it’s christmas, and time for catholics “come home” campaigns

The Vancouver Sun posted an article titled Canadian Catholics debate “Come Home” campaign I’m glad there is a debate, and add my voice to those who question the validity and effectiveness of these expensive, marketing campaigns. I’m also uncomfortable with the underlying message that they send.

For example, look at the language being used. “Fallen away” Catholics brings up images of the Archangel Michael sending Lucifer and his minions hurtling to hell. When we use the word “fallen”, we are already judging those who left as sinners. We are the holy, faithful ones. Our holiness is judged by our pew presence on a Sunday morning, a narrow view of holiness indeed.

The reasons for leaving an active church life are varied, yet we still hear the same tired litany of blame. It’s the “seductiveness of mass secular culture”. Families are too busy with extra-curricular activities. The increase in two income families results in fewer volunteers in the parish. In Vancouver, the “West Coast culture” is blamed for the rise of atheism and those who identify themselves as spiritual, not religious.

The blame is seldom turned inward. What about all the good women and men who can no longer stay in a church where abusive behavior is condoned? The sexual abuse crisis is a major issue. No less damaging are insensitive and bullying priests, bishops, and laity. A dysfunctional parish or diocese can push good souls in droves out the doors. Some experience a hurt so deep that no amount of marketing dollars will bring them back. And, no, they have not “fallen away”. They left, with good reason.

I am a strong proponent of the call for a new evangelization in our church. I find inspiration in the many voices that wisely speak to the foundational work that is required before we actively reach out to others. This foundational work recognizes the critical need for dialogue, both within our church and beyond.  It acknowledges the need to genuinely repent and make amends for the human sinfulness in our church. It seeks wisdom in silence and prayer. It focuses less on doctrinal purity and more on rekindling the heart of our faith. It knows that true conversion comes not from forced obedience, but from a free assent to the good news and demands of the gospel.

The new evangelization is much deeper and more profound than simply filling up the pews on Sunday.  Until we have faced the difficult tasks of this foundational work, any efforts to draw women and men back to a full and active participation in parish life will be superficial at best. Expensive marketers and glossy media campaigns might draw a few curious souls through our doors. Unless they find a healthy, vibrant, faith-filled community to welcome them, they may not come back. After all, we know what happens to new wine in old wine-skins.

voices of hope from the synod for the new evangelization

In this week’s catholic dialogue column in the Prairie Messenger, I try to give a shout out to some of the many hopeful voices heard in the recent Synod for the New Evangelization. I was getting frustrated with the negativity towards the Synod that was showing up on some discussion boards. Some thought the whole thing was a waste of time. Others find negativity in anything said or done by bishops.

But, there was a lot of wisdom being shared from around the world;  voices who ‘got it’ when it comes to the new evangelization.

These are just a few of the voices from the synod, but they give us hope. They speak of a new evangelization grounded in the more optimistic Vatican II understanding of relationships within the church, and between the church and the world. Evangelization needs the open windows of freshly blowing Spirit, and the much-needed breezes just might be coming.

Here is the article,

Voices from the Synod worth listening to

german bishops – no church tax, no sacraments!

Today’s NCR Morning Briefing gave a link to the following Reuter’s story German bishops get tough on Catholics who opt out of church tax.

Here in North America, we are used to supporting our churches through the Sunday collection and other voluntary donations. We can choose how much to give, or whether to give at all.

I confess that I have used the power of the purse as a form of protest. Giving a meagre amount or even withholding our collection was the only way we could voice our frustrations; the only vote we had as lay folks in the pews. Paying for the costs of our parish and its ministries was one thing. Paying for the extravagant life-style of a pastor or the legal bills of abusers was another. But, no one was checking our donation status at the door or turning us away. No one was stopping us in the communion line and refusing us the sacrament because we weren’t financially supporting the institutional church.

Things are different in some European countries. If a person claims a religious affiliation, they are charged a church tax . This money is then forwarded to their religious organization. On the one hand, it means that those with no religious affiliation are not required to financially support religions with their tax money. On the other hand, it requires a public declaration of religious affiliation and a compulsory financial contribution. (According to official statistics, church taxes brought in about 5 billion euros for the Roman Catholic Church in 2010.)

There has been a mass exodus of angry and disillusioned Catholics from the church in Germany; as in many parts of the western world. Here, we can quietly sneak out the back door and head into a time of personal exile; often with no one noticing or (sadly) even caring. In Germany, these Catholics have to make a very public statement. By asking to be taken off the tax roll, they are essentially stating they are no longer members of the church.

The bishops of Germany are now cracking down. They have declared that those who do not pay church taxes will not have access to the sacraments, or religious burials. They cannot work in the church or its institutions or be active in church-sponsored associations such as charity groups or choirs. They cannot be godparents for Catholic children and must get a bishop’s permission to marry a Catholic in a church ceremony.

“This decree makes clear that one cannot partly leave the Church,” a statement from the bishops conference said. “It is not possible to separate the spiritual community of the Church from the institutional Church.”

For the German bishops, you are either in or out. And, being ‘in’ requires financial payment.

The Synod of Bishops are meeting next month in Rome to discuss the new evangelization; how to revitalize the Catholic faith in countries where many have left the church. The new evangelization requires open dialogue, compassion, a reading of the signs of the times, and reaching people where they are. It requires looking anew at how we preach the good news of Jesus. It requires a mutual desire for inner conversion, getting to the root of the spiritual dimensions of our faith.

To deny Catholics access to their church and her sacramental life because they refuse to financially support the institutional church does not encourage those who have left to return. The German bishops are presenting the institutional church as a heavy-handed bully focused on money. They need to ponder more deeply the concept of evangelization.