Being More Faithfully Catholic Is the Only Valid Response to Shrinking Numbers

Numerous surveys have documented the steady decline of religious belief in the U.S. and the rest of the Western world. The category of people known as “nones” consists of atheists, agnostics, and those who state that they are not affiliated with any particular religious denomination. There is little that unites them other than this lack of belief. In trying to bring others to the Catholic faith, we are not facing people with a single mindset but rather a bewildering and complex hodgepodge of stances and ideas; the “nones” disagree with one another as much as they do with us Catholics.

There is a simplistic perception that believers are losing ground to a united group of non-believers; this is not the case. We are losing ground, but to a host of disconnected groups/trends: atheists, agnostics, and the “spiritual but not religious,” as well as those who embrace Eastern religions, yoga, reiki, Wicca, Santeria, Wicca, Santa Muerte, and Satanism. There are also people who follow a syncretic religion, incorporating aspects of two or more different religions into a unique new one. The people we are trying to convert represent a mishmash of confusing and self-referential “movements,” some of which have a single member! Some who abandoned the Catholic faith did so in anger over a specific issue or teaching; others just drifted. Some oppose us intensely while others are merely indifferent. Almost nothing unites these groups except that none of them accept our faith.

This can be consoling, but it can also make our task more difficult. The consolation comes from the fact that is this not some strong, united force arrayed against us. If anyone in this non-believing “group” boasts, “We now outnumber you,” I would point out that there isn’t a lot of “we” going on in their supposed movement! Little if anything unites them besides unbelief.

Melanie McDonagh, writing in the Catholic Herald, describes a recent secular movement in England centered around the “Sunday Assembly.” In many ways this assembly mimics Sunday religious services: people sing songs, listen to a secular talk, and share coffee and fellowship afterwards. It turns out, though, that even this group is seeing a substantial decline in attendance. McDonagh writes,

Yet now, it would seem, the difficulties in maintaining attendance turn out to be common to believers and unbelievers alike. According to Faith Hill, writing in The Atlantic, “Sunday Assembly has reported a significant loss in total attendees over the past few years—from about 5,000 monthly attendees in 2016 to about 3,500 in 2018. … After a promising start, attendance declined, and nearly half the chapters have fizzled out ….” If it’s hard getting people to come to Mass when there’s the Body and Blood of Christ on offer, it must be far harder when you’ve got an unanchored community with nearly nothing in common. In fact, some Assembly members are agnostics and others are atheists, so even the absence of religion doesn’t mean unity.

So, it is not really a case of “us versus them.” Rather, it is more that we are against something no more cohesive than a morning mist as the sun rises.

While this may be consoling it also illustrates the difficulty of our response or strategy. Apologetics has always been multi-faceted: Catholic vs. Atheist, Catholic vs. Agnostic, Catholic vs. Mainline Protestant, Catholic vs. Evangelical, and so on. In the current quagmire of highly subjective denominations, the decline in belief resembles more a death by a thousand cuts. While certain commonalities may exist among the myriad varieties of unbelief and designer deities, it has become clear to me that the best thing we can do in response is to be the Church, clearly and unambiguously; we must be clear in our doctrine and identify ourselves as Catholics to others. St. Paul says,

We do not lose heart …. We do not practice deceit, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by open proclamation of the truth, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:1-2).

 What we certainly do not want to do is to follow the example of the mainline Protestant denominations, who have comprised nearly every doctrine and moral teaching to please the world rather than God. In the same article, Ms. McDonagh memorably describes some Protestant sects

[they] slid from non-conformity to Unitarianism and eventually to mere political activism. Unitarianism, in fact, strikes me as the American way of doing agnosticism, or at least deism—a way of being religiously observant without having anything in particular to observe.

What could be more useless than to become the very thing we set out to convert? How can we convert the world by becoming the world? What distinguishes the Protestant denominations and their teachings on moral issues like sexuality, marriage, and the value of life? One might argue that they stand against greed and for social justice. Those are not controversial stands in the liberal West, which loves to trot out such things as a form of virtue signaling.

No, I think that the best and only way forward is being fully, faithfully, and joyfully Catholic. There is still a place for arguments and apologetics, but in the era of competitive atheism and consumerized belief, being “happy customers” of the Lord Jesus and insisting on no cheap substitutes or imitation brands is our best way forward. This may seem bold or hard in an age of never-ending scandal and disappointment with our leaders. However, those are examples of not being Catholic enough or of living in outright contradiction to the Catholic faith. Be Catholic, joyfully. St. Teresa of Calcutta is purported to have said, “Joy is a net of love in which you can catch souls.”

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Being More Faithfully Catholic Is the Only Valid Response to Shrinking Numbers

4 Replies to “Being More Faithfully Catholic Is the Only Valid Response to Shrinking Numbers”

  1. The older I get the more faithful I become. I am not sure if one is responsible for the other but it solves half the problem.

  2. Numbers. We see the numbers go down and we panic. But it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the hearts.

    So many people look to “Evangelize” people – protestants, fallen aways, so-called ‘nones’, but they consistently miss the one person they need to evangelize…

    How can we bring anyone to Catholicism and expect them to stay when so many of our brethren are little more than doctrinal mouthpieces? When do we realize we need to be a community worth joining?

    I can be right all day long, but so what? How is that attractive to anyone? Honestly, in the long run it’s just plain insufferable.

    …Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

    Everyone looking to evangelize should ask themselves this question: “Why am I Catholic?” I mean, we have a choice, so why do we choose? From there we should begin the only conversation that matters, the one with the Lord. He will do the rest. He may move us to go out, or He may move us to stay behind and build up. But He is the first cause, not us. We are merely his instruments.

    Bottom line, anything we do apart from Him will fall flat, and that does nothing for our numbers.

  3. Then the answer is total consecration of oneself to Jesus through Mary as outlined clearly by Saint Louis Marie DeMontfort. This consecration is an act that is life changing. My entire family has made this act again and again always ending on the formal consecration on a Major Marian feast day. Our Dear Blessed Mother takes this offering of oneself very seriously and obtains the life changing Graces from her son for the soul to not only be deeply converted and continually converted to her son but assists daily on a walk to become a Saint. Striving to live each moment for the Glory of God and keeping the Commandments, learning the faith, living the faith and assisting our Lord in the salvation of souls which is really what is most important. First our soul then our neighbor’s.

  4. Religion and spirituality are coping mechanism that teach life skills, morals, and social skills. Religion teaches a “life of faith” where people live on faith and not by sight. Religion brings families and communities together to cooperate with each other with the net effect that strangers help non-family strangers for moral reasons. With all of the safety nets that have been institutionalized since the 1930s such as social security and the welfare state, a lot of the need for a “life of faith” has gone away. Also, the reserve banks across the world print new fiat money as long as they have barrels of ink and a supply of more cotton paper. When money had a hard currency value, life was a lot harder. You actually had to earn your living exchanging valuable goods and services in a tough, demanding market. Fiat money has taken away a lot of that incentive. That changed after all the industrialized countries went off the gold and silver money standards. This started in the 1930s and was complete by the 60s and 70s. In 1965, a US silver dollar was worth one dollar. In 2019, an ounce of silver sells for $17 paper dollars in the coin shops. That’s a pretty good indicator of how much fiat money has been pumped into the economy.

    The young people I know that have divorced themselves from religion use “science” as an excuse and an acceptable “plan B”. Science has given us nifty gadgets like cell phones and digital watches, but it proves out to be a dry cracked cistern when someone tries to use it as a personal life and moral philosophy. Young people can’t understand that when they look at the dazzling array of nifty gadgets science and technology have given them.

    The cornerstone of Christianity is the Word of God. For over 100 years now, liberal religionists have been debunking the Word. They teach that the Word is not inspired and God-breathed at all. They teach that the bible is merely words about God, not the spoken literal Word of God itself. If that is true, then the scriptures are just an invention of well-meaning but misinformed ancient peoples with little relationship to the realities of life in the 21st century.

    Bible based New Testament Christianity is a high investment religion. Jesus meant it when he said to “take up your cross and follow” and to “count the costs”. Young people these days want an easy walk and way without any burdensome crosses or costs. They expect to live as they please and sin as much as they please and somehow still make it to heaven, since after all, we are saved by grace. There are a lot of “comfort preachers” in “seeker-friendly” churches that will serve up that form of apostate religion. After all, we all want our “best life now”. New Testament Christianity requires you to pay the price to love, obey, and follow Christ. This price can even be as high as your own life. To do less is a life of compromise, “the broad way that leads to destruction”. Young people have never heard this sort of gospel in their liberal church pulpits. Conservative preachers are increasingly reluctant to preach this sort of high investment religion, since they tend to lose part of their congregation each time they do.

    The biggest decline in attendance in churches and investment in religious belief is among liberal churches. These people do not believe that the bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of the Living God. Conservative people still believe this, though their children and grandchildren are having a harder and harder time buying into this belief system. If what the liberal preachers are saying is true, the Christianity and its bible are just one more mythology and one more ancient belief system. It is hard to lay down your life for a myth.

    The declining interest in Christianity and morality is one of the biggest proof signs that we are living in the end times. Jesus said in his discourse on the last days in Matthew 24 that “…iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). We are living in the last days. The “thief in the night”, pre-tribulation rapture is about to happen. Get ready, the Lord is coming soon.

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