A 2008 Pew Forum study revealed that the fastest growing religious group in America is those who have no religion. One in six are not affiliated with any religious institution. Approximately 25 percent of cradle Catholics have left their faith (many studies have indicated that the second largest “denomination,” behind Catholicism, is ex-Catholics). Of those who are Catholic only 20 to 30 percent attend Mass on a regular basis. The stats speak for themselves.
But they do not tell the whole story.
It would be convenient to hide behind such stats and adopt the mindset of some that there is no turning back. That the secular onslaught we witness today will simply erode away the Church. But to adopt such a thought process would be misguided to say the least. Do we really believe that God has given up on His Church in the year 2011?
Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessors have consistently said “No” to such a hopeless mindset. They believed that there will be a new springtime of evangelization precisely because the world needs it in this post-modern era. At the closing Mass of World Youth Day Pope Benedict challenged the almost 2 million who were gathered to be God’s instruments for this new evangelization: “Friendship with Jesus will also lead you to bear witness to the faith wherever you are, even when it meets with rejection or indifference. We cannot encounter Christ and not want to make him known to others. So do not keep Christ to yourselves! Share with others the joy of your faith. The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God.”
Recently the office I direct (Office of Lifelong Faith Formation for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland [Maine]) hosted a special edition of the Hour of Power that offered participants an opportunity to gather for praise & worship (led by Jackie Francois), a testimony on the Eucharist (shared by Patrick Coffin), reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (we are so grateful to the priests who offered their whole evening to hear so many confessions), and Eucharistic Adoration. On a beautiful late summer night over 175 people (of all ages) filled the Chapel at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland for this evening of adoring the Real Presence of Jesus Christ and celebrating our Catholic faith. To say that the evening was inspirational is an understatement.
I couldn’t help but be moved in the very core of my being at hearing the words of one of the songs Jackie sung during Adoration. “I see a generation rising up to take their place. With selfless faith. With selfless faith. I see a new revival stirring as we pray and seek. We’re on our knees. We’re on our knees.” (“Hosanna” by Hillsong – click to see and hear Jackie leading us that evening.) All around me was a generation of young and old Catholics on their knees giving their lives over to the Risen Christ. A generation willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Gospel message. A generation who want to “share with others the joy of their faith.”
In light of our recent celebration of Catechetical Sunday, let us ask God to bless all those who come forward to share their faith through the ministry of catechesis. Let us pray that God uses all of our catechists — all those who teach and witness our Catholic faith to all ages — to share His truth, goodness and beauty in a profound way. Let us trust that the God of life, who continues to nourish us through the Eucharist, will continue to guide all of us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to enkindle a new springtime of evangelization in our diocese and beyond.