Our Faith, Our Challenge
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Yes, we quickly answer. Of course He will. Faith, after all, is a gift God keeps giving. God’s grace continues to open hearts to receive it. There will always be faith, and people of faith, on this earth.
Recent surveys of the beliefs and practices of the faith among U.S. Catholics, however, raise profound concern. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University published in April 2008 a study of 1,007 self-identified adult Catholics regarding their beliefs about and participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Among major findings are the following:
Only six in ten agree somewhat or strongly with the statement that “sacraments are essential to my faith.”
Twenty-three percent say they attend Mass every week
Forty-seven percent say they believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist
Thirty-four percent say they can be a “good Catholic” without going to Mass every Sunday.
These and other data clearly suggest that knowledge of and commitment to the faith on the part of many U.S. Catholic adults is weak indeed. And not surprisingly, the regularity of one’s Mass attendance is a strong indicator of the importance of Catholicism in a person’s life.
“In general, the more frequently one attends Mass, the more frequently he or she participates in other Church or religious activities, the greater his or her knowledge of the Catholic faith, the greater his or her awareness of current events in the Church, and the greater his or her adherence to Church teachings.” (Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics, CARA, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, 2008. p. 2)
Here again we see the great truth so famously declared by the Second Vatican Council: the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is a tragedy that fewer than 1/3 of our Catholic people in Maine — and in most of New England — are faithful weekly participants at Mass.
During the coming weeks of the Easter Season, I will have the privilege of celebrating the sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist with children in parishes throughout the state. This will be a time of great joy for the children, their families, their catechists and parish communities, and for me. My prayer will be that the parents or guardians of these dear children of God will honor their sacred commitment to bring them to Mass every weekend. As I repeat at every first Communion Mass: “The reason why First Communion is so important is because next weekend will be the children’s second communion. The next, their third…and then weekly for a lifetime.”
The Church in Maine has much on its pastoral agenda. In my judgment, though, nothing is as urgent as the work of strengthening our efforts at truly effective evangelization and lifelong faith formation. Evangelization leads people to discover Jesus Christ personally and to accept Him as their savior. Catechesis deepens communion with Christ and forms our minds and hearts in the truth of His saving message.
Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, in his “Secularity and the Gospel”(Crossword, NY, 2006) , argues that we who live in U.S. secular culture must become missionaries to our own
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
11th Bishop of Portland