I read an article in Sunday’s, January 8, 2017 Post-Gazette focused on Protestant Churches that lean on following the Biblical Literal interpretation of the bible as opposed to a more liberal interpretation and/or those who seem to follow those dictates. It seems that many who are choosing to adhere to a more liberal focus are dwindling as opposed to the more conservative groups who stick to the traditional teaching of Christ. Yet, in both arenas church attendance is diminishing too rapidly in relationship to the population growth and that is disconcerting to our ever-advancing society that appears to look for quick and uncomplicated results in all areas of modern life.
Let’s take a look at just what it is that may be drawing many well-intentioned church-goers away from their traditional denominations towards Pentecostal worshiping. It is my belief that a lot of these worshipers are starving for Jesus Christ in a way that no longer suits their fancy or interests in their traditional church. This does not mean they’re losing faith in God, the Church, or the roots they were baptized in. They’re losing touch from whom they are being fed spiritually, or to put it another way, not being fed at all.
At the Sea of Tiberius, after He was Risen, Jesus confronts Peter with a three-fold question: “Do you love Me? Feed my sheep”. Of course we understand the basic teaching on this from the Church; 1st Vatican Council defines this as Jesus gave Peter the jurisdiction of supreme shepherd and ruler over the whole flock. See footnote to Jn. 21: 15-17.
However, there can be a much deeper consensus that certainly would embellish these words to fit into today’s growing problem of people, in all denominations, searching for Christ in a meaningful way that will fill that emptiness that has appeared in the minds and hearts of good, honest, and sincere parishioners of our churches today.
In my reflection, “The Wilderness Experience” I touched on a three-fold exercise (some taken from Merton) covering Emptiness, Loneliness, and Dryness. In a contemplative way these extrapolations are necessary for a mind to find God in ways not usually followed by the common person. In no way am I suggesting these people who are searching in the remotest way to use this exercise. But, my point is when ever anyone is seeking God’s presence where they cannot find it in a subjective way need a new direction to follow, and this may be why so many are left empty, alone, and dry in their faith journey.
It is easy to see the pews are being emptied at an alarming rate within the mainline churches and one only needs to attend many denominational gatherings and mentally note some of the attributes that originally kept the churches crowded are no longer viable. What has happened? The music is the same, although some has become more modern, the teaching from Sacred Scripture is the same, although homilies/sermons are more in vogue with today’s events, and most clergy have become more down to earth reaching the people in a way that brings them closer to Christ.
So what has changed that no longer peaks the interests of those in the pews? Is the music enveloping our appreciation for the theme of sweet melodies that represent praise to God? Are the exhortations keeping pace with today’s fast-changing world and becoming inclusive with the teaching of Christ and our part in evangelizing the world outside the church doors? Do we find clergy and lay-people really promoting the Church in a way that is inclusive with the modern era we live in?
Perhaps we can answer all the above quips with a yes and no, to each. The music is good, but to some maybe too much in the past and for others too modern. The teaching is perhaps better than years past, but for some parishioners it strays away from a lot of literal interpretation and these may find it difficult to grasp without sound catechetical explanation. The new acceptance of evangelization may be strange to those who grew up in the church just attending Mass on Sunday, placing their envelope in the basket, and waiting for next week to arrive and like Ground-hog Day repeat it over and over and over.
We Roman Catholics have a bitter sweet situation. Our participation in the Holy Mass has never changed; that is the Paschal Mystery is the same: “Yesterday, Today, and Forever” from the words at the blessing of the Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil. It is impossible to add or modernize this most Holy and Meaningful celebration, and therefore the parts of the Mass which is perfect as in the Eucharistic Prayer are in them selves unchangeable and need no more enhancement. I once was in a parish where some meaningful women decided that the Table of Consecration wasn’t decorated enough. I came in and saw how they wanted to ensure that this table was outstanding in appearance . I just told them the Eucharist, the Mass, and all that occurred here did not need enhancement. The Holy Spirit, working through the Priest and repeating the Easter Triduum was enough for God. But, as Catholics we too need to adjust our music, teaching, exhorting and reaching out to the people in ways that do not detract from the real meaning but to find ways that may reflect in some way what the Pentecostals are doing to draw so many away. However, we cannot try to emulate their practices if in doing so takes away what we hold is sacred and with full meaning of our traditions.
This problem is universal and awaits a lot of thoughtful persons with a look to the future while maintaining a hold on the past. New ideas are crucial yet adherence to the feelings of those who helped grow the church must also be considered. It will be a challenge, and as Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles faced challenges we in the local church are challenged and must always rely on the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our quest to keep the traditions alive and promote growth as He will teach and guide us.