Massaging the Message
As summer draws to a close, many parishes are beginning their RCIA programs. For the uninitiated, RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a process where people interested in the Catholic Faith can ask questions, grow spiritually, and come into the Catholic Church if they so desire, typically at the Easter Vigil. For the second year in a row, it appears we will have no one attend the class at our parish.
Before he left his pontificate, Pope Benedict invited all Catholics to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. This New Evangelization calls us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel and proclaim it to the world. This past week, our faith enhancement class got into a discussion of why so few Catholics in our parish attend Eucharistic Adoration. Even Sunday Mass attendance is down. If Jesus Christ really becomes present on our altar each week, why do so few people seem to care?
The hunger for Christ is evident in our community. In a small town where the main street is beset with empty buildings, a number of storefront ecclesial communities have sprung up. Other non-denominational groups in the area seem to be doing well, judging by the number of cars in the parking lot. What are we Catholics doing wrong?
Perhaps it is not so much that we are doing something wrong. We are not doing enough. In many ways, our parish is the lamp under the bushel basket. Despite having the most conspicuous edifice in town, we attract little attention. Our faith expression is introverted. We display little enthusiasm for the Church in our community. As a faith-based family, our parish is somewhat dysfunctional. Some members have become disgruntled for one reason or another, choosing to attend Mass elsewhere. Some committees have become inactive.
A Catholic who truly understands and appreciates the office of the New Testament Priesthood, realizes that personality or homiletic talent are secondary traits of a good priest. His God-given power to confect the Holy Eucharist trumps all human character flaws that may make him less personable than one may like. Yet the reality is that likability of the priest can impact the viability of the parish. This is true not only of Catholic parishes, but most ecclesial communities. Dynamic non-denominational pastors can attract large numbers strictly by their charisma or preaching style. The delivery can mean more than the message when it comes to filling the pews. Catholics cannot choose their pastor based on his likability. In fact, they have no choice in the matter at all.
A local radio station airs a weekly sermon by an area preacher who happens to be a very good speaker. I enjoy listening to him on Sunday mornings while getting ready to go to Eucharistic Adoration. His parking lot is probably full. A couple weeks ago, he spoke about how to successfully share the gospel. He used the example of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John, chapter 4. He asked how Jesus engaged this woman in conversation. He did not begin by telling her she was going to hell. Instead, He asked her to give him a drink of water.
The preacher’s point is well taken. We gain converts, not by talking down to them or being blatantly critical. We need to treat people as if they were created in the image and likeness of God, which of course, they were. If we conduct our lives joyfully as Catholics living their faith, people will naturally follow. Taking the opportunity to share our faith when the opportunity arises can bear much fruit. The Holy Spirit will do the heavy lifting if we simply open the door.
Being able to share our faith requires us to know our faith and know it well. That takes study and continuous formation. Simply attending Mass once a week and daydreaming through a perhaps not so good homily is insufficient. We need to lift that bushel basket, allowing light to shine throughout the community. Accomplish this by taking advantage of all the different types of media we have available today. Be visible by participating in local events, such as festivals or public service. Get priorities in order. By all means, work to heal divisions within the parish. Uniting all Christians begins with uniting our own households.
Last week, one of the regulars at our faith enhancement class lamented the fact that she felt ill-equipped to pass her faith on to her seven year-old son. Having been away from the Church and poorly catechized as a child, she wondered how her son would ever learn to love the Catholic Faith when his only religious education comes from a ninety-minute weekly CCD class. Today, she texted me saying she and her son would not be able to attend Mass or CCD this Sunday because he has a Pop Warner football game.
When I was growing up, no organizer of kid’s sports would have ever considered scheduling games on Sundays when they could interfere with church attendance. My mother let me know at a very early age that going to Sunday Mass took precedence over everything else. All Christian parents should take a firm stand against organized sports on Sundays. If enough parents placed God above football, the organizers would get the message. To do otherwise sends a terrible message to our children.