One of the benefits of Catholicism is that graces are provided automatically by sacraments. This comes into play in some discussions about appropriate ages for baptism and confirmation. The idea being that a validly confirmed catholic child begins receiving communion and has an extra help in resisting the world among other considerations. Now here’s the question, if sacramental graces are automatic than how do so many Catholics live like heathens. If grace is infused through the sacrament it would seem a heart yearning for righteousness would transform behavior. I don’t mean we don’t all need forgiveness regularly. There does seem to be examples of baptized confirmed confessed an Eucharistic celebrant Catholics who also seem to be extreme examples of unregenerate sensibilities–or is that just a rumor. So what does it all mean?
A few thoughts:
While the sacraments are efficacious and provide grace through Christ’s church as described in scripture (though it is possible to receive Eucharist unworthily), it’s not once and done. One is required to respond to grace (which strengthens us) by free will choices - we are not puppets. In other words, it is not once saved, always saved nor saved by faith alone. Scripture calls us to persevere to be saved.
Additionally, I believe it is a mistake to judge Christian truth based on the actions of people. One can find good and bad among any denomination, and Jesus came to call the sinner to repentance. Facades or good feelings do not make truth.
Pointing to scandals or sins of some members also does not negate the objective evidence for Christian truth in the Catholic Church which is documented even in the first and second centuries and every century thereafter.
Lastly, the founders of Protestantism in the 16th century were not exactly angels.
Mattp pretty much answered your question. The sacraments cause grace in and of themselves but the effect of grace upon the recipients of the sacraments depends on the dispositions of the recipients. Grace does not nullify free will. We must freely cooperate with God’s grace for grace to be effective in us, we can resist God’s grace and help. God does not force us to love and serve him, this would go against the very nature God created us with in his own image and likeness. For example, a person who goes to confession but is not contrite for their sins and has a firm purpose of amendment to avoid them in the future will not be granted the grace of forgiveness. The grace of forgiveness that God offers us in the sacrament of penance requires that we are truly sorry for our sins and that we at least try to not commit them again. Or if we receive holy communion without discerning the body and blood of the Lord as St Paul says we bring condemnation upon ourselves. Or if we receive holy communion while we are in a state of mortal sin it is a sacrilege.
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. (1 Cor 5:1)
The problem is that the sacraments although they help us in our struggle, they do not take away our capacity to sin nor our tendency to sin (concupiscence) and, if the sacrament of Baptism is received with insincerity, its effectiveness is hindered as long as the insincerity persists and I suspect the same is true of the sacrament of Confirmation. (See St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Part III, Q. 69, Art. 9 and 10)
St John Paul II discussed this subject in his apostolic exhortation on catechesis:
Catechesis and the Initial Proclamation of the Gospel
- The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion - bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.(49)
But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit; and opposition is quickly created by the prejudices of their non-Christian family background or of the positivist spirit of their education. In addition, there are other children who have not been baptized and whose parents agree only at a later date to religious education: for practical reasons, the catechumenal stage of these children will often be carried out largely in the course of the ordinary catechesis. Again, many pre-adolescents and adolescents who have been baptized and been given a systematic catechesis and the sacraments still remain hesitant for a long time about committing their whole lives to Jesus Christ - if, moreover, they do not attempt to avoid religious education in the name of their freedom. Finally, even adults are not safe from temptations to doubt or to abandon their faith, especially as a result of their unbelieving surroundings. This means that “catechesis” must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith. This concern will in part decide the tone, the language and the method of catechesis. (St John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, 19)
Definitely we can’t judge a world view based on the misdeeds of those who hold its opinions. However one of the claims of Catholicism is infused grace. So it’s not a simple issue of bad people associated with good ideas a bad name. There is also the power of actual graces.
As others have pointed out, if the disposition of the heart isn’t there; like they are just going through the motions, then don’t expect much.
And honestly, I think too many Catholics fall into this category.
Nominal Catholics scared me away from the Church for years.
Ultimately, the whole idea of knowing people by their fruits is effective, but I don’t think that applies to institutions as a whole. If so, and if that’s the criteria, we should all convert to Mormonism as very single Mormon I have ever met seemed like a wonderful person who loved God.
The Catholic Church needs to do a better job of catechizing it’s members. This has been a ongoing problem for many years.
Catholics focus on participation in Christ, participation in grace. Graces won’t necessarily overwhelm you. God asks for your free response. Just because grace is received doesn’t mean the Catholic will necessarily participate in it. A free gift can be discarded or left to rust.
Can an infant participate in grace when baptized or a child participate in grace of confirmation? Going back to the original question, I have seen other threads wher people are advocating early confirmation so a child has better protection from the world and doesn’t wind up going away from the church. But if participation in grace is necessary for the sacraments to have an affect, how does confirmation protect any person who has not yet made a conscious commitment of faith? I guess I wonder if young people are being inoculated among other things.
Children and infants can receive and grow in graces. Confirmation allows the grace to work more fully and for the child to respond to it more as they grow.
It’s not all or nothing. It’s not 90% grace and 10% response, or 10% grace and 90% response. No, it is 100% grace and 100% response. It’s not a zero sum game. Grace is active, and it flourishes if well tended. It can be at work in infants, and as they grow they can participate in those graces and the life of Christ. To be a Christian is to participate in the life of Christ.
But I think what I said about it not being a zero sum game is a key point about Catholic theology. Grace does not exclude on any level man’s free response, and there’s no reason to see it as an either/or situation.