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Prodigal Sons and Daughters
Recapturing the Lapsed Catholic Family Members
and its Part in God's Divine Plan

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

First of all, I thank you for the privilege of speaking to you. As I’ve said more than once, my heart is in Chicago. I’ve chosen as the subject, for, I believe, two conferences, retrieving the lapsed Catholics in our families and our country.

First, by way of long introduction. I don’t believe anyone has any question about the need for retrieving, recalling, reconverting millions of lapsed Catholics throughout the world and at least hundreds of thousands, I would submit, even millions, in our own country. In one large diocese after another, parishes are closing. Catholics schools are down to a fraction of what they had been even twenty years ago. The millions of young people once-believing Catholics who no longer either attend Mass or receive the sacraments.

I was in Rome last month in conversation with Archbishop Rigali, the Secretary for the Congregation of Bishops. He gave me fourteen texts of the talks the Holy Father is giving to the bishops from different countries. In one conference to the bishops after another, the Holy Father is pleading with the bishops to re-evangelize their nations. Some months ago, I walked from where I live on McNichols Road in Detroit to a doctor I was to see. I counted an average of seven Protestant churches to one Catholic church along my way. Families broken. So many, how many have told me. One couple, during dinner they told me, “Father, our last child just told me,” said the father, “ ‘I’ve left the church.’” That’s the phenomenon. My plan for these two conferences will be to look at this very serious subject from two perspectives. First, why and then how. Why, why has there been this massive breakdown of once-flourishing Catholic families. And then, how to retrieve, that’s the verb I was given, how to retrieve lapsed Catholics, especially, as most of us so well know, our own flesh and blood who no longer to profess or even admit to believing to the Catholic Church.

In this first conference, I would like to cover the following areas in answering the question why.

  1. Secularization of the Western society;

  2. The media of social communications;

  3. Misguided ecumenism;

  4. The breakdown of family life in our nation;

  5. Religious education; and

  6. I’ve saved this for last – the sex revolution.

First, then, why. Why has there been and it’s going on at lightning speed, such dismemberment of once-flourishing Catholic diocese, Catholic parishes, Catholic families, with a consequent lapse, to use a very mild word, of millions from their Catholic faith.

My first, and, in a way, most fundamental reason, is the secularization of our society. As often as we hear the noun secularization, or the verb, to secularize, it is well to know what secularism, which stands behind both concepts, really means. It means that philosophy of life which believes – oh, the staunch faith of secularists; let’s never apologize for being believers, the only unbelievers are the totally, completely insane. Everyone believes, but what a difference, in what you believe. Secularism believes that this world, seculom, is the only one that we are sure really exists.

I was asked a couple of weeks ago, “Could you have, by tonight, an article for the Michigan Catholic on the aim of Catholic education?” It was mid-morning. “Sure, I’ll have it. What time?” “By four o’clock.” I finished the article. About ten minutes to four I got a phone call. The editor of the Michigan Catholic was downstairs to pick up the manuscript.

Here’s what I said. “The aim of Catholic education is to prepare for eternal life.” Do you agree with that? That should be, that is, the divinely-ordained purpose of Catholic education, to prepare people for eternal life. And I’m pleased to report that two of my Jesuit brethren at the University – “John,” they said, “We heard you wrote an article for the Michigan Catholic on the aim of Catholic education. Can I have a copy?” I call that progress.

Catholics have been caught in this massive cultural secularization of our nation. And the secularization has penetrated every facet of American society. I didn’t even think I’d use it, but happened to have it and I brought it with me. I was reading the book for another purpose, as a textbook in psychotherapy at the university, Systems of Psychotherapy. Here are the attributes, or the signs, of being psychotic.

“One sign: In the developed, nebulous private view of the world, the person who is psychotic does not recognize events as others do, does not respond to events which would be antithetic to his own view and selects and chooses those parts that fit into his own prior conceptions.” Again, “The psychotic’s thought is in general more rigid, and consequently, less alterable, than those of the normal person.” Again, my fellow psychotics, “The psychotic deals in categorical and dichotomous terms. A psychotic looks at things and separates them into dark black and bright white pigeonholes.” Is it right? That’s wrong. That, if you please, in a standard book in psychotherapy. “A psychotic thinks with ideas and makes assumptions and has values which does not correspond with the ideas and values of other people.”

I thought it might be at least some slight illustration of the kind of society we’re living in. Either you conform to the ideas and values of those around you, or, well, you need psychotherapy. I’m quoting. As a result, and inevitably, believing Catholics are becoming increasingly isolated in American society.

We’re talking about the why. The second reason, the media. If there is one document that every believing Catholic should read, it is the document of Vatican II that I commend to all of you. Read, meditate on, the most neglected of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council on the media of social communications. Latin title, Inter Mirifica.

We are living, what a mild statement, not just in a, but in the, communications age. Philosophers of the media identify three major communications revolutions in the history of man. The first was the discovery of the alphabet, about 2000 B.C. The second was the discovery of moveable type, or the origin of printing in the late fifteenth century. And the third is the discovery of the electronics media, late nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

Our minds are shaped by what people say, how they behave, or shall I add, how they misbehave. And the most dangerous misbehavior is that which is presented, and the media are evil geniuses in doing so, presented attractively. Over the years I’ve never tired, since I first read the letter that I’ve quoted more than once to many of you. The letter of Marshall McLuhan to my confessor at the University of Ottawa, where I was then teaching. Marshall McLuhan, as you know, is the great philosopher of the modern media. His statement, “The modern media are engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.” Let me repeat. The modern media are engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth. I don’t have to come to Chicago to watch Chicago television, or read the Chicago Tribune. I can get all that I want in New York, Washington, or where I happen to be living, in Detroit.

(words missing here on tape in switch to other side. Father has made similar statements in other talks. It usually starts with something like, “What we see determines what we think. What we think determines what we want …” Perhaps this is what’s missing)

… What we want determines what we do. And what we do determines who we become. The national average for watching television in our country is now over thirty-five hours a week per man, woman and child. You multiply 230 million times 35, every week!

Third contributing reason for why we are speaking on the subject of lapsed Catholics – mistaken or misguided ecumenism. Ecumenism, as you know, is the expression of Christ’s own wish, as He prayed at the Last Supper to His Heavenly Father, “that they all may be one, as you, Father and I are one. That they may be one in us” (CITE). Christ does not want a divided Christianity. In the Second Vatican Council, a whole document on the subject. But we’d better know, we’d better know what true ecumenism is.

I’ve said this before. Those of us involved in the ecumenical movement divide the promoters of ecumenism into two classes: the ecumenists and the ecumanics. The drive for Christian reunification has become in some influential circles a positive mania. The key word now is love. Love. Not realizing that unless the love is based on the truth, are so far from reuniting, it will further divide the conflict. And as Catholics, we believe firmly in the ecumenical movement. In fact, I think I should say it. I taught for seven years at the Lutheran school of theology in Chicago. Let me tell you. After the first week, my fellow faculty members at the Lutheran school of theology had no doubt where Hardon stood. Let me tell you. Protestants admire a clear-thinking and strongly-believing Catholic. Do you hear it?

There is so much misguided ecumenism. The national average for Catholics entering in marriage is almost fifty percent, entering mixed marriage. About one half. Never giving, I don’t say a second thought, but even a first thought, to marrying someone who does not share their faith. As you married people know, to live a happy marriage in peace and harmony, even when your married partner shares your faith, is not easy. But when your husband or wife does not even share your faith, it is extremely difficult.

The breakdown of family life as an explanation of why, why there are so many lapsed Catholics in our country. This coming spring, this is not an ad, but I’m coming out with a book on the Catholic Family in the Modern World, to be published, the first time I’ve done this, by the Leaflet Missal. Guaranteed that fifteen thousand parishes will receive a sample copy. It’s a small book.

The basic reason why there is such widespread, as we call it, breakdown of family life in our country is because our country is returning to pre-Christian paganism. Let me repeat. The main reason why there is such widespread breakdown of family life in our nation is because our country is reverting back to pre-Christian paganism. Our English word “family” is borrowed from the Latin familia. And familia, in the first century of the Roman Empire, was not a husband, wife and children. It just wasn’t. It was one man, called the pater familius, who had control of what we would call now the household, which was then called a familia, with his wives, plural, if he could afford it, or harem, or concubines.

Contraception was universal. Abortion didn’t have to be legalized because it was such a common practice. But what they had to legalize was infanticide. By Roman law, once a woman gave birth to a child, she was bound by law to show that child to the father, and he decided whether the child should live or not. And the percentage among infanticides as several times as many girls. Girls were not wanted. I can assure you, there couldn’t even have been a feminist movement in the first century of the Roman Empire.

We are talking about the breakdown of our own family life in the United States. Our nation, the wealthiest in human history, operates, not on the premise of Christian morality, but on the present premise of hard-headed monetary economy. Money controls the thinking of the leaders of our nation. We never talk about a moral recession, do we? The very word recession is an economic term in our nation.

Over five million Americans are in our colleges and universities. What does that do for families? Well, if you want to get a job, you must get an education. Families can be started, what a safe statement, long before most Americans finish college. Marriages are delayed far beyond the laws of nature, which, for the record, are the laws of God. And now, in one state after another – as you know, I taught in a state university in Michigan – by the law, the university had to have fifty percent men, fifty percent women students. So when you get a degree, you want to use it. As one after another of my co-ed students told me. “Father,” if they were Catholics, or “Doctor,” that was my alias, “by Christmas, we girls have to make a decision if we want to remain chaste. Most of us decide it’s not worth it.”

Homosexuality is not only legalized, but in one state after another, is becoming legislated. Over the forty years in my priesthood, I’ve counseled many, both women and men, homosexual persons. Homosexuals, by their homosexual nature, are aggressive. You don’t, you just don’t, hire homosexual teachers without, for us Catholics, destroying the morality of your children.

Contraception. What can I say? On my way to the airport yesterday, huge, not just billboard, but flashing signs on one of the principal highways of the city. Do you know what it told you? Today, in Michigan, it’s “Condom Week.”

What do you do? Do you shout? Do you scream? Is it any wonder? The wonder is not, there is a breakdown of family life. The wonder is that there are still any families left.

Just to remind ourselves what we are talking about. We are trying to answer the question – Why? Why do we need to be concerned about retrieving our own flesh and blood, our own children, our relatives, back to the Faith? Why?

Religious education. For one who has been working up to two years now on the universal Catechism. I spent a week in Rome last month with Cardinal Ratzinger and the commission and the people he’s appointed. How widespread in the Catholic Church, what word do I use, are errors on the most fundamental truths, hear it, on the most fundamental truths of our faith and the fundamental principles of our Catholic morality. It may be well to remind ourselves that when we talk about error, it is not only, not only, but of course also, error regarding doctrine. Like, for example the divinity of Christ. I could from memory give you a dozen names of highly-publicized, highly-circulated books by nominally Catholic authors that no longer believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2004 Inter Mirifica

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