How did we get here?
It is often much easier to see a problem than to understand the underlying cause. Last week we brought to the surface the growing attrition within the Catholic Church of believers. Europe, United States and even Lafayette show a consistent decline in Catholics actively practicing their faith. These numbers are especially higher in the young adults and teen demographic.
Symptoms are measurable, but how can we understand the cause? Many will say the recent trends are caused by the Vatican Council II, the priest scandal, the sexual revolution, or a watering down of the Gospel. These attempts to name what is at the root of the present problem are what I believe is missing the forest for the trees. Ultimately, the Church has ceased being a missionary people with good news to share. Identity and mission are what make the church who she is. The Church is the body of Christ on earth who is commissioned to go and make disciples. This is a clear directive from Jesus to his disciples before he ascended into heaven (Matthew 28:19). He also gave the Church the Holy Spirit which was the power and driving force of this mission.
However, there has been a loss of preaching with zeal and expectation of the Holy Spirit, to moving the heart into conversion. This has created a Church culture that asks for little other than the Sunday Mass and sacramental experience. The Church has become very inward focused and lethargic in nature. A pattern of clericalism has crept in that finds parish communities expecting only the priest to be the one who talks about Jesus and ministers to those in need. This has produced a community that is not missionary in nature but one that is waiting to be served. This is a group that asks the Church “how can you serve me?” rather than a church that asks God “how can I serve you and your people?” These trends leave parents ill-equipped to share the good news of salvation with their kids much less with strangers or co-workers.
This week, let us pray about the original call and commission by Jesus to the Church. He told his disciples to go and do for others what he had done for them (John 13:15). This is not merely the job of the priest; it is the task of all who share the identity of Jesus Christ by their very baptism. Let us not be a people that Jesus describes as having eyes but failing to see and having ears but not hearing (Mark 8:18). The underlying cause of our present situation is that we have stopped answering the call to be a missionary community.