The following is an editorial from the Nov. 9 issue of The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. It was written by John F. Fink, editor emeritus.
The Synod of Bishops’ meeting on the “new evangelization” has been completed and the Year of Faith is now under way. It began on Oct. 11 and will continue until Nov. 24, 2013.
It’s hardly a secret why Pope Benedict XVI called for both of these events. As he has pointed out repeatedly, the world (especially in the West) continues to become more secularized. Fewer Catholics are practicing their faith. Secularism is on the rise.
Two days before the Synod of Bishops started, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a study which showed that nearly 20 percent of the American public are now unaffiliated with any religion. Previous Pew studies have revealed that more than 30 million Americans now call themselves former Catholics — second in size only to those who call themselves Catholics.
However, it’s misleading to think of the Catholic Church as the largest denomination because surveys show that only 17 percent of Catholics attend Mass every weekend. Even those who do attend Mass weekly often have only an elementary understanding of the teachings of the church.
In his talk to Catholic lawyers and judges at the dinner following the Red Mass Oct. 9, Auxiliary Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, emphasized that the new evangelization must target those former Catholics and Catholics who are not practicing their faith.
It’s common for Catholic teachings to be ridiculed these days, especially by secularized young people. The number of weddings in the church has decreased alarmingly as couples cohabitate before marriage.
Matthew Kelly, who heads the Dynamic Catholic Institute in Cincinnati, has written a new book titled “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic.” He writes that research has shown that only 6.4 percent of registered parishioners contribute 80 percent of the volunteer hours in a parish, only 6.8 percent of registered parishioners donate 80 percent of financial contributions, and there is an 84 percent overlap between the two groups.
He has rounded off the 6.4 percent and the 6.8 percent to 7 percent, which he considers the percentage of dynamic Catholics in the United States.
Considering what the Catholic Church has been able to contribute with only 7 percent of its members, Kelly writes, think of what it could accomplish if 14 percent or more of its members could be considered dynamic Catholics.
If you’re wondering what the four signs of a dynamic Catholic are, they are prayer, study, generosity and evangelization. Kelly’s book devotes a chapter to each of those four signs.
The Pew Forum might tell us that Catholics continue to comprise 22 percent of the American population, but the number of active Catholics, to say nothing of dynamic Catholics, is far lower. We are actually a contracting church in this country.
And yet, we’re doing far better than the Catholic Church in Europe, where weekend Mass attendance in Italy is 11 percent, in France 4 percent and in Germany 12 percent. England, of all places, where the Catholic Church was persecuted for centuries, is the only bright spot. For the first time since Henry VIII, it is now the dominant religion there.
So it isn’t surprising that Pope Benedict has decided that we must have a new evangelization. We need something to fire us up. As the pope told the bishops at the beginning of the synod, “Being tepid is the greatest danger for Christians. We pray that faith becomes like a fire in us and that it will set alight others.”
In his homily at the Mass that opened the synod, the pope said “the church exists to evangelize” by sharing the Gospel with people who have never heard of Christ, strengthening the faith of those who already have been baptized, and reaching out to those who “have drifted away from the church.”
It’s those who have drifted away from the church, either calling themselves former Catholics or just failing to practice their faith that we must make efforts to reclaim. We don’t do that, though, by watering down the church’s teachings.
Rather, we must try to make them see that belief and adherence to the teachings of the church are the best ways for people to find happiness — eternal happiness in heaven, to be sure, but also happiness here on earth.
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