangelical resists the siren’s song beckoning me across the Tiber. Ancient traditions and moral clarity are fine, but I’m afraid that such a move would prevent my children from becoming Christians.

    Because evangelical churches make Christianity real! Their sermons are personal, passionate, and witness real faith. They preach about real issues. Their small groups address real problems. Their biblically based theology is incomplete, but it’s in touch with the Word of God and the words of Jesus. That is real, and it works to move toward initial faith

    More simply, the Evangelicals dig deep into the Bible. A common reaction of an exCatholic, after the initial joy of discovering the riches of the Scripture, is anger: “This is so awesome! Why didn’t the Catholic Church teach me this stuff?”

    Likewise, after the invasion of Iraq, a group of US Evangelicals set up shop in Baghdad, hoping to evangelize Muslims and distribute Bibles. They didn’t have much luck with Moslems but they found themselves deluged with interest from the local native Chaldean Catholic population. These people were absolutely thrilled to read the Bible; they’d never been exposed to it before. And yet, the hunger in the heart of the true Christian, for the Word of God, survived centuries of starvation, before the Evangelicals satisfied it.

    “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”
    — Calvin….no wait, Luther… uh no, that was St Jerome, ca. 400 AD.

    Anyway…. interesting article. I will close with an observation — unrelated to the main thesis of the article — another major reason that both Catholic and Evangelical churches are losing youth in record numbers due to SEX. More specifically, the outrageous educational and economic expectations that one is supposed to achieve before one is considered fit to marry, effectively put off marriage til around age 30… and few indeed can hold out that long. Til this problem is fixed, til earlier marriage is socially, familially, and above all ecclesiastically promoted, large numbers of youth will keep dropping out of church for this reason.

    • anonymous says:

      PS.. to clarify

      “Ancient traditions and moral clarity are fine, but I’m afraid that such a move would prevent my children from becoming Christians. ”

      I’ve nothing against moral clarity, I meant, that’s one of the things I ADMIRE about Catholicism. In particular, I harbor a perfect hatred* of divorce, and if you didn’t hand out “annulments” like candy I’d be strongly tempted to convert on those grounds alone. Likewise, the Catholics were the first to the battle lines on abortion, we Prots got to the party late.

      I realize that there are those who seek refuge in Protland because they seek to ESCAPE the moral clarity of Rome, usually on matters of divorce or homosexuality. That’s not what I meant.

      *Psa. 138:21-22 (Douay Rheims numbering), 139:21-22 (KJV)

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      Your comment actually breaks my heart. You’re saying you recognize the truth of Catholicism but don’t want to convert because you’re afraid your kids won’t stay Christian if they’re raised in the religious education system of the Catholic Church. That is indicting, but I don’t know if I’d go that far though. I don’t think it’s that bad.

      I whole-heartedly agree with you, however, that delving into Scripture can be life-changing. It’s what got me…but from a Catholic perspective. It was the Catholic understanding of typology and how the Old Testament themes illuminated Catholic doctrine that drew me into the Church. A deep knowledge of Scripture is truly lacking in Catholic religious education. This is for sure.

      I understood what you meant about moral clarity. I also think you’re right about sex and the culture’s attitude toward it. I don’t think the average age of marriage is going to go down but we definitely need to figure out how to equip our kids to deal with that sometimes long wait from puberty to marriage or it will be a continued factor in the indifference to the Christian message.

      And, I’d love to see you give the Church a try.

  15. szalony says:

    I just want to say that I agree with you about conversion being primary to the young people and most adults today. A person is not going to be completely open to the truth without conversion, but truth can also convert individuals. Doctrine and Jesus are interchangeable as Jesus is the truth. I was one of those people who experienced many converted adults in my life while growing up, but they did not have any reasonable explanations for their faith. They were lacking that notional knowledge. Therefore, these adults appeared to me to be unreasonable people who delusionally believed they were in a relationship with this “Jesus”. We are rational creatures and the faith has to be lived as well as make sense, (which by the way, it does). We are living in a time when most people are experiencing the academic community snubbing their nose at religious people and their experiences. Their arguments appear rational and the young people need to be armed with that notional knowledge that can unveil the deception in those attacks. I was not and so I remained outside the faith for many years. It wasn’t until I had conversion coupled with the discovery of doctrine, that I came back to the church. It can’t be one or the other, it needs to be both to reach all people at all levels. My experience in catechesis growing up was, “Jesus loves you lets build a collage” which didn’t answer any of the hard questions I was dealing with in my life like “what is the meaning of my life” “why am I Catholic” “what is the big deal about having sex” “why do I need to be at church and why can’t I just tell God I am sorry on my own” .
    Without doctrine, we risk losing the youth to protestantism. If they don’t understand the mass as the actual sacrifice of calvary or transubstantiation, then why can’t they go down the street to the “Elevate” church where the music is contemporary christian rock which is more enjoyable then all that kneeling and repetitious responding at the Catholic church.
    What I notice about catechesis today is that most priests and catechists do not believe in all of the doctrines of the faith so they do not pass them on in their notional knowledge. The notional knowledge they are passing on lacks substance. It lacks much of the truth so it is not really appealing. It also often comes from unconverted hearts who are not passionate about what they are saying. If catechists are living in a true relationship with Jesus that inevitably should include embracing the doctrines of the Church. We are living in a time when those in catechesis have not embraced both. They usually lack one or the other. Conversion that embraces doctrinal error or ignorance can be just as ineffective as doctrine without conversion. We need converted convicted individuals who don’t water down the faith but proclaim it in its fullness. Doctrine is beautiful when it is lived and explained by a converted passionate individual. It has the power to melt hearts because doctrine is truth and truth is Jesus and Jesus is beautiful.

    • Marc Cardaronella says:

      I completely agree with you that faith without a solid backing in doctrine is hollow ritualism. I’m not in any way advocating not teaching doctrine. I’m advocating a “both/and” not an “either/or.” The reason I emphasize the real knowledge over notional is that catechists are already passing on notional knowledge. They just need to make it real. And, Catholicism is most definitely all about answering the big questions of life. I always say, if Catholicism is not helping you understand the meaning of life, it’s not doing its job…or it’s not being presented correctly. And that’s my point. Catechesis should be moving people to consider the big questions, wrestle with existence and being, ponder the meaning of everything, and then provide answers. From what I can see, it’s not.

      There are two extremes here. One is doctrine at the expense of experience and emotion. The other is all feeling and emotion with no doctrine. I think it’s possible to have something in the middle. You are absolutely correct that rational arguments are so very important because we are rational creatures and need that to sustain belief. But we also have to appeal to the heart.

      That’s a fabulous insight about catechists and priests not believing with all their hearts so the notional knowledge they pass along lacks substance. I think you’re really getting at another vital component there.


  1. […] – Dr Peter Kreeft,  ICLife™ Our Lady’s Three Rosaries – Edward Looney, Ignitum Today Keep Faith Real: How Catholics Don’t and  It’s Killing Us – Marc Cardaronella Kids or No Kids, We’re All Spiritual Mothers – Katie Sciba, The […]

Speak Your Mind