While reading CNN in Reno Nevada the article “Seven reasons Catholics leave church,” was discovered. Reno, Nevada, of course has the same problems the Catholic Church in general has. The story was also found in Reno Nevada of a Rabbi who claimed that if given any child, he could raise that child in any religious faith, and that child would rather die than leave that faith. His point is that it is not a matter of that faith being in the right God, or worshiping that God in the right way. As a Rabbi, he knows what the Jewish community calls the Shema, “Hear Israel (those who struggle with God) the Personal Name is our Might Judge, the Personal Name is One.” That is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Jesus quotes that passage in Mark 12:28-34. There we call it the Great Commandment.
The essence of the Great Commandment is community. “Hear, Israel,” “Hear you who struggle with God.” The people first hearing that commandment were the Jewish people escaping from bondage in Egypt. A century ago, it was people trying to escape the bondage of poverty in Europe. A half century ago, and today, it is those escaping the bondage of poverty in Appalachia, the reservations in the west, and the suffering of segregation in the Deep South. We struggle as a community. When we look at the top seven reasons for leaving the church, in that article read in Reno, Nevada, we read: “So it was just a place to attend Mass. And because attending Mass was a guilt-ridden obligation, I was always alone in a crowd where I knew no one and no one knew me.”
“Community,” comes from Latin roots, “Com,” “With” and “Mu-,” “To bind.” In community we are bound up, one with another. If we do not know the person sitting to our left or to our right, if we do not know the name of the person sitting to the left or to our right, how can we be a community?
Many of us at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada do not know each other. We may have several hundred attend any given Mass on Sunday morning. The first Sunday of every month, our Cathedral has coffee and doughnuts. Maybe a dozen or so people arrive for the free treat. This is important, not because we need to fill up on high cholesterol doughnuts, or coffee high in caffeine, but because we need to develop community. During Mass, we have the “Peace be with you.” Many want to say exactly that and view it an insult if anything else is said. This is, of course, a translation of “Shalom Aleichem.” The parishioners in the earliest church said this. People in our communities do not say this. We need to introduce ourselves and learn about each other during this time. This is the time to work on community.
“A number of people responded that homilies, weekly Sunday messages from the priest, did not relate or “speak to” them.” When we leave Mass, we need to discuss with Father what we thought of his homily, the good, and the bad. When Father has a class on Gospel and Torah, we need to attend. This is not so we can learn the official version of things, but so we can give our input. Right or wrong, Father will know where we are at, and be able to formulate his homilies so that they do speak to us.
If we start in these simple steps, we will start to bind ourselves to each other. We will become community. Then the rabbi’s statement will be true. The gates of hell will not take us from our community of the Catholic/Universal Church.
Father Francisco, at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada always talks about the importance of the Eucharist as it relates to this issue. St. Paul relates of the Eucharist, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? The loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
St. Paul also tells us, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. In one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. The body is not a single part, but many.” St. Paul tells us in Romans, “As in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.” St. Paul continues with this subject in Ephesians 2:16; and Colossians 3:15.
With this in mind, we read the reasons people are leaving our beloved church: Dissatisfaction with the priest; The sex abuse crisis; Uninspiring homilies on Sundays, (A number of people responded that homilies, weekly Sunday messages from the priest, did not relate or “speak to” them;) Perception that church hierarchy is too closely tied to conservative politics; Church’s stance toward divorced and remarried Catholics; The status of women; and the church’s stance on homosexuality.”
Two main issues arise: dissatisfaction with the priest, and dissatisfaction with the hierarchy. When we look closer, however, we find that listed with “Dissatisfaction with the priest,” is the view that parishioners do not know each other. We are not one body. As with any organization of human beings, the priest has an inner corps of people who tell him what the parishioners are thinking. If this inner corps is conservative, and it is, the parish priest receives a skewed understanding of where the body is, and responds in kind. When we realize that priests are human beings like everybody else, we watch them like everybody else. When they act like human beings, doing something stupid, we, as a community respond, we plug them into our judicial system, as we do with anybody else.
Jesus is very clear on his stance toward marriage. Matthew 19:6 If we see problems between our married brothers and sisters when they first marry, we could end the need and desire for divorce. This is an issue involving the community at large. A chapter earlier Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Think of a sixth grader, for most the last year before we become adults. John 10:10 quotes Jesus as saying he came to bring life to its fullest for all people. That includes our sisters. Maybe they cannot be “Father,” but they can lead lives to their fullest, fulfilling similar roles to “Father.” Our goal as Christians and Catholics is to find that role. We need to think, not of what they cannot be, but of what they can be.
Conservative politics focuses upon what people cannot be. We need to focus upon what people can be. Many quote St. Paul in Romans chapter one on the issue of homosexuality. We need to read that passage in its context. Romans 1:17 reads, “In it (The Gospel) is revealed the charitableness of God, faith upon faith; as it is written, “The one who is charitable by faith will live.” Then a list comes of what “They” do. In that list is homosexuality. After this comes the spring of the trap, “You are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment.” After this, St. Paul spends the rest of his letter describing what we can do to create community. The emphasis is not on what “They do,” but upon what “We do.”
Following this list is what we need to do to stop the hemorrhaging: taking an active role in developing community, learning the names of the people around us, at Mass and in our communities. It means learning what they do for a living, their hopes, and their joys, their sufferings and their traumas. It means learning about their families. Then it means inviting Father down to coffee and doughnuts and discussing how we see his homilies and the church as we see it in our world. Then the world will beat a path to our door. Fidel Castro recently commented how different the church is from the Jesuit church he grew up in. Let all the departed parishioners soon say the same of our church, as they return.