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“The Church Exists to Evangelize.”

 

Victor R. Claveau, MJ

 

The State of the Church in the United States

 

Today’s world certainly fails to reflect 2,000 years of Christianization. As a secular society we, in America, are beset with numerous moral challenges; the list seems never-ending.

 

An examination of the daily news media will suffice to show the rampant decline of morality in the United States. Atheistic materialism is not only condoned by our political leadership, it is broadcast on network television, screened in Hollywood movies and is created on Madison Avenue. The majority of our current political leadership, duly elected by the will of the American people, have supported and defended the wanton destruction of tens of millions of innocent victims on the altar of abortion XE "Abortion" . U.S. foreign aid to third-world countries is usually predicated on the sterilization of the populace.[1] Deviant sexuality is flaunted in gay-pride parades and pornography, which dominates the Internet and sold openly, is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. The state and federal prison populations are overflowing and the criminal justice system is overloaded.[2] Abortion, usury, divorce, drug abuse, child abuse, gang-warfare, drive-by shootings, murder, theft, white-collar crime, racial and religious hatred, euthanasia, and, in my opinion, the greatest threat, unnatural forms of birth control, are all indications of the secularization of America. The failure is not found in Catholic moral teaching, but in the loss of the missionary spirit, which, at one time, both permeated and invigorated the Church.

 

According to the most recent (2010), statistical data released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), during the past ten years the Catholic Church in the U.S. has declined by 5,846 priests, 761 brothers, and 22,270 sisters. During this same period, 1,278 parishes were closed, and currently 18.93% of parishes are without a resident priest pastor. Additionally, the percentage of U.S. Catholics declined from 22% to 21%, which equates approximately 800,000 souls. Alarmingly, only 22% of Catholics attend Mass one or more times per week. The only positive statistic in the report was the gain of 4,271 deacons.

 

30 million Americans now identify themselves as “former Catholics”. “These losses, however, have been partly offset by the number of people who have changed their affiliation to Catholicism (2.6% of the adult population), but more importantly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S. The result is that the overall percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic has remained fairly stable.”[3] Growth is desired, — stability, is an indictment against our leadership.

 

There is but one answer to these numerous challenges. Only the Gospel message, broadly and enthusiastically proclaimed, has the power to change attitudes, and guide individuals from destructive paths towards holy lives and eventual righteousness before God.

 

On Evangelization in the Modern World

 

In 1973, ten years after the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI called together the third Synod of Bishops to discuss the subject of Evangelization. One year after the close of the Synod, the Holy Father summarized the results in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, On Evangelization in the Modern World (published December 8, 1975). Although written 35 years ago, the document is equally relevant today.

 

The key statement of Evangelii Nuntiandi can be found in paragraph 14: We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists to evangelize.

 

The Holy Father also indicated that evangelization is the responsibility of every Catholic, not just priests and religious, “The command to the Twelve to go out and proclaim the Good News is also valid for all Christians, though in a different way” (EN 13). …“Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole” (EN 15).

 

Evangelization is a Two-step Process.

 

Evangelization must be a two-pronged effort: 1) Evangelization must first be directed towards both the un-churched and non-Christians; and 2) it must focus on the existing Catholic community by providing proper catechesis, liturgy, and opportunities for community interaction and participation.

 

The primary responsibility of every priest is to evangelize, catechize, and administer the sacraments, in that order of accountability. Evangelization is to be the top priority. Without evangelization, there will be no souls to catechize, and without proper catechesis, there can be no administration of the sacraments. Our parish congregations are dwindling and graying. Without dynamic evangelization, there may come a time when there will be no one at Mass or to receive the other sacraments.

 

The Primary Role of a Pastor

 

“The evangelization of non-Christians who are present in the territory of a diocese or parish is entrusted, as a primary responsibility, to the respective pastor with his community. This apostolic duty requires that the bishop should be essentially a messenger of faith, and that the priests should work with all their strength to preach the gospel to those who are outside the ecclesial community, committing themselves personally to it and involving their faithful in it, in collaboration with the missionaries… It follows that every priest should have a clear missionary conscience, which makes him fit and ready to devote himself effectively and generously to the preaching of the gospel to those who do not profess faith in Christ. The priest is in a special way a ‘missionary to the world’” (Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Pastoral Guide, II, 7, June 1989, 4).

 

Go and Make Disciples

 

In November 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published The National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States, entitled Go and Make Disciples, which set forth three goals and their objectives.

 

89. Goal I: To bring about in all Catholics such an enthusiasm for their faith that, in living their faith in Jesus, they freely share it with others. [Catechesis]

 

104. Goal II: To invite all people in the United States, whatever their social or cultural background, to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ so they may come to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith. [Evangelization]

 

117. Goal III: To foster gospel values in our society, promoting the dignity of the human person, the importance of the family, and the common good of our society, so that our nation may continue to be transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ. [Social change]

 

While the National Plan was well written, I submit, it did not go far enough; it simply laid out objectives. It did not suggest or recommend methods on how to accomplish these goals, and as a result, the goals have not been realized. A practical plan of evangelization is desperately needed.

 

Although a good number of dioceses have an office of Evangelization, their focus is primarily on catechesis, in other words, keeping Catholics Catholic. Very few dioceses have an ongoing evangelization program even remotely aimed on bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold or target the more than 100 million un-churched Americans. 

 

Unfortunately, Bishops have Job Security.

 

The Peter Principle is the principle that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle.

 

A priest should be required to demonstrate his leadership and management competence before he is entrusted with a miter and shepherd's staff.

 

Recently, I conducted a statistical review of each of the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States and shared my findings with a number of the most notorious bishops. A few examples in particular come to mind.

 

During one bishop’s seven-year tenure, while the diocesan population grew 37,700, his administration resulted in the loss of 33 priests, the closing of 14 parishes, and the loss of 31,362 Catholics — 8.76 of the Catholic souls placed in his charge. An evangelization program focused toward non-Catholics and/or lapsed Catholics was non-existent. In 2009, there were only 48 people received into full communion. This equates to less than one (.37) new reception per priest, or one for every 2,346 Catholics. After this disastrous performance, the bishop was transferred (promoted) to a diocese four times larger.

 

During another bishop’s seven-year tenure, while the diocesan population grew 21,362, the bishop’s administration resulted in the loss of 31 priests, the closing of 25 parishes, and the loss of 30,184 Catholics — 3.4 of the Catholic souls placed in his charge. Once again, an evangelization program was non-existent.

 

I wrote Most Rev. Richard Malone, Bishop of Portland, Maine,* three letters, — each a bit more candid. In the last correspondence I wrote, “While the general population of the diocese grew over 42,000, your first 5 ½ years as bishop resulted in the loss of 20 priests, the closing of 42 parishes, and the loss of 29,548 Catholics —15.73% of the Catholic souls placed in your charge by the Holy Father. If you worked in the secular community, a corporation would have fired you long ago. You closed 42 branch offices, lost 20 top salesmen, almost 16% of your customer base, and have done little or nothing about it. I realize that the Church is not a business, or corporation. If souls were not at stake, there would be little urgency on my part. The Church exists to save souls; each of which is so incalculable to God that we cannot afford to lose even one.” (I did not expect, nor did I receive a reply). Bishop Malone is Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

 

Unfortunately, these examples are not exceptional as 69.89% of Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have either declined or had zero growth over the past ten years.[4] Why has not the Vatican taken to task American bishops who have categorically failed in their primary responsibility to evangelize? Where is the accountability on the part of the Holy See?

 

The fact remains that Bishops are stewards of souls, who will one day stand before the Master to give an accounting. Referring to those who aspire to be bishops, St. John Chrysostom wrote, “The loss of one soul carries with it a penalty which no language can represent. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value, that the Son of God became man, and suffered so much, think how sore a punishment must the losing of it bring!” (Homily III: Acts I. 12).

 

Evangelization

 

In 1940, there were 44,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today there are about 7 million, with over 1.1 million in the U.S. Their annual growth is about 3.1%. JWs put in 230 million hours preaching in U.S. and 1.5 Billion hours worldwide in 2009.

 

Worldwide, there are over 13 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, as they are commonly known. In the United States, the LDS Church is the fourth largest individual denomination with over 5.5 million members. The growth of the LDS Church is exponential and among the fastest of any denomination on the planet. In the last 50 years, membership has increased ten-fold. For the last 15 years, an average of 800 people have joined the LDS Church every day. Obviously, this extraordinary growth rate is the result of the efforts of between 50,000 and 60,000 volunteer missionaries serving at any one time. Approximately 75 percent of the church’s proselytizing missionaries are young men between the ages of 19 and 26.

 

Conversely, the Catholic Church in the United States, with more than 68.1 million members averages only 340 members per day.[5] Imagine, what could be accomplished if the Catholic Church in the United States had 50,000 to 60,000 evangelizers serving at any one time? If Catholics possessed equal zeal, we could change the face of the country and the world. The Catholic Church is the necessary vehicle for social and spiritual reform. Through religious conversion, people will join a larger community bonded together by faith in God. With proper and dynamic 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. Evangelization is the best and maybe the last hope for America.

 

A Nationwide Survey

 

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.

 

A nationwide survey was conducted some years ago by Catholic Digest Magazine. They surveyed a cross section of people representing 75.9 million people in the United States. Two questions were asked:

 

  1. "Have you ever tried to get anyone to join your religious group?"

  2. "Did you ever succeed in getting anyone to join?"

 

The replies of Catholics, representing 20.6 millions, showed that 72% had never even tried to get anyone to join the Church. Of the 28% who tried, only 17 % succeeded.

 

In contrast to that feeble effort, the replies of all the Protestants, representing 53.3 millions, showed that 59% had definitely tried. Of these 43% succeeded.

 

The chief difference between the two groups in convert-making effectiveness, however, is that the percentage of Protestants who try to win converts is more than twice as large as the percentage of Catholics. Very few Catholic Americans concern themselves with winning of souls for Christ.

 

The result of this survey further indicated that for every four Protestants there was one convert. For Catholics the numbers were 250 to 1. As poor as those numbers were, today they are even worse. The statistics for the year 2009 indicate that the Church with more than 68,115,000 U.S. members is gaining less than 81,775 new receptions per year. This equates to one convert for every 833 Catholics.

 

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. This is why we are traveling at such a snail’s pace. If every Catholic layperson really tried to share the Faith with a churchless friend, we could bring in several million converts per year.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches evangelization is necessary for salvation: “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: "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. Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation 1816).

 

There is also a decided personal up-side to evangelization as St. James tells us, “If any one among you wanders from the truth and someone 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” (Ja. 5:19-20).

 

There is No Middle Ground in this War for Souls.

 

Rev. 3:15-16 states: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”

 

There is no standing still in mid-stream: advance or decline is the law of nature and of life. We are seeing a blatant attack on all that Christianity (Catholicism) stands for, and those leading the attack know exactly what they are doing. Unless we strive to reverse this trend, the forces of secularism and irreligion will continue to lead us into the ever-widening abyss of paganism.

 

How is this Work to be Done?

 

Can. 787 §1 – By the testimony of their words and of their lives, missionaries are to establish a sincere dialogue with those who do not believe in Christ, so that, taking their native character and culture into account, ways may be opened up by which they can be led to know the good news of the Gospel.

 

There is no way that a small band of 120,000 priests and religious can accomplish the task of evangelization. Many of our priests and religious are absorbed in the work of administration, and few are able to participate directly in the evangelization movement. Yet, nothing must stand in the way of Christ’s imperative command to go and teach all nations. In addition to the small number of priests and religious, there is a mighty army of over 68.1 million Catholic laymen and laywomen, who represent a tremendous source of missionary power.

 

The San Diego Campaign for Souls

 

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 this country, 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; (1) The establishment of on Information Forum or Inquiry Class in every parish, and (2) 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, 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. It is noteworthy that these men and women were not trained as apologists; they were not to attempt to answer questions dealing with Catholic doctrine. Their task was to convey an invitation.

 

Results of the two-month San Diego Campaign:

 

  • 111 parishes participated.

  • 251 priests were involved

  • 95,054 non-Catholic homes were called on.

  • 95% of the time the campaigners were welcomed.

  • 6,118 expressed interest in learning more about the Catholic Faith.

  • 1,946 actually converted

  • 4,784 fallen-away Catholics returned to the Faith.

 

Most significantly, 7% of the people contacted either returned to the Church or converted.

 

That the first year was not a fluke, the next year netted 3,028 converts and reclaimed 5,000 lapsed Catholics. Total for the two years — 4,974 converts and 9,784 lapsed Catholics returned to the Church.

 

Catechesis

 

Recently, I was asked by the editor of a Southern (Catholic owned) Christian magazine to be a monthly contributor. I sent three articles, on the subjects of artificial birth control, the abortifacient nature of the Pill, and the link between the Pill and birth defects. I was informed that the articles were “too Catholic”. The editor stated that he did not want to offend the sensibilities of the magazine’s subscribers, but what I believe he meant was too much truth might hurt the bottom line. Unfortunately, I believe this attitude also affects the Church.

 

Survey

 

An extensive 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details statistics on religion in America and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape. Based on interviews with more than 35,000 “Catholic” Americans age 18 and older.

 

The results of the survey:

  • 16% of the respondents believe that Catholicism is the only true religion.

  • 56% consider religion “Very Important”.

  • 72% believe God exists.

  • 38% do not consider the Bible the Word of God.

  • 21% read Scripture at least once per week.

  • 39% say Bible not to be taken literally.

  • 77% believe in an afterlife.

  • 60% believe that hell exists.

  • 58% believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

  • 19% believe that there is more than one way to interpret Catholic doctrine.

  • 45% believe that Abortion should be legal in all/most cases.

  • 45% believe that Abortion should be illegal in all/most cases.

  • 51% believe in bigger government, more services.

  • 77% believe that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. (23% believe in situational ethics).

 

Certainly, the above beliefs demonstrate the inadequacy of current catechetical programs. Proper catechesis directed toward the current generation of Catholics is a most significant priority, which needs to be realized.

 

Orthodoxy Breeds Dynamic Growth.  

 

Most people live in a cocoon of their own making, and believe they are secure. As long as society’s evils, do not affect them on a personal level, they are content to look the other way. They see little or no harm in unnatural forms of birth control, and do not want to hear anything to the contrary. Don’t rock the boat is their motto. Yet, 50 million babies have been surgically aborted since Roe v. Wade and since the advent of the Pill, as many as 300 million more have been aborted by hormonal forms of birth control.[6] How can anyone be so naïve to think that this has not had a major effect both on individuals and society as a whole? Few priests speak of these issues.

 

People deserve and want the truth, warts and all. The Church was divinely established as the avenue of salvation for sinners. She must not be judged by the conduct of her members but by the quality and truth of her teaching.

 

Too many Catholics see little difference between creedal Catholicism and the doctrinal beliefs of the myriad of Protestant denominations, and this, I believe, is why we are hemorrhaging members. Millions of Catholics have joined Protestant evangelical and fundamentalist sects, having found insufficient challenge or meaning in Catholic practice. Ironically and sadly, the U.S. is now considered a “mission country”. The Catholic Church in America cannot ignore the wanton secularization of America without paying a dreadful price down the line. The day is fast coming when the government will control the Church in America.

 

A Few Recommendations for Bishops and Priests.

 

We must recognize that most, post Vatican II priests lack training as evangelists and apologists. During the 1950s, seminaries taught 4-year courses on evangelization and apologetics. Such courses are rare today. Extensive courses in these areas must be reintroduced to seminary training. For the ordained, there is no reason why a priest cannot familiarize himself with the basics of these subjects, as materials are at his Internet fingertips. Bishops can convene priestly convocations to re-familiarize priests with Catholic apologetic teaching. It may take many years to dig ourselves out of this pit, the sooner we begin, the better.

 

Years ago, it was the priest who conducted inquiry or convert classes. Today, the laity usually handle this task, and many are not qualified to do so.

 

Parish priests must not allow themselves to be bogged down in administriva. They must delegate to qualified laity all duties, which keep them from their primary tasks of evangelization, catechesis, and administering the sacraments. There is much talent in the pews and most are anxious to help.

 

It is imperative that priests get personally involved with the youth of the parish. Properly motivated towards Christ, these young adults will be the catalysts, so desperately needed, to rebuild the Church. Parishes with teen and young adult apologetics classes are thriving, and such classes are a wonderful breeding ground for religious vocations.

 

The first law of history is not to dare to utter falsehood; the second, not to fear to speak the truth” (Pope Leo XIII, quoting Cicero[7], Public letter, 1883). Quit watering down Catholicism in order to make it palatable to the masses. Souls are being lost because of the timidity of our priests and catechists. Catholicism is the one true Church and we need to be shouting this fact from the rooftops, not hiding it under the proverbial bushel basket. In the end, truth will triumph.

 

The foremost question in the minds of prospective converts, entering RCIA programs, is “Why should I become a Catholic?”  RCIA programs need to emphasize the uniqueness of Catholicism and answer this primary question. The same question is asked by many of our laity and needs to be addressed.

 

Challenge the laity to learn. In this age of communication, a defense of invincible ignorance is simply untenable.  ...ignorance is said to be voluntary, when it regards that which one can and ought to know...And ignorance of this kind happens, either when one does not actually consider what one can and ought to consider; this is called 'ignorance of evil choice,' and arises from some passion or habit: or when one does not take the trouble to acquire the knowledge which one ought to have…” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Treatise on the Last End – Question 6, Article 8).

 

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11). Sunday after Sunday, teach with every homily. Many people leave the Church because they view Catholic moral teaching as arbitrary, or because they do not understand that the Church speaks for God. Concrete justification for Catholic belief must be presented in well-thought-out homilies and adult education classes. Do not underestimate the intelligence of those who worship, in truth and in light.

 

Priests must celebrate every Mass, conscientiously, in accordance with liturgical norms, as though it is their first and their last. A priest who celebrates Holy Mass incorrectly becomes a distraction. It is far easier to celebrate Mass correctly than to be a “gong or a clanging cymbal.” Jesus and his followers deserve no less.

 

The Catholic Church is the necessary vehicle for social and spiritual reform. The Church is the only moral force in the world today that teaches the truth in these vital areas. Only she can declare it with conviction and consequently win the acceptance of right-thinking individuals. Through religious conversion, people will join a larger community bonded together by faith in God. The zeal for souls, which characterized the Church, must be recaptured, if there is to be any hope for America and the rest of the world.

 

First published in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November 2010

 

* On Aug. 10, 2012, Bishop Richard J. Malone became the fourteenth Bishop of Buffalo, N.Y.

 


[1] The premise is that if families are kept small they will have disposable income to spend on U.S. consumer goods.

[2] According to the latest available statistics from the U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are 2,183,333 (2007) million people on probation, 767,000 in jail (2010), 1,610,584 in prison (2009) with 3,254 of these are on death row (2005) and 828,169 on parole (2008) for an approximate total of 5,389,000 men and women criminally involved in the justice system in the United States. Source: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm

[3] Source: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports.

[4] Catholic Almanac, 2000- 2010.

[5] Catholic Almanac, 2010, Adult baptisms and new receptions.

[6] Kumar et al.; “Infant Homicides through Contraceptives”; International Pharmacists for Life; 5th edition, 2003, pp. 42-43.

[7] De Oratore, "On the Orator", Cicero, 55 BCE, (II.62-64)

 

 

 

 

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