Consumer Sacraments

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

April 3, 2003

 

            In our consumer society, it is not surprising that many people have come to think of the sacraments as just another service that they “consume.” Like ordering a pizza or reserving a hotel room, they think they should be able to just call up and “reserve” the church for a wedding or  book” a baptism.

            Some people have little or no sense that their participation in the sacraments should reflect their own commitment of faith and their connection to the faith community.

            People often want the sacraments for cultural reasons rather than religious ones. They may even have been raised Catholics. They think it would be nice, even though they no longer practice the faith or believe in God. They often say they don’t like “organized religion”.  (I always tell they that is no problem for me because our parish is anything but organized.)

This creates a lot of problems for priests, deacons and lay leaders who are trying to prepare people for the sacraments. The biggest problems usually come at the cultural touchstones of birth, marriage and death. Hatching, matching and dispatching as the Anglicans say.

            What would you tell people who call in these situations?

            A lady wants her child baptized.  She has chosen godparents who were raised as Catholics but have left the Catholic Church to become Baptists. “They are very good Baptists father, “ she says. She thinks I am unreasonable to require that just one godparent should be a believing Catholic. She does not see why some one who has rejected the Catholic Church cannot sponsor someone into it.

            Another lady calls wanting her child baptized. The child was fathered by her boy friend. Not so unusual, except that she is still married to someone else. She has several children with her husband, but left him about a year before to live with her boy friend. The boy friend is also still married to someone else and has two children. He also left his own faith and declares that he does not believe in organized religion but will not be “opposed to a baptism.” He does not, however, intend to raise the child a Catholic. The sponsors she has chosen are ex-Catholics. I ask her how she thinks the godparents can witness to the faith. She thinks I am making a “big deal” out of things.

            The mother of the bride calls. Neither her daughter nor her future son-in-law is practicing the faith. He already has a child from another union. Like most couples these days, they are living together. Mom reminds me that the future bride “did go to CCD here” when she “made her sacraments.” Bride would like a wedding on a pier by the water, not in church. She sees no reason for much “religious stuff” at her wedding but “does not object to a Catholic priest.” Mother wants to be sure daughter is married “in the eyes of the church.”

            Children of a devout parishioner call for a funeral. Their deceased mother was daily communicant, but none of her children go to church. They do not want a “formal” funeral, by which they mean no funeral mass. They had their mother cremated against her wishes. Now they want to spread her ashes on the water, although our local bishop forbids that. They want to know if I will come and “say a few words” in the garden before they scatter her on the bay. They do not see why the order of the local bishop should be a problem for me.

            These are all real situations. Any priest or deacon could tell you thousands more like them. There are no easy answers. As they say in Virginia, “either way you jump, you are snake bit.”

Whatever we do, we should invite them into the Catholic faith and call them to conversion of heart. Just how is not always clear.