Bishop Hying

In the midst of sobering facts about religious priorities are many reasons for hope

       As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on July 2, 2017


       Much ink has been spilled lamenting, or at least detailing, the decline of religion’s influence in America and the rise of secularism. The importance of church attendance, the relevance of traditional morality, the centrality of God as a living and personal force, and the influence of religious leaders all seem diminished within our cultural and sociological landscape. 

       Many young people now identify themselves as “Nones,” meaning no religious affiliation; weekly Mass attendance is at 29 percent at best. The number of both Catholic marriages and marriages in general is in precipitous decline and about 80 percent of young Catholics are essentially disengaged from the Church by the age of 21. 

       As Baby Boomers begin to age and pass from the scene, our Church faces an institutional shrinkage unseen in the history of United States Catholicism.

       In the midst of such sobering facts, I nevertheless see many reasons for hope. 

       Fewer Catholics participate in the life of the Church, but a growing core of believers see themselves as intentional disciples and are highly committed to deepen their own faith and share it with others.  Many young people are extraordinarily serious about growing in prayer and holiness. 

       Witness the biannual National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, which draws 25,000 young Catholics, or World Youth Day, which pulls in millions. The resources for adult formation and catechesis are so much more effective and sophisticated than in years past. Increased numbers of Americans view abortion as wrong and want to do something to help women in crisis pregnancies to make better choices.  We might have fewer seminarians, but the ones we do have are of a high maturity and caliber. More and more people are asking the right questions about the future of both the Church and the world, believing they can transform both for the better while healing the poverty and violence around us.

       This weekend, some of our diocesan leaders and I are at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, an assembly of 3,000 people from across the country, which will try to do what our Synod sought to accomplish last month, which is to create a plan to evangelize our country and form disciples for the Lord. 

       This summer, our diocese is proudly sending, for the first time, a delegation to the Black Catholic Congress, which is striving to develop a pastoral plan to animate and grow the African-American community within the Church. 

       Encuentro V, an ongoing process of visioning and engagement, seeks to do the same for the burgeoning Hispanic community.  Please pray for the fruitfulness of all these endeavors.

       I see a great synergy in all of these exciting initiatives. We realize that we cannot simply live our Catholic faith with a “business as usual” attitude. Other epic moments of spiritual ferment have renewed the Church throughout her colorful history.

       I am thinking of the Roman persecutions, the Gregorian reforms in the 11th century, the monastic movement, and the rise of the Franciscan and Dominican orders who preached and ministered in the streets among the poor. The Counter-Reformation ushered in needed changes in the medieval Church and the Catholic fervor of France rose after the destructive force of the Revolution had spent itself. Could this time be such a moment of transformation for us?

       As we move towards implementing the synod, especially in our parishes, we ask the Lord to breathe the Holy Spirit upon our minds and hearts as we seek new ways to engage everyone in the great mission of Jesus Christ.  This great effort will require much trust, surrender, confidence and openness on the part everyone, as we imagine creative possibilities for the flourishing of the Church in our local communities. 

       A powerful question for us to ponder, individually, as married couples, as families, or as prayer or Bible study groups is: What is the Lord asking me to do in this time of my life to go deeper into the faith?”

       It may not be a question of doing more, but perhaps doing the same things with a different approach or attitude, or dropping an activity in order to pick up a new endeavor. I’ve always said that the synod will be effective to the extent that we all fall deeper in love with God and give our lives more generously to the service of the Gospel. 

       For me, I am thinking of trying to embrace more silence and reflection on a daily basis. This posture of stillness before the Lord always brings rich insights into faith, feelings of God’s immense love and overwhelming presence, and a perspective that refreshes hope, sanity, peace and joy.

       Personally, I need to start my own synod renewal in the presence of Jesus. 

       As we examine the social and cultural landscape around us, as we celebrate on the Fourth of July -  the founding of this country on principles of faith in God, human rights and the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” - we can either wring our hands in fear and despair, lamenting the collapse of what is familiar, or we can open our hands in welcome to the possibilities of a deeper life in Christ. 

       The Church will look very different in the years to come from how we have known her to be in the past. Parishes, leaders, particular pastoral methods, schools, structures and initiatives of service will ebb and flow, but the essence of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, witnessed to in Scripture and manifested in the sacraments, will always be the great meaning, passion and purpose of our lives. 

       This North Star, this fixed point, this flaming Sacred Heart beating at the center of the universe will be with us always, even to the end of the age.


       + Donald J. Hying

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