Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Catholicism is Not a Numbers Game

ruin-987688_1280 (1)

When I was an adolescent, my understanding of faith and politics was developed around the dinner table of my uncle. Several families would routinely get together at his home, and the men would invariably sit and discuss world affairs and the state of the Church, debating their points, reminding each other of Catholic teaching, hammering out nuances, and occasionally flat-out arguing. Still, cooler heads prevailed more often than not, charity was a virtue highly prized, and I learned a great deal. I was also given the opportunity to participate in those conversations once I was old enough to have something to say. As my knowledge of the faith grew, my ability to articulate my own views grew with it. It was in this environment — safe, but competitive — that I honed the skills I now use every day.

In the bathroom at my uncle’s house was a small wooden book rack, usually containing a couple of children’s books and some Catholic periodicals like The Wanderer. Affixed to its surface was a sticker that read, “The Catholic Church: Never Popular, Always Attractive.”

A great deal of my life can probably be explained by these two anecdotes. I learned to love my faith and to argue for it; to confront people with truth but not to bludgeon them with it; and to try to bring as many souls as possible to Christ while recognizing that people have free will, and can make the choice not to accept what is offered to them.

In a recent online discussion about this article on ad orientem liturgy, I saw a priest who has had some success facing liturgical East in one of his parishes lament the effect that kind of thing has in another one he manages. People there leave the parish over even small changes. It’s reasonable to believe that this is a widespread problem. In some parishes, a liturgical improvement will cause an initial exodus, only to bring in new people who are attracted to the change. In others, the people leave, and leave, and leave…and that’s it. It puts a strain on the parish finances. It threatens the livelihood of those employed to care for and maintain things. It presents a real dilemma for pastors.

During the question and answer session that followed Bishop Schneider’s talk on the reform of the liturgy last February, someone asked a question about what a priest should do when he wants to implement reverence in the liturgy, but is afraid that people will leave if he does.

The good bishop didn’t miss a beat: “The priest’s first duty is to serve God,” he replied, “and by doing so he serves the people. If a priest serves the people first, it is paganism.”

Paganism. Idolatry. The worship that is due to God given instead to man. Catholicism is never popular but always attractive.

It’s difficult, maybe especially so, for Americans to realize that Catholicism isn’t a numbers game. We’re so used to reading the news, paying attention to our investment portfolios, running our businesses, all with an eye to rising stats. Profits, subscribers, readers, customers, year-over-year growth.

But Christ said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt. 22:14)

There’s no question that we should choose to do the right thing because it is the right thing. We needn’t look for a further justification. If the chancery is pressuring a priest to pander, to try to create a “customer-oriented” brand of Catholicism, it’s wrong. Catholicism is what it is — and has always been — and may not be changed to meet the whims of the worshipper; it is He Who Is worshiped who must always take first priority. But there is a supreme benefit to putting God’s demands first: because He is Truth and Goodness, anything that is pleasing to Him will by its very nature benefit us. Even if we are at first resistant to it due to poor habits or immersion in a culture that is deeply antithetical to Him.

Doing the right thing when it comes to our liturgical and sacramental life is the only way forward. It means that some parishes will become empty, and have to be closed. It means that people will turn away, because they want a religion that is focused on their desires and not His. But from the time of Christ, this has been the case. When, after His discourse on the Eucharist, many of the disciples left because of the “hard saying” requiring them to eat the body and drink the blood of the Son of God, Christ did not seek to placate them with anodyne explanations or popular niceties. He instead rounded on the apostles, challenging them:

Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?

And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. – Jn. 6:68-69 (DR)

Our answer must be like that of Simon Peter. We must accept the Lord’s challenge to go deeper, to step outside our comfort zone. To refuse to make excuses, or to walk away because there’s something that we don’t understand.

There are those who will fail this test. We should reach out to them and try to help them, but we have to be okay with letting them go. They have God-given free will, and free will is a radical and dangerous thing.

In 1969, a young Father Joseph Ratzinger made some startling predictions about the future of Catholicism. He wrote:

The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members….

It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

This is no longer a statement about a future threat, but an assessment the present moment. The “sifting” is well underway. We have to accept this winnowing; we have to understand that only a Church which has distilled down to its essence can every truly evangelize. And evangelize we must, beginning with the vast majority of men who call themselves “Catholic” and are anything but. The sort who, in an unconscious declaration of “non serviam,” run from worship and a sacramental life that demands something of them they are unwilling to give.

Fear not, pastors. Do always what is right it is right, and resist the paganism of our day. We do not worship a mere man, but the Creator of the Universe incarnate. We are not panderers and self-flatterers, but a people who falls down in adoration, prostrate and obeisant before the infinite majesty of our God. It is He and He alone Whom we must seek to please.

Pastors, do not worry about finances and parish closings and administrative demands. Do not worry that you will offend people by giving them the meat of God’s truth, and that they will turn away from the hard sayings, leaving you with a reduced flock.

For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. – Mt. 6:32-33

28 thoughts on “Catholicism is Not a Numbers Game”

  1. Yes, this is the dilemma of being a Pastor and steering clear of the Chancery. The chancery office always wants numbers, numbers, numbers. That is why so many panderers are the Pastors of large Parishes and so many poor choices are made for the Office of Bishop.

    In the modern business model of the Church, the priests who server God first and the people through their service of God are the one’s who have the thickest ‘negative information’ file at the diocese, because they are the most calumniated by the people (and by their brother priests), hence they are relegated to the ‘hinterland.’ And of course, the opposite is true too: the priests who cater to everyone first and compromise God the most usually has the most letters of praise and get the big ‘important’ assignments, places in the Diocesan administration, sit on the Priests advisory council to the Bishop etc…and episcopal recommendations are made, for the most part, from that group. Because, they bring in the numbers and the numbers bring Home the Bacon…

    MT 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

    From the ‘hinterland’

    Fr. RP

    • PS: Did you get rid of the Disqus feature on your site? It was more user friendly than this, but this is probably less cross-blog trackable. I actually had my posting privileges suspended on CM over my post on Did the Pope Just permit Contraceptive use?

      Their loss. I have no intention of bowing to the MOD’s request to prove my good standing with the Church as a priest because they disapprove of a post I made over here. Like I want CM calling my bishop to do a hit job on me…

        • Thanks for clearing that up. Yes, CM suspended me because of what I posted here that had nothing to do with them, go and look at this:

          I’m Fr. RP, scroll down until you see the Church_Militant_Moderator respond to me…(I don’t mean the Festus Clasby character with MOD after his title, but the ‘big’ Moderator.)

          Here’s the reply to me for those who don’t feel like clicking and scrolling:

          “Church_Militant_Moderator Mod > Fr. RP • 4 days ago

          Dear Father,

          Something you posted on another site suggests that you think Pope Francis is guilty of heresy, something welcome there but not here.

          Therefore, please forward to me evidence that you are who you say you are, i.e. a priest in good standing with the Church.

          Until then, your posting privileges here are in “time out” mode, easily restored after reviewing your credentials.

          You might also review our posting guidelines and discern whether you can abide by them in good conscience.

          [email protected]

          That other site is 1P5 and the what I posted was my break down of the disaster of Pope Francis Contraceptive reasoning on your original post on the subject.

          • Neither the pope nor the folks at CM seem to know that contraceptives, have a “plan b” mechanism as abortifacients. AL Kresta on catholic radio was saying that contraceptives are like having a shield in battle and are justified when the woman does not intend the marital act. Apparently, along with the hopelessly naive CM staff, Kresta is ignorant of the abortifacient action of both oral hormones and the “morning after” pill. Wow. Michael Voris would do better and might learn sonething if he didn’t surround himself with dim bulbs.

          • Unfortunately, Michael Voris has painted himself into a corner.

            He does not like Pope Francis one bit. But he’s Pope.
            So what does Voris do, he makes ridiculous excuses of the Pope being naïve and the Pope being manipulated.

            Goodness, the Pope does what he does. If anything, he is the one manipulating things.

            The worst thing Voris did is he put the Pope Francis problem on Pope Benedict’s shoulder – something along the lines of “if Benedict did not resign we would not have to put up with Francis”.

            Absurd really. To Michael the Pope is totally off limits.

  2. Thank you for a well-written article – so much TRUTH in it! Truth has become a rare commodity it seems in today’s confused culture of chaos. The evil one of lies and his ilk are running amok today and having a field day, not only spreading his lies, but so many humans today spreading lies – in our government and sadly in our church. So many gullible people buying the lies. We must keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and who never changes. I will follow Him – not the men – even though they be pastors – who do not teach and speak the truth, God’s words. I cannot tell you how often I have heard or read statements by priests and bishops that go against authentic Catholic teaching and Scripture – leaving me astounded. I pray to stay focused on Him and be counted in the small remnant that will be left. Thank you for all you do and keep on bringing truth to the light. God bless you and all those clergy who teach truth today in spite of the growing tide of confusion and lies.

  3. I somewhat long for the government to turn to taxing the Church and taking our money. While one could argue that that might force some priests to be more desperate to pant and beg after money like a dog doing tricks to earn its master’s treat, it may also get to the point where money is inconsequential because there simply is none. Those that keep hanging around through the mammon famine can amuse themselves and pass the time by taking up that ever ancient, ever new hobby of soul-saving (that of their own and of others).

  4. Steve: You have spoken the truth most eloquently. It is high time more people recognized it and recognized what it will mean as stated in Matthew 10:20-22.

    “”For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21″Brother
    will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will
    rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22″You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.…”

  5. It is perhaps significant that at about the same time that “a young Father Joseph Ratzinger” was making his predictions, Thomas Merton was expressing the same idea in different words. When two such men arrive independently at the same conclusion, there must be much truth in it.

  6. I have reflected on this for much of my priesthood, indeed even in my seminary days. The average priest is conditioned to dread people leaving his parish for many reasons, the best of which is that he fears the loss of their salvation, the worst of which is that his ego suffers because he is principally motivated by the adulation of the people, and he thinks this will reflect poorly on him before the Bishop if it continues to happen and he won’t climb the latter of success and be looked upon as a ‘good/great’ priest. So, both types tend to shy away from saying the parts of the Gospel that they think the people will reject. Or, if they do mention them, it is only in passing and watered down to be empty of most of it’s meaning (in other words, no mention of the consequences of rejecting the Truth.)

    However, if people are leaving because they are rejecting the clear teaching of the Church, then the truth of the matter is that they were already separated from the Mystical Body of Christ in their hearts, so their posterior in the pew is irrelevant. The usual response to this truth (from those who are concerned for the peoples salvation) is that if they stay in the pew they have the opportunity of being converted. However, if those same men are not preaching the fullness of the Gospel, those people will never hear it and they will not be converted by it. The lovers of themselves simply lie and say that Jesus Loves everyone as they are and that those people are ‘good’ and are going to heaven because mercy etc…

    The greater problem is that many of the shepherds no longer fully believe the Deposit of the Faith, so they are actually hostile to the elements that they have rejected and they either openly lead their sheep to be as they themselves are, or they ignore the elements they have rejected all together. If someone asks them about, say contraception, those shepherds sooth their consciences with false assurances of Jesus Love and that the Church no longer really believes that stuff etc…

    These false shepherds are the cause of the greatest exodus from the Church, because the average sheep eventually wises up and says if this stuff isn’t important and Jesus Loves me as I am and that means I am going to Heaven, then why am I wasting my time and money with all this unnecessary Church stuff? And out the door they go…so, the false shepherd try’s to turn the Mass into some kind of pop entertainment, so that some of them will stay simply because the are being entertained, they feel good. Of course this eventually breaks down, because God will not be mocked and worldly people are much more entertained by the world than they are by bad actors and musicians in the desecrated sanctuary.

    The priest’s foremost concern must be the embrace and the living out of the Gospel in it’s fullness himself in order to become a living sacrifice pleasing to the Lord for the Love of God and the Salvation of Souls. Then he can truly bring that Gospel in it’s fullness to the people that have been entrusted to His care. He must be a man of penance and prayer which will transform him and allow him to become a man of True Christian Charity, which always has it’s end rooted in the Salvation of Souls, and not it the temporary comforting of the someone’s body in the world. The Church’s Corporal works of mercy can never be separated from the Spiritual works of mercy, otherwise they are an empty show, mere humanistic philanthropy. God did not send the Church to comfort people on their way to Hell. He sent the Church to:

    “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Mt 28:19-20.

    • Though you make many excellent points, I cannot forget the hard-headed common sense of Flannery O’Connor who wrote that “it’s better to be held to the Church by mere habit than not to be held at all”. I quote from memory, but that is the gist.

      Surely you’re right about the plague of false shepherds. I happen to know quite a few new priests and seminarians, and can report that they encourage me greatly. They’re being formed to live a via crucis. They know it and have accepted it.

      • And I completely agree that thought, however, she was not referring to people who only remain in the Church because Christ isn’t being preached in the Church and who will leave if He is…that is what I was referring to.

        • One of my favorite priests who’s particularly straightforward in his preaching about things like contraception, same-sex relationships, and divorce, used to be troubled when people walked out as he was preaching. No more.

  7. It appears we’ve restored Disqus comment functions, but some comments that were left while the system was down have been lost.

    We apologize for the inconvenience.

  8. Fr. Ratzinger was prescient about the future church because he helped to ensure the true church would, in fact, be a remnant.

  9. In my diocese we are going bankrupt not just because fewer are donating but because spiritual corruption leads to corruption in all other areas. Many are quite fearful of this, I am in fact fearful that somehow they manage to keep the ship afloat. When the church becomes poor and the material comforts of being a priest are taken away and it becomes hard to be a priest… then and only then will those who are not in it for the Lord jump ship. Praise the Lord for that day, because the smaller, poorer, purer church is also the more spiritually fruitful church!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...