February 4, 2011 – Knowledge is Key

It has been a slow process over the years as I have gotten older, but I think this winter has brought me to the breaking point – I think I am ready to join the “I do not like winter and I wish spring would get here already” club.  I used to think that people who didn’t like winter were crazy.  You could play in the snow, skid on the ice, throw snowballs, etc.  Now I hope not to fall and break something and I hope to stay away from the flu.  Alas, life evolves.

As our lives and world evolve, so also it seems does the church.  As I was thinking back to when I was a kid and winter time was so great, I also found myself thinking about what our church was like in those days.  I can remember when we had four weekend Masses, and they were all generally well attended.  Now we have two weekend Masses and at times there are still an abundance of empty pews.  I can also remember when I began school here at St. Mary’s that there were over 200 kids in grades 1-8, with over 30 just in my class.  Now our enrollment is less than half of that.

So when I look at what has happened in a relatively short amount of time I naturally try to find a simple answer to these changes, but there are several factors at work here.  First of all, families are smaller than they were years ago.  One or two children are now the norm instead of the four, five or six that was more common years ago.  My hunch is that this is due to economic and societal changes which now see both parents working in most households.  Another factor in this change is that more and more young people are leaving the area to pursue their careers and are gravitating to larger cities.  This is not a unique situation, especially here in rural Southern Illinois.  And of course there is the factor that even though many people still consider themselves Catholics, fewer and fewer feel the need to attend church regularly and to practice their faith in their daily lives.

OK, so the situation is laid out, and these factors that I have stated are really no big secret to anyone, but it does not make the situation any less frustrating to me or to other devoted Catholics.  I can also imagine the frustration of pastors when they are aware of people who do not attend Mass or support their parish in other ways, yet they expect to be catered to when it is time for a funeral, or wedding, or baptism, etc.  I experience some of this first hand when I prepare kids for the sacrament of Confirmation, only to watch some of them disappear immediately afterwards.

So what can we do to try to encourage people to put their faith in a more prominent place in their lives?  We of course can invite these folks to come to Mass or to a church event, but I understand the fear people have in trying to do that, as more than likely the invitation will be rejected for whatever reason (we just don’t have time right now, I don’t get anything out of the Mass, I am still angry about the sexual abuse crisis, etc., etc., etc.).  There certainly seem to be many more reasons, or should I say excuses not to go to Mass or to participate in the life of the faith community.  So what does that leave us to offer to these people?

When I hear people who are not regular church goers talk about their views of the Catholic Church, they are either misinformed or they have not taken the time to find the proper information.  People will say things such as “Catholics pray to these saints as if they are God”, or “all of the money collected in the Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal ends up in the Bishop’s pocket”, and the list goes on and on.  So as Catholics who are to be witnesses to others, besides our invitations we can also offer resources to find the proper information about our religion.

Anyone who surfs the internet realizes there’s a lot of garbage floating around.  But there are websites that offer good and accurate information.  People can start at our website and look at the Catholic links such as the Vatican website, the Diocesan website, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, etc.  There is also a program that will be taking place next year as a part of the Diocesan celebration of its 125th anniversary called “Fanning the Flame”.  Much more information will be coming down the pike, but this program will involve study and discussion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Catechism is a summary of the principles of the Catholic Church, sort of a question and answer guide if you will.  “Fanning the Flame” can take on several forms – group study, small group sharing, individual study, and internet resources are some of the forms it will take.  It will be a great opportunity for us to renew our knowledge of our faith, and likewise we will be more prepared to instruct those who lack the proper knowledge about our faith.  The diocese has set up a website which talks more about this upcoming program.  It includes a message from Bishop Braxton.  The website is:

www.ftfdiobelle.org

Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge we have, the more we can appreciate what our faith has to offer.

OK, now let’s once again test my knowledge of football.  Time for my Super Bowl prediction.  My prediction is not based on my rooting interest; I’ll be rooting for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but I have to discect this without bias.  The Steelers defense is tough against the run, and I think they will be able to slow down the Packer offense enough for them to pull it out in the end.  So despite what my heart tells me, I have to go with the Steelers 23-20.  No wagering, please.

Have a great week despite the weather.  Peace.

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