Seize the moment

“Yikes! Here we go again. Another reminder of how bad things are when it comes to Catholics understanding Church teaching and practicing their faith in the United States.”

That’s probably the first response many faithful Catholics might have after seeing the headlines concerning a new study on U.S. Catholics and their beliefs. The study by the Pew Research Center was released at the beginning of September, just weeks before the pope’s visit to the United States.

“When Pope Francis arrives in the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families later this month, he will find a Catholic public that is remarkably accepting of a variety of nontraditional families according to a new Pew Research Center survey that provides an in-depth look at American Catholics’ views on family life, sexuality and Catholic identity,” the report stated.

At first glance, the numbers are discouraging, as they reveal the kind of survey results we’ve seen before that show a strong number of “Catholics” in staunch disagreement with core teachings of the Church, including birth control, cohabitation and so-called same-sex marriage. For example, 90 percent of those questioned about “the ideal family” felt that a married mother and father was best for children; nearly 49 percent were accepting of unmarried parents living together; and 43 percent saw nothing wrong with children being raised by same-sex couples.

But if you look a little closer, you would be encouraged, as the survey results change depending on whether those who identify as Catholic are actually practicing their faith. Those who attend Mass regularly are much more likely to be in line with and supportive of Church teachings.

“Nearly 6 in 10 Catholics say abortion is a sin. And more than half say devotion to Mary and receiving the sacraments are ‘essential’ to what being Catholic means to them personally.” And also, “Catholics who say they attend Mass regularly (at least once a week) are consistently more in agreement with Church teachings than are Catholics who attend Mass less frequently.”

Another bright spot in the survey has to do with those we may not see in our parish regularly: men and women often referred to as “Christmas and Easter Catholics.” Even among those who only come to Mass on major holidays, they still identify themselves as Catholic, and “7 in 10 say they cannot ever imagine leaving the Catholic Church, no matter what.”

It’s those last few words in that sentence — “no matter what” — that really caused me to see this survey with optimism. Something must be still stirring deep down inside the many questioned by the Pew Research Center in order to garner such a strong response. Read a bit further and there is even more reason for hope. Even those who only partially identify as Catholic — the “Cultural Catholics” — still cling in many ways to Catholicism.

“This attachment to Catholicism shows up in their lives in various ways: For example, one-third say they attend Mass at least occasionally. And among cultural Catholics who were raised in the Church, roughly 4 in 10 say they could imagine returning to the Faith someday.”

Given all the attention on Pope Francis and the Church, we really have an opportunity for evangelization. Maybe that means we need to seize the moment and invite a friend or co-worker to Mass or to the parish picnic. To quote another cliché, there is no time like the present. And after all, it just might be your effort — with some help from the Holy Spirit — that brings that person back into the flock.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.