Monday, January 15, 2007

Making the Church relevant today

Is the Church relevant in our lives?

Talk to any priest and his main complain will be the poor attendance at mass and poor participation of the parishioners in Church activities. In fact for every one who attends mass on Sunday, there are probably five others who do not. Why is this number of active participants dwindling over the years?
According to a new study commissioned by the Australian bishops, Catholics disconnected from Mass attendance and other parish life believe the Catholic Church is out of touch with the world today and is not relevant to their own lives.
This was according to the report “Catholics Who Have Stopped Going to Mass,” released by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference recently as reported in the Catholic Online dated 7 December 2006.(
According to the report, the three most commonly mentioned factors that had the most powerful impact on Mass attendance, were:
1. Misuse of power and authority at all levels of the Catholic Church.
2. Irrelevance of the church to life today, as an institution “out of touch with Australian society.” “In their eyes the church had lost its ability to connect with the day-to-day lives of ordinary people and as a result they no longer regarded it as having the authority to guide them in living an authentic life.”
3. Lack of intellectual stimulation, with several noting that the sermons delivered in their parishes “were of poor quality, being ill-prepared, theologically unsound, badly delivered and irrelevant.”
It is encouraging that the Australian Bishops are taking the results of the study concerning “disconnected Catholics” rather seriously to further understand the very complex personal, spiritual and cultural factors which have seen a decline in church-going over recent decades.
I am sure if we conduct a similar study of our own “disconnected Catholics” the reasons given will not differ much from their Australian counterparts. I am sure most of our Catholics, “disconnected” and even a significant number of “connected” will agree that the Church is slowly but surely becoming irrelevant to their lives.
It is timely now for our own bishops and clergy to review the situation in our own country and take proactive measures to make our faith more relevant in the lives of Catholics.
Today the average man is under tremendous pressures to cope with all the problems he is forced to encounter. The greatest challenge is to bring up children who would grow us as individuals with good human values, let alone Christian values.
There is so much crime, violence and vice in the world and our children get entangled in them as they are not given the proper guidance in the home and schools. We, parents and teachers, are all too busy trying to cope with the demands of society. The Church and the clergy are burdened with their own problems and in process our children are totally neglected both spiritually and morally.

Managing the family is an arduous task these days. Firstly there are the marital problems to handle with the spouse and the in-laws. The Church is against divorce but this is increasing by the day even among Catholics. Where does the Church stand with its anti-divorce preaching when its followers are not in a position to follow that?
Then there are the rebellious children under the influence a very materialistic and immoral culture. To them even their parents are becoming irrelevant because of out-dated moral values. Where does the Church stand in their lives?
The teachings of the Church regarding pre-marital sex, adultery and abortion appears to have insignificant effects on them as these vices have become so rampant that in many societies they are being accepted as the norms.
In addition to these are the financial burdens, increasing cost of education, health care, housing and lack of job opportunities. To make matters worse there are the discriminating policies of the government, in schools and offices. What does the Church have to offer to overcome these social problems?
How is an average wage earner going to manage all these? There is nobody to turn to for help and guidance. The government agencies are of no help. His Church which used to be the bastion of defense fails him miserably.
The priests make it even more difficult by imposing their own unrealistic conditions. They seem to be only interested in large crowds at the various celebrations to participate in the numerous rituals which are of no meaning to an already over burdened individual. Instead of reaching to these estranged Catholics, they in fact further isolate them by their unrealistic conditions.
Amidst all these problems, Christ may look irrelevant, as he was to the Jews. But definitely He was relevant to us in the past, He is relevant at present and undoubtedly He will be so in the future. It is up to us, the Christians, clergy and laity alike, to make Him relevant in our lives especially in this era of science and technology when man thinks he is almighty and does not need Him.
The Church must review its role towards this endeavor. It must change to be with the masses like Christ did, and not isolate itself with its outdated thinking based on human theology. It must get involved in the wholesome human development – spiritual, socio-economic, physical and moral. There is no point in the Church bent on singing the same old song to which less and less people are listening, let alone following.
Dr.Chris Anthony

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