The Soulful Catholic Blog
by Joyce Coronel, caffeine junkie and mom of five
You might not be surprised to learn that church attendance is down here and around the U.S.
Outside of Christmas and Easter, it’s not very often that you have a standing-room only crowd at church on Sunday. There’s a startling graph published by Pew Research that shows a steep decline in church attendance starting in 2007 when 54 percent of Americans said they attended religious services monthly or more.
By 2019, that number dropped to 45 percent. Pew also reported that during most of the Covid 19 pandemic, about 6 in 10 Americans did not take part in religious services in any way, including roughly 7 in 10 adults under age 30. Seventy percent of our young people are not going to church!
As they wheeled me into the ICU, I noticed the crucifix on the wall among all the other life-saving equipment. I was in a Catholic hospital, after all, and its catholicity was something that struck me again and again during my four-night stay.
What can only be described as one of the most terrible and yet somehow wonderful experiences of my life unfolded just a few weeks ago when I was sitting in the chapel at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in downtown Phoenix. Staff at the DPC are blessed to be able to attend Mass in the chapel most workdays.
Shortly after the Gospel was proclaimed and we settled into our pews, I felt as though someone punched me in the forehead.
For every parent of an adult child who has rejected the faith, the story of a local man named Bill ought to infuse hope and a renewed determination to pray and fast for their children.
“I was away from the Church for 32 years,” Bill told The Soulful Catholic one hot afternoon during a discussion about faith and the Bible. Bill had signed up to participate in Christ in Our Neighborhood, a small-group program focused on the Sunday Mass readings.
While away from the Catholic Church, Bill belonged to a denomination that proclaimed Catholics are not actually Christians and will not be saved.
There was a long and rocky road back to the Church established by Christ, but eventually, Bill was home.
“We offer you no salary, no recompense, no holiday or pension. But much hard work, a poor dwelling, few consolations, many disappointments, frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death and unknown grave.”
Well. If Bishop Auguste Martin was trying to sell priests on serving as missionaries in Louisiana in 1873, those hardly seem motivational words. And yet, they came: five French priests eager to serve the Lord in spite of gargantuan difficulty and guaranteed danger. The U.S. Bishops’ Conference voted to advance the beatification cause of the five young men at their plenary assembly last week.
And it makes me wonder: What keeps us from having the kind of zeal and love?
The bumper sticker on the car ahead of me caught my attention: “My religion is kindness,” it proclaimed to weary commuters stalled at a red light.
I looked closer and saw it the quote was attributed to the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader to Tibetan Buddhists.
Well, I’m for kindness; aren’t you?
It’s the underlying message that kindness is the apex of religion that makes me balk. At a time in our nation’s history when fewer and fewer people identify as followers of Christ, this kind of declaration shouldn’t surprise us though.
As a growing number of Americans claim to have no religious affiliation, it becomes ever more crucial for those who know the Lord Jesus to witness to what His death on the cross accomplished and what His Resurrection means: life, freedom, hope and peace.
As of 2021, about three in 10 Americans, according to Pew Research, claimed to have no religion. Indeed, self-identified Christians in the U.S. are down to 63 percent, a drop from 75 percent just 12 years ago.
The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is the difference between knowing about our Lord Jesus and actually knowing Him personally.
If you’ve ever stood ankle deep in the ocean, you’ve experienced that unmistakable tug of the tide. You plant your feet firmly in the wet sand, refusing to allow it to drag you out to sea.
Or, if you’re the more adventurous among us, you wade out through the waves, perhaps even venturing past them to tread water among the swells, watching surfers as they await the perfect wave.
And that’s where the powerful tide can draw you in, refusing to let go as you drift further and further into the ocean until it swallows you. A strong swimmer might be able to fight his way back, but you’ve got to be very strong indeed to resist the relentless tide and haul yourself toward shore.
Thousands of football fans streamed into downtown Phoenix last week to enjoy the NFL Super Bowl Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center, right across the street from St. Mary’s Basilica and the Diocese of Phoenix headquarters.
They had no idea the mercy of God would greet them at the corner of Third Street and Monroe.
That’s because a six-foot-high wooden confessional was standing right there on the sidewalk. Nearby, volunteers stood at a table heaped with crucifixes, Miraculous Medals, pamphlets, rosaries and holy cards.
You may have noticed that our churches are not as full as they once were. The reasons for this drop in attendance and in the practice of the faith are myriad but rather than become discouraged, we can choose to see the opportunity in the challenge:
How do we fulfill the urgent mission of evangelization that’s been entrusted to us?
How do we share Christ with those who don’t know Him?
And that’s where it gets exciting. We’ve got the best news in the whole world — God loves us and sent His Son Jesus to redeem us and free us! We don’t have to live in fear or despair or darkness.
The tree, the lights, the presents, the festive mood that permeates our community — all these things can be the cause of much happiness and many smiles.
But they are not the source of our joy.
Think about it: The whole world seems caught up in celebration, but what exactly is being celebrated?
Our waiting and yearning are almost at an end. Christmas, that glorious season when we celebrate the moment God stepped into time and took on flesh to save us, is nearly here.
At most parishes, that means packed churches on Christmas Eve and the usual grumbling about “Christmas and Easter Catholics” hogging all the good seats.
Resentment certainly has a way of stealing joy, doesn’t it?
“Just a few more days and it will all be over,” The Soulful Catholic told herself earlier this week. No, not life in general — the election! And heaven knows rational adults will heave a sigh of relief when the 24/7 political commercials and stacks of campaign materials clogging mailboxes have come to a halt.
It’s not that debate isn’t welcome or important; it’s that politics has become blood sport these days.
Now would be an excellent time for us to take a collective deep breath and evaluate how we listen and how we speak to those with whom we disagree.
Scientists tell us there’s an epidemic of loneliness in our country and its consequences are severe on our mental and physical health. We’re made for God and community, and yet, we often find ourselves alone.
A phone call to a friend, a quick visit to a neighbor, chatting with a coworker — there are lots of ways to reach out and break the isolation. For many people, however, that’s not an option. Our minds naturally turn to the elderly and home-bound, but the current loneliness epidemic goes beyond them to include the young and the middle-aged, too.
There’s a good-sized sign that hangs on the wall of the cubicle The Soulful Catholic was assigned to in downtown Phoenix. For over a year now, I’ve walked past the placard every day, but I never actually touched it until last week.
Taking it to the streets: Message of hope, new life in Christ is meant to be shared by us with everyone
Carrying a darling, golden-haired toddler, the woman strolled down the sidewalk next to her husband. They’d just visited a bustling farmer’s market in downtown Detroit on a warm July morning.
They had no idea what we were about to ask them.