Interpreting Religious Statistics

Check out this post by James Chastek on interpreting religious statistics. He makes three points: (1) An evaluation of religious statistics that looks only to the last 50 years is short-sighted in comparison with the long-term nature of movements in religious convictions; (2) people leaving the Church is an ambiguous statistic; it could be a sign of a spiritual good, namely a greater appreciation that belonging to the Church and church attendence should be connected with the truth–having previously accepted the Church not as true, but simply as a part of culture; (3) the statistics often rely on non-objective methods to determine the numbers of members of the Church; e.g., simply asking them whether they are "Catholic".

I have often made the second point in response to what I sometimes see as an exaggerated concern with statistics of church membership, expressed on the occasion of hearing the numbers of persons leaving the Church. While it is better to be a Catholic and live as one than not, it is also better to be honestly not a Catholic than to be dishonestly a Catholic.

One must admit, however, that while cultural christianity never saved anyone, it can be an occasion for a real encounter with Christ, who is the Savior of all men.

Why is Consecrated Virginity Not a Sacrament

Marriage and religious life are two fundamental ways to fulfill the fundamental vocation of every human being to love. Why is marriage a sacrament and consecrated virginity or celibacy is not?

Since Christ certainly could have made consecrated virginity a sacrament, any answer can only be based on arguments of appropriateness. Both marriage and virginity are signs of the union between Christ and the Church. Is there a difference in the way in which they are signs of this union, such that marriage is fittingly a sacrament, and consecrated virginity is not?

Marriage signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the very union of the two humans spouses derives from, participates in, and is a likeness of the perfect union of Christ with the Church. Nevertheless this union of the spouses remains distinct from this spousal union of Christ and the Church. The spouses do not give themselves directly to Christ, but to each other.

Consecrated virginity signifies the union of Christ and the Church inasmuch as the virgin is devoted, by her own will and by the Church, to the very union that constitutes the Church, to the fulfillment of the union with Christ begun in baptism. Thus it bears less the character of a sign, and more that of the reality itself.

We might tentatively say, then, that it would be less fitting for consecrated virginity or religious life to be a sacrament, a sacred sign that confers grace, because it is above all reality, a deepening of the baptismal grace, the spousal union with Christ the Bridegroom. It is a sign of the future kingdom, but it is a sign of it inasmuch as it already anticipates it in this life.

Another, complementary way to explain this looks at the different ways marriage and religious life relate to time and history. Marriage pertains above all to the working out of God's plan for man in time. Those who rise from the dead “neither marry nor are given in marriage”; human marriage ceases with death, even though some aspects of marriage, e.g., the love between the spouses, endures beyond death. The virgin's spousal union with Christ, however, does not cease with her death, but is consummated—she becomes even more perfectly that which she began to be on earth through baptism and through her vows: the bride of Christ. Since all of the sacraments pertain to the dispensation of God's grace in time and history, it is thus more fitting for marriage to be a sacrament than for consecrated virginity to be one.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)

"I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). Had Christ, has Christ really accomplished his work? Was he not only just beginning it? After nearly 2000 years Christians are still practically beginners in the recognition and realization of his message of the kingdom of God, his message of love, forgiveness, salvation… not to mention the many persons who reject this message as foolishness.

Wouldn't it have been smarter for Christ to have remained on earth after his resurrection? Then we wouldn't have the problems in the Church that arise from human weaknesses and failings. The Church wouldn't have to be led by bishops and popes who also make mistakes. There wouldn't be as many people who follow erroneous paths. If Christ had remained, had continued to work wonders, thus clearly demonstrating his divinity, there wouldn't be problems with disbelief and lack of orientation. Christ could have accomplished everything so much better, if he had only remained with us… so we could think to ourselves. So did Christ's disciples perhaps think. “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

But would it really have been so? What would the Church and the world really look like, if Christ had remained visibly with us? The place where one could meet Christ would be a pilgrimage site like none other, like Jerusalem, Rome, and Mecca packed into one. Every Christian would dream of meeting Christ, of being privileged to speak with him, to make a confession to him, to ask him what is God like, ask him about his vocation, etc…. But there would not be enough time for this. Even if each person only had a single second with Christ, it wouldn't be possible for every person to get a chance once in his life. Only privileged persons, who could afford the journey, would be able to meet him. Or it would be organized so the poorest persons, or the greatest criminals, or something of the kind, could meet. But at any rate, not everyone would be able to.

Christ disperses all such visions, such ways of imagining God's presence among us! His glory is not here or there. It is a glory that surpasses time and place, a glory he had with God “before the world was made” (Joh 17:5). When we are united with a person by love, and have to depart from him, this means a separation. Our thoughts remain with the beloved, but we ourselves are distant from him. With Christ it is different. He entered the glory of the Father, a love that is pure reality. For “God is love” (1 Joh 4:16) as John never tires of repeating. His departure into glory in fact means that he is really, continuously with us.

Christ ventures still another step, that we would never have thought up ourselves. In his prayer he asks the Father, and declares, that he is glorified in us! In seeking the presence, the glory of God we must not only not look to a particular place such as Jerusalem or Rome, we must also not look merely to the beyond, e.g., heaven. The eternal life that Christ gives us is not somewhere over there. It is here! It is now! Certainly it is very important, and a comfort to believe that there is a life after death, a life that has no end. But just any kind of life that were to go on without end would probably become at some point boring, tiring, even unbearable. The essential point is this: Christ gives us a life that is totally worth living, without ifs or buts.

Let us value this life! Let us live it! And like Christ's disciples after his Ascension, let us pray for the Holy Spirit, that he make this life blossom in us, that our joy in life as Christians become ever more visible, so that we too become radiant witnesses of Christ's resurrection.