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Recently, there was a convergence of two items that at first glance are not related but may be at a deeper level.

One was from an Archbishop, Socrates B. Villegas, in the Philippines, who, speaking about Holy Mass, said, "We have seen many abuses among the clergy alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, gambling abuse, money abuse, traveling abuse, vacation abuse. Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to another very rampant and widespread abuse among priests homily abuse. Yes abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared, mumbled homilies. In jest but certainly with some truth, the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges that they must go through every Sunday." That's a major archbishop, not a Sunday malcontent, speaking. As a priest recently quoted to us in an e-mail, albeit tongue in cheek, "A preacher should normally not preach longer than a three or four minutes, because the Holy Spirit leaves after five!"

The next and far more publicized item came from a major recent study by Pew, which found a substantial drop in the percentage of Catholic in the United States since last they took a survey in 2007 -- such that "nones" (those who say they have no religious affiliation) now allegedly outnumber Catholics.

We are thus -- Catholics in the U.S., according to this survey -- twenty-one percent of those who in America declare a religion, despite the fact that more than thirty-one percent in this nation were raised in the religion. Simple math tells us then that a third of Catholics in all age groups have left. An all-too-significant share of the adults in the U.S. 12.9 percent are now labeled as former Catholics, points out Pew, while only two percent have converted to Catholicism after being raised outside the Catholic Church. Those folks joining our ranks during the Easter vigil don't come close to replacing those who have left.

We can't go on this way. Most alarmingly, just 16 percent of young people -- "millennials" (born between 1981 and 1996 in these United States) -- call themselves Roman Catholics. Obviously, world youth days are not nearly enough. We do not want to deprive our young of the greatness that is Roman Catholicism.

Meanwhile, the "evangelical" segment of the population (non-denominational charismatics, Pentecostals, those in Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, etcetera) have held steady, with no loss and even a bit of a gain over the same period. They are sitting back with a smile. Similar trends are afoot in South America. Among Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. was a drop from 58 percent Catholic to 48 percent. We are losing -- and quickly -- the Mexicans.

One reason for many fleeing the Church is what Archbishop Villegas railed against: sermons so arch, tedious, abstract, academic, and devoid of Spirit as to have pushed out all but the choir in too many cases. There is beauty to the Catholic faith -- exquisite beauty. No other can compare. We have the Eucharist. This will always be there, as the source of power. We have very many tremendously diligent pastors (and some very good homilists; plus truly holy priests). We have many extraordinary priests who view this website and are in touch with us. The sacrifice of a humble priest is immense. Obedience to and respect for them are very important.

But the truth sets us free and the truth is that too often seminaries, beyond preserving history, seem trapped in it; homilies can be like laborious college history lectures. Seminarians are embarrassed to say the Rosary (in one case, on the East Coast, having to sneak in a basement each day to do one). There is not enough prayer (prayer, prayer: in the daily schedule for our poor, overworked, managerial priests; the crisis often reduces to prayer). At times -- to those who don't have deep devotion (meaning most young) -- nothing seems alive, despite the admonition of Jesus for His apostles to heal the sick and cast of devils and demonstrate His real supernatural power -- and despite the fact that He chastised most Sadducees and Pharisees who in their legalism and intellectual prowess (and pretense) all too often resemble what has transpired in modern Western Catholicism (though not in places like the Philippines and Africa, which, it is no coincidence, must now send their priests as missionaries to America).

It must stop, this hemorrhage. Humility is key. Are we worshipping God or academia? And what exactly is taught at our seminaries? At our convents? How can a major study of nuns not have noticed widespread infiltration by the New Age? Are they teaching young priests that all miracles are psychological? Do seminarians pray the Rosary, or are they too busy reading Nietzsche? It is not something we can simply brush aside at the gatherings of bishops. Nor is it a matter of obedience. It is a matter of candor. There is no room for sterility. The collapse into a bureaucratic-political-intellectual mindset is threatening the Church's future in the West. Period.

Ironic it is that at the same time Church leaders fret over the dearth of vocations, they also resist (often, mightily) claims of the mystical, including one apparition site that has produced countless conversions and vocations -- almost certainly more than have any advertising campaigns or "Welcome Home" banners. There must be liveliness -- the demonstration of Christ's power, the Holy Spirit -- in all aspects of the Church, not just during Communion. We need the Holy Spirit in every aspect of worship. Let Mass be a true scene from the upper room (and bring not words but the flames of the Holy Spirit).

What attracts so very many people -- including young people, and including many Catholics (and now Mexicans) -- to pentecostal-style churches?

Perhaps it is that they sing and pray spontaneously, and fervently. "Praise the Lord." They feel a spiritual force. They speak in "new languages." They lay hands on the sick. They perform deliverance.  They talk about miracles and angels and demons -- spiritual warfare. They praise from the heart, not by rote. They read the Bible (and not just at church). We seem mired in canon laws. We are being suffocated by the repetitiveness of our "intelligentsia." We have clerics who don't even believe in possession (trained as they are in psychology). Surf around mainstream Catholic news and see how much of it is engaging.

Some say, fine, if the Church reduces to only a comparative few -- a tiny "remnant" -- so be it. They say that those who leave aren't sincere, are not devout, are at fault themselves, or are victims of our culture. And there is truth to that. It is what you put into it. You can pray during a homily. But let us don humility and ask: is this what Jesus directed -- a shrinking Church -- or did He direct us to bring the Gospel and love, the "good news," to every corner of the world?

The Church -- Scripture -- must come alive in the same way Jesus demonstrated. We simply have to imitate what Him. It's not about the brain. It's about the heart, where resides the spirit. Homilies need to be reduced in length and oriented directly to the people sitting in the pews, who too often are too distant. Let us hear more about how Saint Paul and the apostles exercised the charisms -- the real effects of prayer; John the Baptist! -- and less about theology. We need straight, direct talk, or no one will listen. One can be excused for puzzling over why we would insert words like "consubstantial" into prayers when Jesus was so simple and straightforward or why we can seem so austere and pedantic, at times unwelcoming, to those who are interested in joining our faith (or going through pre-Cana).

No need to bludgeon. We keep hearing about the need for "catechesis." What we need is "spirit." Bookishness works only to an extent. Christ had no blackboard with Him. It is why Pope Francis evokes such a response, this simplicity, this directness; and as long as he adheres closely to Church teachings -- which is crucial (we all wait and see) --  his style presents an opportunity for bringing back many young who have strayed from the True Mother Church of Christianity (which in the Pew survey in general dropped from 76 percent of the populace to seventy).

Our faith will always survive. Not even hell can prevail against it. And in the world, overall, the Catholic share is stable; in places where there is charisma (see again Africa), it is growing. We have and will always have the sacraments.

Let's attract people to them, to the wonder of Catholicism, and Mass, not chase them from His Real Presence.

[resources: Why Is That in Tradition? and What You Take To Heaven]

[See also: Michael Brown retreat, Raleigh, North Carolina area, June 20: prophecy, spiritual warfare ]

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