Catholics in the United States are leaving the church faster than ever. In the past 10 years our area has seen a 30% decrease in Baptisms and a 40% decrease in the number of Catholics choosing a church wedding, and lots of declines in school and catechism classes. While the Catholic Church in the South and Southwest shows some good growth, churches in the Northeast and Midwest are shrinking rapidly. The result is net decline. Nationwide for every 1 person who enters the Catholic church through the RCIA process, 6 people are leaving!
Any company that was losing customers this fast would be working hard to reinvent itself. The Catholic Church moves slowly, but the truth is now painfully obvious: the Church needs to make some changes. I’ve heard lots of suggestions: better music, more welcoming environment, teaching the faith in a more engaging way, fun youth activities, more adult programs, multi-media, and the list goes on. People have been suggesting even more drastic solutions for years: bring back Latin, or get rid of celibacy, allow members to vote, make women priests. I have hit upon the one change that I think will make or break us. Every Catholic needs to be able to answer this one question:
When did you fall in love with Jesus?
Romance isn’t something we typically associate with being Catholic. We think of Popes and Bishops, priests and nuns, Catholic schools and your local parish. We think of teachings and rules, catechisms and big books and Tradition. We may think of saints and stained glass, or angels and demons, rituals and sacraments and incense and candles. What does the Catholic Church have to do with falling in love with Jesus?
In a word: everything. Our faith began with simple, humble people who fell in love with Jesus. His teachings captured their minds. His merciful love changed their lives. And his death and resurrection stole their hearts. They could never have imagined being loved so much. And then were sent into the world to bring the Good News: God loves you, forgives you, and wants to be your friend and Savior. It was God’s love for them, and their love for Jesus, that inspired them to give themselves fully to Him. Many of them died rather than deny Jesus because they couldn’t live one day without Him.
Behind and beneath everything the Church does, from Sunday Mass to daily prayer to Moral Theology, is the love of the heart of Jesus. Jesus’ love is the reason priests are celibate, why divorce is still frowned upon, and why we keep insisting on social justice and sexual morality. And love for Jesus has inspired countless generations of Catholic families and foreign missionaries. A vibrant parish is a community in love with Jesus; a true Christian is one who has fallen in love with God. And this is what’s wrong with the Catholic Church of today.