I’ve never been a fan of New Year predictions. I still read them. This one, being a churchy-sourced one, offered this ball-gazing comment:
Mass attendance will continue to decline in the West, especially among young people. But media will increasingly notice that many young people are deeply interested in spiritual questions and not as reflexively opposed to organized religion as they were a decade or so ago.
The aspiration to the deep spiritual questions in life has never vanished. Not even from the presumed secular West.
I don’t know how one year is enough to track decline in Mass attendance. On the bright side, I was speaking with one of our younger parishioners recently. One of our few teens involved in music ministry, I asked how we was faring being an island of youth in a sea of older people. He responded with genuine enthusiasm.
My staff colleagues and I were recently discussing the situation on-the-ground in our parish. We’ve acquired access to this site, Formed, and its many catechetical and entertainment options for our parishioners. I observed that since the 70s, formation material available in the Church has been excellent. While some Catholic might fuss about ideology or one extreme or another, the truth is that there’s a wealth of good material out there. The problem today is that the core of engaged Catholics is indeed shrinking. We might get 250 people for an outside mission speaker. 180 came to our non-obligatory Holy Day Mass earlier this week. About 150 came to our most-populated communal penance. 65 to 100 attended our various mercy events–these were parishioner-planned and led. Forty or so at daily Masses. Thirty attended our last dvd series. About twenty inhabit the weekly Bible studies I do. I suspect these numbers represent “repeat customers.” Those are folks who are genuinely hungry for anything we offer. Some only trust an outside priest. Some will come to any offering–and many of these women and men are retirees.
I suspect most parishes are in a similar boat. We’ve styled American Catholicism as an aspect for consumers. They get a graduation certificate for their sacrament–penance, First Communion, confirmation, marriage, and maybe in a few cases Holy Orders, and the process is complete.
The Church desires to give moral answers to the ethical questions of the day. Catholics and others know we present that. But a number of them are skeptical of us, partly because they disagree with the offering (on sexual issues) and partly because our moral witness is at best confused and at worst hypocritical (on such matters as priest predators or the treatment of women).
I see no alternatives but a more activated parish. Person-to-person contact. Witnessing as the early Christians did in the New Testament decades. Ask me o n a bad day, and I don’t see a way out. I’ll head to my grave in a few decades and except for a few pockets of life, it will probably get worse. Who can take on themselves the mantle of Saint Francis de Sales and show the way out of this wilderness? And not just in one diocese, but across the world?