What does the post-COVID future look like for the Catholic Church in America? According to an article by Russell Shaw in The Catholic World Report the future is not very bright in many ways.
Shaw points to a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that reported only 21.1% of Catholics in the U. S. attended Mass every week prior to the lockdowns of churches mandated by the government and with the cooperation of the bishops, many of whom cancelled public Masses and then released Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Catholics, for legitimate health reasons, stayed home or decreased their Mass attendance, often watching Mass livestreamed on TV or, let’s be frank, deciding to forego even that. The habit of weekly Sunday Mass became for many the habit of a free Sunday morning. Projections from Villanova University’s Center for Church Management are that only around 12% of Catholics will attend weekly Mass attendance post-COVID, even after all restrictions are lifted.
Shaw points out some of the obvious negative consequences of this, from a continued decline in the financial support of the Church, resulting in fewer resources to carry out vital ministries, to a reduction in participation in the sacramental life of the Church for many Catholics. While some Catholics will grow stronger in the faith as a result of struggling through the pandemic, others will be lost entirely. Combine this with a secular culture that has no use for the faith or is even outright hostile to it, and a government led now by men and women pushing an agenda with little concern for protecting religious liberty, and the Church looks to be facing a two-front battle from within and without.
So, what’s the answer? Of course, the answer, as always, is joy in the Lord!
We cannot choose the era in which we live. We cannot always choose what circumstances we must face in this world. But, we can always, as individual believers and as the Body of Christ, choose how we respond to this old world and the circumstances we face. As Christians dedicated to the faith, that response must always include joy in what Christ has won for us and promised us.
The Church of the future requires the same thing the Church of every age has required: men and women committed to giving their all for Christ. More than programs, liturgical reforms, inspiring catechesis, zealous evangelization, or charismatic leaders the Church needs saints. There is nothing that will ensure the continued growth of the Church in this or any age than genuine, heroic sanctity. In truth, the Church may not grow in numbers, but she will grow in depth of devotion and holiness.
What practical steps can be taken, then, to dedicate ourselves to growth in sanctity? This is no mystery. It’s as old as the Church herself: prayer, study, and service.
Catholics must commit themselves to the Mass, the sacraments, and prayer at home. Even if all their Catholic friends, relatives, co-workers, even fellow parishioners decide that they no longer need the Eucharist, we must re-dedicate ourselves to an even greater devotion to this “source and summit of our faith,” as well as to the other sacraments. If a close Catholic friend or relative has announced that he or she is or will no longer worship at Mass on Sundays post-COVID, make a commitment to pray for them and then attend another Mass during the week for them. Then tell them you’re doing this for them. We must be willing to give our time to the faith.
Catholics must commit themselves to learning the faith. There is no excuse for not becoming a more informed and knowledgeable Catholic, given the plethora of resources available online or at the nearest Catholic bookstore for Catholics of all education levels. Commit yourself to spiritual or catechetical reading for 30 minutes a day, or 15 minutes or day, or five minutes a day to start and move up from there. We must be willing to give our minds to the faith.
Catholics must commit themselves to the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. You remember them, don’t you? Here they are:
Few will care what words we speak about the faith, but they will remember what we did for the faith. We must be willing to put our faith into action. Saint Paul says, “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). This is the work of sanctity.
Ultimately, the future of the Church is the kingdom of God. For that future we hold to the promises of Jesus.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.