Tuesday, May 9, 2017


From ChurchPop:

A Priest Explains the Hard Truth About Why the Church Is In Decline

by -
ikayama, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I spend a lot of time thinking, reading, and praying about why the Church is decline in this country.
The influx of immigrants from Latin America hides the number decline. Even with this influx, every measurable indicator is down: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, priestly ordinations, numbers of men’s and women’s religious, children in parochial schools and religion programs. It is grim.
How did we get here?
The major error was ditching the transcendent. We domesticated God. We became functional Arians. (This doesn’t mean racist, that would be Aryans.) It means we act as if Jesus was merely human, that He is a guru, self-help teacher, social worker extraordinaire.
To be sure, I am not talking about every parish. But as a Church in this country, we took our eyes off the ball.
Mass started looking less like the worship of God and more like a pep rally. Our churches stopped looking Catholic and were overrun by iconoclasts. We went from churches that exuded Catholic belief visually, to ubiquitous ‘sacred spaces’ that looked more like theaters.
Some places ran with the theater aspect. Worship transformed to entertainment. What I got out of it became much more important than what I put into it.
By ripping out the transcendent heart out of worship, we reduced Mass. It is little wonder that belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist plummeted. It is little wonder that priestly vocations plummeted. While the generation that ushered these things love them, the subsequent generations fled in droves.
With worship emptied of the transcendent, Catholic life soon followed. Devotional life in parishes dried up. Parish churches became Mass stations. It has been heartening to see a rise in Eucharistic Adoration.
With the focus off the transcendent, awareness also plummeted. Confession lines disappeared. Families shrunk as we started contracepting ourselves out of existence. The loud din of children gave way to seas of gray. Accommodation of the secular culture went largely unchallenged. Causes replaced action. The works of mercy declined as a false idea of social justice rose in its place.
In this mileau, it was easy for people to leave. Without the transcendent, we offer nothing more than any fraternal order. Without the transcendent, objective morality withers. With our eyes off the ball, 78% of Catholics simply quit coming to Mass. Without the source and summit that is the Eucharist, the Catholic life dies. It is starved to death.
But those who leave, even if they go nowhere else, still have that longing. Many identify that as “spiritual but not religious.” There is still an unrequited longing for the transcendent. If they cannot find it with us, they will look elsewhere, even if that means cobbling something together themselves. We can sneer and belittle them at our own peril. The fact they aren’t drawn to a pep rally isn’t on them – it is on us.
How do we turn this around?
Let’s start with focusing back on the transcendent again. In our structures, our worship, our music, our preaching, and our teaching.
This doesn’t mean we ignore the immanent. Not at all! The lessons from the transcendent must find a home in our lives. If God has placed a longing for Him, then that must be the focus at Mass. If we don’t focus on God there, we will leave people no choice but to look elsewhere.
Let us then, having established the prominence of God in our lives, revel in our being counter cultural. We are in the world but not of the world. We are yeast, light, salt, and whatever other transformative description Jesus uses to describe His people.
If we look and act the same as the secular culture around us, then we can hardly be a witness to the throngs of people who are searching for something to fill that God sized hole in their souls. After all, St. Augustine reminds us that our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ.
Our eyes need to be on the ball. Our eyes need to be on Christ. Not on the congregation. Not only the priest. They need to be on Christ.
My duty as a priest, as a pastor of souls, is to be sure the focus is on Him.
Originally posted on Facebook
[See also: This Priest Has a Simple & Innovative Way to Reach College Students with the Faith]


Victor said...

The loss of the transcendent is due solely to the idea of active participation that was the fundamental idea underpinning all the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. It was not enough for the faithful to sing the Ordinary, if they so pleased, but the entire liturgy had to be changed to make participation of all contrivances easier for the dummest of the faithful. The liturgical reforms were about the people, not perfecting worship of God, and were nothing more than an attempt to sanctify the ivory tower principles of the Liturgical Movement.

It did not occur to those liturgical experts living in a world as far removed as imaginable from the average faithful in the pews, that the faithful were not dumb passive spectators as they wished everyone to believe, and that the people came to worship God by praying to Him directly in a holy place, each according to his personal needs and desires of the heart, while leaving the mystical Sacrifice to the priest on their behalf.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

What many "What Happened to the Church?" reflections don't talk about is the changes that our culture experienced (and is experiencing) that have had impacts on us far beyond the churches. In the last 50 years virtually every civic organization dedicated to the service of others - which is also the mission of the Church, though in a different way - from Civitan to Lions to Rotary to Jaycees has experienced a precipitous drop in membership or activity. Radical individualism, made possible by an exceptionally high standard (materially) of living makes us feel independent. If I percieve myself to be "well off" I don't need the "transcendent" in whatever form or rite that it is offered. And as long as I maintain that perception, I won't see the need to serve others, since doing so has no effect on my way of life. The best explanation I know of is Robert Bellah's "Habits of the Heart - Individualism and Committment in American Life." It's a bit of a slog to read, but very, very worthwhile.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I don't disagree with your assessment, FrMJK, but we must acknowledge that what has happened to the Church liturgically and otherwise in the last 50 years has not assisted the Church in swimming against the tide and in fact has caused many Catholics to join the tide. Today there is almost nothing to distinguish a Catholic from Protestants or the prevalent secular mentality which Catholics have been encouraged to amalgamate. Just think of the things unique to Catholicism that kept us strong in the USA, a unique Catholic Culture and pride in it, the Latin Liturgy, meatless Fridays, strict sexual ethic, modesty, divorce a scandal, etc. This has all been dismantled to make us more Protestant and thus more secular. It has failed miserable for us and the Protestants which for the most part have accepted cultural individualism as a sort of identity moniker but in terms of individually embracing the Bible, now have to contend with the Bible being manipulated to satisfy the culture.

Православный физик said...

There's a reason it's nearly impossible to attend the Roman Liturgy as practised in 99.99999% of parishes. This is it. Restoring the transcendent is the first piece, what Fr MJK mentions is the second piece. There is too much of a culture of individualism, in particular in America.

May our Loving God have mercy on us.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Aside from Latin and meatless Fridays, we shared the other "distinguishing" elements you mention that gave us Catholic identity were part of most Protestant denominations 50 or 60 or 70 years ago.

"Strict sexual ethic, modesty, divorce a scandal, etc" were all part and parcel of Christianity in general.

These did not unravel because Vatican Two happened, or because we Catholics gave up a sense of "transcendence" in the liturgy.

What happened? Wealth. Material well-being leaves one with little of no sense of dependence on a community, little or no sense of connection with or obligation to a community. Radical individualism has left us fragmented. Racial individualism furthers the divides. Religious individualism (e.g. “total and complete shutdown” of all federal processes allowing followers of Islam into the country until elected leaders can “figure out what is going on.”) etc.

Add to this individualism the mobility of families - moving from city to city, state to state - and you further divorce people from forming community and feeling part thereof.

ByzRus said...

I agree with Joe Potillor. The transcendant was removed followed by the culture as noted by Fr. AJM while at the same time there was societal upheaval and breakdown as noted by Fr. MJK. The institution failed itself and many of the souls in its charge while at the same time, societal norms were crumbling - the perfect storm. The beneficiaries of any "We need to" type of exercise will largely be those who remain and to a much lesser extent, those that left. Sadly, pride, personal agendas and commitment to a failed implementation will likely put off any restoration efforts for years, if not generations.