Table of Contents
- The Growing Trend of Disengagement
- Mercy as a Response
- Lessons from Those on the Margins
- Rediscovering the Essence of Being Church
- The Dynamic Nature of the Church
- The Call to Share in Christ’s Work
- The Black Protestant Example
- The Urgent Need for a Cosmic Awareness
- Humanity’s Frailty and Creativity
- Embracing a Cosmic Enigma
In today’s society, there is a growing trend of young people disengaging from organized religion, including the Catholic Church. Many studies have shown that the number of religiously unaffiliated individuals, often referred to as “nones,” is on the rise, and this trend is especially prevalent among young people. Even those who still identify as Catholic often express doubts and have low levels of trust in religious institutions. This loss of faith and disengagement from the Church is a significant concern that needs to be addressed.
The Growing Trend of Disengagement
According to a 2020 report by the Springtide Research Institute, over half of young people who identify as religiously affiliated report low levels of trust in religious institutions. Additionally, the Public Religion Research Institute’s “2022 Health of Congregations Survey” found that 39 percent of those who have switched from their childhood religion to “none” were Catholic. These individuals, often referred to as “dones,” are leaving the Church, and it is essential to understand their experiences and respond with mercy.
Mercy as a Response
Mercy, as defined by theologian Jon Sobrino, is a reaction in the face of the suffering of another that one has interiorized. To respond to those who have left or are struggling to remain in the Church, we must attune our hearts to their experiences and grieve with them. This requires asking fundamental questions and engaging in meaningful conversations about the meaning of life, the connection between faith and action, and the role of the Church in addressing pressing issues such as climate change.
Lessons from Those on the Margins
There are many lessons to be learned from those who have left the Church or feel disconnected from it. Pope Francis, in his call for the Church to go out to the peripheries, emphasizes the importance of embracing the margins and expanding our horizons. By listening to and learning from those on the margins, we can better understand our present moment, define why we want to be a part of the Church, and discover new possibilities for growth and engagement.
Rediscovering the Essence of Being Church
To truly understand the essence of being Church, we must look to the historical context of Jesus’ life and the early Christian communities. The theologian Thomas P. Rausch cautions against moving too quickly from Jesus to the Church, as this ignores the historical circumstances and the real human communities that formed in response to Jesus’ message. By reading ourselves today through the context of Jesus’ historical experience, we can rediscover why we belong to this faith and what it means to be a part of an institution.
The Dynamic Nature of the Church
The community of the Church has always been in flux, evolving and responding to the demands of history. Father Sobrino emphasizes the constant revelation of what is real in the world and the need for a faith-filled response. Spirituality, as he explains, is the spirit with which we confront the concrete history in which we live. Just as Jesus and his friends lived during difficult times, we too face political, religious, and economic challenges. The Church must confront the reality of suffering in specific circumstances and express God’s love through selfless service and unconditional compassion.
The Call to Share in Christ’s Work
Jesus invited all who were moved by his vision of God’s abundance to share in his work. This work included feeding the hungry, healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, serving others, and teaching the message of God’s love. It was not a ministry and authority that Jesus kept to himself but one that he shared, guided, and empowered others to participate in. The community that Jesus founded was not the Church but the eschatological people of God, who became living signs that God’s reign was arriving. The Church today must invite and empower all individuals to share in this work, to become the gifts for others that God needs them to be.
The Black Protestant Example
The Black Protestant community provides a powerful example of how faith can be the most important influence in people’s lives and guide their engagement with social concerns. Unlike other groups, a majority of Black Protestants affirm that congregations should get involved in social issues, even if it means having challenging conversations about politics. This community understands the connection between the love expressed in the Christian Gospel and the demands of justice and human rights. They actively engage in social movements and work to address painful issues by the light of their faith.
The Urgent Need for a Cosmic Awareness
In today’s complex world, the Church must expand its cosmic awareness and recognize its role in the larger context of Creation. The theologian and physicist Alejandro García-Rivera argues that the Church should turn to cosmology to address the grave crisis we are experiencing. This cosmic dimension of the Church is not new but has been present in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and the writings of the early Church. It requires reconnecting with the cosmic Christ through whom all things were made and acknowledging the Holy Spirit’s work in orienting creation towards God’s life and beauty.
Humanity’s Frailty and Creativity
As part of nature, human beings are disclosive of creation’s purposes. Our capacity for creativity allows us to contemplate and reflect back nature, transformed through our creative processes. This creativity is a reflection of being made in the image of God. However, our misguided quest for power, greed, and autonomy has led to the destruction of the very creation we are meant to steward. We must recognize the tragic consequences of our actions and rediscover the strength that comes from our frailty, the strength of the Lord.
Embracing a Cosmic Enigma
The Church’s cosmic awareness should lead us to a deeper appreciation of beauty and its role in connecting our hearts to God. By joining scientific data with art, we can make the world both more mysterious and more intelligible. The collaboration between science and art, driven by a desire to understand the world and appreciate its beauty, can help us confront the challenges we face. This creative approach to engaging with the cosmos reflects Teilhard’s vision of harnessing the energies of love and discovering fire for the second time in the history of the world.
As surveys indicate a decline in religious engagement, it is crucial for the Church to respond with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment. By embracing mercy and engaging with those who have left or feel disconnected from the Church, we can learn valuable lessons and address their concerns. Rediscovering the essence of being Church and expanding our cosmic awareness can help us navigate the challenges of our time and fulfill our role as stewards of God’s creation. By embracing the cosmic dimension of our faith, we can harness the energies of love and work towards the transformation of our world.