Skip to comments.Editorial: The Pew report is an invitation to New Evangelization
Posted on 03/11/2008 6:30:19 AM PDT by tcg
The Pew Report should not be a cause for alarm but an invitation to engage in the New Evangelization of the Church and then to engage the New Missionary Age.
(Excerpt) Read more at catholic.org ...
Among other things, the Survey confirmed that a large number of Americans have changed their religious affiliation since childhood. Luis Lugo, Director of the Pew Forum noted "People will be surprised by the amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another - or to no religion at all."
In a piece entitled Pew survey shows America's vast Catholic exodus, Phil Lawler of Catholic World News joined the myriad of editors, commentators, reporters and pundits who are keeping the "Religious Landscape Survey" from the Pew Forum in the public eye.
Summarizing the statistical data, Lawler wrote: One out of every ten adult Americans is a lapsed Catholic. From the Catholic perspective that is the most striking statistic among the many furnished in a "Religious Landscape Survey" by the Pew Forum... If they qualified as a separate denomination, the Americans who have deserted the Catholic Church of their childhood would constitute the third-largest religious group in the country, with 10.1% of the population.
The extensive report addressed the fluid nature of church and denominational affiliation and the growth of a phenomenon labeled by some writers as Church Shopping, wherein people move from church to church, looking for some kind of fit.
Lawler pointed to the most important data for Catholics but did so in a pessimistic fashion: The most important story about Catholicism in American over the course of the past generation has not been the sex-abuse scandal, nor the changes that followed Vatican II. The most important story is the vast exodus of Catholics leaving the faith.... While Church leaders speak confidently about a "vibrant" Catholic community, the congregations are aging and thinning, the parishes are closing, the Catholic influence on our society is evaporating. The numbers do not lie. American Catholicism is facing a crisis. The sooner we recognize that fact, the sooner we can plot our response.
I have heard several homilies on this last point as of late.
Please do not get me wrong, this is data which Catholics need to be aware of. However, what is needed more than anything else is a response from Catholics which that is rooted in faith. After all, for any Catholic who has eyes to observe, the Pew Report should have come as no surprise. The data only indicates why the Church must take as its top priority the New Evangelization called for by the late Servant of God, John Paul II. I set forth only three of his myriad of comments on this need:
I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time. (Pope John Paul II, Mission of the Redeemer, 92)
At least for many peoples, however, the present time is instead marked by a formidable challenge to undertake a new evangelization, a proclamation of the Gospel which is always new and always the bearer of new things, an evangelization which must be new in its ardor, methods and expression.(Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, 106)
I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission "ad gentes". No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples. (Pope John Paul II, Mission of the Redeemer, 3)
So, people are Church shopping. The question is can we actually "shop" for the Body of Christ? Not really. Jesus said it so clearly, You did not choose me, but I chose you. (John 15:16) The very idea misses the understanding of who we are and what the Church is. It reduces our participation in the Church to one more consumer selection among many in the contemporary smorgasbord of our modern life.
As I reflected upon the report however, I realized just how important the topic was. It revealed a fundamental human experience, the search. We all identify with the search to belong, to have a place. Ultimately, the Christian claim is that we were made for God, and as St. Augustine said so well "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."
We were all born from our mothers womb to be "born again" into the Church through another womb, the font of Baptism. The modern seeker movement and the very trend called "church shopping" are symptomatic of a deeper longing to belong to God.
Like an increasing number of my generation, I am a "revert" to Catholic Christian faith. I journeyed back into the Church of my childhood after a sincere, difficult teenage "hippie pilgrimage" spent searching for truth. That search brought me home to the One who is "Truth" incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ and back to His Catholic Church.
My journey home was aided by other Christians, mostly evangelical Protestants, who had the heart to tell me about Jesus at a time when I had wandered far from him. The journey led me through one semester at a Protestant Bible College (where I also felt like a fish out of water), to the rediscovery of the writings of the early Christian Fathers and ancient Christian writings, and into a Catholic monastery where I re-learned my faith and started to learn how to pray.
My Catholic faith is the bedrock foundation of my entire life. It has been forged through all my questions and has stood the test of an intensely inquiring mind. To me, being Catholic is a way of being Christian, a way of living the Gospel in its fullness.
Theological issues lie at the root of this rather odd expression church shopping. The phrase reveals a way of thinking about the Church and the Christian vocation that is anything but classically Christian and would have been foreign to ancient Christians.
The Church is our mother, even when because of the weakness and sinfulness of some of her members; she doesn't behave or look the way she should. She is the mother of the "new humanity" recreated in the Son of God. She is also, as the fathers of the Second Vatican Council said, the "seed" of the Kingdom, making the kingdom present in the temporal world. She is prophetically demonstrating eternal truth in a transitory world.
The Church is not a building, it is a communion. Although Catholics love to build beautiful sanctuaries- houses for formal worship, such holy places should reflect the heavenly mysteries that take place within where God meets man. Though we call these places "churches"-- the Church is made up of the members joined to Jesus Christ (and through Him to the Holy Trinity) and in Him joined to one another for the transformation of the world.
The Church is not a theatre or a house for entertainment. Worship is not about observation, or entertainment. Worship is about participation in the very inner life of the Trinity. That insight lies at the heart of good liturgy! That is why from antiquity a special High form of worship occurred in those houses that came to be called the "Divine Liturgy."
The early Christians understood this. They were, for the most part, Jews, and they therefore understood liturgy. Anyone who would honestly study early Christian history will find that the form of liturgical worship was at the foundation of the teaching on worship contained within the earliest of Christian sources.
As a Catholic Christian, I choose to stand in a continuum of over 2000 years of history, on the shoulders of giants. There is Good News is that so do an increasing number of other Christians these days. It seems that "everything old is new again." There is a record return of Catholics to the Church. A growing number of Christians from other communities are seeking the solidity, maturity, historicity and depth of Catholic faith, worship and life.
The Pew Report should not be a cause for alarm but an invitation to engage in the New Evangelization of the Church and then, through her, to enter fervently into what is clearly a New Missionary Age.
Agree with you totally.