In a nearby Church, there is an elderly gentleman who spends several hours a day quietly praying before the Tabernacle. He’s there most days, spending time with his Lord. At intervals through the day, other people come in, stay a while and then quietly go out again. The Church remains open all day long, allowing people the opportunity to come in and pray or sit quietly to ponder life and faith. The Church is not filled with people, certainly, but I can’t help being aware of the strength of faith of those people described above; it mattered enough for them to come into the Church and to spend a little (or a lot of) time there. And I have no reason to think things are any different elsewhere – I suspect that at Catholic churches throughout the country and the across the world, the same picture is repeated.
To listen to people speaking about the Church, you might imagine that things are dire, that the Church is so increasingly empty that soon, it will simply disappear. Well, we need have no worry about that – we have the promise of the Lord to remind us that the Church, His bride, will be there for as long as humanity exists, that the ‘gates of hell will never prevail against it’.
I recently read an article which noted that there is ‘a crisis of lack of Priests because there is a crisis of lack of church-goers’. While the two things are certainly related, again I feel that it is not really about the numbers. I can’t help wondering if we are concerned about the wrong thing – the real question is perhaps not so much about the number of people attending Church, but the meaning of that attendance. The Church has to mean something to us, it has to be a core part of who we are, what we do, what we profess, how we live. Otherwise, it is nothing more than habit.
Faith is a living thing, like the plants of the garden. It needs to be taken care of properly, we need to nurture and feed it, and then it will grow and bear fruit, with the grace of God. And so, listening to tales of woe about the demise of the Church, I feel no fear.
In the days of the Apostles, the Church was very small, but the members truly believed and lived a life in accordance with the faith they professed; in these days, it is helpful to remember this, perhaps. Remember that it was by the witness of the faithful in those days, that real evangelisation – a requirement of our faith – took place; the Apostles drew others to the faith by their powerful witness of the One they professed faith in, as much as by their words, and by believing the words of the Risen Lord, who told them – ‘I will be with you always, even to the end of time’.
Perhaps in these days, there is a reflection and an echo of those much earlier days.