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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Confronting Spiritual Apathy

Confronting Spiritual Apathy

          Everyone who has worked on an evangelization team has experienced it – apathy.  Whether trying to increase involvement in a parish or develop a Catholic identity at a school, it is a universal problem.  Members of a team brainstorm, come up with brilliant opportunities to engage people, work for countless hours to implement them, and no one seems to care, or even notice.
          The Catholic Church has more to offer people than anything else.  We have Jesus, the great Deposit of Faith that He left us, eternal life, the answers to the questions that have consumed philosophers since the beginning of time.  You’d think it wouldn’t be a hard product to sell.
          And yet, people question the relevance; they decide that the Faith just isn’t worth their time.  I recently asked a youth minister why she thinks it’s so hard to engage people.  “They are already owned by other things,” she said, “work, youth sports, other activities.”  The consensus is that people are just too darn busy.
          I had a boss once that used to say, “Price is only an issue in the absence of value.”  It’s true that being a Christian costs a lot; and for busy people, sometimes the most precious commodity is time.  But that’s only an issue in the absence of value.  The real problem is that they don’t value what we have to offer.
          That may seem unbelievable to those of us who recognize the incredible worth of the Christian life, but let’s face it, the culture is hell-bent on convincing as many people as possible that Christianity is for suckers.  So, millions of people pay lip service to the Faith, but are not willing to invest anything in it.
          What can we do?  Unfortunately, I have yet to hit on the answer.  I have been involved with Lighthouse Catholic Media for a year and a half now, partly because I believe it is the most powerful widespread parish-based ministry for catechesis and evangelization there is.  And part of the appeal is that it is so simple.  People pick up a CD at a kiosk, or sign up for a CD or Download of the Month Club, at virtually no cost; receive a talk form a dynamic Catholic speaker delivered directly to their mailbox or mobile device; and listen to it on the way to work, or while they do housework, or whatever.  It couldn’t be more convenient.  Then, I hoped, as people are exposed to the Truth, they will come to love it, see the value in it, and be willing to invest their lives in it.
          It seems like a wonderful strategy and yet, the result I’ve seen so far, in large part, has been more apathy.  (Note: Many parishes have experienced the opposite – their investment has paid huge dividends.)  But I’ve seen that for some people, it’s not worth the 30 seconds it takes to sign up, or grab materials out of the rack; or maybe there is not one day a month that the sports talk show can be put on hold, so their soul can be fed.  Whatever it is, even super convenience isn’t enough to interest many people.
          Matthew Kelly, who speaks about this problem, has developed his own solution.  Many people who can’t even spare an hour for Sunday Mass will spend two or three weekends in Baptism classes or Confirmation workshops so their children can receive the Sacraments.  Why?  I don’t know, but Kelly calls these “Catholic moments.”  We have people, for at least a short period of time.  And we have something they want bad enough to give us at least their partial attention.  This is the time to engage them, he says.  We have to take advantage of these opportunities to make Catholicism relevant and get them to at least make one more step that they otherwise wouldn’t have made.
          Now I know we can not really make Catholicism relevant.  It objectively is relevant, more relevant than anything else, because of Jesus.  But we are the messengers; we have to help people recognize what’s staring them in the face. 
          Check out Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic web site to learn about the programs he is developing for capturing people during the “Catholic moments.”  Or email me to bring Lighthouse Catholic Media to your parish, or perhaps sign up for one of the Clubs yourself, and share the materials.  And, as always, most of all, let’s pray. 
          Mother Teresa said that we are called to be faithful, not successful.  Bringing fruits out of our efforts is the domain of the Holy Spirit.  So let’s turn to God for help, and seek to be instruments in His Hand.