I don’t know if you had a chance to see it a few weeks ago, my blog on what I called “markers” of our faith?
Apparently quite a few of you did, to judge from the feedback!
In that posting, I just wondered aloud if we Catholics, over the last forty-five years, had tossed too many “external markers” of our Catholic identity out the window. The one example I mentioned was abstinence from meat on Fridays, as I reflected a bit on the decision of the bishops of England to restore that Catholic custom.
Not that these “external markers” – such as, for example, holy days, feasts, fasts, saints’ names, genuflection, holy water, candles, bowing one’s head at the Holy Names of Jesus, Ember Days, First Fridays, First Saturdays, frequent confession, parish allegiance, novenas, devotions, only to name a few other such “signs” of Catholic identity — are of the essence of the faith; or, not even to deny that excessive attention to them could cause superficiality. No, I just asked if we have lost some spice from Catholic life with their departure, and noted that scholars of religion report that such exterior marks of membership help make a religion cohesive and attractive.
I’m just wondering if we leaders in the Church are trying to attract people by making things easier. As one of my friends tells me, we’re too much into “Catholic lite.” And it’s backfiring, I’m afraid. I hear our Catholics tell me, “We don’t want Catholic lite; we want to be “lights to the world!”
Yes, a lot of Catholics are leaving the Church. This is a monumental pastoral challenge for all of us. Why do they leave?
The studies tell us that some who leave us just give-up any faith at all;
Some others who leave Catholicism join a religion they might consider more “liberal” or “modern” than the Church;
But, get this: most who leave the Catholic Church to join another religion, end-up as members of a church considered stricter or more conservative!
I just got back from a “high” of World Youth Day in Madrid: 1.5 million young people from every continent, race, nation, and language, for five uplifting days, with Pope Benedict. These young people want “the real thing,” not Catholic lite!
While there, I had the honor of presenting a teaching at a different church or site in Madrid to English-speaking youth on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning. After each teaching, I celebrated the Eucharist with my new young friends, usually 500-or-so strong. (On Friday, and then at a special Mass Saturday morning, it was even more, as we were in a sports arena, 15,000 strong.)
Now, to get back to my point . . . On each of those four occasions, the same interesting thing happened spontaneously. Each Mass was jammed; there were young people in every corner, up-and-down aisles, in balconies, even outside the space. Backpacks and sleeping bags added to the tight squeeze.
The planners of each Mass — wisely and thoughtfully, when you think about it — printed in the Mass booklet, and even announced before Mass, “Look, it’s so jammed in here, and you are all so hot and tired, why don’t you just stay seated during the Eucharistic prayer.”
Very practical . . . very wise . . . let’s make this simple and a bit more relaxed. Let’s “lighten-up.”
What happened? I’ll be darned, at all four occasions, all the hundreds, thousands of youth still knelt! They wanted to kneel in adoration! They didn’t want it simple or practical! They didn’t mind the challenge! They wanted it!
I realize it’s a trivial example, a little thing. Maybe I read too much into it. But I wonder as well if once again our people — our young people — are telling us something:
“We don’t like ‘Catholic-lite.’ Don’t pander to us! Call us to greatness! Call us to heroic virtue! Remind us that following Jesus calls for sacrifice, and that we long for ways to let ourselves, and the world, know that we are different. Don’t make things simple! Don’t cater to convenience!”
Jesus summoned us to be a “light to the world.” Nothing “lite” about that.
Have we put this lantern under a basket? Have we turned light into lite?