Those Funny American Catholics

“You do know that picture is funny?” he asked me, cautiously. “It” is a photo of a church sign I took and used as a photo essay feature called 1000 Words on my website.

Of course I know it’s funny! That’s why I took it. But I think the two of us consider it funny for different reasons.

The sign says “Preserve Religious Freedom.” It also says “Bingo Friday 7 pm.”

That’s funny.

But it’s not funny because we Catholics are dumb yokels who think bingo is the pinnacle of social occasions and are getting a bit above ourselves, daring to talk about something as high-minded as religious freedom.

It’s funny because we know what religious freedom is and when it is under attack. AND we run bingo games. The two are not mutually exclusive.

We American Catholics fought hard to get where we are. We fought oppression and poverty and war in the countries our ancestors came from. We fought bigotry and immigration quotas and “Know Nothings” and the KKK here. We fought ourselves — our Irish gangs and our Italian Mafia and our drunks and our freeloaders — to make it in a Protestant country that thought of us as a foreign menace who worshiped a foreign God. We put flags in our churches to prove we were patriots, we went to work for police and fire departments to prove we weren’t criminals, we built and sent our children to thousands of Catholic schools to prove to our Protestant neighbors that we could be just as smart, work just as hard, and become just as successful as they were.

Lately, we’ve been fighting among ourselves about other things: Who is a “real” Catholic, whether established Catholics need to help Latino, African, and Asian Catholic immigrants, whether going to Mass matters, whether abortion is really all that bad. The fights can get vicious; the shouts and fist-pounding can be impassioned.

But the Protestants and secularists fail to understand one big truth about the Catholic Church: We expect people to break the rules. If you’re a Southern Baptist and you can’t stop drinking, you stop being a Southern Baptist. If you’re a Nazarene and you want to dance, you stop being a Nazarene. If you’re fed up with the whole thing, you just ignore religion altogether and see how well you can get along without it.

But if you’re a Catholic, we always take you back. You get drunk every Friday? You’re welcome to Mass on Sunday. Have an affair? Go to Mass. Steal from your boss? Go to Mass. Our failings — and our fights with each other are failings — don’t mean anything in the long run, because all people have failings and the Church brings us Christ, who is the remedy for all failings. If you divorce and remarry, you’re supposed to come to church every week and kneel in your pew while other people receive communion because even being a persistent, defiant sinner is no excuse for missing Mass. If you leave your wife and children and run off to Europe with a mistress, gambling all your children’s money away and becoming a notorious crime kingpin — you can call for a priest on your deathbed and we will STILL take you back.

So if our bishops fight with each other and our lay people shout at each other about Marxism and the “seamless garment” of “life issues,” if our more creative sisters take a bus trip around the country in defiance of the Pope — that does not mean any of us are no longer Catholics. And if you tell us we have to provide and pay for other people’s “morning after” pills and sterilizations and contraception — that does not mean that we are no longer Americans. We aren’t giving up on a country where the government does not have the power to make us violate our consciences or act against our religious convictions, a country founded on the principle that one’s obligation to God come before one’s obligation to the state.

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Gail Finke


Gail D. Finke is an author and mother living in Cincinnati, where she writes for The Catholic Beat at Sacred Heart Radio.

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  • Yblegen

    Too funny and so true.

  • Fun article.  Kind of random but great points.  It is great to be Catholic!

  • Fun article.  Kind of random but great points.  It is great to be Catholic! 

  • “If you divorce and remarry, you’re supposed to come to church every week and kneel in your pew while other people receive communion because even being a persistent, defiant sinner is no excuse for missing Mass.”  
    If there were ever a reason Twitter were invented, it was to spread lines like this everywhere.
    Viva la new Evangelization!  

  • Sandra Kohlmann

    I agree with so much of this, especially the overarching statement that what makes our religion so great is that we will always take a person back, but I have a thought on the matter of those “creative sisters.” As Catholics, who follow Christ above all else, what are we to do when there is a fork in the road and Christ’s footsteps are going in one direction and The Church is going in another? We liberal Catholics are facing a fork in the road, because it seems more and more that the people of The Church are worshipping The Church, rather than the humble Son of God that we were gifted 2000 years ago. What are we to do when our faith and our Church no longer seem to match? The statements in this article, about any person being welcome back to Sunday mass, regardless of their lives, is not what many Catholics are living. Rather, there are many Catholics who are using our faith as a tool to promote hatred of other people who have sins different from their own. I just left a parish where I heard influential parishioners openly say hateful things about gays, immigrants, and unmarried mothers. It’s hard to see Christ’s love in that setting and it’s hard to believe that all Catholics really believe that anybody should be allowed back, regardless of their sins. 

  • Rakeys


    You do not mention at what fork in the road you are currently located. What teaching of the Church do you not agree with? Where does Christ’s footsteps lead you? Are you sure those are His footsteps and not someone leading you astray? Do you not agree with the Church’s teaching on 
    A Abortion,  B contraception, C. Gay Marriage, D. Women priests, E Divorce?

    I read an unbelievable book entitled Human Sexuality Ethics in the Catholic Tradition in which one writer listed Current Teachings that should be abandoned
    1. The inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of sex
    2. Personhood begins at conception
    3. Only sex in marriage is moral 
    4. Cohabitation before marriage is immoral
    4. The complementary nature of sex ( male and female only)
     Another writer said that people should be allowed to get divorced and remarried.

    What passages of the bible are they reading?
    Their reasons were all based on what are people doing, with no mention of what Jesus or God wants us to do. They did not reference the bible at all. It was closer to anthroplogy than theology.

    As this author so brilliantly states, the Catholic Churches teaches us to love the sinner but hate the Sin.  Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that He did not condemn her but to go and sin no more.

    If you feel that the Church is going in the wrong direction, remember that Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to guide her to all truth. I find nothing wrong in the teachings of the Church. I read the Catechism and the bible to find out why she teaches something, and it makes sense. What are your bible reference for your fork?

  • Yes, and the wheat become wheat and the tart become tart, every time they consume that Eucharist. Grace is given or taken based on the mode of the reciever.

  • ck

    @ Sandra Kohlmann: It is
    really simple.  Get out a piece of paper and
    list the issues that are causing you to have a “fork in the road” with the
    Church.  Then go and dust off your bible
    and US Catholic Catechism for Adults. Now compare your issues to both of them.  If you positions are not validated
    then it is you that has moved away, not the Church.

  • Sandra: You are obviously distressed and my heart goes out to you. As the author, let me say that I don’t worship the Church. But I do think that, in general, when Christ’s footsteps seem to be going one way and the Church’s in another, that is an error. That’s not to say that bishops and priests have never been wrong — ha ha ha! Check out the clueless and apostles, for instance, one of whom betrayed Christ. But as Catholics we believe that Christ is the head of the Church. Overall, over time, the Church goes the way Christ wants it to go — even though at times in the past (say the Arian heresy) the majority of Catholics and even the majority of bishops thought it should go another way. I don’t know what you heard at your parish, but there are hateful and nasty people everywhere. You should not blame the Church for their being jerks, or judge the Church by them. The goal of the Church is holiness, but most (if not nearly all) fall short. The Church, the universal Church will accept and welcome all sinners. Not all Catholics will, however. That is a sad truth, but the happy truth is that cruel and stupid and weak people speak for themselves, not the Church, and not God.

  • mark

    I love that sign, it expresses walking with God while living our life on earth in little ordinary things, both at the same time. It is a “sign” of Christ being lived here. We are called upward to God while at the same moment  called to continue in the duty of the moment, even if that duty seems mundane, or even silly. Everything is pointless if  not in Christ, but everything is valuable if in Christ. God will do amazing things with His army of bingo players and others that the world hardly notices. God Send Your Holy Spirit and light us on fire for You!

  • Guest

    I saw a similar sign in front of a Knights of Columbus Post, I was driving by it when my wife saw it and it read: Defend Religious Freedom. She asked an interesting question which was does that include all Religious Freedom of all religions. At first I had no answers and then stated, it must. The words state Religious Freedom, as does this picture above, therefore it is all religions religious freedom. It was nice to see that the Church being forward thinking, and taking Jesus into their hearts and minds, to love one another and extend open arms to all. Accepting to all religions as the First Amendment does in this great nation of Religious Freedom and Torelance. By the way I am a Knight of Columbus and my wife is converting from Baptist to Methodist and not catholic – she has many reasons why does not want to be catholic.

    I have been told by fellow Knights and a priest at my parish, I must “FORCE” her to “SUBMIT” to the Catholic church, strange the words Force and Submit, when one uses the term Religious Freedom, seems to be wrong on many levels.

  • LOVED this!

    It’s true, that Catholics DON’T expect our many sinners to be perfect – just to work at it.

  • Just because they’re in powerful positions/dedicated Knights, doesn’t make them right.

    If, and when, we’ll welcome her.  Until then, I wish her well.

  • Tjgarahan

    Sex, Sex, Sex. Our money goes to capital punishment, life in prison for non violent crimes, stupid wars and denying 45 million people health care. No problem! We ignore priests abusing children.  But contraception? That’s where we draw the line. The church’s obsession with this issue alone is it’s greatest failure.

  • refreshing. makes me want to abandon my piety and try sin again.

  • DearbornGuy

    Saints AND sinners.  It’s our history.

  • Criskram

    “Ignore priests who abuse children”? What planet are you on???

  • Jucsb

    Did you hear hateful things about people who sinned or about the sin? Love the sinner but condemn the sin, thats Catholic. “Now go and sin no more” 

  •  The refuge of the ignorant is to bring up child abuse by priests.

  • Proteios

    You clearly are not listening to what our bishops have been saying or doing. Get with it or save your slander to those who are comparatively ignorant of the facts.

  • All statics show that, even though it is still wrong to do so, those abusive priests represent a small percentage of those wonderful men who have given their lives to serve us in the church.  Why must any issue seem to be a need to bring the few up again?

  • Leesimon257

    damn, that is a nicely written, very much a rousing sermon-like, succinct, declaring article

  • MaryK

    Sandra-  I read a lot of searching and wisdom in your post, and I’d like to comment on two things. 

    One, “…it seems more and more that the people of The Church are worshipping The Church, rather than the humble Son of God…”  As I thought about that in my own life I know that many times I, as a convert, have said something like, “I love being Catholic”, or, “I thank God He led me to this Church.”  Perhaps that may have been misleading to a listener – for it is not The Church (building, organization, Rome) I thank or worship, but what I mean is, “I am forever grateful for this fullness of the faith in Jesus Christ.”  I will try to be more descriptive in my statements so I will not give the wrong impression and be a stumbling block to others.

    Two, the rest of your post seemed to settle on the way some (or many) Catholics seem to live their faith, hating (and obviously gossiping about)  those whose “sins are different” – saying hateful things about others.  I know these actions are serious sins in themselves, and very difficult to eradicate – but Catholics have no corner on that market.  All my life (30 years as a Protestant) I’ve been confronted with these sins in myself and in others, and I can only work on myself, to avoid the urge to criticize others, for it can become a terrible, albeit delicious, habitual sin. I’m sure God does not overlook them. As I kneel in the Sanctuary before Mass or at Adoration, I ask God to be with me, change me, heal my heart, and most importantly, teach me compassion and love.  

    After I was received into the CC, my family could not understand why I would trade the faith I grew up with, for one that was not only heretical, but bound for hell itself.  My mother was inconsolable, and told me her shame was so great she would never go back to her church again.  I asked her why we ever went to church anyway, if all we cared about was what people thought of us – I thought it was because we needed God.  She didn’t answer, but the next Sunday she went back to her Church – that was confirmation to me that she agreed – we need God.  And though our theology may differ, we all need grace to live a holy life.

    That is the reason I will never stop being Catholic, no matter what others do.

  • Jasond71

    TJ is on a planet where institutionalized child abuse was fostered for over 100 years, probably longer and on multiple continents.  As a Catholic I also agree with TJ.  Freedom of religion belongs to all people, not just Catholics.  There is nothing ignorant about bringing it up.  It is an uncomfortable fact but ignoring will only help it to happen again.