Wednesday, November 9, 2011

About the Hidden Exodus

I really have mixed feelings about this: "The Hidden Exodus". On the one hand, I can sympathize in that my own personal experience of parish life over these last 10 years has been lacking in the sense of family/deep connectedness that I felt both as an evangelical and Episcopalian.

I also understand the tension between adapting church services to be more appealing by contemporary popular standards and our duty to preserve authentic Christian liturgy.

But Fr. Reese of course takes the opportunity to take potshots at the new translation and the Vatican. I also wonder if the survey was framed in such a way as to tend towards those results.

I personally am of the bent that our faith should be challenging us. If it is not, there is something wrong. It is a call to live holier lives, and that's never been easy, certainly not in our culture today.

As a former evangelical Protestant, I can say that I do miss the evangelical bent--tis partly why I have become a lay member of the Order of Preachers, which is evangelical ("apostolic") to the core.

I also agree with the observation that encouraging a love of Scripture is important--we naturally crave the Word of God. Oddly enough, you'll hear more Scripture in the typical mass than you do in a typical evangelical service, but it's instilling a love for personal time with the Word that seems to be missing.

Another point where I think Fr. Reese diverges from the data for his own agenda is claiming that it's not that things are too liberal that draws people away. That probably comes from not having been evangelical Protestant himself--they are basically all conservative and take living the Faith and receiving it for what it is (not manipulating it to suit the zeitgeist) as a key motivating factor in their lives. The 46% who say the Church doesn't take the Bible literally enough--seems to me this is what they're getting at.

I reflect back on the sermons I heard growing up and those I've heard since becoming Catholic, and I can say pretty confidently that a key part of the sermon *every week* was a challenge to ongoing conversion and to go out and LIVE THE GOSPEL. On average in a Catholic homily, my experience has been that few challenge you, few stir that burning in your heart, few have any lasting impact at all. I have heard some, but on average, there is a great difference in this respect between evangelical Protestant and Catholic preaching. I think it's primarily this calling to conversion, holiness, and living the Faith without compromise that people find attractive when comparing these two, and it sounds like the data reflect that, even if framed in different words.

Well, then there are those who do want us to be more in practice like the rest of the world--the "liberal" and "mainline" denominations. I just don't get that approach to Christianity. It doesn't make sense to me at all. Well, I think I understand why people feel the desire to retain vestiges of a religion they feel attached to somehow, but as far as I'm concerned, if I didn't believe what a religion teaches, I just wouldn't join/stay in that religion. It's the only integral thing to do. I don't believe in Buddhism or Islam's creeds; ergo, I am not a Buddhist or Muslim. I don't just pick the things I like that fit with popular culture and say I am.

But as the data reveal--people don't make religious choices based on reason alone (or sometimes at all). I get that. But I digress..

So really, what I wanted to say was that I'm not sure what the right way forward is. A certain amount of adaptation makes sense and has always been the way Christianity has thrived--avoiding syncretism, most of the time. At the same time, Christianity is an historical faith; it is based in real history--a real Person, a real Truth, a real Church that has preserved and handed on what it has received. We can't just reinvent it or whitewash it so much that it looses its true character.

It does seem we maybe erred too much in the Catholic Church these last 40 odd years in the direction of adaptation, so I tend to think that a certain amount of readjustment and alignment, even if a bit awkward, is the right next step. Will the new translation magically make people return to the Faith in droves? Of course not, but that doesn't make it irrelevant or wrong. It is one piece of a big puzzle.

The data are there--we know people feel their needs are not being met. The solution isn't to totally change who we are or adapt the Faith so much that it is indecipherable from modern secularism and popular culture. It seems to me the only right way forward is indeed to recapture and preach the Gospel in its entirety and to practice it as such, in as much as we are able. Sometimes it will align with popular culture, sometimes not, but as long as it maintains its integrity, it will be clear about its value and people will be drawn to it.