Last week the CDC announced that the U.S. is out of the pandemic stage of the coronavirus. We are beginning to stick our heads outside of the cave and wonder, as the New Yorker cartoon puts it, “Who even are we?” Perhaps a good place to start figuring that out is to ask ourselves this question: What pre-pandemic habits do we want to leave behind?
I’ll get the ball rolling with this thought. I think we Catholics need to leave behind our tendency not to speak up about our faith and beliefs.
There was never a more outspoken group of disciples than the original apostles. Time and time again, they questioned and missed the point, and speculated and argued with one another. Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry straightening them out. When did we lose this form of pedagogy?
In the past Catholic pedagogy has been more about socializing people to be part of an institution than it has been about nurturing discipleship. Don’t get me wrong - we need the institution, and we need training. I remember when my kids were little, if one of them called the other “stupid,” they were told that “stupid” was not a word used in this family. They were being socialized to be members of our family.
We Catholics took our socialization to heart. We got good at being “Catholic” but generally kept to ourselves the questions and doubts that naturally occur on the journey of faith. We also got good at grumbling behind the scenes about this or that, since safe places for dialogue and discovery were few and far between.
We need to learn how to dialogue and listen to one another with respect and charity. Granted, the ability to listen attentively to others, and for both sides to be willing to compromise and work together for the sake of the whole, seems like a lost art in our polarized society. But wouldn’t it be nice if religion became the place where dialogue was reclaimed and modeled for others?
Pope Francis seems to believe so. Mid-pandemic he called upon Catholics around the world to gather in listening sessions, to record the responses, and send those responses to Rome. As far as I know, in the history of the Catholic Church, this is the first attempt on the part of universal church leadership to try to listen to what is on the hearts and minds of the people.
The timing of this is good and bad. Some parishes who are struggling with funding and attendance due to the pandemic or other reasons, simply don’t have the capacity to take this on and do it well. And let’s face it, we Catholics are really rusty at this. We need to applaud all efforts being made - big and small.
My parish is blessed with the means and determination to take this to heart. We hosted three in-person listening sessions, which were attended by 131 parishioners. As you would guess, most of those who attended the in-person session were very dedicated parishioners.
We also developed an on-line survey, which was broader in scope than the questions used for the in-person sessions. The survey was completed by 469 people, and it seemed to hit a nerve. The instrument we used to develop the survey indicated that the survey could take 6 minutes to complete. When we received the data back, the program indicated that the average time a respondent took to complete the survey was 34 minutes! People took time to write in numerous comments. Some commented on the fact that this was the first time the Church had reached out to hear what they had to say.
We have just begun to parse through all of the data we received. Some of the responses to questions on faith and belief are surprising. Let me give you an example.
Seventy-three percent of the Catholics who responded to the survey said that they believe that Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist in a special way. This was one of the highest percentages across the board. Yet only forty-nine percent said that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I wonder if our problem of socializing people into the institution of the Church, as opposed to forming them as disciples, has something to do with these statistics. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that the Eucharist is so integral to the faith life of so many Catholics, but on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder what “Jesus” they are returning to, if less than half experience a personal relationship with the Lord outside of the Eucharist?
This one example is the tip of the iceberg. When we have had a chance to evaluate all of the data we received, I’ll let you know where to go to see the findings.
Who even are we? I don’t imagine we will know for sure until we get comfortable having some soulful conversations. But we have Pope Francis to thank for getting us started.