Have you ever been introduced as being a really good Catholic? Perhaps you have heard similar introductions and been discomforted by the words that felt more like faulty praise — and for many different reasons. False praise always sends a mixed message that nobody knows how to interpret. Considering that over a billion Catholics inhabit this planet currently, is it possible to differentiate Catholics from each other? By the way, the number of Catholics today has tripled since 1910 and represents “50% of all Christian populations worldwide ; 16 percent of the world’s total population; and a little more than twenty-four percent of Americans.” [http://www.livescience.com/27244-the-world-s-catholic-population-infographic.html] That’s great news! Imagine the good this large army of faithful believers could do if we shared a common commitment and dynamism.
Several years ago, a college freshman [attending a Catholic University] signed up for Philosophy 101 expecting to be taught authentic Catholic philosophy by a really good catholic professor. On the first day of class, the professor asked the students to state their religion of choice if they had one. Then the professor challenged the class with something to this effect: “If I do my job well, you will all question everything you believe in today by the end of the semester. Some of you will even completely change what you believe in.” The new student,incensed by the professor’s statement, immediately dropped the class without asking the professor what he really meant; creating more ill will between the two. But it is true that many Catholics live on the fringe while others are engaged and committed to Catholicism. But who’s who in the Church and why?
Archbishop Listecki, Milwaukee, explained it this way: “In business, the 80-20 rule is often used by managers to identify, then determine, which are the most important operating factors in a business to pay attention to. This rule asserts that 80% of a company’s revenue is generated by 20% of the total customer base.” [http://www.investopedia.com/terms/1/80-20-rule.asp]. Matthew Kelly, businessman and also CEO of Dynamic Catholic, assumed that this rule also applied to the membership within the Catholic Church, but after studying the dynamics, he found “the 20/80 rule was not the norm, but that it was actually more like 7/93. Kelly determined that 7 percent of Catholics in his estimation would be considered “dynamic Catholics,” which means that 7 percent are carrying the bulk of the load when it comes to contributing [money] and services performed in our parishes. In his book, Kelly further investigated what makes these 7 percent dynamic Catholics. In other words, what makes them tick, and what are the common factors of their commitment? He named four signs: prayer, study, generosity, and evangelization.” [Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki, Archbishop of Milwaukee. http://www.archmil.org/Our-Faith/Blogs/Archbishop-Listecki/JEL20131022.htm]
But why are some committed while others remain lukewarm — at best? Lukewarm is defined as being indifferent · cool · halfhearted · apathetic or unenthusiastic. Jesus taught [Revelation 3:16}: “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” He calls us to be dynamic Catholics rather than cool, halfhearted, apathetic, or unenthusiastic about God, His Truth and His Word or His Church. How can we effectively influence lukewarm family members and friends so they arrive at the understanding that their commitment to the faith is necessary in order that God’s Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven? Consider the following thoughts.
Centuries ago, the clergy ranked among the elite with regard to education, whereas the average lay person received little education. Consequently, people looked up to the clergy for both personal and spiritual guidance. And even though parents were uneducated, they seemed perfectly capable of passing on the faith to their families — which they did in large measure. Today, priests are no longer the most educated persons in town. Adults seem to have lost the sense that Father knows best. Perhaps that occurred proportionally to the numbers of educated lay persons. Universities offer a myriad of specialized fields of study that were unheard of centuries ago [within medicine, engineering, sociology, psychology, education, etc.] So many parents have advanced degrees but don’t /can’t seem to do a very good job in forming children of faith. What’s the problem?
As alluded to, the Church is not the only ‘institution’ to have experienced a loss of respect for their rightful authority — so too have parents. Perhaps parents have relied too heavily on expert opinion and advice while drowning out the simple advice/wisdom that comes to everyone who loves God, His Church, and others authentically. Interestingly, the loss of respect for authority coincides with this heavy dependence, respect for, and reliance on technology to save the day. Consider how we turn to expert opinion for resolving even rather simple family problems.
Yet, these same experts have helped erode the very authority of those who respect them so much — the parents. They do this by failing to honor and support the principle of subsidiarity. This principle contends “larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives or interfere in its life.” [CCC 2209] Society as a whole is bound to fully “support and strengthen marriage and the family” [CCC 2208-2209] because the family is the “the original cell of social life”.[CCC2207] Yet, nearly all fifty states have passed legislation allowing minor children to circumvent parental authority and consent in matters of sexual and mental health issues or procedures. Like the Church, parents less effectively exert rightful authority over their households. This has many negative consequences that disaffect family life [spiritual, physical, economic, emotional wellness]. On the other hand, parents who refuse to abdicate their authority to outside entities are often ridiculed as being too this or that [including being too Catholic].
Unfortunately, even the Church unwittingly cooperated with the erosion of their own authority and that of parents. They did this by setting up faith formation programs and educational systems which left parents out of the picture. Highly educated youth directors, CCD teachers, Catholic religious institutors and teachers were touted as more capable of forming the children and so many parents took a step or two away. Parents talked less, got less involved, taught less, evangelized less, knew less, became less informed, and expounded less about faith and morals to their own children. After all, when you teach something you have to know it more than the student you are teaching! The new youth director seemed more hip and better at it! Or so it seemed. Parents - in large measure — have lost the confidence to do their jobs well in these matters. They have also lost the sense that they are the most effective conduit by which faith and the moral life is passed on from one generation to the next. Statistics show time and again that parents are best suited to teach, impress, encourage, and form consistent hearts of faith. Therefore, few of us should be surprised that 93% of Catholics have grown lukewarm, disengaged, detached from their own religion of choice. They are no longer personally invested in having to further the mission and vision of the Church within their own family when everyone else seems to be doing it for them. Perhaps, therein lies both the problem and the solution.
Human persons yearn for attachment, purpose, connections, feeling appreciated and necessary. Using that premise, consider the following ‘solutions’ to our problem of detachment.
- Parishes should change things up; they should consider spending their time and money educating parents rather than children.
- Parishes should require parents to do faith formation programs at home. If parents want their children to receive the sacraments they must do the training at home. The children can be tested to insure they understand the material.
- All parishes should sign up for the new online Catholic networking system which allows their parishioners to access Catholic Answers CD’s, online books and other great reading/viewing materials regarding faith and moral life. Several parishes in Minnesota and Wisconsin have already become involved in this effort. Each parish pays several thousand dollars; in turn, their families have free and immediate access to really good Catholic information and resources.[The Word on Fire is another excellent resource]
- Pray daily with your children. Pick out books and materials to teach your children at home about the saints, virtues, moral living and choices, etc.
- Recommended resources: Word on Fire; the Magnificat; the Magnificat for Children; Parenting Against the Tide (my program) and Daughters Forever, Sons Forever by Linda Kracht.
- Fortifying Families of Faith will train parents so they can present Parenting Against the Tide to fellow parents in their areas.
- Try to get more involved in your parish if you are feeling lukewarm. Consider attending or signing up for 24 Hour Adoration; prayer groups, bible studies; social outreach programs; prayer shawl ministries; feeding the poor; funeral ministries; RCIA sponsorship programs; parish festivals, etc.
Recently, a priest friend talked about the dilemma of being assigned to a parish which was built without kneelers. When polled, a full 25% of the parishioners said they would leave before having to kneel during the various parts of the Mass. And so the priest backed off from his heart felt desire to install kneelers in the Church. I don’t think he should have backed off for reasons already discussed in this article. What say you? How does he lose more authority by backing off? What does he gain by backing off? How is this similar to parental authority?