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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Souls in the Balance

In studying Pastoral Theology, many things are coming together and while reading for class over the weekend and this week, my brain was coming up with a plan for Adult Outreach. My boss was supportive of the idea and asked me to pitch it to a group within the parish where we work.

So I did, KNOWING it wouldn't be well received. Why?  Because we as Catholics suck at evangelization. We only want to do what's comfortable, bring people to us and keep all we do within the Church walls. If we have groups that find a couple new members over the course of the year, we think we are "successful" in evangelization. We're doing dismally. 

How do we know?  Because most Catholics aren't coming to Mass, even those on the parish registry.  They may be bringing their kids to a church event, but they're dumping them off and picking them up, never leaving the car. If they are required to get out of the car, they moan and grumble and are very put-upon and make sure the staff at that parish knows about it. When asked if they'll be at next Sunday's Mass because of a special event afterward, they hem and haw and say, "We'll be out of town" which often means, "We think hockey/baseball/football/dance/etc  is more important than God but know that's not an acceptable answer so we'll just fudge the answer."

And then down the road they become frustrated because their children grow up and leave the Faith, and they become angry at the Church because they "paid all this money to send them to Catholic School/ Religious education classes".  Yet they refuse their own responsibility, because, quite literally, in too many cases, NO ONE told them they HAD a responsibility to raise their OWN children in the Faith. They are honestly confused.

Even the families that are the most involved at many parishes don't see Mass attendance as important or necessary.  They are not evangelized. They have been told that "doing" is better than "being" and they have eaten up the gospel of lateral theology with aplomb...but they are spiritually starving.  No wonder our schools and parishes are dying.

We need to get to work, people.

There's still an even BIGGER problem, though: 

Among us, in our neighborhoods, in our jobs, everywhere...there are Catholics who aren't practicing ANY religion at all. Nothing. They would go to Mass if someone would invite them, but they feel disconnected (which they are) and out of fear or some other reason, they won't return on their own. I believe the statistics show that 40% of these disconnected Catholics are just waiting for a personal invitation.

So we are working on developing plans to reach these people, these very unknown people who want to be known...and we are deprived for not knowing them.

Well, of course, my plan was not well received, and it was discouraging to say the least. People, instead of looking for what is good and building that up, have a tendency to tear down everything they themselves wouldn't want to do, and have an even further tendency to look to every reason NOT to do something.  In essence, when we pitch an idea to reach out to the disconnected and bring them back, they say, "Why do we want to do THAT?"

Uh...because the Church, is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic - and that makes it missionary in nature. If what we do in our parishes to be formed doesn't carry beyond the walls, we have FAILED in our Mission. And my friends....we are sadly, sadly failing in our mission.

We can't blame the Bishops. We can't blame the Priests.  Can they share in the blame?  Sure, but not without we the laity pointing the majority of fingers at ourselves.  This is a very educated age. There are a LOT of knowledgeable Catholics who are all too satisfied to just "be formed" and embrace Bible studies and the like, which is wonderful. But...they need to look beyond. What is the point of knowing every detail about the Bible and attending every study....but never sharing that knowledge with others?

The fact is this:  our Faith isn't truly possessed until it is given away. Our knowledge is for naught if it is not given away. Our Catholicism isn't really possessed if it only remains in the walls of our parish or home.  If it isn't lived in the public square, it isn't Catholic.

The more I study, the more I see in the real life of Catholics from every walk of life and every level of faith, the more I see this. The more I realize that WE are failing, and that WE, the laity are at fault for not doing our jobs.

It starts with me. It starts with you.

Don't be afraid to be Catholic. Be afraid NOT to be...because that's where souls hang in the balance.

That is our Lenten thought for the day. Christ did not die a horrible death on the Cross so that we could be comfortable. Who, around you, is hanging in the balance? Go get them!


Sarah said...

Thanks for the insights here, this post challenged me. I agree that Catholics need to find ways to effectively evangelize... not just those who are "fallen away" Catholics but to those who are not Catholic at all.

I work in an environment where I have the opportunity to publish articles about the Catholic faith to a mostly non-Catholic audience. Sometimes I have risen to the occasion, and other times I have taken the easy road. I think this Lent needs to be different!

Jen said...

What was your idea? I am always looking for new ways to expand the reach of our parish.


Adoro said...

Jen ~ It's really too complicated to explain, needs more research and is a PROGRAM being built. I probably won't ever share it on my blog, whether it happens/ works out, or not. Sorry.

Melody K said...

There are some people in our parish working with a program called "Catholics Coming Home". It has been a couple of years since it started here. At first the response was really slow; the first year resulted in some inquiries, a few attended some classes, but it didn't really get off the ground. 2010 has been better. There are 8 people attending the sessions; it remains to be seen if they decide to be part of the parish and the Church. The pastor has been pushing the one-to-one evangelization with one's family and neighbors (he also said it's a lot easier to do if it isn't your family; which is true enough!). I guess what I'm saying is that it's a long term effort, and not to be discouraged if it seems at first that it's not going anywhere.

Adoro said...

Melody ~ I (and my boss) did present it as a framework for a long-term plan, saying it has to start somewhere. We have to look a head. And we DID push the one-to-one evangelization of sphere of influence.

I expected the push-back, and honestly, this group wouldn't be "door-to-door" people anyway...but they might be in charge of FORMING them in some aspects. So it HAS to start with them.

I admit I mentioned the urgency...of those who aren't connected, and can't wait for us to "feel like" doing it. We have to find them, and help them back.

Charity demands it, God Himself demands it.

We're praying.

Unknown said...

The following Catholic convert and blogger, Aimee Milburn Cooper - may be able to save you some work related to Catholic evangelization. This was her field of study and now work in Denver. She offers online Catholic evangelization classes sponsored by the Archdiocese of Denver.

Adoro said...

Kevin ~ Thanks, I'll add it to my list of resources!

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. And a good reminder, reaching out is not just a job for the priests, it's for all of us. Sometimes all it takes is a simple hello.

Austringer said...

I wonder if this isn't a symptom, not just of cowardice (it does take guts to share one's faith, given how the surrrounding culture will brand you a nutburger), but also of our tendency to expect our priests to do our faith for us. It's interesting: the Vatican II Council reiterated the laity's important role in being leaven in the world, and instead many of the laity interpreted this as more participation in the sanctuary!

Adoro said...

Austringer ~ Yes, exactly. As I'm working on this paper, I'm reading an article by Jordan Aumann, OP, revealing SEVERAL documents emphasizing the apostolate of the laity IN THE WORLD as primary, and any roles within the liturgy as secondary and as NECESSARY. Instead, the laity have overrun the sanctuary and left the souls in the world to rot.

Austringer said...

May God have mercy on us all, cuz we're gonna need least, I know I do!!

chloesmom said...

AMen to what Austringer said!

Banshee said...

A lot of reluctance to evangelize is probably uncertainty as to what the Church believes (either "after Vatican II" or "at all, because I grew up after Vatican II and nobody ever told me"). A lot more is probably fear that talking about church to someone will make them run very fast in the opposite direction.

But yeah, it's a good idea. I mean, whatever we do can't work worse than doing nothing.

Kiwi Nomad said...

Those of us who are long gone are not necessarily easy to help though. I had many questions as a young person and never answered any of them. And I know a lot of it is not just academic questions but heart stuff. The only thing that keeps me vaguely hanging on the edges are the contacts I have had with some people that I find inspirational. But the only time I am likely to be anywhere near a Mass is for a funeral. Chances are I would reject any obvious 'help'.
Ironically, the word verification word for my comment is 'bless', and I kid you not!!!!

Adoro said...

Maureen ~ In general I agree with you. But when you start speaking of evangelization to those who know more than most college professors about the Church and what she teaches...well...that's the crowd that needs to take what they know and figure out how to get it outside the parish walls.

Kiwi!!! I haven't "seen" you in AGES! Nice to see you again! :-)

You'll be interested to know, then that the program I'm designing (in conjunction with stuff that already exists) responds to that very thing. It's coming from my experience both in a parish and outside of it, and a very expressed need for many people: relationship. Very few people actually want knowledge. Many just want connection with other people...simple connectedness. Without pressure, without expectation. Just being available.

I know it won't work for everyone, and even the approaches I'm hoping we can implement will still not reach everyone, or will be outright rejected. And people KNOW they're going to go out into the world and they're going to be rejected. That IS hard.

But it's better to do SOMETHING rather than sit here and do nothing out of fear of being rejected.

Who knows? If I ever met you in person and didn't know who you were, and you didn't know who I was, I still think it would be worth it to walk up to you and say hello, start a conversation, have a nice chat about everything you do...even if you said you hated the Church and didn't ever intend the darken the door of a Catholic Church again. You're worth it.

LOL, LOVE the verification word you got!

Kiwi Nomad said...

Actually, I do want knowledge too. Last year I even got brave enough to go along to a bible study thing at the local parish. First week went really well, and I really liked the interesting group of people in the group. Second week we had some new people, and one of these ladies began the discussion with a tirade about how we didn't let the Spirit act with power in the church today. Seemed like anything I dared say was wrong. So I decided not to go back. The priest contacted me, and was disappointed with the way it had happened, but it all seemed 'too catholic' for me. So like I say, people like me would not be easy to help!

Adoro said...

Kiwi ~ I'm glad you went, and I'm really sorry that one person ran over you like that. If people only realized the damage they did by pushing their own agenda without considering the spiritual condition of others in their presence! (BTW, I know I'm guilty there, too!)

And if "people like you" are difficult to help, well, that makes me want to help even more. But at "your" pace...not "mine". "Difficult to help" does NOT translate into "not worth it."

Adoro said...

Kiwi ~ P.S.: seems to me that the Spirit should have "acted with power" to cause the woman with the tirade to bite her tongue! lol!

Terry Nelson said...

I've been thinking of this post for a few days now. I wonder if the Lord is calling you to something 'new' here... it occurred to me after I read the following article from Zenit on the Pope telling lay-people they are co-responsible for the Church - or something like that. Check it out:

Austringer said...


I'm sorry you had a bad experience with a person in your Bible study...There's a quote from the G.K. Chesterton to the effect that what kept him from the Catholic Church for so long was Catholics. But remember that God uses flawed people -- and we're all flawed. In some ways, maybe that's a good thing, because ultimately we are to rely on God, and not on our fellow creatures. If we let a crabby parishioner, a nasty priest, or a gossipy church lady drive us from the Faith, then we have invested far, far too much in our fellow flawed men and women. Think of some of the great saints: they were harassed and plagued by their fellow Christians just as much as from external difficulties. And yet they knew that they served God first, and yes, God even used these difficult people to help strengthen their faith.

Kiwi Nomad said...

Thanks for your reply, but I guess I am not really in a place of being driven from the faith:- I already left a long time ago. So when this happened in the bible study group, it was just confirmation of how (almost completely) disconnected I am from all things church. I walk in a different world.
The links I do still tenuously have are largely due to a good priest who doesn't judge me at all for my distance. He seems to have a real gift for knowing where my points of longing are, and inspiring me there.