Last February I wrote a blog entry on the New Evangelization, It’s Time to Wake Up!, citing some of the shameful statistics of Church membership: we are hemorrhaging members. One in ten American adults are former Catholics! This is staggering, and humiliating, and is a serious indictment: we are failing to live the mission that Jesus sent us to do. We are shrinking. We are feeding protestantism with new members, many of them rightfully angry with us for our hypocrisy. Someone please tell me that somewhere, the New Evangelization is being taken seriously! That somewhere, we are doing what the Church is sent to do: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)
The many former Catholics who become zealous Protestants prove something important: these people didn’t leave because they were not interested in God and the things of God. They were not cold-hearted secularists. They were looking for Christ! And they could not find Him in His own Church. How many times I have heard from Protestants who are former Catholics, “I wasn’t being fed. I wasn’t hearing the Gospel. I couldn’t find Jesus Christ.”
The Pope is certainly aware of the need! Thank God that our Pope is aware of the religious ignorance of modern Catholics! He recently said (to French Bishops in a recent ad limina visit),
… one of the gravest problems of our time is the ignorance of religion on the part of many men and women, also among the Catholic faithful”.
“This is why the new evangelisation, in which the Church is resolutely engaged, … assumes such importance”, the Pope continued. ”One of the most formidable obstacles to our pastoral mission is ignorance of the content of faith. Indeed, this is a dual form of ignorance: the ignorance of Jesus Christ as a person and ignorance of the sublime nature of His teachings, of their universal and permanent value in the search for the meaning of life and happiness. In the new generations this ignorance produces an inability to understand history or to recognize themselves as heirs to this tradition, which has shaped European life, society, art and culture”.
I especially appreciate the Holy Father’s precise and complete observation. Although he is speaking here to French bishops, the problem is certainly not an exclusively French one. Our problem – certainly for the modern West – is two-fold; there is “a dual form of ignorance” :
1) we are ignorant of “Christ as a person,” and
2) we are ignorant of “the sublime nature of His teachings.”
This grave, profound problem is not “rocket science”! It is not as though the Church in the West is incapable of meeting the One who died to meet us! It is not as though we all need theology degrees to know the beauty of His eternal Truth! We need only His grace, and our desire! He gives to all who ask; He is found by all who seek; He opens Himself to all who will knock at the door of His Sacred Heart!
The American bishops also, recently, have acknowledged in specific terms the poverty of our souls. The new draft of the USCCB on preaching has this:
We also recognize that many Catholics, even those who are devoted to the life of the Church and hunger for a deeper spirituality, seem to be uninformed about the Church’s teaching and are in need of a stronger catechesis. At a time when living an authentic Christian life leads to complex challenges, people need to be nourished all the more by the truth and guidance of their Catholic faith. Aware of this present social context and realizing the need for a deeper evangelization among our Catholic population, with renewed vigor the Church’s preachers must inspire and instruct the faithful in the beauty and truth of Catholic Tradition and practice.
Adult formation is needed, to place Catholic adults in communion with Christ as a Person, and to communicate His teachings as received in His Holy Church. This is rightly called formation in faith – more than merely education, or training, or exposure to “information” about Christ and His Truth. Exposure is needed to Jesus Christ, God the Son. We need to meet Him, to hear Him, to learn from Him – and thus to discover in Him, Truth. Then it is alive in us, and then we are alive in Him. We need this. We need Him. Not programs, not more episcopal papers, not workbooks and videos. We need the life of God, and He is so very near.
We need a New Evangelization – we really do – not merely as a project, but as a reality. The Pope pointed out to us in a recent homily, that the need is dire. We are languishing in a spiritual desert:
“If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelisation, it is not to honour an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! … . Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. …This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: … the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.
If we in the West find ourselves in a spiritual desert – a wasteland – then our Church ought to be a place of life in the wilderness. Our Church ought to be an oasis of His precious living water – in the midst of barren sand, fertile rich soil – in the midst of ignorance of God and Truth, treasures of blessed and holy wisdom. How is it, that we have come to such poverty as we now have? And when will we wake up and remember who we are, and what we are called to be?