Today's D&C features a story on various Rochester-area mainline Protestant churches and some of their members. A part of the story profiles a young couple who were raised Catholic but are now members of the United Church of Christ, "drawn not by doctrine but by the sense of community." The story goes on to say that the wife "found it more and more difficult to recapture the feeling and experience of faith she had as a teenager," so she and her husband, "began to search for something that worked."
This brought me back to two days before Christmas 2004 when I opened up the D&C to find a photo of two fellow parishioners - a married couple that I'll call Dick and Jane - prominently displayed on the front page. The photo accompanied a story about folks searching for a church home and I quickly learned that Dick and Jane not only were no longer fellow parishioners, but they were also no longer fellow Catholics.
"Shocked" would probably have been the best description of my reaction. These were just about the last folks I would have expected to leave the Church. Both had been very active in our parish. They were at Mass every Sunday and during the week had both served on several committees and he on the parish council. Dick had also been a Eucharistic minister and Jane a religious ed catechist and the entire family had been active members of our parish's Families In Religious Education (F.I.R.E.) program. They were the stereotypical pillars of the parish. Or they had been.
What happened? Well, according to Jane, "the leadership changed and took the church in a different direction." Now she said she found herself making a grocery list in her head during the sermon while Dick fought sleep and the children twiddled their thumbs. “We knew there was more,” said Jane.
It is true that our parish had recently undergone a change in pastors and that the new guy, while a good and holy priest, was certainly less dynamic than his predecessor. Two well-liked staff members had also recently left, one to take up new responsibilities with her religious order and the other to travel the country with her husband in retirement. Their replacements were well-qualified people, but again perhaps a bit less dynamic than their predecessors.
In short, some of the non-essential, external trappings had changed, but it was still a Catholic parish. The Sunday homilies might have become a bit drier to some ears, but they were still the product of many hours of prayer and preparation and they still offered solid catechesis. The essential part, however, was still the same: The Eucharist was still the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
So in looking for "more," Dick, Jane and their children have actually settled for less. In becoming members of the Lutheran church a couple of miles away they may have found something more exciting, more entertaining, but they have left the Real Presence behind. They traded Jesus in the Eucharist for warm, fuzzy feelings.
I haven't talked with Dick and Jane since they left the Church but it seems obvious that their Catholic faith had been a mile wide and an inch deep. It was a faith more predicated on feelings than religious convictions, a faith that needed interesting homilies more than it needed Jesus in the Eucharist. As Jane said in the article, "After a while you get a feeling of where you belong."
Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for catechesis these days is pretty empty stuff, heavy on emotional and/or "experiential" content, sprinkled with dubious "truths" and devoid of what really matters. And why shouldn't it be? People like Professor Richard Gaillardetz, who recently made his third trip to DOR in the last four years to address our "ministerium," have a disdain for "propositional" catechesis and most certainly pass that on to their audiences. People like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who routinely sow the seeds of doubt if not those of dissent, make regular, well-attended appearances here. And the priests, pastoral staff and educators who comprise their audiences then go back to their parishes and schools to instruct the faithful.
As Eugene Michael says, "No wonder there are so many confused and non-practicing Catholics in the DOR." To which I can add: No wonder there are so many Catholics deserting the Church for other denominations.