Monday of the 3rd Week of Advent

Are we “Losing our religion”?  According to this video from CBS News, the answer is yes.  The reporter cites some disturbing statistics from the Pew Forum that about 1/5 of the US population claims no religious affiliation.  ”

“Researchers call them “The Nones” – those who check the “none” box when asked to describe their religious affiliation.  And they’ve more than doubled since 1990.”  Surprisingly, in spite of their TV presence and their enormous “mega churches”, our protestant brothers and sisters have suffered the largest decline.  For the first time in history they make up less than one half of the population.  Of course, for those of us who prefer to see the glass as half full, Pew’s research shows inversely that 4 out of 5 Americans do claim to belong to an organized religion.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that one out of three Americans between ages 18 and 29 call themselves “nones”, not a positive trend for the Church.

According to the video, students said “they believe in God, but agreed organized religion has largely failed to adapt to a changing culture.”

Ah, there’s the rub.  Religion hasn’t adapted to the changing culture.  In other words, the Church, who proclaims the truth as Jesus taught it, should change the truth to reflect what’s happening in the world today.  “Thou shall not kill” should be changed to something like “thou shall not kill UNLESS the life in question is undesirable or inconvenient.

The Bible’s teaching on marriage, as handed down in the very first book of Scripture and confirmed by Jesus Christ, should be changed to better fit today’s secular approach that marriage, if necessary at all, shouldn’t be limited to one man and one woman.  The Church is just so out-of-date.  Maybe a new sermon on the mount might contain the phrase, “if it feels good, do it!”

I hate to be one of those people who refer to the past as some “golden age” but when I was young (not so long ago in my mind) couples who were “shacking up” as we called it, tried to keep it a secret.  We also called it “living in sin”, which is an accurate description.  Today it’s not only acceptable, it’s not even the exception.  An engaged couple who aren’t living together are seen as some kind of “religious fanatics”.  I’ve even heard of instances where parents encouraged their adult children to move in together.  Having a child “out of wedlock” was once considered shameful.  Now it’s commonplace.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t fault the “nones” as much as I fault the “feel good” churches, including the Catholic Church, who have been preaching a watered-down Gospel for years.  We’re very good at arranging protests in front of the abortion clinics, but when was the last time you heard a good pro-life homily?  How many of us who prepare young couples for marriage demand that cohabiting men and women separate until their wedding date?  Our premarital testing instrument even has a special section for these couples.  What kind of message is that sending?

The CBS video should be required watching for every minister in every church in America.  The US Bishops recently issued a document on preaching where they call for every priest and deacon to do a better job of tying the day’s readings to the lives of the people in the pews.  I hope every one of us who dares to preach has read it and will follow it’s teachings.  Here in Saint Louis, we are very fortunate.  The priest who teaches homiletics taught me just about everything that’s contained in this new document.  Most important is that we not be afraid to preach the truth as Jesus taught it, and not as the “changing culture” teaches it.

We are still in shock from the tragic event that took place last week in Connecticut.  I couldn’t help thinking that as they led the children from the school and asked them to close their eyes so as not to see what had gone on, that most have them are not unfamiliar with such mayhem.  They see it every day on television.  Unless a child isn’t allowed to watch any TV, including the evening news, chances are that he or she has seen more people killed in their young lives than anyone should have to see.

In fact, for the millions of American kids who play video games, they’ve committed virtual murder themselves more times than we’d care to count.  Is it any wonder that mass murders, as tragic as they are, are becoming commonplace in our “changing culture”?

Even worse, as tragic as the senseless killings in Connecticut are, and it is indeed a terrible tragedy deserving of the world-wide media attention that it’s getting, every day hundreds of unborn children are killed before lunch by people called “doctors” with no media attention whatsoever.

No, the Church doesn’t need to adapt.  The Church needs to stand firm and preach the Good News of the Gospel as Jesus taught it.  It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think people are falling away from the Church because the Church is old fashioned.  I think they’re staying home because they hunger for the truth.  If they don’t get it in Church, why should they go?

The obvious answer for Catholics is the Eucharist.  But if we’ve failed to teach that Christ really exists in the bread and wine consecrated by the priest, then that’s not going to bring them to mass either.  I’m very afraid that our poor teaching of the basics of our faith is what’s driving people away.

And, lest we put all the blame on the Church, don’t feel like you’re off the hook here.  If you are a faithful Catholic; if you believe everything the Church teaches; if you can’t wait to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; why aren’t you spreading the message to everyone you know?  When is the last time you encouraged someone who you know has fallen away from the Church to come to mass with you?  If you found a great new restaurant you would want to tell your friends about it.  If you saw a great movie, you’d recommend it to everyone you know.  Why would you hold back on sharing the great gift of salvation with everyone you care about?

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