You might not be surprised to learn that church attendance is down sharply 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 Mass 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, alarmingly, roughly 7 in 10 adults under age 30. Seventy percent of our young people are not going to church!
The shuttering of churches during the pandemic seems to have pushed attendance even lower, although more people report connecting with their faith community virtually.
Which brings up an interesting point: If we can work and socialize virtually, why not worship virtually, too? What’s the point of getting in our cars and driving somewhere if we can connect online?
Here’s the thing: When God redeemed mankind, He could have done it with just a word. Instead, He sent His Son Jesus, the Word made flesh, into the world to live among us. Born of the humble Virgin Mary into poverty, spending most of His life as a working Man, sweating and toiling away in anonymity, Christ took on all our human frailties except sin.
He knows what it means to be afraid, to be lonely, to be rejected, bullied and forgotten. He knows the value of friendship, hard work, a shared meal and a good party.
He traveled throughout Galilee and into Jerusalem to be present to people in the flesh, to be in their homes and workplaces and in the streets.
In one of the most charming episodes of the New Testament, our Lord calls a despised tax collector by name and makes a request: “Zaccheus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house (Luke 19:5).”
God is eager to spend time with us, in person. The question is, are we eager to be with Him? And not just staring at our phones but with Him in the Flesh? In the Catholic Church, we call that Mass. When the priest consecrates the bread and wine, they become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
You just can’t get that from a screen.
Yes, yes, we have spiritual communion. And it’s wonderful but it’s not the same. Deep inside, we all know that.
FaceTime, email and social media help us connect virtually with others, but there’s nothing quite like sitting down together, face to face.
We were made for relationship and we long for connection, not mere connectivity.
In my mind’s eye, I see thousands and thousands of people who look fine on the outside but inside are hurting, feeling trapped, weighed-down and anxious.
And Jesus wants each to hold each and every one of them in His arms. He wants to ease their burdens, free them from fear and liberate them from the prison of loneliness.
He’s going to do all of that through you and me if we’re willing.
Check out how one young couple found their way back to the Catholic Church. They’d been away for a while until one day, there was a quiet invitation from a colleague at work:
“We’re going to Mass and brunch on Sunday morning. Would you like to join us?”
The next thing you know Tracy and Tom were back in our pews.
Sometimes people envision evangelization as a grand effort, something that might require a theology degree or the answer to every potential query, when actually it’s as simple as inviting someone to join you at Mass or a Christ in Our Neighborhood small group.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the beloved Italian religious sister who ministered to thousands of orphans, immigrants and the forgotten in the late 1800s and early 1900s, had an unstoppable zeal for sharing the faith. She’s famous for having declared, “I will go anywhere and do anything to communicate the love of Jesus to those who do not know Him or have forgotten Him.”
Meanwhile, we get embarrassed talking about God. It seems awkward and faintly Protestant if you’ve never done it before. (Kudos to our separated brothers and sisters, many of whom are eager to share the Gospel with friends and strangers.)
Here’s something everyone can do: Look people in the eye and befriend them. Listen — really listen to their concerns and fears. If they ask you to pray for them, do so on the spot. It can be as simple as praying the Our Father reverently. Invite them to join you for Mass. If that seems too much, invite them to a Christ in Our Neighborhood meeting.
These small faith-sharing groups are springing up all over the diocese in homes, prisons, assisted living facilities and coffee shops. Men’s groups, women’s groups, rosary groups, ministry teams and neighbors are sitting down for an hour once a week to discuss and pray their way through the upcoming Sunday Mass readings.
The resources are 100 percent free, mobile-friendly, bilingual and downloadable at dphx.org/Christ-in-our-neighborhood. You don’t need the aplomb of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini to lead a small group — you just need a heart that’s willing to reach out to others and share Jesus.
If we can rise to that challenge, we just might find ourselves scooting over to allow more fellow travelers into our pew.
Want to find out more? Contact me, The Soulful Catholic, at [email protected].