Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why Do Catholics Become Evangelicals?

There is much for those of us who are Orthodox to think about in a recent article by Fr. Gerald J. Mendoza, O.P. In a section entitled: "An Operative Theology of Exit: Why Catholics Leave," Fr Mendoza lists 4 reasons why people fall away from the Catholic Church that are directly applicable to the pastoral situation of the Orthodox Church here in the U.S. He writes:

(1) Lack of active participation. Out of 60 million Catholics in 1997 in the U.S., only 25% minimally practiced their faith. In 1999, the National Catholic Reporter conducted a study that showed a general decline in Mass attendance, while at the same time a trend toward more personal autonomy regarding all morals. Without question, the person that does not know his or her faith is unable to defend it or to intelligibly critique it against challenges posed by fundamentalists, and a person who does not actively participate in his or her faith, at a minimum, with regular church attendance, cannot know his or her faith.

(2) Lack of scriptural and theological sophistication. In order to understand “major points of conflict” between fundamentalists and Catholics, the Catholic needs to know his or her Bible and the manner in which Catholic dogma and doctrines are drawn from and complement the scriptures. I suggest—given my own experience in parish ministry—that most Catholics in the pew would be hard-pressed to intelligently distinguish between Gospels, Epistles, and/or Psalms, other than being able to identify which follows which in the Mass. That is, assuming that they regularly attend Eucharistic liturgies, which given the aforementioned statistics regarding Catholic Church attendance, is a huge assumption. This is largely because the Second Vatican Council’s teachings on the Bible, specifically in Verbum Dei, have not been pastorally institutionalized.

(3) Lack of appropriate and effective Catholic catechesis. Related to the lack of Catholics practicing their faith and their lack of scriptural and theological sophistication, is the vacuous state of catechesis in the Catholic Church today. In most parishes, catechesis is limited to those preparing for juvenile or adult initiatory sacraments of baptism, first communion and confirmation. That means that outside of whatever catechesis may be disseminated via the weekend homily—which generally is more practical than catechetical—Church members who are not children or participants in the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) receive no significant catechesis. As a result, most Catholics have a theological sophistication that is stunted at the elementary or junior high school level. For example, as a religious education teacher at a San Antonio parish church, four fifths of the adult class participants in the class did not know what the word, “liturgy” meant.

(4) Anemic parishes and preaching. Evangelical Protestant churches tend to be vibrant, affirming places where people can find good preaching, ministries that feed the soul and warm fellowship and a sense of mission that keeps them coming back. This unfortunately is not happening in far too many Catholic parish churches. Fr. Joseph Wilson of St. Luke Catholic Church in Queens, New York opines that: "I’m sure people drift away for all kinds of reasons, but I think we ought to be especially concerned for people who are turned off by the anemic parish life one finds in so many places in our country. Here in New York City I know of a good number of couples that travel over parish and diocesan boundaries to a parish where they find good worship and teaching. They know something is missing and go out of their way to supply the need. How many more there must be whose faith was simply never nourished in their parishes, and how many there are who end up in ‘Bible churches’ because they find fellowship, scriptural preaching and teaching, and a sense of spirituality they had been lacking. As far as preaching goes, I hear a lot about the abysmal state of Catholic homilies. Part of the problem is that in this age a priest or deacon who teaches something clearly and forthrightly will catch flak for it. Early on in his ministry a homilist should be able to make a few mistakes, find his own gifts as a preacher, learn how to phrase an argument or an example and how to talk about sin. Today, however, in the age where everyone is an expert and all truth is subjective, many people do not want to hear uncomfortable teachings expounded. It becomes very easy to fall back on a feel-good approach to the homily, light on content, long on uplifting anecdotes and the power of positive thinking."

If you interested you can read more: HPR | Why Do Catholics Become Evangelical?

Your comments are invited.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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