In his weekly column in the Derry News, local priest, Father Paddy O'Kane, asks why less people are now attending church each week.
It’s no secret that today there’s been a massive drop-off in church attendance.
Moreover that drop-off is not paralleled by a growth in atheism.
Rather more and more people are claiming to be spiritual but not religious, faith-filled but not church goers?’
’Try and find Jesus on your own,’ as John Prine sings in Spanish Pipedream.
The temptation in religious circles is to blame what’s happening on the secular world.
Secular culture, many people argue, is a powerful narcotic with its seductive promise of heaven on this side of eternity.
Within that world, the pursuit of the good life can squeeze out almost all deeper religious desire.
Interestingly, this is also the major criticism that Islamic extremists make of Western culture [and even education].
For them it’s a drug which, once swallowed, has no cure.
That’s why they want to block their youth from Western influences.
But is it true? Is secular culture the enemy?
Are we church-goers the last remnant of truth left standing, marginalised in a society that’s shallow, irreligious and godless?
Many would argue that this conclusion is far too simple.
Secular society can indeed be shallow, irreligious and godless, but beneath the surface, I believe, real religious desire still burns and we must ask ourselves why aren’t more people turning to us to deal with them?
The recent scandals may have indeed disillusioned many but still we must ask ‘Why are so many people who are genuinely seeking spirituality not interested in looking at what the Church offers?
Why do so many have the attitude I find ‘the Church boring, irrelevant, and hopelessly out of step with my life’.
The secular world is, no doubt, partly to blame but so too are the Churches themselves. There’s an axiom that says: all atheism is a parasite of bad theism.
That logic also holds regarding attitudes towards the Church: bad attitudes toward the Church feed off bad church practice.
The Jewish scholar Rabbi Abraham Heschel in his book ‘God in Search of Man’ says ‘It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society.
It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.
Religion declined, not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive and insipid.
When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendour of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless’.
The drop-off in church attendance could be said to be partly our own fault because, as Pope Francis has said, ‘’far too often we are not radiating a Church with a compassionate embrace’’ and we are not in fact addressing the real energies that are burning inside people.
The secular world often sees our Churches as self-absorbed, not understanding its desires, its wounds and its needs.
Pope Francis has said if we reduce the joy of the Good News to a series of ‘thou shalt not’s then we have done the church a disservice.
‘’We have the living water,’’ he reminds us, ‘’ the water Christ promised would quench all fires and all thirsts.’’
But this is the problem; we aren’t getting this living water to where people are thirsting or where the fires are burning!
I may be asking more questions than I can answer but part of the solution may be in this: think of the sap within a fruit tree.
Replace the word ’sap’ for ‘grace’. And so, if that faithful remnant in our parishes who come weekly to be enriched by the Word of God and fed by the holy Eucharist, if there was something special in that remnant and how we live our lives – a peace, a generosity of spirit, or a joy-as a result of that encounter, then people might begin to ask ‘where can I get a slice of that’?
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