“Good” Catholics Can Make a Difference

"All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing."

This quote, attributed to the 18th-century British philosopher Edmund Burke, is often used as a rallying cry when it comes to attacks against the Catholic Church. Perhaps we can fine-tune the quote this way for our purposes: "All that is necessary for anti-Catholicism to succeed is that good Catholics do nothing."

This quote appropriately exhorts all of us to fight against the vices of laziness and cowardice and do our part in standing up for the Church. However, there is another implied exhortation embedded in this quote: We can't take for granted that any of us, let alone the majority of Catholics, are "good." While we might disagree as to what precisely constitutes a "good" Catholic, we can say that ordinarily a "good" Catholic would not sit by idly while the Church is attacked. And even if he or she did so temporarily, that person should easily be stirred to action when confronted with the reality of anti-Catholicism. But, given the inroads anti-Catholicism has made in our culture with relatively little resistance, it's fair to ask, are the "good" Catholics doing nothing, or are many Catholics not as "good" as we're called to be? At the end of the day, what is a "good" Catholic?

Defective Faith

A theology professor once asked his class, "What's the biggest problem in the Church today, ignorance or apathy?" One student flippantly responded, "I don't know, and I don't care."

The student's answer, upon further examination, is very close to the mark. Ignorance refers to a defect in the virtue of faith, and apathy refers to a defect in the virtue of charity. With the virtue of hope, these three theological virtues are the necessary building blocks of a thriving Catholic life and culture. I suggest that we need to renew this foundation, in ourselves and collectively as the Church, as the necessary prerequisite for effectively addressing anti-Catholic forces in society.

We are approaching the 40th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI's Credo of the People of God (1968), issued at the conclusion of the "year of faith." The Holy Father recognized the crisis of faith in the Church, and he issued his Credo to articulate orthodox Catholic teaching to counteract the rise of ignorance and confusion regarding our faith.

Forty years later, while we see some promising signs of renewal, we have also witnessed the devastating effects of the "crisis of faith" that has ravaged two, going on three, generations of Catholics in our midst.

 The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that "'ignorance of God' is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations" (no. 2087), and it further describes several sins against the faith, including heresy, which are routinely ignored today. We are all too familiar with widespread rejection of key Church teachings, from the papacy and Real Presence to the hot button morality issues that challenge men and women to turn away from deviant, immoral behaviors.

Are We Serious?

We can never lose sight of the fact that our faith is not merely a moral code or abstract body of teachings, but rather a dynamic relationship with the living God. Even so, our faith in the person of Jesus Christ necessarily implies a content of faith. For example, when Our Lord sent out His apostles to make disciples of all nations, He told them to teach all men and women "to observe all that He has commanded" (Mt. 28:20). Similarly, Our Lord also said, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I tell you?" (Lk. 6:46). Our Lord denies knowing those who claim to be His followers yet do not accept and put into practice His teachings, communicated through His Church (see also Mt. 7:21-24; Lk. 10:16).

Organizations that are serious about their principles will not tolerate views within their own ranks that undermine their efforts. Imagine the NAACP allowing members to push for "separate but equal" facilities, or Planned Parenthood allowing its representatives to publicize the harmful effects of abortion on women and to admit that it's a form of homicide. It's not going to happen.

Yet, we have to admit that our Catholic faith has not been adequately taught and embraced in recent decades, such that outright dissent is simply considered an alternative opinion. The deposit of apostolic faith is one of the central bonds of unity that unites Catholics (cf. Catechism, no. 815), but today many people see the Church as a vague cultural reality, not demanding more than loyalty to Notre Dame football and wearing green on St. Patrick's Day. That's why abortion-rights advocates such as Frances Kissling or Ted Kennedy can get away with holding themselves out as Catholics in good standing. If we're not serious about what we believe, how can we expect the "world" — which is the sworn enemy of the Gospel anyway — to treat our beliefs with respect?

In response, we must pray for the grace to live this passage from Catechism, no. 1816: "The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it."

Meanwhile, the virtue of hope is all about putting our trust in the Lord and His promises, especially when the going gets tough. In the midst of attacks from without and scandals from within, many Catholics might be tempted to despair. They may well conclude that the Church is going to hell in a hand basket, and they wring their hands of any responsibility for setting things aright. Or, in the midst of their despair, they may conclude that the project of Christianity is no match for the relentless secularism of our culture. The best that we can hope for is to get in a good kick to the shins here or a minor victory there, but the war is lost. Clearly such a mindset betrays a lack of trust in the living God.

As significant of a problem as despair is, the alternate failure of hope — presumption — can be just as deadly. Presumption denies the need to seek God's grace — either because we think we can save ourselves or because God will give us His grace no matter how we conduct our lives. We commonly see this latter mindset in funerals today, which often seem to be "mini-canonizations."

An objective observer could easily conclude that it really doesn't matter how one lives, because everyone seems to end up in a "better place." Many poorly formed Catholics embrace just such an implicit universalism. There are probably many reasons why people think that way, including the natural desire that our loved ones make it to heaven. Yet, when we give in to such presumption, then we are not really serious about the claims our faith makes on us. And if we're not willing to go to the mat for our faith, if we're not willing to admit the practical reality and consequences of mortal sin, then we're not going to get worked up about attacks on the Catholic Church. A mushy, uncommitted Catholicism is no match for the anti-Catholic forces that have been unleashed against the Church.

We Desire the Good of All

The Catechism identifies two of the principal sins against charity as being indifference and lukewarmness (no. 2094). These sins reveal a lack a passion and zeal in our commitment to God and neighbor. How we respond to attacks against the ones we love can vary greatly, but a failure to respond at all is unacceptable. When we encounter a bully we need to have sufficient self-esteem to defend ourselves the best we can. And what husband would not go ballistic if someone attempted to harm his wife or children? That's why it's so scandalous when some Church leaders have failed to show sufficient outrage when their spiritual children have been abused.

In today's culture, many people want Christ without His Church. They want "spirituality" without the demands and perceived corruption of "organized religion." (Some might respond that the Catholic Church is not all that organized!) Clearly the work of the new evangelization is to help men and women rediscover the intimate, saving connection between Christ the King and His Kingdom, the Church. We must rekindle love for the Church among her members — manifested not as a spineless tolerance, but as a Christ-centered desire for the good of all.

Christ Himself teaches us about this intimate connection. When Saul of Tarsus encountered Our Lord on the road to Damascus, He said, "Saul, Saul, why to you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4). Christ had already ascended to the Father at that time. Saul had never even met Our Lord. Rather, he was persecuting His followers. Yet Our Lord took this very personally. Indeed, Christ from the earliest days identified Himself with His Church, His beloved bride. Attack the Church, and you attack Christ Himself.

Do we experience attacks against the Church as attacks against Our Lord? If more of us did, anti-Catholicism would meet the decisive, unified resistance that has been lacking in our time.

The Catechism says that in every age "saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church's history" (Catechism, no. 828). Everyday saints like you and me are called to be the difference-makers. For Catholicism to succeed, we need "good" Catholics to live with God's grace the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, thus radiating the light of Christ in an otherwise dark, hostile world.

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  • Guest

    I remember when I first heard of gray theology, I knew then and know now that this was a fallacy. It water down our faith until everything was relative and nothing was true anymore.

  • Guest

    I love my church.  I love the Catholic Church.  It is a tough row to hoe.  But it is a great life.  Especially since it is Christ who lives in me and through me.  What a great opportunity to live with Christ.  May his grace fill me and keep me secure in His love and faith.  May I provide him with a worthy follower.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    We must remember that Christ reminds us that He will not tolerate a "lukewarm" faith, lest we are spewed out at the time of judgement.

  • Guest

    The text of this article is timely and relevant, Thank you! 

     To quote: "While we might disagree as to what precisely constitutes a "good" Catholic, we can say that ordinarily a "good" Catholic would not sit by idly while the Church is attacked." …So I won't sit by without drawing your attention to the photo acccompanying the text. It seems particularly ironic that the illustration uses a female altar server.

    Have you noticed how the decrease in priestly vocations, accusations of clergy misconduct, and the attack on the church by neo-feminists has come simultaneously with the modern practice of girls and women serving on the altar?

    Perhaps it is time to retire this artifact of popular American culture. As for me and my house, we women will serve Our Lord after the example set by His Blessed Mother.

  • Guest

    All "good" Catholics agree with you.  However the Church in the US has no leadership.  The bishops in the US do not energize the flock.  And Christians in general allow the forces of secularism to advance unchallenged.  Christians must stop apologizing for having morals and take action.   

    All Christian denominations need to find common ground and look at the big picture. Christians make up an overwhelming majority of the US.  If the US is to pull out of this moral decline, Christians must organize and demand change.  It is time we rise up and put this country back on track.   Who or what Christian organization will step up to the plate and say "Enough is enough"? 

  • Guest

    "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.

    This quote, attributed to the 18th-century British philosopher Edmund Burke, is often used as a rallying cry when it comes to attacks against the Catholic Church. "


    With all due respect, I'm not sure you know what you're talking about in regards to Edmund Burke whose family was Catholic. What examples can you cite to back your quote up? I don't see any examples from you. Burke was pro-Catholic and lost a seat in government because of it. Why don't you focus on what you have in common with other Christians, instead of always playing the victim. Smile

  • Guest


    Mr. Suprenant is writing that people often apply Mr. Burke's philosophical phrase to attacks against the Church. 

    He is not saying Mr. Burke was anti-Catholic.

  • Guest


    I too am not very happy to see female altar servers.Frown  I do allow my girls to serve because they are interested.Embarassed 

    But, at least the picture had incense in it?  How often do you see a thurifer with a censer at Catholic Mass today?Laughing

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Of course, this article begs the question of what it is possible to do in defense of the Catholic Church, when one is confronted with an environment that is totally hostile to Christianity. I am daily faced with the frustration that there is not more that I can find to do to be a witness to Christ's teachings.

    What to do you do when your beliefs are so alien to your culture that others find your explanations of them incomprehensible?


    By the way, I have heard much of female alter servers, but I do not think I can be very vehement in my opposition to them. The fact that feminism has done so much damage to our culture and our Church does not make this wrong. One does not necessarily need to perceive alter service as related to the priesthood (although many people traditionally view it that way), and I do not think the girls that participate often view it in that light. It is also worth noting that Jesus allowed women to serve him in ways that others thought inappropriate, although he selected only men as apostles. I would save my energy for more serious and damaging issues.

  • Guest

    Zephyr–you are an idiot. We are the Church, and you are clearly not a member of it. You have scales over your eyes–read the Bible and they will fall, and you shall see.

  • Guest


    Please refrain from name calling.  It does not belong on the CE Roundtable.  Mistakes are made – Peter was forgiven for his denial.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Yes GK,  you are right-I stand corrected.

    I still maintain that Catholic bashing should be refrained from, especailly here, on this Catholic site, and under the guise of tolerance of our seperated brethren. Frankly, I am plain tired of the heresy.