Wednesday, June 6


American Church on the Front Pages

About a week ago, the front page newspaper headline read: "(Arch)Bishop to Close xx Churches." The article went on to describe things like demographic shifts, etc. The real reason, of course, is the priest shortage, and the real reason for that is the Church's failure, for decades, to offer a vision and encounter with Christ compelling enough for youth to "leave everything" and follow Christ.

So I was really interested in the front page headline in section B, which read something like, "Area Schools Revive May Crownings." Juxtapose this with the headline from section A. Here we have Catholics awakening to the need to offer and articulate and enact the convictions and the faith that surrounds exactly the sort of compelling encounter with Christ I mentioned just above.

Even as we are in stiff decline in some areas (and, again, this decline must be mitigated by the strong Catholic presence now emerging in the South, as migrants from the Northeast and the Mexican south converge; Atlanta has, after all, perhaps the most seminarians in the country), we are beginning to remember that our identity as Catholics, professing a belief and an encounter with Christ which stretches to the Apostles, our existence depends upon articulating this encounter with Christ to others and to one another. This "Catholic identity" must be expressed, of course, in our thoughts and our actions (our belief and our morality), but it is also very effectively expressed and encouraged by our ritual and our traditions. That is why a headline about the re-emergence of things like May Crownings is perhaps the only thing that could make me smile after reading a headline about massive church closings: because we've got it, we've figured out the root of the problem--our identity rests in our proclamation of an encounter with God in Christ, and we're remembering how we used to make and live that proclamation. Which must be one of the strongest remedies for the present unhappiness.

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