Is the Church irrelevant in today's society? This question surfaces in my mind more and more frequently as I watch church attendance continue to decline. Looking at the consolidation and reorganization of parishes in New York announced by Cardinal Dolan recently is a somber reminder of the difficult circumstances surrounding the life of believers. Obviously, many factors contribute to parish closings and mergers, but the level of church attendance is one of those important factors. I was stunned when I read an article which said weekly Mass attendance in New York is about 12% of Catholics. Wow!
There are many possible reasons (or excuses) for not attending church on a weekly basis. A survey conducted in Australia listed 20 such options and asked people to choose three. The question was posed to Catholic parents with children attending Catholic Schools who infrequently attend Mass or don't even go at all. I want to cover the top three responses given by these parents.
Fifty-four percent (54%) said that they "No longer feel that being a committed Catholic requires going to Mass every week." Thirty-one percent (31%) said they don't attend because of "Disagreement with the Church's teaching on, or attitude toward, personal sexual issues." Twenty-three percent (23%) said "Weekends are the only time available for being with the family."
Attitudes have certainly changed in the last forty years. When I was growing up "being with the family" on weekends meant going to church on Sunday morning. The priority seems to have shifted immensely in this regard. Now, many people choose to only go to church if no other demands on their time are pressing. Extra-curricular school activities, sports outside of school, running errands, and doing all of the things not accomplished during the other six days of the week frequently take precedence over going to church.
Since 31% disagree with Church teaching on sexual sins, it is obvious that in many ways we have lost the "culture war." The secular media has sold their message more effectively than the Church. I use the word "sold" on purpose. If you follow the money you can see why the message has been continuously hammered home. Sex sells. Pornography sells. Abortion sells. Activities once viewed as deviant behavior are now accepted, and even celebrated. Living a virtuous and monogamous lifestyle is viewed by many as old-fashioned and out-of-touch.
Finally, 54% don't see a need to go to Mass every week. Instead of the word "Mass" I would insert the word "Eucharist." The word Eucharist means "to give thanks." If we approach the table of the Lord with sincere and grateful hearts it may have a greater impact in our lives. Why would we miss the opportunity to be nurtured by the proclamation of God's Sacred Word and to be nourished by the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist? Why is Mass attendance viewed as an obligation rather than a privilege to encounter the living God?
The leadership of the Church has to bear much of the responsibility for the decline in faith. Surveys repeatedly show that many people view the homilies as boring or irrelevant. That is a problem. Referring back to the Australian study, one of the top reasons for not attending Mass was due to a "lack of intellectual stimulation." Clergy members entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of preaching need to be prepared spiritually and academically, and they need to enhance their presentation skills so they can deliver the message with zeal and energy. Preaching God's Word should not be boring.
We each have a role to fulfill in building up the Kingdom of God. My challenge to you today is to specifically pray for an increase of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Let God's Holy Spirit move within you.
“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!
Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”