There is not a Palm Sunday homily– as the Mass has two Gospels ( processional gospel and Mark’s Drama of The Passion)– and it makes for too long a Mass with a regular homily added in.. but here below is a very long reflection of a recent article I read. It was about Religion in America and dipping church going numbers ( according to pollsters)… I ironically reflected on it in a week when we had a discouraging turn-out for our parish Lenten Penance Service. I was wondering about the parish and how so many people could be having a possibly blessed Lent without using the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Religion in America keeps sliding and dipping. So said the writer in their publication this week with all her polling facts. We priests and Catholics don’t need a poll to tell us this; we can see it in openings in the pews. Other denominational churches see the trend, too. Some call what is going on as “The Great Decline.”
Since 2012, an official report by the General Social Survey (GSS) tells us that the number of people in the United States who are no longer active in religion has increased by three percent. This group (of non-actives), often called secular humanists, is indicated in polls with their religious preference given as “none.” The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.”
The latest report of GSS states that almost 1 in 4 Americans prefer “no religion.” As late as the 1990s, this class was still in the single digits, but now makes up 23 percent of the population. That’s a significant number. It is nearly the same size as the number of us Catholics in the nation. Thus, pollsters have dubbed them as the “Nones” of America.
Professed Christians also are being affected by the secular culture in falling numbers. The same GSS poll also reveals that 35 percent of Americans do not attend church (apart from weddings and other services). That’s a 5 percent increase in the last few years. And the number of people who say they never pray jumped from 14 percent to 17 percent. Wow. Not good.
For our own Catholic Archdiocese, the numbers are falling too in this regard. Even while we win new members by the thousands into the local Church annually, and even while Hispanic immigration keeps Catholic numbers ‘up’ among us here, and around the USA, our annual pew poll (the ADW Octobercount) show dipping numbers and less faithful attendance to Mass or parish life.
Yet among the Flock in Catholic Faith, there are those who steadfastly maintain Faith in Emmanuel, in the God Who Is with us. Since Pentecost (A.D.33), this flock has been “The Catholic Church.”* We gather because we believe God calls and gathers us into Communion with Him. Sunday is The Lord’s Day to us. We are glad to witness to this–regardless of what takes place in the world around us–though we pray more will come to The Lord and join us.
(*One can also name the Orthodox Church as a pairing with the Catholics.)
Since the start of Christ’ Church, we have heeded His message, such as to live in Hebrews’ message, that “We have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way in which He opened for us…and since we have a great Priest over the house of God (in Him)…we hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as we see the Day of the Lord drawing near…(thus) let us draw near with true hearts and full assurance of faith…” “Surrounded by a heavenly cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, who for the hoy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the Right Hand of the Throne of God.” That First Century Church message has been lived out by Catholics through time. (from Hebrews 10 & 12)
But the Religion of “None” grows rapidly. It is also called “secular humanism,” whose members even sometimes claim that they are Christian-like, but practice it without the work or guilt or right/wrong ‘judgment’ of any church or institution. Thusly, they say that “church” is passed by in their practice, and, as one bold but frank person said: “I just eliminate the middle man to God. I don’t need a church, nor priests or pastors, nor bible teachers, nor some so-called brother or sister to sit next to me on Sundays. I go direct, on my own, to God as I know Him.”
The Catholic Faith proclaims that Jesus is that “middle-man.” He shouldn’t be passed by, but so often He has been. In Jesus’ ministry on the earth, many of the self-identified religious or righteous people did not want anything to do with Him. They did pass Him by. Many examples in the Gospel show this, such as in John 5 and its teaching account of Jesus. As the Church began upon Jesus’ Commission and Outpouring of His Spirit, you see the apostles pointing out how too many people dismissed God’s Work among them in the Blessed Son. St. Peter scolds a group, as told in Acts 10:38; He cites their folly: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and of power and He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him… yet you put Him to death by hanging him on a tree.”
The author of Hebrews says that God sends His salvation in mediation, too. “Christ has obtained a ministry that is among us…the covenant He mediates is better than the old ones, it is a faultless one…” (8:6-7) “Jesus is the Mediator of a New Covenant, so that those who are called may receive a promised eternal inheritance by Him.” (9:15) Jesus proclaimed a reign of God on earth in Him (see Matthew 9:35-36), and by sharing in his ministry (middle man work) the apostles would be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake…for Christ’ account. Yet rejoice and be glad, then, for your reward will be great in Heaven.” That’s mediation talk. Jesus taught that no one could come to the Almighty Father of Heaven but by and through Him (see John 14:6) and He delegated His authority to apostles whom He named (Matthew 10). That is also middle man talk.
Jesus definitely was a middle-man and planned to work in mediation on this world with humanity. Yet when He stood before the people in judgment, even the Jewish chief priests yelled “Crucify Him! We have no king but Caeser!” The middle man of God was turned away. Jesus was rejected by His own people (as a mediator God), “yet as many as received Him, who believed in His Name, to them He gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12) That is what happens today. It comes down to Luke 12:8-9 (or Matthew 10:32-33): “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.”
Why would someone disown the Son of God Who has come to save them? Yet this is the place that the “None” category of people have increasing chosen today. What has happened to them to favor this choice? They claim (in polls) that A/their religion is none and B/ their church affiliation is none. These secular humanists trust to make it on their own ‘goodness.’ They have no identification with God and Jesus Who would be among us in any “church” or Sunday assembly of Christians or God-believers. Hmmm.
In a media commentary of being a “None,” some persons said: While my neighbor may go to a church on a Sunday, I am more likely found at a Starbucks… My Sunday gathering is with two guys on a golf course, when the weather affords it… I go to a second job on Sunday morn, so to afford the new car that I like driving around… I lounge around the house and then make brunch, and treat the Christian day of rest literally–though skipping the church part–but I am a good person and don’t need the church part.
Practicing Catholics understand the above choices of the “None” community. Yet we are convicted that Our Lord is Communal and He is among us actively (not just watching from Heaven or something) and that Jesus is Alive and He is the Founder of what is “The Church.” He intended to work through it from the start; He still does. So we want to meet Our Lord there, even while we also have a personal relationship with Him in our own heart.
In the first century, one of Christ’ apostles appealed to the Corinth community: “You are Christ’ body. All of you together form the saved body He now inhabits, and each of you is a part of His body. To each of you who believe in Him is given the manifestation of The Spirit, to work inspired for the common good. For by One Spirit we were baptized all into one body… in Christ.” That is Christianity.
Another expectation in the early Church was to keep and continue the Church that Jesus started– and not to found a new one or split one. Perhaps one reason people choose not to go to church n modern times is over confusion of all the brands and difference interpretations of Jesus’ Way. It is why the original Church needs to be what is presented to people today, as we have the history of doing what Jesus founded for her life and practice. “I pray that all be one,” said Jesus in John 17.
This is our attitude today in the greater Washington D.C. church community, or anywhere in the world. We are baptized to be one in Christ Jesus. We need Christ in our souls to truly live. We cannot be apart from our Love, our Lord. We need to be united to one another in one fold and for all generations. Only the Spirit of Jesus in us can be the power and means for this plan of God. Only He can be that Guiding Force in Person or be the One to unite us to Christ Jesus. ( See the blueprint in John 12-17 and Acts 1-2)
The “None” members don’t get any sense that they are missing anything–in their lives without Christ as Lord. They seem to think that all is going alright on their own. They don’t look for oneness in Jesus ‘ outpoured Spirit nor for Mercy in what He provides to humanity.
This should concern us to compassion. Our Catholic shepherds have said that numbers (of more non-affiliated people to Church) are a call to those of us who know God to reach out to them.
We believers know the Paschal Mystery of Christ Jesus, and we understand Christ’ purpose and meaning of The Church, and support it. So–it leads us to ask The Lord: How we can help these numbers to change? What is it that we are to do in Christ’ Name? What or who are we to be, in being the light of the world, the salt of the earth, or the bright city set upon the hill ? (Matthew 5)
We first remember that we are servants of The Lord and stewards of His Gifts and Presence in us. We then go to what we know of the Truths of Our Catholic Faith. We remember of what are our core beliefs and of what the Church proclaims. Then, we take part in serving God’s will (as revealed to us in prayer and a surrendered will) and we proclaim Christ to the world– Jesus as our one Hope, and His Good News as the promise of change for the weary and lost and empty persons on earth, whose lives are headed towards the shipwreck of Self.
What do we have to offer them? We have our humility in love and we have The Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ! All of this upcoming Holy Week is our own renewal in this central aspect of Catholic life. Christ’ Dying Mystery, His Rising Mystery, and His Glory Mystery is what all humanity does need for salvation (including ourselves, who live in the dispensation).
Christ Jesus in humble love walks before us(Palm Sunday), then breaks bread with us (Holy Thursday), then He dies for us to save us in His loving offering (Good Friday), and then He rises in victory, to show His Way is True (Easter). Jesus alone saves. He is Head of the Body, the Church. He is Lord God. He is our Priest, Prophet and King (which was our St. Edward’s Advent theme of parish celebration). The Church dispenses what Jesus’ Mystery is giving and pouring forth to the world. He asked us to be His instrument. He asks us to be His witnesses. He asked us to be His sign. He asks us to let Him embody us as the Living Lord. He desires to fully live in us. Above: Catholic Church in San Francisco
Below artwork: Church and City Enveloped in Fog.
The “None’s” are not convinced. A look around from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday in the Bowie area will reveal that the majority of people in the area are not involved in any church. Some other nominal Christians will show up to a church to “check in” but they don’t want any further identity with it than that. We are outnumbered by non-believers at Easter.
The non-believers excitement in our Holy Week or Easter week may be more for the NCAA basketball tournament games, or for Cherry Blossoms, or for a vacation somewhere (with the family off from school), or for some fun in being outside in the breaking, warmer weather— than for looking for God in any liturgies in a church. We should really pray with caring hearts for those who are missing Christ as Pasch for the world (Pasch is another word for Easter).
The Church is meant to be a prophetic sign of God to the world, especially in Holy Week and Easter week. Let us look at some prophecies and Scriptures in which we are living today as the Church of the Savior. “Chew” on these Bible messages for a time…
These are taken from Jeremiah 30-31, Isaiah 42, and Revelation 14:12 and Revelations 21:2-3,5, and James 1:21, 5:8 and Romans 1:16:
“You shall be My people, and I shall be your God… in the latters days you shall understand this… I have loved you with an everlasting love… again I will build you up, and you shall be My ‘building’(dwelling place)…I will put My Law (Ways) within you, and I will inscribe it upon your hearts (in the New Covenant in My Name).”
“Behold, my Servant, my Chosen, in Whom I delight, in Whom I have put My Spirit…He will not fail or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth…Thus says God, the Lord, who gives His Breath and Spirit to people…I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from their darkness…Behold…New things I now declare… Sing God’s praise to the ends of the earth.”
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the Commandments of God, and the Faith of Jesus.”
Then I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven…and I heard a loud voice from the Throne saying: Behold, the dwelling of God among men… your God Himself will be with you…Behold, I make all things new.”
“Therefore, since this is who we are, we put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word(Seed) of life, which is able to save our souls…” “…establish your hearts, for the Coming of the Lord is at hand.”
“Be not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for It is the Power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes!”
The secularist sees the Church as an institution. They may even admire some church members for our charity or humility, but they probably perceive such folks as people who were good already, regardless of the influence of God or Church. “Good folks end up in church because they think its where they ought to go,” commented a humanist, adding “and cars go into garages, too, but they don’t have to…. Ice cream can be put atop a piece of cake, yet it is fine alone, too. To each their own. As for me, I don’t need a pipeline to God or a membership in a church to be good either.”
We Catholics don’t see church just as institutional. The institutional part of it helps her to run effectively and somewhat orderly; yet we Catholics have a graced existence that is far more important. We have the offered holiness of God. Jesus said of it: “Ask (for it) and it shall be given to you. Seek (it) and you shall find (it). Knock and it will be opened to you.” Grace is a gift of God we need to freely make room for in our souls. “How much will your Father in heaven give you (in His gifts) to those who ask Him!” said Jesus. (Mt.7:7-11)
We live in a Church who proclaims that a Mystery is going on of a Hope within us, and an Unconditional Love for us, and in us, and an everlasting Trust given for humankind, in which we are growing to live by. We proclaim it all in the Living Divine Person of Jesus Christ, Who is “Head of the Body, the Church.” He is God Who is come to the earth to save sinners. Our major feasts tell a story. Christmas is Christ’ Mass of Incarnation. We have a celebration (mass) that God in His Eternal Son became flesh (incarnate) and He is called “The Christ” (the Anointed One) for the unique life He lived for us. Easter is our “Pasch” or New Passover celebration. Because of what Jesus accomplished through His life, as Risen up, we believe that we have received a deliverance into the kingdom of God and out of the binding slavery of sin and death. Jesus is our Pasch (the Way we pass from death to life, and conquer over it, and reach of Home with God–the goal of human existence.) We gather to be joined in Him. We look to Him for new life into a gradual eternal change-of-being. That is Jesus’ Easter Gift to us.
Jesus asked for this practice. “Abide in Me, and I in you….remain with Me like branches clinging the Vine (John 15:4,7).” Jesus is the Vine and the Life and Reason for “Church” and Christian living for us. He is God with us. Our Advent and Christmas songs sing out “Emmanuel!” (Emmanu=with. El=God)
See Catechism, Creed #205-207,215-227. Colossians 1:18; Eph. 5:23.
So there are the Paschal Mystery Faith persons and there are the Nones. Nones are the fastest growing group or category in “religious types” in the USA. More than 7.5 million people have joined it since 2012. What is of this phenomenon?
Some are blaming this decline over the perceived “bigotry” of religious people against homosexuals. (I mostly disagree. We Catholics do not deserve the ‘homophobe’ slurs. And we don’t return insult with insult by calling our accusers as Jesus-phobes or righteous loving-phobes. We mercifully try to understand our neighbors of different lifestyles. Yet quite little is given in return today of acceptance to orthodox Christians and our choices.)
Others point to the growing child abuse allegations in our denominations or others. It’s certainly a scandal, but maybe not worthy of an excuse of exclusion. We’re all sinners here in this world.
Or perhaps the influence and impact of radical religious groups and their odd behavior in the Name of God and Religion has soured them.
Or perhaps, the None category people would say, ‘we are simply becoming more enlightened and objective, whereas those who believe in God and the Bible are clinging to ancient and outdated relics of a primitive age.’ I have heard that one. Yet I think you can’t get any more presently relative and futuristic and classically old-fashioned, all at the same time, than in following the” God Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come…. the Great I Am, the Alpha and the Omega.” (Revelation 1:4,8) This definition of God and His Pascal Mystery in Christ are all about enlightenment and seeing things truly and up-to-date. It’s so up-to-date it’s eternal!
Summary: Whose shall you be with? God’s or the world’s? The divide between God’s followers and the secular world seems like it will only increase, until the Lord announces, in the End: “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still … he who is righteous, let him be righteous still” (Revelation 22:11).
The Bible predicts a decline in true spirituality in days before the Coming of the Lord. If we are in such times, then we can know that it was all predicted and prophesied:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, while having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:1–5). But let’s pray for them. Let’s look to lovingly bring them to God, as He inspires us so.
Jesus didn’t need to take a poll when He predicted, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). As He commented at the Temple Cleansing (John 2), “He knew man. No one needed to tell him what humankind is really like.” Jesus summed His mission up this way: “I came to seek and save the lost… For this I came into the world, to bear witness to The Truth.” (Luke 19:10; John 18:37). Now the choice is getting clearer. It still comes down to Luke 12:8-9 (or Matthew 10:32-33): “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.” Bluntly put: “Will we have Jesus to be rightfully the Lord over us, or not?” He is God without us, but He’d freely like again to be God within us.