Here's the deal: roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend. So the next time you witness a baby's baptism, think, in 20 years, 2/3 of those babies will either be gone or non-practicing. Only 1 in 6 of those babies will be attending Mass regularly.
Catholics leave the Church and the name Catholic by age 23. The majority by age 18.
And the Pew Forum showed that attending CCD, involvement in youth ministry, and going to a Catholic high school make little or no difference between those who stay Catholic, those who become "nothing" and those who become Protestant. Our primary strategies aren't making any difference. [...]
This goes so far beyond a failure to catechize. We are two generations past that. We are on the edge of a demographic precipice that is going to make the post Vatican II fall-off look like a golden age. We are going to have to (gasp) GO OUT and make disciples.
In our culture, religious identity is not longer inherited, it is chosen. And reconsidering the religious identity of your childhood has become a right of passage for young adults. So we have to evangelize when they are children and we'll probably have to do it again when they are young adults.
I've written about this at enormous length over at Intentional Disciples (www.siena.org) and we cover all this in our seminar Making Disciples. We are still spending our time debating what happened nearly 50 years ago while our future walked right out the door and we didn't notice.
I've left some comments over there, and I encourage those of you who are so inclined to jump in to the discussion (though comments read sort of bottom-to-top and then replies to comments top-to-bottom, which is a bit awkward).
But, of course (you know me!) I have more to say than I could possibly say in a mere comment box. So here goes:
I understand Sherry's frustration at the constant rehashing of the Vatican II battles on the blogosphere, but I think it's premature to say that what happened fifty years ago no longer matters or shouldn't direct our focus. We could say those things if what happened fifty years ago were no longer impacting the present-day realities in the Church, but that is very far from being the case. Catechesis remains abysmal--and people can't accept and embrace a faith when they haven't been taught that faith. The Mass is still suffering from too much invention and unilateral liturgical activism and not enough "say the black, do the red." We can't afford to sweep all of that under the rug and act as though making disciples requires neither sound liturgy nor sound catechesis; we can't profess our love for and deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ to a seeker, and then admit that we don't really pay much attention to His teachings, or care what His Church wants in the way of worship--because there are plenty of other churches out there willing to say those things, quite frankly, who will say them much better than Catholics can, since they are not tied to the Church and can be as liturgically inventive and doctrinally heterodox as they like.
However, while I think we can't afford to drop the quest for sound catechesis and sound liturgy, we also have to pay attention to the common-sense experiences Sherry is reflecting. I believe that Rod Dreher once shared on his old blog an experience he had when he was first considering the Catholic Church and an enthusiastic Catholic gave him a book on...incorruptible saints. (Of course, his present Orthodox Christian tradition admires the incorruptibles, too, but that's beside the point.) The point is that greeting a seeker or new convert with a list of one's own personal catechetical and liturgical grievances is about like handing him a book loaded with photographs of the dead and incorruptible bodies of saints: it's not exactly an attempt to meet him where he is, is it?
So, on the one hand, we do still need to work for the abolition of smile-button theology of the "Jesus is nice; you be nice too!" variety, and for the ending of the happy-clappy Mass of Father's Personal Creativity--because in the long run we can't hope to rebuild the Church in America without paying attention to those two areas of concern. But on the other hand, we need to direct our energies in positive ways toward three things of great importance:
- Seeking, through prayer, sacrifice, education, etc., to strengthen our own relationships with Jesus: to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this life, so as to have a hope of spending eternity beside Him in Heaven.
- Striving, according to our own states in life, for the sanctification of those nearest to us: our families, our religious brothers and sisters, our parish communities, and so forth.
- Working, in whatever ways God opens to us, for a cultural renaissance which preaches the message of hope through virtue, of healing, of the joy of being a Christian, and of the peace that passes understanding.