By Fr. Max Oliva, SJ
In this issue the reader will find more thoughtful responses to the theme of the September issue: why some people have left the church and why others have stayed.
"My focus is on the religious assembly I have attended over a span of 30 years. I believe there are two main reasons why people leave or stay: 50% go or not to Sunday Mass because of the homilist; by whether or not they are fed by what they hear. Secondly, I believe that many who have been away for some time want to return but are afraid to make the first step; they need to be invited back. Homilists who have a strong accent seem to have a more difficult time holding a congregation. It is interesting that even when the priest or deacon does not give consistently good homilies, but is understandable (no accent), people will attend because of their great love for the Eucharist."
- Charles, professional (U.S.)
"I have seen many leave their churches because we have not done a good job of informing and educating in the area of inclusion. By this I mean all 'cultures' being represented in the rituals, rights, ministries, Sacraments, and formation opportunities of their church community. There is an imbalance of possibility between men and women which has resulted in many educated women - Asian, Black, Caucasian, and Hispanic - to leave and seek their spiritual sustenance elsewhere."
- Barbara, spiritual director (U.S.)
"Why I stay: it is the only place (in prayer) that I can truly find inner peace. I could never walk away from receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist."
- Len, architect (Canada)
"I think that both sides have their own reasons why they stay or go. Personally, I go to church not for the behavior or presence of a particular priest but because Church is for me the House of my Father and I could not live outside of His presence. The homilies help a lot to understand the Word, too, especially when they connect with one's life."
- Gina, retired educator (U.S.)
"I would add the following to the quotes in the last issue of your newsletter. It used to be that women were the mainstay of the domestic church. Perhaps the reason for this was that they had time to pray even when working as hard as they did in their homes. Now, in Western societies, women work outside the home much the same as men. Add the prevalence of social media and there is little time to spend in uninterrupted prayer. Some do not see the need for God and thus church. Somehow we need to find time in our lives for wonder, for asking basic human questions, like: Why do we exist? What is the meaning of life? What are we here for?"
- Patrick, retired university educator (Ireland)
"I can use my life as an example of leaving and returning to the Church. At the age of 20, while in college, I had a nervous breakdown. This was for me a true loss of hope. I felt that God and the Church had deserted me and so I left the Church. Eventually, I was able to continue my education and in my junior and senior years I began to show both personal and academic progress. After graduation, I moved to a different state and city. It was there that I met a priest who gave me solid spiritual help. As a result of his assistance, at the age of 27, I went back to church and have continued to practice my faith for the last 40 years. My life is far from perfect, but I now have something I lost at the age of 20: Hope."
- Gary, retired taxi driver (U.S.)
"I am one of those Catholics who has serious questions about some aspects of the Church. Spiritually, I do not believe I have ever left being a Catholic. What I have done is retreat from the bureaucracy of the Catholic religion. I have experienced considerable frustration in its formal organization and structure. I have noticed such dysfunctions in some of its leaders as arrogance, greed, and needs to be in control - which leads to detrimental power struggles. I realize the Church is made up of human beings, with our faults as well as our virtues. I am more hopeful since Pope Francis became head of the Church. My hope is that through his welcoming example we will return to our spiritual roots."
- Kevin, chief fire officer (U.S.)
"My response to your newsletter concerns my siblings and me. We (six of us) were each brought up Catholic: Catholic grade and high school and three of us went to Catholic colleges, but as of this time I am the only one practicing. One of my sisters told me she "just didn't feel the faith"; another sister married a non-Catholic and switched to the religion of her husband, then they allowed their children to choose their religion; a third sister baptized her children in the Catholic church but then sent them to another denomination for Sunday school. I think my siblings never 'left' the church because they were never secure in the faith in the first place. I believe my role is to lovingly accept each one and look for the 'God-like' qualities in each. They are good people even if they do not receive the sacraments weekly or yearly."
- Betsy, nutrition consultant (U.S.)
"Why some people have left their faith: increased use and reliance on technology to the exclusion of God; an increase in travel and exposure to different religions than one's own; a global emphasis on economic growth which in its extreme takes one's focus off of a Creator in favor of material gain; some sporting events for youth are held on Sunday mornings - some parents choose these rather than attend church services; and a recently decreased appreciation of ministers and priests."
- Jeff, CEO of a medium-sized IT company (Canada)
(Contact Fr. Max Oliva, SJ, at firstname.lastname@example.org)