“But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth”

Jesus may vomit them out when the time comes but until then, we are stuck with them. The lukewarm to which I refer are the “Shadow Catholics.” This is the term used in a Catholic Herald article to describe those Catholics who are somewhere between practicing and fallen away. The Herald laments:

Once upon a time, there were practising Catholics and non-practising Catholics. That is, there were Catholics who went to Mass, confessed their sins, received Holy Communion and occasionally sold jam at jumble sales to raise money for the Church. And there were Catholics who did not go to Mass, did not confess their sins, never received Holy Communion…Things were simple. You knew where you stood. You were either a believer or a doubter; a regular Mass attendee or a stay-at-home Sunday car-washer; you were in, or you were out.
Today, things are much more complicated.

More complicated is an understatement. In some ways, the lapsed catholic is an animal easier to tame and potentially less dangerous. A fallen away Catholic, even those who claim victim status because they once felt guilty when they sinned, for all their sound and fury they are on the outside looking in. Sure, they can be dangerous and damaging to people’s faith, but people generally understand where they are coming from and can keep their comments and attitudes in perspective. More insidious are those Catholics who go to church most Sundays, but do not really believe any of it. From the Herald:

Another friend and his wife, who have two children, look like a picture-perfect Catholic family in the front pew of their church every Sunday morning. Yet they, too, are shadow Catholics. They regale me with stories about their priest’s “pointless and boring” homilies. “The things we have to suffer in the name of our daughters’ education,” they openly opine.

Opine, opine, and opine they do without either faith or understanding, all the while maintaining the guise of a ‘practicing’ catholic. I am sure you know some. I certainly do. They go to church each week and pick up their birth control on the way home. They put their check in the basket and go to communion, even though they have no idea what the inside of the confessional looks like.

These ‘shadow’ catholics worry me more than the lapsed. At least the lapsed have the courage of their lack of convictions. When the shadows undercut the church with their friends or colleagues I worry that the impression the unsuspecting listener has is “Well, if this is what the church-goers believe, why bother.”

I suspect that Jesus knew that the lukewarm are much more dangerous in the long run should be subject to a good hurl. Instead, we are stuck with a bad case of the dry heaves, neither in or out, but still very painful.