It is the hope of Pope Benedict XVI that the Catholic Church will undergo a new evangelization. CNS photo/Paul Haring

A new evangelization can happen

By 
  • January 30, 2013

Late last year the National Post commissioned a survey on religious attitudes of Canadians. It will surprise no one that church attendance, both Protestant and Catholic, is dropping. What was surprising was how Canadians self-reported their attitude to religion.

Of those answering the survey, 65 per cent consider themselves “spiritual,” 50 per cent consider themselves “religious” yet 66 per cent said they believe in God. What to make of this?

First, contemporary mis-education has prevented many people from thinking clearly. If you believe in God, you are by definition “religious.” The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines religion as belief in a personal God “…entitled to obedience and worship.” So to say that someone believes in God but is not religious is to utter an oxymoron.

As for the 15 per cent who consider themselves spiritual (“concerned with sacred or religious things”) but not religious, well, they truly are remarkable human beings. They are like a self-described gourmand who never eats, or someone who professes to love travel but does not leave home, or a lover of theatre who has never seen a play that he enjoyed.
Of course, one might be spiritual and not go to church; that is possible. I suppose one might even be a Protestant Christian and never go to church. But one cannot be a Roman Catholic and refrain from attending church.

That’s because the catechism teaches that there is no salvation outside the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (published in 1994) expresses the point this way: “All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His body.” Again, none can be saved “who knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to enter it or to remain in it.”

Catholics have an obligation to attend Mass. One may attend Mass outside the physical structure of a church, but only a priest may consecrate the elements of bread and wine. For a Catholic to say that he is spiritual but not religious is what Dr. Johnson once called “nonsense on stilts.”

The priest who brought me into the Catholic Church never referred to the “obligation” to attend Mass. It was always, he insisted a privilege. And with him presiding, it always was. He prepared carefully for each service. His homilies were strengthening and he threw himself into every activity in the church with gusto. To my chagrin, I have discovered that this is not always the case.

Of course, I understand that one does not attend Mass because of the priest but rather for the opportunity to receive the sacraments. Still, it is difficult to be in a suitably receptive frame of mind to receive the sacraments when one is fuming inwardly at all that has gone on up to that point. Perhaps I am only now discovering the reality of what Flannery O’Connor meant when she wrote that one may suffer more from the Church than for the Church.

If the new statistics accurately portray Canadians’ religious attitude, what hope is there for the Church? Well, Pope Benedict XVI recognizes the problem; indeed he wrote extensively about this even before the year 2005 when he became Pope. He has called repeatedly for a “New Evangelization” with three components: (1) deepened personal faith; (2) renewed Bible study; (3) proclamation of the Gospel.

The Pope has said that it is the duty of every Catholic to proclaim the good news “with the same enthusiasm as the early Church” and he has taught that “the Gospel is not the exclusive property of those who received it, but it is a gift to share, good news to report to all.”

In this respect, buried in the statistics, is one nugget which allows for hope: 15 per cent of Canadian youth report that they are more committed to the faith than were their parents. Here is the potential spearhead of a new evangelization that can rescue the Church from the doldrums.

The new evangelization will not happen in parishes where the message is distorted, or where the priest is only going through the motions, or where the congregation trudge off content at having satisfied their obligation. But the message of hope from Pope Benedict XVI is that it can — and will — happen nevertheless.

 

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