Discernment – What Is Your Mission – Part 6 – A Spiritual Reflection
On December 16 – 17 … BRING YOUR DEVICE (iPhone, Droid, iPad, tablet, whatever… ) TO MASS ! See why below.
So, I’ve been writing about discernment from various perspectives for several weeks now. How about discernment specifically about St. Monica? Two years ago, we hired Jason Carter to focus on ministry to families, fellowship and youth. We have taken care of parish finances and addressed issues with the buildings. Earlier this year, we did a parish-wide spiritual assessment (the “Disciple Maker Index” of DMI) which provided us with detailed information about what St. Monica parishioners believe, what our faith “attitudes” are and how that translates into specific spiritual, liturgical and pastoral behaviors (on not…).
As I outlined in a number of recent blog posts, over the past year-and-a-half, a group of parishioners met with me on a monthly basis to read the “signs of the times,” take an honest look at where St. Monica is now and – most importantly – discern where the Lord wishes to take the parish in the future. Over the next few weeks, I shall begin to slowly reveal what we looked at, prayed about and discussed.
On the weekend of December 16-17, at all of the masses, I shall go over what we plan to actually do. I shall have a slide presentation prepared but I shall also post the presentation on line. Thus you can follow along on-line “live” on your electronic device as I speak.
We started out by taking a candid look at the American Catholic landscape. Studies showed that 38% of Catholics hold on to their Catholic “identity” but seldom/never attend Mass. Only 30% of Americans raised Catholic are “practicing” (defined as “attending Mass once/month”). What was interesting was that ½ of those who do not attend weekly, are at Mass any given weekend. Their connection is tenuous. They might not come often, but they’re still coming. The implication is that when they come, that the quality of their experience needs to be significant in terms of the preaching, the music and the hospitality (or “homily, hymnody and hospitality”). More on this later.
Finally, 32% no longer consider themselves Catholic. We dug deeper into this number to find where they are or where they went. We found the following: 3% are now part of a non-Christian faith (Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, ..). 14% are totally “unaffiliated” with any religion. 15% are now part of some Protestant faith tradition, often evangelical, non-denomination or mega-church. Here’s the money quote: “The best indicator that a baptized Catholic would attend church on Sunday is if they become Protestant.” When the Discernment Group applied these figures to St. Monica, we found that approximately 600 “former” St. Monica parishioners might be attending Christian services elsewhere. Compare that to approximately 800 parishioners who currently attend Mass every weekend. Imagine the vibrancy of our worship, and how the transformation of the parish would be, if we suddenly added 600 more people every week.
Why are they leaving the Catholic church and going to other Christian denominations? Protestant/Evangelicals are highly attuned, and configure their churches and worship, to the spiritual mobility of postmodern Americans. They are constantly considering how to reach out to friends and neighbors who are not attending services on Sundays. In the classic “reformation theology” idea, they believe that every person has a personal decision to make in terms of their personal relationship with Christ (i.e. “Getting Saved”). Catholics, on the other hand, assume religious identity and faith is largely “inherited.” It can be “passed down” through Catholic Schools, Religious Ed/PREP, youth programs, ethnic heritage, etc… Catholics also assume that religious practice remains stable throughout one’s life. We saw this in the DMI results where many faithful parishioners have attended Mass for years but don’t read the Bible, never attended a retreat, have never gone on a pilgrimage or other spiritual event and have done little to nothing to grow their faith beyond where they were post-college. Since the Renaissance, the Catholic Church has been highly influenced by the power of education. The strategy was that, through childhood catechesis and sacramental initiation, faith and religious practice would be passed on to our young people. Unfortunately, studies have shown that CCD, Youth Groups, Catholic Grade – High School make little or no difference whether or not American teens stay Catholic. The “Eucharist” will not bring them back. Sacraments (like when they want to get married) will not bring them back. Sacraments “for their children” (like Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation) will not bring back the parents/adults nor does it guarantee continued faith practice of the children after they have receive the sacraments.
So what are the “drivers” of faith growth and religious practice? One of the strongest ones is that Mass attendance depends on a person believing in the possibility of having a personal relationship with God. The sobering related statistic is that 48% of Catholics have declared: “I don’t have personal relationship with the God I supposedly believe in.” This is more pronounced with younger vs. older Catholics. Millions of Catholics do not realize that an explicit, personal relationship with Christ, eventually leading to personal discipleship, is “normative” according to the teaching of the Catholic Church as well as numerous pronouncements by Pope Francis. People need to have this relationship initiated and encouraged (i.e., “be evangelized”) first – then Sacramentalized – then catechized. We’ve done it in reverse, especially with our young people! [The Discernment Group looked at these trends and asked, “Ok, what are the implications of these for current – and future – faith growth initiatives and religious education practices at St. Monica?]
On a more optimistic note, millions of non-Catholic Americans are “seekers.” They are searching for some kind of a “religious identity.” These are potential new parishioners. Many of these “seekers” are Catholic, although they are not yet sure about a “personal relationship” with God. These are Catholics who are just on the verge of experiencing Jesus Christ and a faith life that just “takes off.” [The discernment group asked the question: “What can we do at St. Monica to encourage this?]. Finally, there are large numbers of people who self-identify as “Catholic” even though they were never baptized, confirmed or received First Communion. They find something about the Catholic faith (the art or music, the teachings, the social justice, Pope Francis…) that is so attractive and compelling that they often, or even regularly, attend Mass. [The discernment group asked the question: “How can we identify them, determine what attracts them and then encourage them to take the next step in their faith journey?]
We’re dealing here with ideas like “spiritual journeys,” different types of “vocations” and various spiritual levels (also known as spiritual “thresholds”). We’ll examine those ideas next week.