Hope for the Church

Conversions in America
by David Monahan, LC | Source: Catholic.net

 Eight years ago while hiking in New Hampshire I got into a conversation about the faith with another hiker, a fellow native of Massachusetts, who admitted that he had left the Catholic Church as a teenager back in the mid-eighties. He complained that when he went to Mass on Sundays the homilies were about grape boycotts; when he visited an evangelical bible church the sermon was on Christ’s love. I could not blame him. Perhaps he had been too impatient with his parish priest or was indifferent to the needs of poor migrant workers, but he should not have been denied the opportunity to hear about Jesus in church. People can make do without allot of things, but not God’s love, and they go where they can find it. 

Last week, Research Fellows from the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University participated in a panel discussion hosted by St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia entitled The Future of the Church: Sources of Hope, trying to come to grips with the fact that one in three adult Catholics leaves the Church. They all proposed lay activism as the solution. Dolores R. Leckey urged the audience to embrace the lay life as “a true vocation”, as Vatican II had taught. The ever insightful Rev. Thomas Reese pointed out that an overly clerical Church acts “like a lazy monopoly”. A third Woodstock Fellow, Rev. Raymond Kemp, urged lay Catholics to “build the Church up from below.” Perhaps the biggest “source of hope” here is that influential Catholics, from Georgetown of all places, are taking a constructive attitude before the problems facing the Church in the United States. 

American Catholics leaving the Church is nothing new, though the pace seems to be picking up lately. There has been a steady outflow since the seventies. Sociologists explain that as Catholics emerged from their ‘ghetto’ in the 1960s and melded into the general culture, they discovered plenty of other religious options, and began to pick and choose. The American habit of “church shopping” has simply rubbed off on them. Embittered conservatives, meanwhile, explain that the three ring circus of ecclesial reform in the wake of the Second Vatican Council watered down the distinctive cultural, doctrinal and moral aspects of the Church to the point that it did not seem to matter anymore what denomination you belonged to, if any. The liberals, who seem to be just now waking up to the problem, explain it by blaming the Bishops and Pope for alienating people with their moralizing about gay marriage and abortion. There is probably truth in all of these positions. 

Fr. Reese told the gathering: “Want a youth group? Start one! Want a book club? Do it! You don't need the pope or a bishop or a priest to be Christian... We're becoming a do-it-yourself church.” Anyone who has read Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium would say that these Woodstock Fellows were dead on in their calls for greater lay initiative, but it seems like they are turning to the laity out mostly out of frustration with today’s conservative clergy. The Church has been through this already. For decades, conservative Catholics angry at their more liberal bishops and priests have been taking matters into their own hands, founding their own prayer groups, home-school clubs, publishing houses, and even university level institutes like Thomas Aquinas College or Ave Maria University. While some of these initiatives have done great good, others, frankly, have spun off into crankdom, setting up parallel Church structures. “Do-it-yourself” is fine; “do-it-in-isolation” is not. You do not need to obsess over your Pope or Bishop to be Catholic, but you do need to be in communion with him. Fr. Reese offered good ideas, but he should have said “You want a youth group? Start one! And invite your pastor over every once in while and ask him if he has any advice!” 

Fr. Kemp recommended that the Church appeal to young people’s natural idealism. The Church can provide young people many opportunities of service: “We feed, house, clothe, and resettle more people than any other nongovernment agency in this country.” A devil’s advocate might argue that it is better to involve young people in government agencies, since according to Fr. Kemp they do more good, and unlike the Church, which loses one in three members, government is endlessly expanding. But we know, of course, that government can feed, house, and clothe people, but cannot share God with them. Any institution can do social work or preach against moral degradation; for the Church these things are secondary aspects of the Gospel. If we do not preach them in the context of God’s love, people will go elsewhere. 

Surprisingly, about 200,000 Americans convert to Catholicism every year. Some dioceses report more than a thousand converts a year. No one seems to ask why. Perhaps rather than just focusing on what is going wrong, we should also investigate what those 200,000 people a year think the Church is doing right. 

David Monahan, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome.  He can be reached at dmonahan@legionaries.org

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Post a Comment
Published by: Lee Goodboe
Date: 2010-12-30 09:16:56
I left the Catholic Church at fourteen years old and returned to the church 35 years later at 49 years old. I believe why so many leave the church is that there are so many easier options out there. Accept Christ and go to heaven automatically. Sin don't worry just tell Jesus what you did and it is instantly forgiven. The Evangelist Protestant Churches offer a easy and realatively simple road to heaven and this appeals to a lot of people. They teach you that you can boldly approach the throne of heaven and talk to Jesus as almost a equal. They are led (usually) by a young dynamic preacher who using only partial bible versus to support his position seems to be leading a true road to heaven. Nevermind he is always asking for money as the church is in dire need, but he wears 500.00 suits and drives a very expensive car as does his wife. The church I was in I timed and it broke down as follows 15 minutes singing (praise and worship) Five minutes spent in upcoming events and greating the church (this is often the time where thry tell you God is on your side or you can have a bundant life ifyou just give and believe enough. 15 minutes spent in using old and new Testement verses to point out that you must give at least 10 percent of your money to the church. This amused me that they used Old Testement refferences to ask for money and later pointed out that the Old Testement does not apply to us in anyway as Jesus took away these practices when he died on the cross. 20 minutes of preaching and then about 10 minutes in closing announcements. Sadly most of these people worship the Pastor more than God as the Pastors words are law and must be lived by but are never checked. Anybody can take 7 differant bible verses and come up with a teaching that will teach anything they want. They ignore The blessed Mother as well as the Old Testement and pick and choose Bible versus to support what they say or twist what they mean. Faith without works is dead takes on a more church centered meaning as you can work in the nursery or kids church etc. There is often an elite in the church who are considered far better and treated much differantly within these churches. I understand as Catholics we should not bash another church. And I am not bashing I am pointing to fact of what goes on. It is just so easy to get to heaven and of course there is no Purgatory. So if you sin just say sorry Lord and all is forgiven and God sees you as his child in all your glory. As I said easy but NOT Biblical. People come back to the Catholic Church for many reasons but there are some core things people say. The first is that they felt something missing in their spiritual life and began to search for the answer and when they began to look they could not escape the truth of the Catholic Church. I mean what church other than the Catholic can show a document that dalls the Church Catholic as early as 107 AD. There is now referance to Cristians except that is what they were called by the Romans and other groups opposed to the movement. Faced with the facts many return and find that after returning to the church they are filled and the emptiness is gone. There is finally a joy that cannot be expressed. Others come back when a tragic life instance leaves them searching for God out of a need for help or comfort. These also study and find the way home to the Catholic Church. Sadly this is accepted by the church today as if the church is saying "oh well win some lose some" We as a church must return to what we are and begin by telling he world what we are and why we are and why we are the one true church despite what the media and others say. In the world today nice guys finish last. We have to becomr proactive and tell it like it is from the pulpit and yell it from the mountains. I spent Christmas eve and Christmas day doing some service to the local homeless shelter this is a new tradition for the family and my wife and I hope to serve on a regular basis as we are both disabled. We cannot do alot but what we can do we do. Even a prayer over a homeless family or a blessing to these people means alot. They know somebody cares. Hoever it is clear that these are non-denominational and Catholic teachings are not welcome but Protestant teachings and services are daily events. We as Catholics will eventually win the war for souls and bring many to the truth but not until we become more aggressive in our teachings and sermons. If we could as a Church light the fires of evangelisim and apologetics within the church we just might bring the victory earlier than it will happen without our efforts. I cannot say I know the mind of God for he is far too infinate for me to comprehend but I am sure that he who created all things is saying. My children when will you fight for me and the church I gave to you. We are lukewarm we need to turn up the heat to bring us to a rolling boil.

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