Maine: Our Missionary Challenge
Since my arrival in Maine as your bishop six years ago, I have subscribed to Down East: The Magazine of Maine. I look forward every month to its informative and enjoyable mélange of Maine facts, opinion, fiction and trivia. Down East is interesting and fun to read
The November 2009 issue included a little note, though, that was far from fun to read. In an essay entitled “Who Mainers Really Are,” author Colin Woodard explodes a few of the myths people (including Mainers) have about citizens of our great state. For example, we are not the most highly taxed state in the union, but the 15th highest. And contrary to the popular impression, only a tiny minority of Mainers -- 1.6% -- work as fishermen, farmers or lumberjacks. The top two jobs are sales clerks and cashiers.
The caption that immediately caught my attention…and triggered my concern…read simply “A Secular State.” The brief notice referred to a recent nationwide Gallup survey that looked at the response of hundreds of thousands of Americans to one question: “Is religion an important part of your life?” In response to that question, Maine tied with Massachusetts for the dubous distinction of being the third least religious state in the union.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in its Religious Landscape Survey, a more thorough and complex study, confirmed the Gallup finding. Maine did a little better this time The Pew analysis of the percentage of people who believe in God, hold worship as a value, and pray frequently, among other indicators, placed Maine fourth from the bottom. On this one, New Hampshire tied with Vermont for last place, followed by Alaska and Massachusetts. Then Maine. Northern New England has become the least religious region of the United States. Bad news. And a call to action.
These research findings confirm what I and many others have suspected for some time. Whether it is a matter of lapsed practice, indifference, separation of religion and life into two separate spheres, outright agnosticism or atheism, it seems clear that a large percentage of New Englanders no longer value religion, or view life through the lens of a religious tradition.
Many of these irreligious folks -- most of them very nice people, I am sure -- are baptized Catholics. It is to this group of our brothers and sisters that the Church’s call to a New Evangelization is in particular addressed:
"...To the baptized who were never effectively evangelized before, to those who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and the Gospel, to those formed by the values of the secularized culture, to those who have lost a sense of faith, and to those who are alienated (National Directory for Catechesis, p. 47)."
Those of us who deeply value the positive difference that our faith commitment makes in our lives and our world surely lament this sad state of affairs. But we must not languish in our anguish. The reality we have described here is a wake up call, a mandate to intensify our own commitment to grow in holiness, to witness to our faith in word and action, inviting others to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” and to transform a culture that is in so many ways opposed to the values of the Gospel.
That is my intention, my commitment. I pray that it is yours. So much is at stake.
Most Rev. Richard J. Malone
11th Bishop of Portland