Sunday, April 11, 2010

Barriers to Faith

There was another conclusion drawn from that Knights of Columbus/Marist poll highlighted in April's Columbia upon which I would like to comment. Catholic millenials, while more likely than their peers to believe in God, are less likely to attend religious services.

These statistics raist important questions relevant to evangelization. For instance, what does it mean to say that faith is an important part of young Americans' lives, while they are nonetheless dissatisfied with their experience of religious institutions? What form must Christian witness take among priests and the lay faithful if young people are looking for spiritual answers, but don't think they can find them by going to church?

It is not without a sadness that I admit to sharing, to some degree, the sentiment of the millenials toward the institutional Church. I love the Church, which is the Body of Christ. It is a great tragedy that our experience of the Church often becomes an obstacle rather than a conduit to a grace-filled life of communion with God.

I have read many beautiful words about the liturgy. I have no doubt that every mass is a sublime mystery that affords us the opportunity to participate in the paschal sacrifice of Christ - his suffering, death, and resurrection - in a real and efficacious way. We are united with the entire Church - militant, suffering, and triumphant - in praising the Father with the Son through the Holy Spirit. I believe this to be true, but it's so hard to see past my own distractions and the mundane ordinariness of the liturgies as they are often celebrated. The glorious reality is hidden behind so many layers of humdrum and sloppy ritual that I have to keep reminding myself why I'm there and hoping that the grace penetrates through all of those layers. Only rarely is the liturgy of our common experience as edifying as it should be or could be.

Scandals in the Church come and go. The long Lent of 2002 was a painful period, and I had hoped that the blood-letting, however severe, would be quick. Yet here we are, eight years later, and sordid details from the disordered lives of figures representing the face of the Church to the world continue to surface. The Church, as a human institution, failed utterly in its moral responsibility. Bishops and diocesan officials have been revealed to be very capable of making erroneous judgments. Formerly revered figures like Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, have been exposed as frauds. The fact that even such authoritative and holy a figure as Pope John Paul II were misled leads to what Patrick Madrid has dubbed "the Maciel Effect." When no endorsement can be trusted, the only logical stance that remains is skepticism toward everything.

The barriers to faith seem to grown higher day by day.

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