I just finished a book called “Prayers for the Assassin” by Robert Ferrigno. It’s a book that I found quite upsetting. The story takes place in the not-too-distant future when the United States has been taken over by the Muslims. Nuclear blasts have destroyed New York City, Washington DC, and Mecca. The capitol of the Islamic States of America is in Seattle, WA.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the book to me is the fact that the “Catholics” are pretty much outcasts. Not the Methodists, not the Presbyterians, but specifically the Catholics. Apparently Catholics have converted to Islam at an amazing rate leaving the Catholics at a distinct disadvantage.
I find this timely because a recent survey of American religious beliefs found that 65% of Americans consider themselves Christians. On the one hand, you might say that’s good news. Two out of three of us worship Jesus Christ in one way or another. Or, you could take the half-full approach and say that one in three of us don’t.
Here’s the thing that worries me. At the hospital where I minister, patients are asked by admitting for their religious preference. This is strictly a guess, but I’d say that between 80-90% say that they’re Christian, either Catholic or one of the protestant denominations. That’s a huge majority. But, when I visit these patients, a fairly large number of the self-proclaimed Christians admit that they don’t practice their faith. Often I’ll hear something like “I was raised Catholic, but I haven’t been to church in 30 years.” On average, I’d say that these nominal Christians might be as much as 20-25% of the total. Sadly, more often than not, the non-practicing Christian is/was a Catholic.
So, based on my highly non-scientific experience, if 65% of Americans say they’re Christian, but 20-25% of them haven’t seen the inside of a church in decades, then practicing Christians are just 49-52% of the population. I’d say this is a problem.
In just over 200 years our nation has gone from virtually 100% Christian to a state where Christians are just barely a majority. If this trend continues then the book I just finished isn’t so far-fetched after all.
It’s time for us, as Catholics, to take a good, hard look at our own faith. What happened to our Church to cause such a high number of defections. The teachings haven’t changed though I think the quality of teaching has declined, not just in our schools and PSR programs, but at home, too.
One of our eighth-grade confermandi was overheard at this month’s PSR mass to say “Thank goodness that’s over. We don’t have to go to mass again until confirmation.” Shouldn’t the weeks just before the final sacrament of initiation be the time when our faith is the strongest? This young person’s comment doesn’t bode well for his/her future faith life. It definitely doesn’t reflect well on the teachers and the parents who are supposed to be preparing our young people for a life of faith.
Of course, the $64,000 question is this: What are we going to do about it? Jesus told us that the faith would endure. Even the gates of hell will never prevail against it. Remember, when Jesus said this, you could fit all the Christians in the world in a college football stadium with room to spare, and they were subject to much persecution, even martyrdom. Are we headed back to those times? I don’t know.
What I do know is this. If we’re lackadaisical about our faith, what kind of example are we setting for others? If we’re embarrassed by the label “Christian” then we’re not likely to attract new followers, or even to keep the numbers we have now.
I think I may have said this before on this blog, but if you find a new restaurant that has excellent food, great service, and reasonable prices, aren’t you going to tell your friends? Aren’t you going to recommend the place to everyone you know? Might you not even ask a good friend to join you there for dinner? The answer to all three questions is a resounding “yes”.
As Catholics, we have access to food that’s greater than any earthly meal regardless of the price. We have the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, offered up for our sins, able to bring us to everlasting life. If you’re not encouraging the people you love to join in this feast, you’re not much of a friend, are you?