Recently I read about a Catholic monastery in Quebec that is being converting into a Harry Potter theme park. The facility, which was once a thriving community of almost 200 prayerful monks, is now devoid of faith: no more monks, no more priests, no more Canadian Catholics who are interested in keeping the place open. So, it’s been sold to a company that thinks the beautiful old buildings look at lot like the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and they’ll try to attract hordes of Harry Potter fans.
Commenting on this story, the well-known online blogging priest, Fr. “Z”, made this observation: “Christ promised that the Church would prevail over all the attacks of Hell. However, he did not promise that the Church would survive where YOU live.”
That’s true. The Church founded by Jesus 2,000 years ago spread around the whole world, and at every moment since then there have been places where the Church is vibrant and thriving. But there are other places where the Church once was vibrant but now is dormant. For example, Catholic faith is on the verge of collapse in western Europe, and it is certainly in decline here in North America. Although Jesus promised us that the Church ultimately would be victorious, he did not promise that things will be peachy at every time and in every location.
A couple of days after reading that story, I attended a funeral Mass. The man who died was a very faithful Catholic who attended Mass every week. In the front pews at the funeral were about 20 to 30 of his descendants, his children and their spouses, and the grandchildren. During Mass, it became clear that none of them were familiar with the basic structure of Mass. They needed to be told when to stand and when to sit. They pretty much seemed confused the entire time.
As I sat there in the church, it struck me: “Wow, this is like that monastery in Quebec. All the faithful people are dying off, and the new generation is just not interested anymore.”
So, we have to consider the comment made by Fr. Z. Although Jesus offered a general promise that the Church ultimately would be victorious, will the Church survive were we live?
Mass attendance is way down; parishes are being closed or merged; and young people, born and raised as Catholics, are walking away from the Church in droves. In another 30 years, will all of our parish church buildings be like the Quebec monastery, converted to secular functions, such as restaurants, office space, daycare centers, or theme parks?
Maybe. It’s happened before. Maybe North America is next. Maybe in a couple more generations the Catholic Church will be a distant memory in this part of the world.
However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of the Catholic Church has been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the number of people who take their faith seriously is dwindling. Yes, the secular culture is becoming outright antagonistic toward the Church, with believers being increasingly ridiculed and scorned. But a student of Church history will notice that oftentimes the faith of believers is most vibrant when Christians are in the minority and the Church is marginalized and even persecuted.
So, it’s possible that the Church may be on the verge of an amazing revival here in North America. There are two reasons to be optimistic: First, Jesus is the head of the Church, and He promised He would never leave us or forsake us. And secondly, the Church has the answer to society’s biggest problems. If you haven’t noticed, as people have become more secular and more prosperous, they have become more miserable. Suicide rates are up, drug addiction is rampant, families are disintegrating, and depression and anxiety are commonplace.
Jesus and His Church offer the solution to our culture’s emotional pain: true forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven.
Despite Harry Potter theme parks and closed parishes, I fully expect an amazing revival in the Church here in North America. The Good News of Jesus Christ is the message a desperate world truly needs. It may go out of style at times, but it is the truth.