We need to face reality: the Catholic Church in Chicago has seen a 25 percent decline in its parishioner base over the last 20 years; even worse, the faith of our young people is waning: 50% of millennials—between 22 and 35 years old—who were raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic and only 7% of them actively practice their faith by weekly Mass, prayer, or consider their faith important. Even here at St. Mary of the Angels, Mass attendance (in October) has gone down from over 1,700 persons each week in 2002 to about 1,200 each week in 2016. Certainly some have moved out of Chicago, but something else is going on: secularism, materialism, hedonism… selfish individualism. People—especially young people—are turning to anti-Christian sources for their belief-system.
Last week, we read the parable of God’s vineyard in both Isaiah and in the Gospel. In Isaiah we read:
“[God] had a vineyard… he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press… but what it yielded was wild grapes… What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it. The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (Isaiah 5:1-5).
We—the Catholics in Chicago—are God’s vineyard, but we must ask ourselves: Are we yielding wild grapes instead of choice grapes that God expects?
God is calling us to bear fruit of holiness, to build up his family, the Church. Nobody wants to see any churches close—nobody except the devil! Nobody wants to see the walls of the vineyard broken down, the vines trampled, and everything overgrown with thorns and briers. But if we don’t bear more fruit then it will happen.
What are we called to do? We are called to do exactly what the apostles were called to do after our Lord’s death and resurrection: “Go therefore and make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Make disciples means sharing our faith with others by introducing them to Jesus, cultivating each one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let others know what your faith means to you, how Christ, his Church, and his Sacraments has impacted you. This will lead to more vocations to the priesthood, marriage, and dedicated celibacy.
When the apostles made disciples they also built communities wherever they went. For us it means to cultivate bonds with one another in our friendship with Christ. As communities of believers we will support one another in carrying out Christ’s mission on earth, making sure that every part of Christ’s body has what it needs to prosper.
Finally, our personal witness will inspire witness in others, countering the anti-witness of secularism, materialism, hedonism… of selfish individualism.
So let us take Christ’s desire to Renew My Church, and our efforts to bring about those desires, and entrust them all to Our Lady, St. Mary of the Angels, the woman who will crush the head of the serpent with her heal.
Fr. John R. Waiss