Sunday, July 19, 2015

The reality of the Church in the Western milieu

While it has dampened considerably there is still talk of the so-called "Francis effect." The "Francis effect" refers to the hypothesis that given the dynamism of our current Holy Father's pontificate that people are flocking back to the Church in great numbers. Apart from anecdotal stories (i.e., "It's because of Pope Francis that I went to confession and started going to Mass again), there is really no discernible trend we can call the Francis effect, let alone tens or hundreds of thousands flocking back to Church. This is difficult for many people who want reality to be other than it is. Like them, I would love nothing more than for people to return to the practice of the faith and to become Catholic. But the fact is that the truth of the faith is increasingly in direct confrontation with Western "values," such as they are. The Sexual Revolution has been so successful that marriage and issues concerning sexuality as well as sexual morality remain the large elephant in the room. Let's face it, for many the world is more attractive than the faith of the Church, the latter of which many don't know at a deep enough level to really understand it. It's true that this lack of understanding is primarily due to Church teaching not being communicated clearly or consistently.

The hope of those championing, or positing, the Francis effect was that Francis was going to go the worldly route and actually change what really cannot be changed. For a man who makes no secret of, among other things, his admiration for Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, that was never going to happen. The enthusiastic reception of many of Pope Francis' early provocative statements (I am thinking of things like when he said even atheists are redeemed, which is true- that does not mean "saved," all are redeemed and his "Who am I to judge"- which was uttered in a clarifying context) was based on a poor understanding of what he was saying that seems rooted in poor catechesis and a superficial understanding of doctrine

The most evangelical pope of the modern era, perhaps in the history of the Church, remains Pope St John Paul II. This is in no way a criticism of Pope Francis. I love him greatly and appreciate the manner in which he exercises both the Petrine and Pauline dimensions of the papacy. As Sandro Magister and others have noted, the Franciscan pontificate has become more focused and sober since last year's Extraordinary Synod (see "The Closed Door of Pope Francis").

All of this was prompted by a blog post I spotted this morning while scrolling through my G+ feed: "A Smaller Church," by Fr John Hollowell. It is from his post that I obtained the graph I used above. Fr Hollowell's post also features a still very relevant quote from then-Cardinal Ratzinger about the Catholic Church in the West. The Church in the global South, particularly in Africa, is a powerhouse of dynamism. Let's not forget, it has been the African bishops, along with the Polish bishops, who have spoken out strongly against the innovators at the Synod, which consisted primarily of German bishops who preside over a Church that lost another 200,000 of their faithful just last year (see "Mass exodus continues from German Catholic Church").

While the Church should never be first and foremost about money, it is important to note that most people who give generously and steadily are older people who understand that they need to support their parish and diocese in order for there to be a parish and a diocese. Having a resident priest is already becoming a luxury in many places. While presently this is primarily due to not having as many vocations as we need, it will become more difficult as there are fewer people contributing. Like many priests of the various Eastern Catholic Churches in this country, it may become more common for Roman Catholic priests to work jobs in addition to being a priest. It is already common for a single priest to be the pastor of more than one parish.

My experience, not being raised Catholic, is that most Catholics my age and younger (I will 50 later this year) do not make a correlation between what their diocese and parish are able to do and what they contribute, not just in terms of money, but also time and talent. There is an erroneous view that the Church is loaded, but most people, certainly in my diocese, would surprised on how much of a shoestring many dioceses and parishes run. This affects the quality of everything from liturgy to catechesis to evangelization to social outreach to marriage preparation to family ministry, etc.

By no means is it all doom and gloom. Far from it! But it is only by facing reality squarely that we can fully engage according to all the factors that constitute reality.

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