For some time I have been trying to find a direction in which to head. I look around and see so many Catholics who are lost, and I wonder how to reach them. There are many "parish renewal programs" or books on "intentional disciples," but none of them have really grabbed me as the way to go. They seem to focus on the wrong thing: either the priest, or the people, or the parish as a whole. One of the more popular programs which I have seen is "Called and Gifted," and while I am sure it is a fine program, it seems to me that it is only relevant for an already evangelized parish; a parish which is already doing well, full of faithful Catholics, but just needs a little kick-start or some new energy. But it is not a starting place.
If we focus on the people of the parish or on the priest, any efforts at renewal, at evangelization, are bound to fail. I am reminded of the one necessary thing: hearing the word of God and living by it. What is the word of God - or better yet, Who is the Word of God? Jesus. We need to bring our focus back to Jesus, for He certainly knows how to "save" or renew the Church much better than you or I do.
My opinion for quite a while now has been that we as a Church need to bring back a renewed sense of love, of awe, of belief in the Eucharist. To recapture what is an essential part of our Catholic faith: that the consecrated bread we receive is truly, substantively, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The percentages of people who call themselves Catholic but do not profess belief in the True Presence is staggering. Is Transubstantiation taught anymore? I have not heard (in person) a homily on the True Presence, nor one on Transubstantiation, nor on proper reception (disposition to receive) of the Eucharist.
How do we as a Church begin to re-teach this Truth? I think it must begin with the Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is easy to see how a loss of belief in the True Presence has come about if you observe how the Liturgy is celebrated in many of the parishes I have visited. Just one example: what would a person who was not Catholic think if they came in and watched the Mass, watched people walking up and taking something into their hands from the priest, placing it in their mouths, then walking back to their seats to stand ... as if nothing had happened? Contrast that with the same person seeing people receiving Communion on their knees, then returning to their seat and kneeling in prayer for several minutes? What are the different body postures and attitudes telling them? So simple, and yet just a simple change in posture can make such a difference.
I challenge anyone reading this to observe what goes on during the Mass at their parish - the priest's actions, the people's actions: do they show a belief in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? If so, how? If not, why not?
I am endeavoring to teach a course on the Mass to interested parishioners this summer. I will try to post outlines and observations throughout the summer, and I always welcome thoughts and observations from others. And don't forget: before you can effectively evangelize others, you must first evangelize yourselves. You must conform yourself to the Church - orthodoxy is required, obedience is required. If you do not know something, take the time to learn it. People are shocked when they see my "Catholic" bookcase - but there is so much I don't know, and the more I learn the more I realize how little I DO know.
But begin simply: immerse yourself in the Mass, go to regular Confession, prioritize prayer time. From these three simple steps will come many, many fruits. Not the least of which is beginning to hear God's Word, and a desire to live by what you hear.