Dear Pope Francis,
Other people have shared their ideas with you on how to bring more people back to the faith or into the fold. Their ideas vary from the predictable (evangelization) to the ludicrous (changing Church teaching). Today my son and I would like to urge you to implement two reforms that are nearly guaranteed to work, and which hardly cost anything at all.
1. Add More Sacraments
I understand that we’re or more less stuck with the seven we’ve got, but you are a Jesuit, so I feel certain you can find a way to work around that little obstacle. Here’s the situation: Everyone knows that Catholics really just want their sacraments and that’s it. Thus, whenever the topic of the New Evangelization comes up, the conversation invariably devolves into a debate about which confirmation age is best suited for snaring as many unsuspecting young people as possible into participating in the life of the Church.
This won’t do. It’s no fair to expect the Big Five to do all the work. (No one’s exactly weeping at the pastor’s door about being denied the chance to go to Confession, and though people make noise about opening up Holy Orders to more comers, generally if the prospect of celibacy doesn’t quash tepid vocations, the prospect of a lifetime spent trying to fund major construction projects by holding fish fries separates the wheat from the chaff.) What we need are more easy sacraments. Sacraments heavy on photo opportunities and reasons to go shopping.
Naturally we’ll frame them in a way that lets people feel like they’ve accomplished a major milestone, but without demanding any particular sacrifice or commitment. Do tone down the bit about how actually God wants everyone in the Church, and thus the fact that you have an immortal soul redeemed by the personal sacrifice of God Himself makes you just like everyone else. In these modern times, we need sacraments of specialness. We suggest you space the sacraments of specialness evenly throughout the normal course of human life, perhaps with a new s.o.s. every two to five years. You might get some ideas on what sells by visiting the mall.
2. Give Things Out at Mass More OftenIt’s well known that people come to Mass in order to get stuff, and frankly we’re not very choosy. As my son observes, on one of our best-attended days of the year, we’re giving out dirt. And not even a teaspoonful per person. Ashes, leaves . . . these things don’t cost much. Surely a little walk around the grounds will reveal other ideas for cheap things to give away. Perhaps we can hand out bits of gravel on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, or pinecones for St. John the Baptist. (I don’t know what the connection would be on that one, it just seems like it would work.) Sand? Tiny pieces of beach glass? Shredded newspaper? The possibilities are endless.
While we’re at it, have you noticed that people will stick around and stand in long lines in order to get their throats blessed after Mass once a year? Why aren’t we blessing cell phones on the feast of St. Clare, and bus passes on the feast of Pope St. Urban? This strategy could both improve attendance and discourage people from leaving immediately after receiving Communion.
Holy Father, we realize you are busy with reforming the curia and confounding the journalists, and that’s why we’ve chosen suggested reforms that will be easy for your men on the ground to implement. All we need to do is drop a few hints that the Church has a new sacrament coming out, or that we’re giving away free stuff next Sunday, and the parish phones will be ringing off the hooks with people calling to get the details. It’ll be like Good Friday and Easter wrapped up into one. How could you say no to that?
Wishing you all the best,
Your Faithful Friends.
Artwork: Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) (http://archive.org/details/livesofpopes01artauoft) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons