The recent Pew survey that indicates at least 1 out of 10 Catholics is in a lapsed state represents a serious concern for all American Catholics. The primary concern of course should include remedies that will incorporate these lapsed Catholics back into the theological fold. Repeatedly, the subject of attending Sacraments and most especially Eucharist is preached on Sunday. However, the message is going to the wrong ears. The ones we dearly miss and would like to see again in the pews are the 10% lapsed Catholics as indicated in the Pew report.

Such a number clearly indicates the need for internal Catholic examination of the reasons that contribute to this attrition from the Communion rail. One also needs to consider the effectiveness of the message that is being dispatched to the other 90% of us as well. While the deposit of faith does not need a makeover, perhaps methodologies and applications that educate the Catholic believer need such a makeover. Unfortunately, after either religious education classes or attending 12 years of Catholic education very little opportunity arises to deepen Catholic theological knowledge among parishioners. Of course, there is always the weekly homily, perhaps though something more dramatic and drastic needs to happen. That suggestion would be the fulfillment of the “New Evangelization” as proclaimed by John-Paul II with Catholics ministering to fellow Catholics. It seems one of the reasons that Protestant evangelism is so popular in the United States is because it presents a religious experience and a feeling of communal “belonging.” Maybe that is the spark of hospitality and spiritual development we need in our Catholic parishes on a broader basis. We need to feel welcome and that we belong.

A start to this process might include educational forums for the entire age span of Catholic parishioners without the burden of mortal sin or a pastoral chastisement. We need to educate Catholics on the art and science of being Catholic. That does not mean doctrinal instructions on faith issues; it is simply letting people participate in the theological treasury that the Church has to offer. Adult education quite honestly should fill Catholic educational facilities by evening, after the Catholic school children have gone home. A living parish has more involvement than the CYO basketball games, religious educational classes for sacraments and the Knights of Columbus. Catholic Churches need to offer more than just a pancake breakfast once a month and make the parish community the focus of social interaction with Catholic sacramental participation as the foundation.

While it is quite certain the local mall offers more of a lure for Catholic parish members, our parish communities need to become more attentive to the needs of the local people. Perhaps the 6:30 am Mass is impossible for working adults with parental responsibilities and employment issues…maybe 6:30 pm would work better for the local community. Perhaps a parish social each evening to just communicate with our brothers and sisters in faith…coffee, tea and conversation. Such an event might be a great igniter for not only discussion of Catholic concerns, but also a boost to vocations by seeing the local curate outside of the function of sacramental minister. We all hear about the shortage of priests to minister in our parishes. Yes, this indeed is increasingly true; however, mutual catechesis and evangelization can transpire over a cup of coffee or tea between Reverend Clergy and parishioners.

Education is also an integral factor in the new evangelization called for by the teachings of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI as well. As faithful Catholics, we need to be compelled towards the absolute love of our Catholic lifestyle through our actions, knowledge and activities. Being Catholic implies more than dropping your envelope into the collection on Sundays and running out the back door after Communion.

Seminars or informational events that explain Catholic issues such as the correct teachings on human life, proper Catholic political responsibility and the spiritual requirements of a modern Catholic are all vital points that would make great discussion groups. As we progress into the Church of the 21st century, we need to think outside of the usual structural framework as Catholics and offer an intuitive challenge to our faithful believers. Such a challenge might include dramatically changing the structure of our local parishes, perhaps making them smaller, maybe empowering other responsible Catholics to education and ministry or simply just making the parish feel…the light is on and you are welcome.

The light is truly always on in our Catholic Churches. Namely, the sanctuary light and it offers a bright message of Jesus’ Eucharistic Presence. In a similar manner, it also provides an invitation for all Catholics most especially the lapsed to come home and get to know your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Everyone is welcome!

Hugh McNichol is a freelance Catholic author that writes on topics uniquely Catholic. He writes daily @ http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com

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