Grief and the Church

Four days ago, the Catholic periodical, Commonweal ran an article by Peter Steinfels entitled, “Further Adrift,” in which he cites the February 2008 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Mr. Steinfels’ take on the survey is that the Church is bleeding badly and in a state of unrecognized grief. Here is a quote;

“For some Catholics, this grieving has clearly passed beyond anger. It seems to border now on resignation to either a death of faith or withdrawal from the church. For others, it means the impossibility of being in any way a ‘public Catholic,’ whether in their fields of work, their communities, their parishes, or their circles of family and friends.”

In the course of the article, he mentions the loss of members (one out of every three adult Americans who were raised Catholic have left the Church), Catholic teenagers’ low ranking on a variety of measures of religious faith, belief, practice, and involvement compared to youths from other denominations, and the effects the sex scandals have had on the faithful. He attributes the departure of so many from the Church in part at least to the Church’s teachings on premarital sex, homosexuality, role of women in the Church, abortion, and the episcopacy’s increasing willingness to engage the political aspects of society.

He suggests as solutions to this exodus some practical ideas: better liturgies, better homilies, all-out effort to catechize the young more effectively, bring adolescents into the life of the Church, as well as rethinking the Church’s position on some moral and theological issues of the day.

I think he has some points worth considering, specifically: we are losing many cradle Catholics to other denominations; we have done a very poor job in the area of catechesis of the young; and too often our liturgies fail to touch the hearts and spirits of the faithful.

What seems to be his central thought– that the Church is in a state of unrecognized grief and until it, especially the bishops, recognize this, we are in deep trouble — I wonder if this is an apt way to describe the data to which he refers. I don’t think one can take what is essentially sociological data and from them interpret the psychological state of an institution. Institutional mood states I suspect are correlated to different variables than mood states of an individual person.

The loss of a family member to another religion is truly an experience of grief and loss. Mr. Steinfels mentions that he may experience such a loss in the future with his grandsons. Many people have experienced such painful departures of family. Such grief and loss are understandable to many parents. This grief is attenuated, though, by the knowledge that once Jesus has entered a person’s life by the grace of baptism, he does not abandon that person and throughout that individual’s life God will be there at his shoulder along with the angels “to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.”

I invite you to read the article for yourselves at the link above and comment below.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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