Greg Lopez posted a reflection titled Declining members in Christian organisations in Australia on 10 March. He stated that there are 11,400 Catholic parishes in our fair land. Between 1991 and 2016, the number of Catholics going to Church regularly decreased by about 40% and in 2016, only about 11% of Catholics attended Mass in their parishes each weekend. However, this is not the case with Catholic schools. Catholic education has continued to grow nationally. Clearly, the mantra of “family, parish, school” no longer has meaning for most Catholics in Australia. The Australian culture was at one time Christian, but that is no longer so. Have most Catholics come to view the faith as an ideology? Have they forgotten the faith stories given to them through the Mass? It would appear that certain human values have gained the ascendency over Christian values related to forming their relationship with God and with Christ.
Pope Francis has warned against viewing Christianity as an ideology: “Be careful, for the Gospel is not an idea; the Gospel is not an ideology. The Gospel is a proclamation that touches the heart and makes you change your heart.” When people choose to ignore the stories conveyed through liturgy, then eventually, the values that are conveyed through the Gospel are soon replaced by values that are characterised by convenience and immediacy. The message of the Gospel has been drowned out by the cares of the world.
Fr Joseph Cardijn described this phenomenon as a “worker problem, world problem, human problem, apostolic and missionary problem!” When and where “apostles” and “missionaries” accompanied Christians in the manner of Christ accompanying them, then faith in Christ shaped their lives. That this accompaniment has declined significantly in Australia was inevitable, given the increasingly materialistic and consumerist character of our culture. The call of the Gospel is to live with a generous and forgiving heart and to be attentive to the struggles of those around us.
In the Gospel for Tuesday of the Third week of Lent (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus responds to Peter’s question about forgiveness with a parable that contrasts God’s compassion and forgiveness with the actions of the unjust servant. Our relationship with our neighbour (Love your neighbour.) must be a reflection of our relationship with God (Love God.). When the commitment to religious observance declines, then peoples’ relationship with God suffers and there will be significant changes in the values that people uphold.
Reversing the trend does not mean returning to the past because often what existed in the past was merely religion on show, that is, people practised their “faith” without understanding or appreciating the relationship with God on which the practice is founded. We would do well to learn from others about living our faith through walking with those in need and strengthening our commitment through being in the presence of God. I listened to Amar Singh, an Australian Sikh, as he told the ABC presenter Richard Fidler about the importance of his faith and his religious practices to his compassionate responses to the needs of people he met in his work as a truck driver. He reflected on his experience of being in the presence of God and how in a sense it completed his life. May we, too, find fulfilment in being in God’s presence as we go about our work each day.
Read more …
Catholic school enrolments trending down – A Victoria University report, 26 September, 2019 presenting evidence of changing values in Australian culture
Church Attendance in Australia – a National Church Life Survey (NCLS) report. The McCrindle infographic on Church attendance in Australia will provide more insights into the ways Australians think about life and faith
Pope Francis’ messages against ideologies in the Church Rome Reports, 1 March, 2023
The world today and the apostolate of the laity: Keynote Address by Fr Joseph Cardijn to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, Rome, October 1951
Readings for the Mass celebrated on Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent.
Amar Singh’s love for faith, family and country: ABC Conversations with Richard Fidler, Monday, 13 March, 2023