I know I have written several times on my own website that I believe one of the primary things Catholics (especially in America) suffer from is a broken ecclesiology. Or, in other words, Catholics don't understand what "church" means in the Catholic context.
Before getting to what "church" should mean for Catholics, let me identify a few things that it is not.
First, the Church is not a club. It is not something you join and pay dues to. You do not get a vote. If you're lucky, your parish priest may listen to your opinion before deciding to disregard it with his next breath.
Next, the Church is not a place to add religious expression to strongly held political views. For example, "liberal Catholics" may go to Church looking for a dose of the "social gospel" or "liberation theology" with it's emphasis on changing social structures in order to lessen the wealth inequality gap. They are not interested in hearing about sin, repentance, and personal conversion from a male dominated, hierarchical institution.
Conversely, "conservative Catholics" may go looking for some fire and brimstone! They want to hear about how Nancy Pelosi should be excommunicated, and how everything would return to "normal" if Catholics in the US would just go back to using the Baltimore Catechism. These folks don't mind the hierarchical institution model (as long as it confirms their views), and they don't mind hearing about sin, as long as it's not their own.
Third, the Church is not a meeting place for "do-gooders." There are plenty of people in the Church who do a lot of good in the world, but that is not what the Church is. It is not why it exists.
Fourth, the Church is not a hiding place. It is not somewhere believers retreat from the world, insulate themselves inside massive, stone architecture, and listen to medieval liturgy. I am reminded of a large sign I saw outside a Church in Pensacola, Florida. It read: "Enter to worship. Depart to serve." For every time we go to a church (i.e. a building), the expectation is we will leave soon after in order to fulfill the mission of being church.
A lot of things are blamed for the state of religious belief today: The Reformation, The Enlightenment, Modernism, Post-modernism, Secularism, and on and on. I can see how all of these things have contributed, with varying degrees, to the lack of religious fervor we are witnessing today. Wehave, as Cardinal George of Chicago once wrote, "replaced a provident God with the myth of human progress."
Today we see ourselves as controlling God along with everything else (e.g. nature, history, technology), and since we control God, He cannot make any demands on us. Religion has become a hobby, something we do for an hour on the weekend, in between going to sporting events, BBQs with friends, and mowing the lawn. Faith is a leisure activity, not a way of life. We squeeze it in where we can.
Now since God is powerless, going to Church (if we go at all) has become another weekend activity we do to connect with friends. Since other weekend activities are seen as on par with going to Church, more and more Churches refuse to mention anything about objective truth, because that would conflict with our feelings about our subjective freedom.
Therefore, some parishes devise plans to have people feel welcomed while, perhaps unintentionally, reaffirming their small ideas about the meaning of life. These parishes believe this will lead to people staying in the pews. Any assertion of authority or sermons about reforming one's life could be interpreted as overbearing, hostile, and offensive; therefore, they are avoided at all cost. Cardinal George states in his book, The Difference God Makes: "...we have focused too much on belonging and not enough on conversion."
So what should "church" mean for Catholics?
Going back a few generations, maybe 50-60 years, Catholics assumed if they disagreed with the Church, it was they who were wrong and needed to change. They believed the Church was right in calling them to conversion. But now we think we've brought God under our control, and changed our Catholicism from being a way of life to a weekend, recreational activity. We further reason, if God doesn't have any authority to demand we change, imagine how much less authority our bishop or parish priest have!
In an extended quote, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago writes:
The purpose of the Church is not just to counsel individuals, celebrate events, or be a voluntary association for people who like to spend their leisure time in that way and do good things together. The purpose of the Church is to tell the world with one united voice that an alternative way of life is possible, that we do not have to live in the despair that more and more marks our society. The purpose of the Church is to be the instrument of Christ's judgement and redemption of the world.
For all the talk about "change" we've heard in recent years, whether from our politicians or from progressive groups wanting to change the Catholic Church, there has been almost zero talk about changing the person we see in the mirror every day. Change will not come about because we reform institutions or get new leaders. Real change only comes about as a result of growing in holiness (i.e. conversion).
The Church exists to announce the need for conversion, and to aid people in growing in holiness through the Sacraments she offers. It's not a club, a do-gooder society, the religious expression of our politics, and it's certainly not a hiding place! Catholics desperately need to fix their broken ecclesiology and learn exactly where they fit in God's salvific plan.