Sir, we would like to see Jesus! John 12:21
Why are so many leaving us? There is no one simple answer, but my gut is telling me that they are leaving because they are looking for Jesus and they feel that all they hear about are the goings-on in the organizational structures of the church. For them, the earthenware jar is becoming more important than the treasure it holds.
What will bring them back? One thing, I believe, that will help bring them back is for us spiritual leaders to focus more on Christ and less on the organization.
Because we have focused so much on protecting the institution and because many of our leaders have lost the trust and confidence of our people, we are more and more impotent in challenging our disordered culture, no matter how much talking we do or how many campaigns we organize.
Speaking to the bishops of the United States, Blessed John Paul II said it this way back in 2004:
“Experience shows that when priority is mainly given to outward stability, the impetus to personal conversion, ecclesial renewal and missionary zeal can be lost and a false sense of security can issue. The church is only authentically ‘reformed’ when she returns to her origins in a conscious appropriation of the apostolic tradition and purifying reevaluation of her institutions in light of the Gospel.”
If our people feel that they have to go elsewhere to clearly hear the Word of God, maybe the focus of any “new evangelization” effort should be more on those who lead than those who leave.
“Because he can and does evangelize, the priest ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized.” says Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis.
If the church needs “re-evangelization,” maybe it should begin by focusing on its evangelizers.
The first subject of such a focus should be our spiritual leadership ability.
“Priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of the gospel of God to all. For through the saving Word the spark of faith is struck in the hearts of unbelievers, and fed in the hearts of the faithful.” says Presbyterorum Ordinis, Pope Paul VI’s decree on the ministry and life of priests.
Maybe fewer would leave if we were more skilled at “striking the spark of faith in the hearts of unbelievers” and “feeding the hearts of the faithful.”
The second subject of such a focus should be our leadership credibility.
“The priest needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him — the mind of Christ. The priest ought to be the first believer in the word,” Pastores Dabo Vobis tells us.
Maybe fewer would leave if we were more credible examples of what we preach.
With all that said, the validity of the message has never depended on the effectiveness of its messengers.
Father J. Ronald Knott