When it comes to Catholic religion, nothing will stick unless the believer has a relationship with Jesus Christ.
In our Catholic faith, we have an excellent liturgical heritage. We have 2000 years of liturgical development, helping us encounter and live the mystery of Jesus’ words, “This is my body.” There is a well-developed and beautiful tradition of Gregorian Chant and Sacred Music, as well as more recent additions of hymns and praise and worship music. We have beautiful churches (none more so than the largely empty ones of post-Christian Europe), and an amazing architectural and artistic heritage. We have within the Christian tradition the great works of the intellect. Christians started the universities in the Middle Ages (go check history if you don’t believe me).
Christians started nursing homes, orphanages, and hospitals. These did not exist before the Church existed. We have the example of countless saints, who strived for holiness and accepted the saving power of God in their lives to forgive sin. We have rich, rich devotions – the Rosary, the Scapular devotion, countless apparitions of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus (other saints too), Stations during Lent, and most especially Eucharistic Adoration. We can’t forget the healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well.
Yet, we struggle with the fact that, as we teach these things to generations of young Catholics, it all seems to bounce off of them. It doesn’t stick. They leave the Church, sometimes for another Christian community, sometimes for an Eastern religion, or Islam, or for none at all. What is going on?
I would offer the following observation: the Christian family has in large measure been replaced with a notion of family which revolves around material pleasure and the glorification of the self. It is not built to last, or pass on eternal values, because that is no longer the point of the family anyhow. It is now about self-fulfillment. This is the result of not being in a state of grace in one’s life, but it is also the result of general confusion and brokenness over multiple generations.
Also, we are at the end of a long campaign to discredit Christianity, and build up alternative secular structures to replace it. Sadly, we have to admit that this has largely happened. Our faith is a private affair in a world that says, “to each his (or her) own. Be tolerant. If you can’t, be quiet (worse words usually used).” What can we do, in a time when people are completely closed to us?
I believe that we can offer them Jesus Christ, and that is a lot! In fact, that is everything. Jesus is the one who loved us so much that He freely went to the Cross and DIED for us. Think about that! He died for you, for me. And He would do it every day if He had to, to set us free from sin. Let’s not forget that He conquered death and led it away in chains when He busted out of the tomb after 3 days, and Resurrected.
We can become members of His Body by being Baptized, and living an authentic life of grace and justice in the Church. Since we are in Christ, and Christ is alive, we are alive, and will never die! Since Christ is truth, we are in the truth! Since Christ is free from sin and death, we are free from sin and death.
We need to find every opportunity, every way, to get this message out to the streets. If people really knew the Jesus of the Gospel, and the Jesus of the Eucharist, how could they believe the lies about the Church? If they knew Jesus, how could they settle for the poor imitations of the world, and its evil practices?
It has been my own personal experience that Jesus makes the duty-bound Catholic’s religious practices come to life. Jesus brings back the worldly lost in ways that religious obligation and traditions never can. After Jesus, we can teach people about traditions and obligations that they really have no clue about whatsoever, and no context to understand.
How do we do that? How do we introduce them to Christ? It has a lot to do with being humble, being a servant, and basically, getting out of the way. It also has to do with love, and the willingness to take risk on another’s behalf. Seems simple? In a way, it is. But it is also very hard, because we have to put ourselves last. Are we up to the task? Let’s pray for an outpouring of the Spirit for this work.