Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

A church ‘vibrant with vitality’

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

At age 80, the saintly Pope John XXIII, who lived through two world wars and a great depression, remained hopeful and even youthful as he wrote that the church is “still so vibrant with vitality” (Humanae Salutis).

His conviction that the Holy Spirit is leading history inspired a fresh vision of the church’s role in the modern world: “to recognize and understand the world in which we live” and respond to it using “language intelligible to each generation” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 4). While the church discerns the signs of the times in each era and place, certain moments in the life of the church require more urgent attention to this work of discernment. Our moment is such a time and our moment calls for focused discernment.

Over the past few decades, we have seen a notable decline in the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass regularly. This trend has accelerated in recent years, and now only about 20% of Catholics attend Mass regularly.

With the decline in the participation of Catholics in the life of the church, the resources needed to keep up our aging buildings and support our ministries to those in need are diminishing. Mirroring these downward trends, we are also seeing fewer vocations to religious life and priesthood, which translates into fewer eligible pastors in the future.

These financial and structural difficulties pose a critical challenge to our parishes and communities. Yet, what is even more troubling about these statistics is that an increasing number of people have chosen to live their lives apart from the church.

For disciples of Christ, fullness of life can be found only in Christ and his church. Yet, sadly, studies show us that an increasing percentage of our younger Catholics are disengaging from the church. Clearly, we cannot ignore this challenge. The need for renewal is upon us.

The good news is that it has already begun in this archdiocese. Parishes that have participated in the Renew My Church process are working together to build a new reality that more effectively serves their people. Through our outreach programs, people are engaging the church with their questions and expressing a new willingness to explore the faith.

Likewise, during this pandemic, pastors have initiated a variety of creative efforts to minister to their people while all of us have had to stay home. We are building a new body of knowledge about how to improve and create new forms of pastoral outreach.

It will not come as a surprise to parishioners that while the pandemic has been a time of pastoral creativity, our pastors are weighed down by the burdens of administration. During the pandemic roughly one-third of our parishes have struggled to maintain even 50% of their usual collections.

As one would expect, those parishes with less than the usual support have struggled to reopen. Most of our parishes completed the reopening requirements, as of July 1, but 20% of our parishes have still not reopened for Mass. So, my simple plea to you is: please support your pastor and your parish.

We must read these signs of the times as well. That means discerning realistically what methods and structures are best suited to our mission today, if our parishes are to continue to lead our people to Christ and to have a profound impact on our communities and the world.

The pandemic has made us focus on what is truly important, identify areas of vitality as well as areas in which we struggle, and has given us a greater awareness of the different needs of our parishes. There is much work to be done, and I am grateful to the countless number of people who have joined in it already.

We must be hopeful, but also honest. We must take up the present challenges, yet remain confident that the Holy Spirit is leading the church. There is an urgency to our work, but also a calm and serenity, trusting, as John XXIII reminded us, that the church is “still so vibrant with vitality.”