I think that Pope Benedict had as a project for his pontificate the revitalization of Catholic identity. The West is losing its soul because Christianity – Catholicism in particular – is not being lived by the mature or passed on to the young in a clear form. After WWII the US helped to rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan to create good trading partners and to serve as a bulwark against Communism. I think that Pope Benedict has a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the Church, to build us up after the ecclesial devastation of the last few decades, for the sake of souls and as a bulwark against secularism and the soul annihilating dictatorship of relativism.
It may be that it will take something very dramatic for the large arc of the great falling away we are seeing to be shifted or halted.
I read a good post over at Fr. Longenecker’s blog, which is worth your attention. My emphases and comments:
The Collapse of Cultural Catholicism
SheryWeddell at the St Catherine of Siena Institute reports that 32% of Americans raised Catholic abandon the identity altogether by their mid twenties. An additional 38% retain the identity but rarely practice their faith. 30% of those who call themselves Catholic attend Mass only once a month. On a given Sunday only about 15.6% of American Catholics attend Mass. [Then we must ask ourselves if what we are doing and saying in our churches is working.]
What is the reason for these disastrous statistics? Basically because for the last forty years Catholics themselves have not taught Catholicism to their children. They’ve taught ‘American Catholicism’ which is a watered down blend of sentimentalism, political correctness, community activism and utilitarianism. In other words, “Catholicism is about feeling good about yourself, being just to others and trying to change the world.” The next generation have drawn the obvious conclusion that you don’t need to go to Mass to do all that. You can feel good about yourself much more effectively with a good book from the self help shelf, or by attending a personal development seminar. You can be involved in making the world a better place without going to church.
If only 15% of Catholics go to Mass on a given Sunday, look around and see how many of them are old. Even the 15% who are there won’t be there for very long. [It is by now standard observation that many young families are found at certain celebrations of Holy Mass.]
The solution is simple: [Whatever the solution may be, I am not sure it is ‘simple’. It is, however, without question that some of the elements of that solution as staring us in the face, gnawing at our ankles, barking up a storm!] we must return to the supernatural realities of the historic faith and evangelize like the Apostles of old. [Do I hear an ‘Amen!’?] The big difference is that the Apostles knew their targets were pagans and the pagans knew they weren’t Christians. We’re dealing with a huge population of Americans (Catholics and Protestants alike) who are pagan but who think they’re ‘good Christians.’ [Good point.] It is very difficult to evangelize people who already think they’re fine just as they are. We don’t know what we don’t know, and the vast majority of poorly catechized, lazy and worldly Catholics aren’t aware that there’s anything wrong.
What will it take for us to wake up?
Fr. Longenecker is certainly right. We must return to teaching and demonstrating that there is a supernatural dimension to our lives. We must take people beyond their immanentism-lite. This is why the Holy Father has been trying to point us toward, in small steps, a new approach to liturgical worship. It is precisely in worship that we can make great strides quickly. I suspect the “biological solution” is going to have to play a role in this, however. It may be that some of those pagans of whom Fr. Longenecker speaks above are also wearing Roman collars. They just don’t realize they actually belong to a different religion.
Aside from that, I suspect that an effective wake-up call may be quite a terrible thing, and one that is unpleasant to contemplate.