Fewer and fewer of the children of Adam and Eve are going to Mass. Nobody goes to Confession. Vocations are drying up. Marriage is crumbling. Churches are withering and dying. The trend is downward and accelerating.
The New York City Police Department runs a program of self-criticism called CompStat by which it uses crime statistics to evaluate the job performance of its bosses. Given the deplorable Catholic statistics, if such a program were applied to the bosses of the Catholic Church, how many heads would roll? Shall we wait until the number for Mass attendance falls into the single digits before the bosses of the Catholic Church are fired for incompetency?
What is going wrong?
What would the shareholders do if the management of McDonalds told them that they had misplaced the formula for the secret sauce? What would they do if the management of Coke misplaced the recipe? What if hedge funds lost the algorithm that mints them money? In the case of the Church, it has misplaced the formula for converting sinners into saints. It is putting the cart before the horse. It is trying to do Stage 3 of the new evangelization before it has completed Stages 1 and 2. It is failing because it is trying to build a Catholic without first laying a foundation. Without a foundation, it is impossible to build a house (Matthew 7:24-27).
Like a broken record, every word from the mouth of the Church is sin, sin and more sin. The Church is playing the same old song over and over and over again. The incessant repetition has become tiresome as tinnitus or a bunion. Its unremitting drone is as repellent as the sin itself. Yet, the Church is surprised when people tune out and switch to a different, less unpleasant, more upbeat station. Morality and sin belong to stage 3 of the new evangelization not to stages 1 and 2. In the construction of a Catholic, the rough work must be done first, that is, the foundation, before the finished work, that is, morality, can be done. The roof of morality cannot be installed until the foundation is first set.
God is not dead. Indeed, God is very much alive. However, the conversation about God is dead. Killing the conversation about God is tantamount to killing God. The enemies of the Church know this. The Church does not. More of the conversation needs to be devoted to revelation; less to regulation. Today the Church devotes 99% of the conversation to regulation and 1% to revelation. This ratio must change if sinners are to be converted into saints. When we exclude God from the conversation, we empty the earth of the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9). God becomes a stranger to us. And nobody follows a stranger. Fewer and fewer go to Mass. Nobody goes to Confession. Vocations dry up. Marriages crumble. Churches wither and die. The trend is downward and accelerating. Only when God stops being a stranger to us - when we establish and develop a relationship with him - when we get to know him - when he becomes a member of our family - when the Son of God becomes our brother, does the trend get reversed.
Here is the formula that converts sinners into saints. Its three stages need to be completed in sequence. First, the Church must wield the sledgehammer of truth against the illusions conjured up by the serpent that deceive us. Second, the Church must show the map of the escape route to those in whom the desire to escape is ignited. The first and second stages of the new evangelization lay the foundation for building a Catholic. Last, the Church must show pilgrims who are making their escape the key of morality to sit them free from the cage of sin. How are sinners transformed into saints? We must first transform settlers into pilgrims. How do your transform settlers into pilgrims? Start at Stage 1 of the New Evangelization.
The First Stage of the New Evangelization
God appeals to our rationality in his effort to persuade us to return home to paradise. The desire to return home is ignited when the illusion that camouflages the sweetness of paradise and the illusion that sugarcoats the sourness of godlessness are shattered. The sledgehammer of truth shatters the illusions as the blow of a hammer shatters glass. When the illusions are shattered, the truth becomes visible to us. Rational creatures seek the sweetness of paradise and flee the sourness of godlessness. It is against our self-interest to do otherwise. The truth sets us free. Therefore, the first priority of the Church is to pick up the sledgehammer of truth and wield it against the illusions conjured up by the serpent to shatter them and, thereby, expose us to the truth.
The Second Stage of the New Evangelization
When the illusions are shattered and we enter the light from the darkness, disoriented, we ask, 'How do we get there from here - from godlessness to paradise?' At that moment it is time for the Church to say, 'We know the way. We know how to get there from here." To rescue us from godlessness, God built an escape route, defined it with holy places, made a map of them, entrusted the map to the Church and and gave the Church the mission of facilitating our escape - not the mission of frustrating it, filtering it or fouling it up. The escape from godlessness to paradise is primary. Nothing else matters. Everything else is secondary. Anything that interferes is suspect. When the illusions are shattered and rational creatures behold the truth, conversion takes place. We pull up the roots we have sunk deep into the hostile desert of godlessness, grab God's hand and begin the journey back home to paradise. We join the new exodus served by the new Moses, the Church, that is making its escape from slavery under the yoke of Pharaoh, through the hostile desert of godlessness, to freedom with God and his holy family in the promised land (Galatians 5:1). The genius of God himself gave us this living and breathing allegory. The reversal of direction - the turning around - is conversion. Conversion reconciles us with God.
The Third and Final Stage of the New Evangelization
Sin and Morality occupy the third and final stage of the new evangelization. Morality comes last after a settler has been transformed into a pilgrim by exposure to the truth. Trying to get settlers to take the bit of morality into their mouths, the bridle of morality onto their heads and the reins of morality into their hands is like throwing pearls before swine. As settlers, they see morality as the straight jacket that imprisons them and not as the key that sets them free. Morality only has a chance to take hold in pilgrims.
The foregoing is the formula for converting sinners into saints. Each of the three stages has its own identifying icon. Stage 1 is associated with the sledgehammer of truth; stage 2 with the map of the holy places; and stage 3 with the key of morality that sets us free. Many put too much emphasis on Stage 3 and no emphasis whatsoever on Stages 1 and 2. They are too impatient to lay the foundation found in Stages 1 and 2. Without a foundation, a Catholic cannot be built. Moreover, they do not articulate stage 3 in a positive way but always in a negative way. Stage 3, morality, is less about sin and more about the key that sets us free from the cage of sin. Others in the Church want to do each of the three stages at once. They are overeager to produce saints. However, the formula does not work unless done in sequence - unless the proper foundation is first put into place. Unlike coffee, there is no such thing as an instant Catholic It takes time to make a Catholic. We do not become Catholic overnight. A human being develops from a baby in the womb through other stages of life including infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. A similar framework of development takes place in the thinking of Catholics. A Catholic whose thinking is not quite up to speed with the thinking of the self-styled orthodox Catholics is still a Catholic for the same reason that a baby in the womb is still a human being.