Catholics Need to Get Real
How many of us have asked the question, “Why are protestant communities booming, while Catholic parishes are shutting their doors?” I think we all can offer many opinions on the matter, and I would like to discuss it in the comments below. I think, however, that many of us have seen in some catholic communities the desire to emulate the protestant experience with a catholic flair. Parishes may modernize their music, or try to appeal to the culture by ignoring certain key points of Catholic doctrine. You have the Catholic churches that act like Anglicans and offer gay pride masses, or you’ll have the charismatic style masses that look very similar to non-denominational worship. In both of these circumstances, however, people are still leaving and finding their homes either in protestant venues or just leaving the Church altogether. Why? It seems like no matter what initiatives some dioceses and churches try to implement, they can’t seem to retain the numbers. I would like to propose one major contributing factor that has led to this trend: authenticity.
As a teenager, I was seriously committed to growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I was like a truth sponge; a nerdy, perhaps overzealous, teenage Catholic Jesus-freak. I loved to pray and read scripture and solid Catholic books. I especially loved getting time to spend with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I was also naive. I had been a part of our LifeTeen youth group at my parish and was the only teen bringing friends on a weekly basis. I thought everyone was getting it, especially the leaders. Yet, one ice cream social night changed that.
In March of my eleventh grade year, I had just returned home from a retreat and was still trying to process what God might have been saying to me through the event. I told my friends after LifeTeen Mass that I was going to stay in the church and pray and take them home after the youth group like I always did. I just wanted to be with Jesus tonight (the first time I had ever done this during youth group) So after Mass was done, I went into the sanctuary (as was our custom at that time) and knelt down to be with Jesus present in the Tabernacle. 45 minutes later, the youth minister comes storming into the sanctuary, demanding to know what I was doing. She explained that I should not be there, but eating ice cream with my friends (all of which were regulars at that point) downstairs. I explained calmly why I was there. This angered the youth minister who at that moment literally cussed right in the sanctuary and left the church. I found out later that she (the youth minister) had not gone back downstairs to the youth group but had gone for a walk (most likely to cool down after hearing what horrible things I was doing). She came back after her walk to find me still in the sanctuary praying. This enraged her even more. I do not remember all of that which was said, but I do remember it was not only hurtful, but she came up and stood between me and the Tabernacle without an ounce of recognition to the Person who was behind her. I cried. I had been duped. Not only was she acting sacrilegiously, but she had fooled me into believing that her goal for youth ministry was to actually draw people to love Jesus Christ and the Church. The scales had fallen from my eyes and I began to realize that even in places of leadership within the Church, there were people who did not love Jesus at all. That was the last night I attended that youth group.
I think that the biggest reason why people leave the Church overall is because they see a lack of integration between faith and life. Sadly for me, that was not the only time I have been burned for being an actual catholic by church leadership. Far from it. People who have left the Catholic faith and joined a protestant community, especially our brothers and sister in Central and South America, will tell you that they were looking for something more real. They find, especially in the experiential aspects of Christian prayer and praise, the thing they looked for in the Catholic church and could not find. They longed for a community where the pastor believes and loves God, and the community does too. Truthfully, they were not looking for the experience of the great music and high-tech gadgets. They wanted something real.
In our own diocese, we see vocations to the priesthood and religious life dwindling. Our diocese is gearing up for major parish clusterings, and we’ve lost a lot of money due to the abuse cases which has arisen. Yet, in places like the Diocese of Lincoln, NB we see a vibrant seminary that can barely hold all of the seminarians, Mass attendance is steady, and the church seems alive. There are also a lot of large catholic families in that place as well. I believe this is due in large part to the guidance of the Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop Conley. We see in him a very active integration of faith and life. When any abuse cases arose, he dealt with it correctly from the very moment he was advised. He has not stood for Liturgical abuses, and encourages his parishes to celebrate Mass with great solemnity. No wonder they are bursting at the seams with vocations.
Pope St. John Paul II used to say that when the gospel is proclaimed in its entirety, youth respond. I believe that is the case for everyone. I believe that a healthy and vibrant parish is one that sees on a grand scale, from priest to bulletin-folder, the integration of their faith and life . Without a proper integration of faith and life, you will not see these things happen. The first thing you will see, if the parish has overall integrated their faith with their life is offer a mass the way it has been prescribed by the Church. I believe that if a priest truly believes in what the mass is, he will be obedient to the Church’s teaching and instruction, and will follow the rubrics obediently. This alone is the greatest witness a priest can give. If a priest can’t even be obedient regarding the mass, what reason should a lay person have for being faithful in other things? But if a priest performs mass reverently and instructs the faithful properly regarding the mass, they too will fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist and will want to see the Father worshipped rightly not only in mass but they will also want to live in a state of grace so as to receive the Lord in a worthy state. If the mass is done rightly and the people are actually formed about what the mass is, they will long for holiness and virtue. If the people love the mass, it is because they love Jesus Himself who is for us our priest and victim; who saves us through the mass. The faithful will therefore, if they love Jesus, want to proclaim Him to the world and lead others to Him. They will evangelize because they have allowed Jesus’ thirst for souls to become theirs.
Protestantism does not have the fullness of Truth as we have in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Yet, what some protestant communities do have, they have well. This is why the world is waking up to see the impact of certain church communities like Hillsong Church in Australia. Though not perfect by any stretch, the church is booming because they come to church to seek God as a community and then they go out and seek to use the gifts they have been given to save souls. They have made such an impact on the global world in 30 years that the movie company Warner Bros. is producing a movie about them. This is not just a general movie on the impact of Christianity on the world. This is a specific church community that is making an impact on the world. It all started with some Christians in a basement of a house who wanted to let their faith be integrated with their life.
Do you think that Catholics are capable of making such an impact in the world today? We have for 2,000 years been the evangelizers, building grand temples to honour our Lord and leading millions to Christ. I think, however, that many Catholics, both clergy and laity, have lost their way. How can we help our parishes to be revitalised? How can we better integrate the faith with our life? Is your parish doing something great? How is your parish failing to engage the faithful that you wish they would realize? The combox is open for discussion.