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.