Monday, January 5, 2015

Restoring Catholic Culture - The Quest

It has been a while, but I finally happened upon an article which I am excited enough about to risk a comment. It touches an issue dear to my heart, which most people in authority in the Church in the US seem unwilling to face. You can find the article and read it for yourself over at OnePeterFive; it is not very long. The author seems to draw the conclusion that we, the Catholic Church in the US, are no longer producing as we did in the past and we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work to find a solution to the problem of defections from the life of the Church. The author goes beyond the rather bland and often repeated comment that the single largest religious body in the United States is made up of former Catholics. He goes beyond it and addresses more than the general sentiment of resignation which this statement tends to inspire.

As the notion of political incorrectness seems too dated, I guess I would have to say that most people who talk about us, as Catholic Church in the US, having a problem and of people, especially priests being in denial about the gravity of the situation, well, to use my long dead, party-hearty auntie's expression, they are worse than wet blankets. We are not allowed, it would seem, to say that what we have been doing for the last half century obviously isn't working. School and parish closures, failing vocations, and more won't allow us to say we're on our way to extinction in the US, as people tend to say about the Church in most countries of Western Europe suffering the same societal irrelevance.

"Putting all these numbers together, we find that less than 10% of baptized Catholics in this country both attend Mass on Sundays and go to Confession at least once a year. In other words, less than 1 in 10 baptized Catholics actually follow the two most measurable precepts of the Church, which all Catholics are obliged to follow."

It sounds as bad as Belgium or Holland to me. One in ten, the article says, goes to Mass on Sundays (what about Holy Days of obligation?) and confesses once a year. Why does this not seem to make an impact on our priests and bishops?

"So how should Catholics respond in the face of these daunting numbers? Unfortunately, three improper responses to this crisis have emerged in the past few decades. They are denial, despair, and desertion... What is the way forward? If denial, despair and desertion are not the proper Catholic response, how should Catholics react to the calamity of less than 10% of all baptized Catholics actually practicing their faith? In a word, determination."

To my mind the author describes the situation we face quite accurately but does not really answer his own question by urging us to determination. Maybe he thinks he has done enough to try to challenge folks to take a closer look. I don't know. At any rate, there are and have been for the longest time good people out there with suggestions, with ideas as to where to start. My own sympathies lie with those who insist on working for a restoration of Catholic culture. We have a fundamental problem, a foundational problem; it is not just a failure on the efficiency scale or in the area of communication skills: it is not simply a question of better marriage prep courses or friendlier greeters at the door of church on Sunday. Performance liturgy, a la mega church (facit "crystal cathedral" Orange County remake), is not the answer either. We need to aim much higher or dig deeper.

John Senior explains as well as anyone what a restoration of Catholic culture would require, starting with reading classic books to children and getting them familiar with a whole vocabulary and world view that their parents have missed out on. Promoting the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite as a means hopefully of enriching Ordinary Form worship and moving us in liturgy beyond a didactic model to genuine worship of the Living God is no small part of the Catholic experience. I have had notes from priests and bishops who went for the ad Orientem experience of the Novus Ordo during Advent and Christmas this year and who testify to their joy at being able to withdraw from the spotlight and focus together with their people on Christ, the Dawn from on high Who comes to visit us.

Blog entries can't really exhaust such important topics. I thank OnePeterFive for eloquently posing a question about a serious problem most involved in parish ministry seem to want to deny. If I could add to the discussion it would be in terms of insisting upon restoration and recovery of Catholic culture. "Venturing where no one has gone before" might be a thrilling slogan for Star Trek fans, but in the real Christian life we find our future in the past, in the One Who is, Who was and Who is to come.


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