If you had to identify the single greatest crisis facing the Catholic Church today, what would it be?
That’s a question a popular young priest with a national Catholic radio ministry recently posed to his parishioners in eastern Michigan. He noted there are some obvious candidates for the distinction: The clerical sex abuse scandal. The way the bishops handled the abuse scandal. The apathy of Catholic laity today regarding their task to act as leaven in the culture. Rampant moral relativism. A crisis of belief, including in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Decades of widespread inadequate or incomplete catechesis.
And there are probably many more that could be listed. But this priest said months of reflection convinced him that the single greatest crisis facing the Church, and the root of all the others, can be summed up by God’s words to the prophet Hosea five centuries before Jesus Christ’s birth: “My people perish for want of knowledge!” (Hos 4:6)
In other words, Catholics today are “dying” because they are not getting to “know” — in a way that engages both heart and mind — their God. A lack of an intimate friendship and communion with God — their creator, redeemer and sanctifier — necessarily causes them to lose their way in the journey of life.
That assessment strikes us as fundamentally sound. In fact, addressing that perennial problem lies at the heart of the mission of Our Sunday Visitor: to equip adult Catholics with what they need to develop a mature, dynamic, fruitful faith that wants to share itself with others.
Though the U.S. bishops nearly two decades ago called for making adult faith formation “the central task” and “heart” of catechetical efforts, too many parishes today give it scant resources, and too few adult Catholics — even weekly Mass-goers — live as if their faith involves more than rules and rituals and routine.
“Disciples young and old are called by name to go into the vineyard,” said the bishops in their pastoral plan, “Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us.” “In responding to this call, adults ‘have the greatest responsibilities and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form.’ Their formation in faith is essential for the Church to carry out its mandate to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world.”
St. Paul himself made adult faith formation a priority. Writing to the Ephesians, he said Christians need a mature faith to be able spread the Gospel and refute error, but also to enable the Church to grow into a community of love.
In language laden with imagery, he told Church leaders to “equip” believers so that “we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery. ... Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ” (Eph 4:13-15).
Compared to St. Paul’s day, Catholics have many more options to grow their faith, ideally within the context of a parish community. Other options include, of course, Catholic periodicals. Another is to devise a self-study program based on books recommended by a trusted catechist. For those interested in more structure, there’s also growing interest in online courses, like those offered by Catholic Distance University.
But the first step is to recognize that our faith is not one that can survive passivity or inattention.
Better to “live the truth in love” than “perish for want of knowledge.”
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.