Monday, October 29, 2012

The Average Catholic Does Not Know Christ and What We Can Do About It


If you didn't know, the Vatican recently ended a large and important Synod of Bishops covering the topic of the New Evangelization. Why does the Pope think this issue is important? I think Paul VI put it brilliantly when he wrote - the Church "exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." 

How many of our family, friends, and neighbors do not know the Good News of Jesus Christ? Simply put, we have created a culture of apathy within Catholicism and failed to evangelize (the process of spreading the Good News about Christ). This is why the average Catholic does not know Jesus Christ in a deep way. Thus, the average Catholic is not a disciple of Christ. I know many might disagree, but the data bears this out.

I too am guilty of moments of apathy when I do not help others - by witnessing to others about Christ through my life and/or words. We need a re-awakening of grace to spur us into the next phase of renewal in our Church. This can happen, but to understand where we currently are, we have to understand the scope of the problem is bigger than what most of us believe it is.

The vast majority of readers of this blog will be engaged Catholics. You go to Church, you are involved, and most are disciples of Christ. But, the vast majority of your neighbors are not.

As recent studies have shown, the "unaffiliated", atheists, agnostics, etc. are growing rapidly. But, when we dig deeper, the problem is bigger than the surface numbers.

A recent story highlights this issue. Here is a snip (emphasis added):
SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: I wanted to know if it held up, Steve. You know, by any measure, as you point out, the United States is a significant outlier when it comes to how religious people say they are. You know, virtually alone in the developed world, large numbers of Americans report that they are indentified with a religious faith. Nearly half of all Americans report that they attend church every week - that's every single week, compared to Western Europe, for example, where maybe about 20 percent of people say they attend church.

Now, it's a little bit more in Catholic countries, a little bit less in Protestant countries. But that's the big picture, which is that the United States really is very different from most other countries. But there's a problem with all these numbers, which is they're all based on what people say.

INSKEEP: Meaning that you're not sure that people do the same things that they say?

VEDANTAM: Well, leaders of several religious denominations for many years in the United States have said if 45 percent of Americans are attending church every Sunday, the pews should be packed. And in many churches, in many denominations...

INSKEEP: They're not.

VEDANTAM: ...that's simply not the case. Now, I spoke with a sociologist who studies church attendance. His name is Philip Brenner. He's at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. And he told me that he suspected that when you ask people whether they attend church, they actually end up answering a somewhat different question. Here he is.

PHILIP BRENNER: The question that asks how often do you attend becomes a question like: Are the sort of person who attends? The respondent hears the question how often do you attend and interprets the question to be: Are you the sort of person who attends?

INSKEEP: What you're really finding out here is I think I'm the sort of person who should attend church and I don't want to admit otherwise, so I might tell you I go, whether I do or not.

VEDANTAM: Exactly. So the question is about your behavior. What is it you're doing? The answer might be about people's identity. Am I the kind of person who attends church?

INSKEEP: OK. So, you can't necessarily rely on people's own testimony as to whether they attend church. So is there is a better way to measure this?

VEDANTAM: Yeah. So Brenner has been playing with this idea called the Time Diary Method, and he's been following studies that have used this Time Diary Method. And let me tell you what that is.

So, rather than tell people you're asking about their church attendance, what you do is you march people through their week and have them describe to you exactly what they're doing at any given moment. So you say: What were you doing at four o'clock in the morning on Sunday? And most people will say: I was asleep. And then you ask them: What did you do next? Who were you with? Where did you go?

And when you march people through the week in this manner, it turns out only about 24 percent of Americans actually report attending religious services in the past week. And Brenner told me there's two things that's very interesting about this. What this suggests is that in actual religious practice, Americans might not be that different from people in Western Europe when it comes to what they do, but they might be very different for people in Western Europe when it comes to reporting what they do.

BRENNER: Americans significantly over-report their church attendance, and have consistently done that since the 1970s. But we don't see substantive over-reporting in Western Europe.

INSKEEP: So, basically, what we're finding out is that Europeans are more comfortable saying they don't show up on Sunday.

VEDANTAM: Well, sometimes they say they show up. I think what we're finding is that when people in Europe say they show up in church, they actually show up in church. So a variety of studies, Steve, have shown that when 45 percent of the Irish say they attend church every week, when you look at it using the Time Diary Method, 45 percent of the Irish actually are in church every week.

When 10 percent of Scandinavians tell pollsters that they're in church every week, the Time Diary Method shows 10 percent of them actually are in church every week. By contrast, 45 percent of Americans say they attend church every week. In reality, only about half as many do.
LESS THAN 1 IN 4 ATTEND CHURCH! We are just as bad as Western Europe! This is very troubling and tells us that the job of evangelization is much bigger than we might have previously thought. We need a New Evangelization - one that goes to the formerly Christian cultures and peoples to re-propose the Gospel with renewed fervor and using new means of transmitting the Gospel.

JPII first called for the New Evangelization and Benedict XVI has taken it to a new level by calling for a Synod of Bishops.

But, we cannot wait for the Church leaders to come up with programs. We must evangelize today. We must not wait! The answer to the problems in our culture are found through holiness and evangelization. It must be done in our homes, our workplaces, and where no Bishop ever trods. The laity must lead in this area.

Too often we settle as Catholics.
We settle for the "way it has always been done" or "it is good enough". Well, it isn't good enough and the way it has always been done is failing us miserably.

We need vision. We need leaders. We need risk-takers!

If we are true disciples we cannot fail to make more disciples. This can only be done in real relationships between friends. To help raise up disciples we must be on the look out for times to make the initial proclamation of the Good News. Then we must continue the relationship to help guide a person into a deep relationship with Christ through prayer and conversion.

Knowledge of Christ is not enough. Transformation of lives is the goal. We cannot wait for a program. We cannot wait for the Bishops to issue a document. We cannot wait for our parish to form a committee.

If you want to know more about the process of forming Disciples, then I cannot recommend Sherry Weddell's new book any more highly - Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. It was built from the many years Sherry has had of charting the problems and then working on a solution through the Siena Institute. The following quote gets to the heart of the problem and the resulting solution (which points out the mountain we must climb):
"As we listened to the spiritual experiences of tens of thousands of Catholics, we began to grasp that many, if not a majority of, Catholics don't know what 'normal' Christianity looks like. I believe that one reason for this is the selective silence about the call to discipleship that pervades many parishes. Catholics have come to regard it as normal and deeply Catholic to not talk about the first journey - their relationship with God - except in confession or spiritual direction. This attitude is so pervasive in Catholic communities that we have started to call it the culture of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
She then goes on to discuss how we must break out of this culture in order to capitalize on the potential that is now latent in our Church, in the U.S.

In other words, we have to reinvigorate the Church with a hunger for Christ by the initial proclamation of the Gospel. Then we need to form intentional disciples.  Then we send them out to the world and repeat this cycle. The multiplication of disciples can and will change our culture and individual lives.

The age-old questions which ask how are we to turn the culture around are found in the age-old answers of getting into the hard work of evangelization and forming disciples who are equipped to take on the culture with vigor and determination. Now is the time to proclaim the Good News! Now is the time to form intentional disciples. Now is the time for a renewal of our culture!

What will you do today to bring the Good News to others?

MORE ON THE NEW EVANGELIZATION:



FURTHER READING:
**Intro to Evangelization
**Evangelization is Hard and Scary
**Ask A Catholic A Question: evangelization program
**The Do's and Don'ts of Evangelization and Apologetics
**How Not to Evangelize
**Evangelization of Tenderness
**Friendship Evangelization
**Fr. Barron on Evangelizing the Culture
**How to Evangelize Without Being Triumphant
**Top 10 Ways To Not Evangelize

2 comments:

Sherry W said...

The data about the gap between how Americans answer questions about going to church when asked by a surveyor and what you'd find if you did an actual headcount had been much talked of for years. CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) changed their methodology a couple years ago to offset the spontaneous inflation that occurs because we all want to look good to others and Americans still think of going to church as "good" by and large. Typically, an actual headcount would come up with a figure half as large. So when CARA estimates that only 10% of Catholic Millennials attend Mass on a weekly basis, we need to take it seriously!

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