Wake Up, Sleepy Catholics!

“Now is the time to awake out of sleep, for now is your salvation nearer than when you first believed.”

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), “The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane”
Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), “The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane” (photo: Public Domain)

In a more creative mindset I’ve sometimes wondered if the seven dwarves might not characterize different types of Catholics.

There’s Dopey, who is dumb but cute and very devoted. There’s Doc, who always has the doctrinal details in order, Bashful, who never puts himself and maybe suffers from scruples a bit. There’s Sneezy, who doesn’t like the incense, and Happy, who goes along with most anything just to keep the peace. Then there’s Grumpy, the traditionalist who doesn’t like change, and Sleepy, the cradle Catholic who is just coasting.

Sleepy is especially dozy when it comes to evangelization. He doesn't know about that and doesn’t see why it matters. Our Evangelical Protestant brothers sometimes say that our reliance on the sacramental system of the Church leads us to assume that a person is “saved” and leads us to neglect their need for conversion.

This is an understandable reaction from those who begin with Evangelical Protestant assumptions. For the Evangelical Protestant, conversion is a one-and-done experience. For the Catholic, conversion is a way of life. Within the Catholic perspective there may indeed be complacency, but even a marginally catechized Catholic is less likely to be complacent because Catholics are taught to avoid the sin of presumption. In other words, we don’t believe in that recently invented, unscriptural dogma that has been artificially added to the deposit of faith — the Calvinistic belief in “eternal security.”

Catholics should be taught about the dangers of mortal sin and the subsequent danger of hell. Catholic priests also believe in these real possibilities and should warn their people not to be complacent, and seek always for constant conversion for themselves and their flock. 

The problem is, most of modern Catholicism has veered toward a sleepy universalism in which God is too nice to send anyone to hell and everybody is really well intentioned and will make it to heaven in the end.

Do Catholics lapse into a sleepy complacency when it comes to the destiny of their souls? I fear universalism has fed that complacency all too much.

But it’s not so different from the position of the majority of Protestant Evangelicals. They may not be universalists, but they believe in that odd doctrine called “eternal security.” Once you’ve accepted Jesus, you’ve got your ticket to heaven and you can’t lose your salvation no matter what you do.

That, it seems to me, is just as likely to encourage complacency as Catholic universalism. The truth is, if we can accept Christ’s mercy, we can also reject it. Salvation isn’t assured without condition. Instead, we cooperate with God’s grace, do our best within his power and trust in the Divine Mercy.

And when we get sleepy we should remember Romans 13:11: “Now is the time to awake out of sleep, for now is your salvation nearer than when you first believed.”