Why does the Catholic Church always – and I mean always – lead the charge when it comes to bad stats. While my suspicions about the accuracy and balance of surveys and studies is known, I also admit that if the sources would appear to prefer a different outcome, and the story is confirmed across the board, it might be worthy paying attention to.
So in this case, we see that approximately one fifth of American Catholics are not tied to a parish. What does that even mean? Well, that would be like those Protestants and Evangelicals who consider themselves Christian, but don’t attend church. The difference is, I never knew the numbers of any denomination I was affiliated with to be that high.
Of course there is a cultural difference. The Catholic Church does treat things differently and approach things differently than other Christian traditions. But it’s not just this either. Time and time again, you see this or that study out that Catholics don’t believe basic Catholic teachings, ignore teachings on crucial issues (abortion/contraception), or don’t know what their own faith teaches far beyond what those in other religions and traditions kinow about theirs. Why?
I don’t know. But here’s my thought. Because 1000 years ago, when the Christian world was confined to a single civilization, and that civilization, while not entirely based upon Christian teachings, was nonetheless heavily influenced and centered around Christian teachings, the Church could administer the sacraments, teach those who wanted to be taught, and leave it there. Without tryinig, Catholicism was more or less in the air that Catholic breathed. For the next ten centuries, the Catholic Church didn’t appear to do much to change that dynamic.
Even in this century, we all know that Catholics were told that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Faith. We Catholics are a Sacramental people. It’s the Sacraments, stupid. OK. That’s fine. The Sacraments are those all important pit stops in our spiritual pilgrimage, the sources of energy and power that we have to keep going in our quest for eternal life.
The problem is, the Indianapolis 500 is not all about pit stops. I mean, drivers don’t get there and then go from pit stop to pit stop. Nor do they go to a pit stop once in a while and then leave for home. The pit stop is essential for racing, but it’s ultimately about the race, not the pit stop. The pit stops are there to serve the greater goal of winning the prize. And many things outside the pit stop, including practicing, the right car, the right crew, the training and knowledge of the crew, the funding, all go into a successful racing career. Oh, without the pit stops, you wouldn’t win races. They are life itself. But nobody in their right mind thinks that the Indy or any other race is just about the pit stops.
And yet, get down to it, and the Catholic Church continues to take this ‘we’re just here for the sacraments’ approach in a culture increasingly open about its hostility toward the Faith. A non-Christian culture. A civilization where, outside of the Catholic Church, where exactly are the faithful going to get anything BUT the Sacraments if the Catholic Church isn’t providing it?
The good news is that the Church is coming around, and seeing the need to cultivate an inner fellowship, an essential kerygma but also an absolutely crucial didache. Evangelism and teaching. Our culture isn’t going to advise people to check out the Church. And nothing in it is going to encourage people to live that Catholic life.
So while the good news is that the Church appears to be learning that you can’t take the Medieval European model for Catholic living and apply it to a post-Christian, secular hedonistic civilization, the change is, as can be expected, painfully slow. And as that giant ship lurches its way in a half circle to get to where it needs to be, no small number of Catholics are slipping through the cracks.