Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pew Forum and Catholic Membership

The Enquirer ran the article this morning that has already been linked by numerous other sites, including Rich Leonardi.

I want to shift that focus a bit to the idea of evangelization, and the re-evangelization.

When I see that stat that 10% of the American population considers themselves to be 'ex-Catholic,' I wonder. I wonder what led them to fall away from the Church of their youth, what might bring them back, and how to reach out to them so that they can experience the fullness of Truth that we have.

To this end, I was talking with a friend over the weekend, whose husband is a serious and committed member of the Vineyard movement. (It raises some interesting conversations between the two of them; she the committed Catholic, he the Evangelical Protestant, but I digress.)

He is feeling some pressure from some Catholics to convert, presurre which I try not to give, I would rather just be an open door to him. His frustration is that, from his experience with the Vineyard, he knows a number of ex-Catholics who have joined that community, but yet that never gets the play that say Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, or others receive.

In talking with my friend, her response was that you never hear of serious, committed Catholics (number 1's, if you will) of falling away. Rather, you have the ones who have never been 'introduced' to the riches of Catholicism. They've gone through the school system, catechetical instruction (such that it is/was), but the faith is never more than just rote empty symbols. These are the ones that fall away and are inspired by the zeal of our Evangelical brothers and sisters in their love for 'the Sweet Lord Jesus,' and that love makes a difference in their lives.

Yet, in the Catholic world, we have scores of members who come forward every Sunday and receive Jesus Himself, yet there is no zeal, there is no burning desire to share that message of salvation. While I am convinced that there is a faith life present to some degree, the 'zeal' of the Gospel is not present. And as I was just reminded in conversation with a co-worker: "You can't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and then go to MegaChurch/Evangelical community."

As I am reminded, catechesis must be about content, content, content. And as a former teacher, and who sees himself as a teacher first and foremost, I certainly agree with that. But as a shepherd/pastor/father, how does that 'content' make a difference in your life?

So, where do I go from here, what are my thoughts:

a) Content, knowing the faith, catechesis. To be Catholic isn't to 'have my needs met,' it isn't to be socially active, it is to be in harmony with the faith of the Church, handed down to us through the Apostles and their successors from Jesus Himself!

b) Formation. The Catherine of Siena Institute, among others, is fostering the idea of the 'Parish as Center for Lay Formation.' Just as seminarians spend five to seven years in formation, not just learning the faith but also learning how to apply it in their life as a priest and father, so must our lay disciples be able to take the rich treasure that is the Church's teaching: social, ecumenical, pastoral, Christological, etc etc., and apply it to their lives. We must make our members disciples of Christ. (Ok, caveat, I know that only Jesus can truly do this, but He has to work through someone!)

c) Mission. To know Jesus, to be formed to be His disciple, is then to 'go and make Disciples!' Traditionally, this was left to the priests and religious. To an extent, rightly so because we had the formation and training and understanding. However, as the laity grow in their understanding, and as we interpret Vatican II, authentically, this is the mission of the laity: to be out in the world and sharing their faith by what they say and do. Rightly, this is called the Apostolate of the Laity, (an 'apostle' is 'one who is sent,' as we are sent at the end of Mass!)

Now, it is easy to be able to sit in my office, removed from life in the parish, and type this out and not have to sweat bullets that this is going to cause me a great deal of work in the parish. But, I hope that as I meet and work with potential candidates for the seminary, that we might begin forming this understanding in the next generation of priests, that the New Evangelization can really begin to take off. And the good news is, it is already happening in the seminary, among the newer priests. The Tide is Turning toward Catholicism!

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