The fundamental reason why God gave us a Church which we could recognize by its marks is that we are sinners who are going to die. Through His Church, Christ provides the ordinary means of our salvation. We have the sacraments and we have authoritative teaching about the content of the Faith and morals.
By the virtue of religion we must give God what is His due. Hence, we must conform ourselves to the teaching and participate in the sacraments and offer God pleasing worship. Pleasing worship is the primary way by which we fulfill the virtue of religion. God has told us all through salvation history how to worship Him, from His mandates in the Old Covenant through the rubrics that His Church lays down now.
All our activities as Catholic Christians must flow from and return to proper liturgical worship of God, in His Church and as His Church provides by God’s own authority. Otherwise, we drift from being a people with a mind and heart for the transcendent, a transforming encounter with God in Mystery, and we wind up mired in immanentism, without a sense of something beyond, that which is unsettling and yet alluring.
Christian life moves in a dynamic cycle of worship, loving God with “all our strength”, as well as fulfilling specific commands from God such as “love your neighbor as you love yourself”. Hence, without displacing sacred worship of God as our primary means of fulfilling the virtue of religion, we also rightly pursue corporal and spiritual works of mercy for our neighbor.
Keeping always in mind our priorities, it is the spiritual well being of our neighbor that is most important, and our help given to them on the temporal level aims finally at their spiritual good. The spiritual always has logical priority over the temporal, even it chronologically our efforts for the temporal and spiritual are simultaneous. If we reverse that logical priority and make our efforts mostly or completely focused on the temporal, our works are no longer performed mainly in charity. They are still humane and good, but they are not as “Christian” as they might be.
There are those who see the Church’s role, or want the Church’s role to be that of an NGO. St. Paul warns that we must not conform ourselves to the wisdom of this world. And yet so much of what we have done in the Church in the last 50+ years has been to turn its members into immanentists without a sense of the transcendent.
Today I saw a piece at the American and Jewish The Tablet, not to be confused with The Bitter Pill (aka The Tablet) with an interesting title:
WHY SOCIAL JUSTICE IS KILLING SYNAGOGUES AND CHURCHES
Data suggests that the more a religious movement is concerned with progressive causes, the more likely it is to rapidly lose members
Here is the concluding section. As the old phrase goes… in cauda veneno.
Catholicism, now under a reforming and politically progressive pope, faces a similar challenge. It is losing adherents, not only in North America and Europe, where his views are popular, but also his homeland of South America, where the church is steadily losing out to more conservative evangelical churches. Until the 1960s, at least 90 percent of Latin America’s population was Catholic, but that number has fallen to under 70 percent. Today, roughly 1 in 4 Nicaraguans, 1 in 5 Brazilians and 1 in 7 Venezuelans are former Catholics. The one place where the church is growing most, Africa, is dominated by conservative bishops often at odds with Francis.
Anthony Lemus, an influential lay Catholic, believes the church’s future relies on remaining true to its principles while refashioning its message to serve its adherents’ worldly, as well as spiritual, needs. An astrophysicist brought up in a deeply Catholic East Los Angeles household, Lemus is working with a prominent Catholic theologian, Rev. Robert Spitzer, on rewriting of the Catholic Catechism to make the faith more accessible to the new generation. He also supports efforts to improve services from the church—day care, athletic clubs, camps—that might attract young families back to the faith.
“Today’s generation is more in tune with value-add products and services influencing their lives immediately, and the relevance of faith competes with these promotions,” he said. “A ‘sticky’ rebranding of the importance of faith formation’s value in everyday life is key to reposition its importance for living a holistic life.”
Ultimately, as Lemus suggested, religions, including Judaism, can only hope to thrive if they serve a purpose that is not met elsewhere in society. It is all well and good to perform good deeds, but if religions do not make themselves indispensable to families, their future could be bleak. As we already see in Europe, churches and synagogues could become ever more like pagan temples, vestiges of the past and attractions for the curious, profoundly clueless about the passion and commitment that created them.
Okay, dear readers, what’s wrong with that? What’s missing?
It’s the same problem that we find with nearly everything every bishop and other Church leader proposes when looking down the road at the problems we face. They simply don’t think to go there or they don’t dare to go there. Either way, their proposals cannot stand because they are not grounded in the right bedrock.