Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Senior Side: The challenge for cradle Catholics

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published March 9, 2018

“The term ‘cradle Catholic’ refers to someone who was born a Catholic. They were probably baptized as an infant, went through confirmation, and are living their adult life as a practicing Catholic. As we age our spiritual lives can sometimes become more of a habit than a passion. It may be time to take your faith beyond the cradle. God has been there with you all along and now he is calling you to something more.”

I don’t know about you but I have always had a great admiration for converts to our Catholic faith. They did something that I never did—they sought out and searched for a faith that they could commit to and believe in deeply. I was just born into it.

For instance, one of my colleagues was a military chaplain for 11 years. She got to know all of the faiths, including a good deal about Catholicism as a result of many quiet conversations with a Catholic chaplain. After preaching for years about Christianity in general, she began to realize down deep that something was missing. On one of her duty tours in Italy she decided to learn more about the Mass so she visited a large monastery where the monks were celebrating Mass almost around the clock.

She sat through several Masses trying to figure out this phenomenon we call the Eucharist. She prayed for guidance. Suddenly the Holy Spirit touched her, and she began to see that the great gift that we Catholics enjoy is the sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. She found what she was searching for, and it changed her life. She left the military and converted to Catholicism, the first in her family. What courage it took to pursue her quest!

I envied her since I was a cradle Catholic and so much of my belief was assumed and inherited from my mother, a deeply religious “orthodox” Catholic. My father was lost in World War II so my mother was my primary source of religious upbringing.

My beliefs were reinforced in a Catholic elementary school, then a Catholic high school, then a Catholic university and even a Catholic graduate school. I married a Catholic nurse who had the exact same family and school experiences.

How could I not remain a practicing Catholic?

I admit that it was a privilege and pleasure to be immersed in an “all Catholic” experience but I have come to realize a new perspective or point of view now that I am a senior. Some of us older cradle Catholics run the risk of taking our faith for granted. In short, we may not have gone beyond the cradle.

We go to Mass on Sunday. We say our prayers. We receive the sacraments, perhaps not as often as we should. We support our parish financially. We are active in ministries. We do our best to raise our children in the Catholic tradition. On the surface we are “good” Catholics. In reality, we may have a shallow faith, a façade of beliefs and practices that has not really penetrated into our soul. So we ask, what more could God require of us?

The answer is a lot more. Let me describe my adult faith journey to better illustrate how cradle Catholics can get off the track.

I was active in my faith. I did all the things I just mentioned. I was also highly involved with my family, including two special needs sons. My job required me to travel extensively. I was also teaching part-time evening classes at a local university.

In short, my time was totally committed.

Then one day my pastor asked me if I would assume the responsibility for the parish RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program. This ministry prepares prospective converts to enter the Catholic Church.

My first reaction was to decline the invitation because I was just too busy. My pastor persisted. Finally, I gave in and said I would attend one of the meetings. At the meeting I met a roomful of men, women and teenagers whose hearts were burning to learn more about our faith. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I realized then that God had his hand on my shoulder and was guiding me to this ministry. He put me there and wanted me to accept the challenge. I apprehensively told my pastor that I would give it a shot.

We were a smaller parish, and I became the lead instructor with the task of explaining the fundamentals of our faith. I began to realize how little I really knew about a faith that I had been practicing for almost 50 years. I studied and learned. I taught and learned. Suddenly I began to see and understand the remarkable beauty of our beliefs. Holy Scripture. The sacraments. The Mass. And vitally, the Eucharist.

In essence, I was on my way to becoming a “born-again Catholic”! In the process I experienced my personal encounter with Christ and developed a deeper and more intimate relationship with my Lord and Savior. Although my heritage is that of a cradle Catholic, I could say for the first time in my life that I understood what being a Catholic was all about.

I continue to admire the converts who embrace Catholicism as a choice. Congratulations, you have a leg up on us cradle Catholics. You are already more aware of the need to maintain a passion about your faith from cradle to grave.

I suspect that I can find fellow cradle Catholics—from all generations—who may have allowed their faith to become more of a habit than a passion … something that we now take for granted. Are there some cradle Catholics who are ready to respond to God’s call to do something more? Perhaps it is time to go beyond the cradle and become a born-again Catholic.

Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to