Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"God has no grandchildren"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the January 17, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
As they say: “What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?”
The bad news is that 53 percent of American adults have left the faith of their childhood. The worse news is that only 9 percent have left and returned, a statistic we know is true for Catholics, as fully 10 percent of all adults in America are ex-Catholics and only 30 percent of all Americans, who were raised Catholic, are still practicing.
With this and other statistics in hand from the 2008 Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, Sherry Weddell offers a stark yet candid overview of challenges facing organized religion and especially the Catholic Church in her recently published book, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.
Some of the research data validates what we know from our experience: Catholics leaving their Church and joining other Christian communities, decreasing Mass attendance, a lackluster engagement in the life of the parish of many Catholics. Of even greater concern is a central insight Weddell gains through the hundreds of interviews in parishes across the nation: “Catholics have come to regard it as normal and deeply Catholic to not talk about the first journey – their relationship with God – except in confession or spiritual direction. This attitude is so pervasive in Catholic communities that we have started to call it the culture of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
If there is blame to be assigned for the woeful statistics about Catholic practice it is this attitude. According to Weddell, the more this attitude goes unchallenged, the more it diminishes the life and ministry of the Church in two important ways. First, it leaves us with a very small minority of Catholics, perhaps as low as 5 percent, who are committed to living a life of faith in an intentional way. Secondly, statistics show that a growing number of people are leaving the Catholic Church, not because they were not intentional in their faith, but because as they come to see the importance of living their call to discipleship, they find little support or understanding of their needs as intentional disciples in their parish.
Now for the good news and the better news: The good news is that there is a way to change this attitude, “to break the silence about being disciples,” as Weddell puts it, and it works. She offers helpful insights on how to begin conversations in our community about faith and belief by establishing an atmosphere of trust, curiosity and openness to move Catholics to seek intentional discipleship. The promise is that when change, conversion, takes place in individuals, the entire parish can change and when life changes at the parish level, the life of the whole Church will change.
The better news is that our diocese will be working actively to create a better climate for Catholics to become intentional disciples. In fact, I am giving a copy of Sherry Weddell’s book to each of our priests to continue a conversation we began last September at our annual priests’ assembly. Working together as a presbyterate, we decided now was the time to engage the diocese in a pastoral planning initiative, for the purpose of revitalizing our parishes and communities.
You will be hearing more about this in the weeks and months ahead, but I think it is important for you to know that this pastoral planning initiative will be a major priority for us as we minister to you.
We understand that if we are going to call those we serve to be “intentional disciples,” we need to be “intentional pastors.” You should also know that we are also motivated by an abiding trust that Christ, who is so present and active in this time and place, is again calling us all to be disciples, just as he once did along the shores of Galilee. Herein lies an important truth Christians have known since the early days of the primitive Church. It is up to each generation to answer the call to discipleship, for, as Weddell reminds us, “God has no grandchildren.”
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