Posted by: Thomas Richard | February 3, 2012

It’s Time to Wake Up! – Re-evangelization, Part I

Jesus sent His Church to “make disciples” (Mt 28:19). Pope Paul VI wrote that the Church exists to evangelize:

Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection.(1)

Is the Church evangelizing? Is she making disciples? Is she gathering new believers into the living Body of Christ, as Jesus sent us to do? Membership in the Catholic Church in America is growing, but not because of the evangelization and conversion of new members. The only reason that the Catholic Church in America is not in decline in membership, is because of the Catholic immigrants pouring in. Without them, our Church would be shrinking. In America, out of those adult Catholics born and raised in the Church (“cradle Catholics”), only 68% remain. Of the 32% who left the Church, 18% converted to some other religion and 14% abandoned “church” altogether.(2) This is dismal and shameful!

Many non-Catholic denominations and even non-Christian religions have the Catholic Church to thank for some of their new membership. About one in ten Protestants were raised Catholic. Over one in four (27%) who have no religious affiliation at all today were raised Catholic. Over one in four (26%) Jehovah Witnesses were raised Catholic. Or did you already know that from the many “former Catholics” now knocking on doors evangelizing you to join them in the Jehovah Witnesses? Even the Buddhists! Almost one in four (22%) Buddhists were raised Catholic.

To me, the most staggering statistic of all is this one: about one in ten (10.1%) of all American adults are former Catholics! Imagine looking out upon some large crowd of typical Americans at a ball game, or watching a parade, or shopping in a mall – about one out of every ten that you are looking at is a former Catholic! These 10% of all the adults in this country saw fit, somehow, to leave the Faith that Jesus died to give us, the faith held dear through centuries of martyrs who bled to remain faithful even unto death themselves. Something is very, very wrong.

Here’s my solution. I have a plan. Evangelize! Be Church! Let us wake up and do what God gave us grace and mercy to do: make disciples.

First step: before making new disciples, let us regather those who are lost. Let us knock on doors and ring bells and find the lost sheep, the ones scattered and astray, and shepherd them home again. If we could find and regather just those who left and have no connection with any church at all, the Catholic Church would grow by 14%! If we could help those who became Protestants to see the great blessings and treasure awaiting them in their return home as a Catholic, and they returned, we would grow by 18%! The harvest is plentiful – do we have any laborers?

We need to take the apostolate of seeking the sheep who are scattered, the “inactive Catholics,” more seriously. Didn’t Jesus teach about leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness to go out in search of the one that was lost? We have 32% of our flock wandering out there – almost a third – and they deserve to know that they are missed, and needed, and wanted and loved by the Lord and by their brothers and sisters waiting for them at home, in the Church.

In the next installment of this post, I’ll try to focus on some specifics, and posibilities.

(1) Evangelii Nuntiandi #14

(2) See the PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE, especially HERE


Responses

  1. Hi Thomas,

    Part of the problem, I believe, in North America we have become accustomed to fast food services, instant solutions to ordinary daily problems and expect the same principle to apply with the salvation of our souls. And, this is a formula for disaster and only a good Catholic Education will remedy this phenomena.

    I am in full agreement with your plan. My wife and I have been doing some evangelizing by giving out excellent audios explaining the Faith for many years.

    Gene

    • Hello Gene –

      How we do need good Catholic education in the Faith! If pastors would only realize this, real change could begin. But God knows it all, and as I have been reminded, “It is His Church!” He has begun to call us to renewal and reform, by way of our Popes and some few other voices here or there, but the fire has not yet caught. It will, I am sure, in His time.

      May the Lord bless your works and those of your wife! He will, and has. Holy charity is fruitful, always.

      Blessings,

      Thomas

  2. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for your “solution”. Of course, we know the Source of your inspiration, and we are grateful to read your “echo” of Jesus’ words: “Go… make disciples…” (Mt. 28).

    The call to “Wake up” reminded me of Pope Benedict’s book, “Jesus of Nazareth II” in which he wrote about the “drowsy apostles” and his Wednesday Audience just last week, in which he spoke “On the Prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane”. In his conclusion to that catechesis, the Pope said:

    “…Truly, “nowhere else in sacred Scripture do we gain so deep an insight into the inner mystery of Jesus as in the prayer on the Mount of Olives” (Jesus of Nazareth II, 157).

    Dear brothers and sisters, every day in the prayer of the Our Father we ask the Lord: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We recognize, that is, that there is a will of God with us and for us, a will of God for our lives, which more and more each day must become the reference point for our will and for our being. Furthermore, we recognize that “heaven” is where the will of God is done, and that “earth” becomes “heaven” — i.e., the place of the presence of love, of goodness, of truth and of divine beauty — only if on earth the will of God is done.

    In Jesus’ prayer to the Father on that terrible and wondrous night of Gethsemane, “earth” became “heaven”; the “earth” of his human will, shaken by fear and anguish, was assumed by the divine will, so that the will of God might be accomplished on earth. And this is important for our prayer as well: We must learn to entrust ourselves more and more to divine Providence, to ask God to conform our wills to His. It is a prayer that we must make daily, because it is not always easy to entrust ourselves to God’s will, to repeat the “yes” of Jesus, the “yes” of Mary.

    The Gospel accounts of Gethsemane painfully reveal that the three disciples chosen by Jesus to remain close to him were unable to keep watch with Him, to share in His prayer, in His adherence to the Father, and that they were overcome by sleep. Dear friends, let us ask the Lord to grant us the ability to keep watch with Him in prayer; to follow the will of God each day, even if it speaks of the Cross; and to experience an ever greater intimacy with the Lord — in order that a little of God’s “heaven” might be brought to this “earth.” Thank you.”

    May we heed Jesus’ words, the Pope’s urging and your own “echo”, Thomas, to “Evangelize” as the Church exists to do.

    • Dear Deborah,

      The drowsiness of the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus prayed in His agony, is an awesome reflection for us – a disclosure of our weakness and our fears. The mission of Jesus is frightening! It has been suggested that the drowsiness of the Church in these grave times is due to just that: fear.

      Perhaps that is why John Paul II so often exhorted us: “Be not afraid!” He called us to a New Evangelization, and he exhorted (or was it warned) us, “Be not afraid!”

      Thomas

  3. Thomas, Fear or lack of confidence really is the basis for so much hesitation in life…..”I cannot swim well, so I do not want to jump into the water…” I cannot cook well, so I do not want to try that recipe…” I don’t know scripture well enough, so I probably cannot defend my faith…” excuses, excuses, excuses….however, after a good dose of the “Richards vitamin/mineral regimen of concentrated scripture/catechism study” this lack of confidence will diminish. Something special was revealed to me before the Blessed Sacrament during my Adoration Hour on 25 January: THROUGH ALL THESE SCRIPTURE STUDIES, RCIA, AND WORK WITH THE CHILDREN IN THE CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, I know and accept that my mind (brain) is limited–my ability to absorb, remember, recall, memorize…..HOWEVER, my heart is unlimited and will continue to swell with joy and continue to swell as more of Jesus is revealed! How wonderful it would be to be diagnosed by the medical community with “an enlarged heart of Jesus!”

    • Thank you, Linda – and know that each one of us is small of mind compared to the immense and beautiful mysteries of God! But by His grace, our hearts can enlarge and soften to begin to express the love that we are sent to pass on.

      So we must persevere! He will do the rest, if we cooperate.

      Thomas

  4. Thomas,

    You and I have talked about this before. I would love to be part of Evangelizing our church but am still learning.
    Yesterday I attended a service for a friend who died last week. The service was at the Community Bible Church.
    I listened to a 45 minute sermon about their beliefs which boils down to the Bible and their interpretation . I had to listen to the Pastor mention religions that do not teach the Bible and I know he was talking about us.
    What you and Debra are doing for us is wonderful but what a small % of St. Peter’s members attend your sessions.
    Even though I have only been back for a little over a year and have been in your Bible Classes most of that time and have attended the Jeff Cavins, The Great Adventure ( The Story of Salvation) along with a few other St. Peter,s members I probably know more about the bible than many that have never left the church.
    What I am trying to communicate is that the Catholic Church needs increase their intensity on Bible Education. I hope our Catholic Schools are doing more on this than when I was a child going to religious instructions 2 times a week and never heard anything about the Bible.
    It seems the people that leave Catholicism that want to continue being active in a church go to one that is more into the Bible than we are.
    The Community Bible Church definitely perceives that Catholicism is not supported by the Bible even though we know it is. We need to have more of us that can intelligently defend our church and be able to show where each one of our challenged beliefs are supported by scripture.
    I know father Paul and Father Bob probably do not have the time but I think we need to hear more from them about this issue than we do.
    Something like what Father Tim did last year during Lent.
    The wife of my friend that died was brought up Catholic and converted to the Bible Church. In past conversations with her she came close to being defiant against the Catholic Church especially when I tried to explain where we get Purgatory from. She made it very clear to me not to even try to convince her there is Purgatory. I am afraid she is lost.

    Blessed,
    Fran Forcione

    • Hello Fran,

      Thank you for the post. First of all, though, always hope – and pray – for the salvation of all, especially and personally of those whom God has placed in our paths. He is able to do what is impossible for man – and we can trust Him completely.

      Concerning the need for adult continuing formation in the Faith – you have expressed a powerful and important sentiment here very well. You might consider expressing these thoughts personally, face-to-face, with your pastor. Imagine the transformations and the renewal of faith that could happen, if one whole parish came together in one mind and heart committed to evangelization – a work to begin at first within and then out-reaching to the secular world of unbelief!

      Thomas

  5. Thomas,
    The only conversion worth mention is an internal one – and the aid to that would seem to be a well formed conscience and knowledge of the scriptures. The key to the former is accepting the magisterium of the holy church. Knowledge of the scriptures requires careful study – which comes not from listening to charismatic preachers but from spending time with the word.
    The challenge we face in modern life is that both of these disciplines are contrary to our culture, which gives priority to individualism and celebrity and entertainment over silence and interior reflection.
    On any given Sunday, the largest Catholic congregation is at a nearby non-denominational Christian church. We need to believe in and witness the power of the most blessed sacrament in our lives if we are to re-evangelize our brothers and sisters.
    With Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ above me and below me … who can prevail against me?
    Keep calling us out from the darkness.
    John King

    • Hello John,

      Thanks for your comments. Reflecting on the needs of the Church, the answer for us all seems on the one hand so transparently simple!

      1) Meet Jesus, in that personal, transforming, life-changing encounter that calls for response.
      2) Respond, commit to being His disciple, following Him whatever the cost.
      3) Persevere, remaining in Him unto fruitfulness that remains.

      As has been said, it is not that Christianity has failed! This so-called “post-Christian” era reflects the sad fact that Christianity is so rarely attempted.

      Let’s persevere. This day, let us remain in Him.

  6. […] February I wrote a blog entry on the New Evangelization, It’s Time to Wake Up!, citing some of the shameful statistics of Church membership: we are hemorrhaging members.  One in […]


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