The proportion of people who are Catholic is likely to collapse over the next two generations—unless, of course, the way we see and do church changes. We are currently living in the “lag time” after church life has ceased to be part of official culture and official society and before we as church have figured out what to do about that. Think about it: There are really no more “Catholic countries,” no more “Catholic cities”; even “Catholic families” cannot be taken for granted. A spouse might have been raised in a different faith tradition, or none; children might not attend church, or have joined other traditions. We live instead in a time marked by personal commitment. That has the great strength of being deeply internalized but also has a shadow side: Inevitably many will miss an opportunity to even encounter faith in a meaningful way. Mass-based institutions, whether Catholic schools or collective practices of other kinds, can give a certain minimum formation, but their roles have long since become diminished. In any case, such institutions were only effective insofar as they reflected official society, culture, and of course the family itself. Catholic schools are useless for formation if children do not already come from seriously Catholic families. The proportion of Catholics who attend church will always decline, and the proportion of baptized Catholics will always decline, if the only Catholics who attend and the only ones who baptize their children Catholic are ones who themselves were born Catholic. Simply put, in that imaginary church—and that is what it is—Catholicism, like any religion, is doomed to decline when official culture and official society no longer work to automatically make someone Catholic. And progressive diminishment is not healthy. It is not what it means to be church or a disciple of the Lord. Christianity, one might say, is not called to diminishment! But before trends of diminishment can be reversed, we need to catch up with the reality that being Catholic is no longer—and will not again become—axiomatic with birth, with culture, or with a whole society. We need to turn to the personal, to practice a conversation of the heart of individual persons, and in so doing build and renew an enduring community of faith. © 2010, Bryan Froehle.
Authors Bryan FroehleRestricted
I was walking past a schoolyard yesterday and the kids were hanging out waiting for the bell to ring to start the school day. As kids will, some little third grader was taunting another one. She said, “Why should I listen to you? You’re just a dork.” For the gazillionth time one kid put down another kid by trying to demean and diminish who they are. Adults do it, too. In fact it was an adult in the synagogue where Jesus was teaching who cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” It may not seem as though the name, “Jesus of Nazareth” is a put-down. But in this case it was. The unclean spirit in this man obviously recognized that this teacher spoke with the authority of God. And he wanted to diminish that power by limiting Jesus to his human identity. Rather than calling him Jesus, Son of God, he wanted him to be simply Jesus of Nazareth, a regular Joe like anyone else. He wasn’t just Jesus of Nazareth, he was also Jesus, Son of God. His origins were not just a sleepy town in Judea. His origins were in God’s own self. And as the Son of God, Jesus came to liberate us from the unclean spirits that plague us all—even the unclean spirit that wants to put others down.Authors Tom McGrathRestricted