Father Z informs us of an initiative of two US (Arch)Dioceses, meant to encourage Catholics who have stopped practicing to come back to the Sacramental life.
Whilst one can only be appreciative of every effort to get lost sheep back to the fold, I allow myself to point out to the fact that just to say “please, please come back!” will not yield a great dividend unless a ruthless analysis of why the sheep have gone away in the first place does not precede the initiative.
The sheep have gone away because the shepherd has become rather weak, rather superficial, rather cowardly and rather stupid. The sheep have gone away because the shepherd has become even too weak to tell them that they are supposed to stay within the fold rather than being scattered everywhere.
If the shepherd starts telling the sheep “what do you want to do today?”; or to appoint a sheep comittee to tell him how to make his work; or to substitute his daily job of being a shepherd with that of being a “friend” of the sheep; or to talk to the sheep about social justice rather than caring for their welfare and security or, in general, to tell them that in these enlightened times the sheep have become so evolved that they don’t need shepherding anymore, it is really no surprise that the sheep become less and less.
Nor will the sheep come back just because the shepherd starts telling them what a good company he is, or what fun, or how socially aware they’ll become if they start being near him (being “led by him” is a word he would, obviously, never use) again.
The way to attract the sheep to the fold is always the same one: to be a good shepherd. The is what the shepherd should never have stopped doing. If the shepherd starts recovering the notion of the importance and dignity of his role, the sheep will slowly but surely start gatherng around him, because they see in him a refuge and protection, and indispensable help on their journey through life. Then, and only then, will the shepherd be able to lead them effectively and to let them feel protected and cared for.
Too many within the Church have renounced their role (particularly when unpleasant) and refused to do their job. This comes at a price and my impression is that the bad shepherds who did so will be punished far more severely than the careless sheep unable to see any use in them.
The recovery of church attendance goes through a recovery of the role of the Church, of the role of the priest sunday after sunday, homily after homily and controversy after controversy, of the basic understanding of what the Church is.
As long as this analysis is not done and the painful (for those looking for popularity and, ohh that word, relevance) consequences consequences of the choices to be made are not clear, there’ll never be any increase in church attendance.