The Evangelization Station
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Dynamic Orthodoxy Breeds Growth.
Why is it that the Catholic Church in America does not bring in enough converts each year to replace the number of Catholics who leave? Why is it that the Church does not fight to keep her children in the fold? Why is it that the Holy Father’s pleas to evangelize America have fallen on deaf ears? Why is it that few, if any, of our bishops view evangelization as a priority? Why has preaching the Gospel message been almost entirely absent from Main Street, America? What has happened to the zeal for souls, which at one time characterized the Church? The Church hierarchy in the United States must not only answer these questions, but implement plans to correct these deficiencies, and dramatically re-evangelize North America.
Although our Church membership increases slightly each year, it is primarily through births and immigration and not through conversions. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 baptized members leave the Church each year in the United States. Some leave because they have been alienated by someone or by a negative experience, as though their roots have been cut or jerked out of the ground. Some simply drift away, like the wind-blown tumbleweed, because their roots were too shallow. Others are lured away by proselytizing groups or individuals. Catholics are particularly susceptible to proselytization because there has been a serious decline in the quality of catechetics, which has resulted in two generations of Catholics with little proper understanding of creedal Catholicism. Incalculable numbers of Catholic families can point to one or more members who have been lured away. Many who leave become anti-Catholic, in the belief they were deliberately misinformed or that the Church’s teachings have little or no foundation.
There has also been a sharp decline of Catholic practice across the board since Vatican Council II. Church attendance is at its lowest point in decades. Weekly Mass attendance among professed U.S. Catholics has precipitously declined from 71% in 1965 to approximately 17% today. Fewer marriages were reported nationwide in 2003, down by 14,836 to 241,727. One-third to one-half of Catholic marriages now ends in divorce. The rate of abortion is almost as high among Catholics as it is among non-Catholics. The widespread use of artificial contraception in Catholic families has contributed to Catholics going from an average rate of five plus children per family in 1960 to approximately 1.2 today.
With the exception of dioceses with strong, orthodox bishops, priestly and religious vocations have declined precipitously in America. In 1993 there were 50,907 priests in the U.S.; today there are 44,487. This is a loss of over 6,420 priests in the last ten years. Defections from the priesthood may continue, especially in light of the recent scandals. There has also been a loss of over 692 brothers and 19,324 sisters during the same period. What can be done?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of our responsibility in winning souls for Christ: “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it” (§ 1816). Quoting Lumen Gentium (Light of the World) 42, it goes on to say: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.”
The catechism further states: “Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: ‘So every one who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven’” (Matt 10:32-33). There are such things as sins of omission. There is also a decided up-side: St. James tells us that “If any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20).
Catholics continue to represent approximately 22.8 percent of the total U.S. population. With more than 66,400,000 U.S. members, the Church is gaining 82,300 converts per year, this equates to one convert for every 807 Catholics. The vast majority of converts are the result of the efforts of the laity. Evangelization has simply not been a priority among the bishops and priests of the U.S. Of all the Christian groups in the U.S., Catholics show the least interest and make the feeblest effort in seeking to recruit new members for their faith.
U.S. dioceses are being forced to close churches and schools in great numbers due to dwindling financial resources, and declining Church attendance. During the last five years of his administration (1998-2002), Bernard Cardinal Law closed 22 parishes and lost 90 priests in the Boston Archdiocese. The Archdiocese with 2,083,899 members received a scant 403 new members into full communion in 2003. This equates to one convert for every 5,171 Catholics or one convert for every four priests. This is the worst evangelization ratio of any diocese in the country.
On May 25, 2004, the new Boston Archbishop, Most Rev. Seán Patrick O'Malley, OFM Cap. announced the closing of 60 additional churches. While there may be financial justification for the “reconfiguration,” closing parishes will only further alienate the faithful and reduce revenue. I submit that evangelization is the only way that these wonderful houses of life and prayer can remain open, alive, and full. The laity deserves to be given a chance to save their churches. We have seen the destructive results of liberal innovations and compromise. Due to Cardinal Law’s scandalous and inept leadership the Church is Massachusetts may be in its death throws, and the rest of the Church in the U.S. may be following close behind. Only the miracle of dynamic orthodoxy and strong leadership will turn things around. Rather than falling back in defeat, I would suggest that, we go on the offensive and develop and implement plans to re-evangelize the Church. It’s never to late.
One of the primary duties of a bishop is to spread the Gospel message, yet, not one U.S. bishop has a record of success in this area. When will we learn only dynamic orthodoxy breeds growth. The future of the Church in the U.S. lies in the hands of faithful bishops and devout laity. There is a vast army of devout, committed Catholics waiting for the Church leadership to send them into the fray.
What are the future prospects for re-evangelization? One way to look at it is to say, “There’s no place to go but up.” The twenty-first century may witness the zenith of a renewed and vigorous Catholicism in the U.S., it all depends upon the laity, led by fervent bishops and priests. Now more than ever, even when things look so miserable, we are in a position to build a Christian society that will be truly counter-cultural. The main element for the implementation of the new evangelization will be well-formed laity who will be the leaven that gives rise to the whole. With proper leadership, we will be able to harness this spiritual army to the task of bringing Christ and his saving truths to the churchless people of our land, we shall have taken the most important single step in the winning of America for Christ. We must be on fire for Christ. Anything less is just not acceptable
In the fall of 1951 Bishop Charles Buddy of San Diego inaugurated a diocesan wide evangelization program. For the first time in the history of the Church in North America, a bishop undertook the mobilization of his entire resources to reach every churchless family with an invitation to worship with us and to attend lectures especially designed to familiarize them with the teachings and practices of the Catholic Faith.
There were two noteworthy features of this program, the establishment of on Information Forum or Inquiry Class in every parish, and the enlistment of great numbers of the laity for the recruiting of prospects for instruction.
Bishop Buddy's pioneering work represents the most significant and far-reaching step in the history of the Church in America. His was a systematic effort to enlist every Catholic family in a diocesan-wide campaign to share their faith with some churchless friend or neighbor.
During November and December of 1951, and November and December of 1952, hundreds of Catholic lay people left their homes, offices, and places of business to go from door-to-door, ringing doorbells, and inviting the occupants to attend a Religious Information Forum. The evangelization effort resulted in 4,974 converts and 9,784 lapsed Catholics returning to the Church. 7% of the people contacted either returned to the Church or converted. Keep in mind that this effort succeeded with the help of men and women who had little training. They were not highly trained apologists for the Church’s doctrines. Their chief attribute was enthusiasm [Gk enthousiasmos, en + theos = God within].
Is it not time to reinvigorate our Church and our Nation? Imagine what could be accomplished with enthusiastic clergy support, proper delegation and the power of the Holy Spirit. This country could be set on fire for Christ. Nothing must stand in the way of Christ's imperative command, “Go into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Lk 10:2).
Half the world looks to America for leadership and assistance. As America goes, so goes the world. Evangelization is the best and maybe the last hope for America and the world.
© 2004 – Victor R. Claveau
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"There is, properly speaking, no liberalism in Catholic theology.
What does exist, even among the most orthodox of theologians.
is a certain amount of difference of opinion, of a minor character.
There are strict and less strict statements of the same doctrines.
The point to remember, however, is that they are always the same doctrines.
To be a Catholic at all a man must be orthodox."
-Theodore Maynard: Orestes Brownson, (20th cent.)