How to Revive the Catholic Church

Fast forward the feed to about 29:30 to see my chat with Voris.

Now that I have your attention with the title of this article, please forgive me for being presumptuous.  I am, after all, just a convert.  However, I think it is my history as a Protestant that gives me a glimpse of insight into this topic.  Why?  I think it's because I've seen allot, from different strains of Christian tradition, so I've learnt a bit.  I also know what it was that attracted me to the Catholic Church, and I think that too gives me a glimpse of insight into this topic.  You can take my words here for whatever their worth to you.  Dismiss them if you like.  That's fine.  It's no skin off my back.  Or you can listen.  That's fine too.  I hope you will

Last week Michael Voris invited me back onto his Mic'd Up talk show to discuss some comments I wrote on his Facebook page.  The segment begins at about 29:30 on the video feed above.  Some Catholics take issue with Voris over his hard-hitting style of reporting.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion.  However, I've had a few off-camera conversations with him, and I can personally testify that he is a kind man with a passionate love for our Lord and Lady.  His Mic'd Up program is a different format, wherein he gives guests time to speak and takes a more "toned down" and methodical approach to addressing topics.  I think it's good talk show programming, and as Catholics, we shouldn't be afraid to discuss these matters with frankness.  Sometimes some things just need to be said, and clergy shouldn't be afraid of harsh criticism. Even the pope has thanked and complimented his most harsh critics.  If you're a priest or bishop, I would encourage you to follow the pope's example and have a conversation with Voris some time on this talk show format.  I guarantee you will be treated well, much better than in the mainstream news, and probably have a good discussion too!

All that aside, Voris is giving me air time to promote my book and my blog, so I am grateful for that.  The topic of this particular segment was Protestants and Cafeteria Catholics, specifically what they have in common.  However, it's the second part of that segment that I want to write about here.  Voris asked me if there was anything particular the Catholic Church could do to attract more Protestants, and I'm really glad he asked this, because I believe that this question is one in the same with another one.  What can be done to revive the Catholic Church in general?  The questions might be different, but I believe the answer is the same.  I gave him basically two steps, which must be done together, that I KNOW will work.  I know because I've seen it in action.  Not only will they attract more Protestants into the Catholic Church, but they will revive Catholics already sitting in the pews, and bring back those who have left.  Here it is...

Start expounding on the Scriptures from the pulpit.  The days of regular topical homilies are over.  There is a time and place for them of course, but they shouldn't be the general rule any more.  People are hungry for the Scriptures.  They want to understand them, and Catholics especially want to understand them in the context of official Church teaching.  This is not difficult.  Some pastors might even consider this easier than topical homilies.  Here is how you do an expository homily.  You simply take the day's gospel reading, and re-read it from the pulpit, line by line.  As you do, you expand on each verse, pulling out context from the other readings, psalter, collects, Catechism, additional Scripture passages, history and personal experience.  That's it!  When you've finished going through the gospel reading, you're done.  If you have extra time left over, you can further expand on a particular topic from the reading, doctrine or Church tradition that might be related somehow.  If you're finding yourself running short on time, cut back your expansion on lesser important verses.  It's a simple method of teaching.  It works, and Lord Almighty! It fills the pews!  The trick is not to get too technical.  You've got to keep these lessons simple and blunt.  That's how Christ and his apostles taught, and that's what people need to hear.  I cannot stress this last part enough.  DON'T GIVE YOUR PERSONAL OPINION.  Stick to what the Church teaches, and tell people WHY the Church teaches it that way.  You'll find that preparing homilies for this kind of teaching method can be challenging at times, because it does require you to do your homework.  You've got to dig into the Scriptures and the Catechism.  It's a lot of work, but it pays off in the long run, and if you save those homilies, you can recycle them (adding subtle variations as needed) when those readings come around again.  Once word gets out of this teaching method, it will draw attention.  I've been to churches where there is standing room only, and the pastor didn't do anything different.  All he did was expository teaching from the Scriptures.  The sheep are hungry, shepherds. They want to be fed God's written word.  So feed it to them already! 
Go back and recoup the pre-conciliar traditions lost in the hurried (and sometimes hasty) reforms after the Second Vatican Council.  There is a lot of great stuff in there!  I'm not talking about celebrating a Extraordinary Form (Tridentine) Latin Mass.  Let the experts deal with that.  No, I'm talking about going back and looking into the traditions and ritual of the Traditional Latin Mass, pulling out those things that can be worked into the new mass, and start doing them!  Let's start with celebrating the mass ad orientem (verses Dominum).  Bring back the bells and regular use of incense.  Once the choir can master it, try reintroducing a little Gregorian chant here and there.  Then, put some kneelers down before the priest during communion, giving people the clear option to kneel and receive on the tongue.  Why do these things?  Because these traditions, and many more, serve as bulwarks to Catholic teaching.  They reinforce what is taught in the readings and behind the pulpit.  They solidify Catholic identity, and in the most serendipitous sense, they actually attract Protestants.  Trust me, I know what I'm talking about here.  Protestants don't visit a Catholic mass expecting to witness a Lutheran-style service.  They want to see something overtly Catholic, and unapologetically so.  That's why they visit.  Believe me, if they wanted to see a Lutheran-style church service, they would just go to a Lutheran church.  If they wanted to see an Evangelical-style praise and worship jam, with drums and electric guitars, they would just go to an Evangelical church.  Nothing is stopping them.  They're Protestants!  No, there is only one reason, and one reason only, why Protestants visit Catholic churches, and that is because they expect to see, hear or smell something Catholic.  So let's provide it already!

That's basically it folks.  That's this convert's remedy for what ails the Catholic Church today.  I know it will work because I've seen it work -- over and over again.  I know it will bring people into the pews and keep them there.  I know it will make parishes grow.  Like I said, take it for what it's worth to you.  I am just a convert, and maybe a presumptuous one at that, but I've been around the block a few times.  I've seen some stuff.  Dismiss it all if you like.  It makes no difference to me.  I'm watching this method (or something very similar) being employed in Latin Mass communities and they are flourishing.  I'm seeing something similar happen in the Anglo Catholic ordinariate communities, and again, they are starting to grow.  Do what you like, but while you do, please keep this article bookmarked, or maybe print it off.  As I suspect you might find it useful someday.

I first learnt about Step 1 as an Evangelical Protestant.  One of the most successful Evangelical denominations on the West Coast employs this method of expository teaching from the Scriptures.  That's basically it.  They're not doing anything different from other Evangelical churches, and yet their services are often packed to standing room only.  This method of teaching brings people in because society is hungry to understand the Scriptures.  A Catholic adaptation of this method of teaching will be superior to the Protestant version, because you see, a Catholic adaptation will be 100% based in the gospels.  The other readings from the mass (as well as various citations used at the pastor's discretion) are used as reference to elaborate points from the gospels.  Believe it or not, Evangelical Protestant churches actually don't spend as much time on the gospels.  They focus primarily on the Gospel According to John, and then spend the rest of their time exploring other books.  Months on end can go by, in an Evangelical church, without so much as one word read from the gospels.  The gospels are studied when they get to it, and with so much in the Bible, it can take a while for that to happen.  A Catholic adaptation of the expository method would be vastly superior because it is gospel based in every mass.

I learnt about Step 2 in the Episcopal Church, watching Evangelicals like myself, on the Canterbury trail, looking for a connection to ancient Christianity.  I've also witnessed it confirmed again in the Catholic Church, watching the rapid growth of the Traditional Latin Mass since 2007 and the Anglo Catholic ordinariates in the last few years.  This is in addition to reading about the growth of regular Novus Ordo parishes, that have implemented the "hermeneutic of continuity," by celebrating the new form of the mass according to the old rituals.

When Voris asked me about how Protestants are entering the Catholic Church, I reiterated that in spite of all the Catholic Church's problems in recent decades, this is actually the BEST time in history (the last 500 years of history) for the Church to attract more Protestants to return home to Rome.  Here is the reason why I said that...

All the evidence coming out of Evangelicalism lately, tells us the same story, and it's something that the rest of us are only just now starting to learn about.  Evangelicalism is in trouble -- serious trouble.  It risks collapsing within the next 10 years just as quickly as it rose onto the world scene.  Here is the problem.  To put it bluntly, Evangelical spirituality runs about a mile wide, but only about an inch deep.  Young Evangelicals in their teens and 20s now, are beginning to become disillusioned.  They want something with more depth.  They want a Church more concerned with social issues in addition to being pro-life.  They want an end to the science verses religion debate.  They want a Church that can accept their homosexual friends, without "gay bashing," and yet still stand for the Christian institution of heterosexual matrimony.  They want a Church that can handle the tough questions in life, without just giving wrote answers, but really engage deep enquiries.  Most importantly, they're not interested in the typical liberal mumbo-jumbo of skirting the issues, not really addressing the questions, and resorting to syncretist relativism as a solution for everything. This upcoming generation is seeking deep answers to deep questions, and that's something that a "Bible Only" Evangelical church just can't provide.  Because you see, providing these things requires a sound and stable theology based not only on Scripture but in thousands of years of Tradition as well.  It's something that only an ancient Church can provide.  They recognise that, and that's why they are increasingly attracted to Catholic liturgy, while leaving the rock guitar worship bands behind.

Some of you will find this shocking, but all the data is there.  Here is just one article of many.  More can be read here, here and here.  Though you might never know it, looking at the size of the multi-million dollar mega-churches, Evangelicalism is in serious trouble.  The very thing that happened to mainstream Protestantism is about to happen to modern Evangelicalism too.  In 10 years time, the number of grey heads in the mega-churches will begin to increase exponentially.  Today's Evangelicals are getting older, and there will soon be fewer and fewer young people to replace them.  The war of attrition will widen, spreading from mainstream Protestantism into the Evangelical denominations.  Some Evangelical churches will undoubtedly embrace liberalism in a vain attempt to win younger converts.  Just like the mainstream Protestant churches however, this will backfire, causing a more rapid decline.  Other Evangelical churches will stick to conservative Protestant theology, but will find adaptation very difficult.  In the end, the only thing that will save Evangelicalism from imploding completely will be an embrace of extra-Biblical traditions.  Most likely, the traditions they will choose, if not Catholic, will be Messianic Jewish in nature.  I know some of you will find this difficult to imagine, but you have to understand, that over the last two decades, a number of individual Evangelicals went through this process on a private level, as they began to move toward converting to Catholicism.  Likewise, what happened to individual Evangelicals over the last couple decades, is now starting to transfer into a generational thing, wherein an entire demographic of young people is starting to go through the exact same process.  There has been inklings of this movement popping up here and there for the past 10 years.  The Charismatic Episcopal Church is one such example, wherein Evangelicals and Pentecostals have adopted Catholic liturgy and incorporated all three traditions together.  While such denominations are a novelty, they do serve as a sign of a growing hunger in the Evangelical culture.  It is a hunger that is only going to grow in the years ahead, as young people become increasingly dissatisfied with Evangelicalism in general.

The Catholic Church is poised to stand in the gap and position herself to receive these young searching souls over the next few decades, but I can tell you that isn't going to happen with contemporary praise and worship music.  It's not going to happen with watered-down topical homilies designed not to offend.  It's not going to happen by dispensing of Catholic ritual and making the mass look as Protestant as possible.  The way the average Catholic parish looks now, most of these Evangelical refugees are liable to skip right on past the Catholic Church and into some form of continuing Anglicanism, or else they will just go over to Eastern Orthodoxy.  It's already starting to happen, and for Catholic parishes, it is an opportunity missed.  To position themselves properly, to receive the mass exodus of Evangelical youth; Catholic parishes are going to have to adopt the two steps I outlined above.  This is what will attract them, and this is exactly what faithful Catholics need as well.  This is how to revive the Catholic Church.  That's my advice.  Take it for whatever it's worth to you.


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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!



Dc Calamity said…
Regarding "Step One" - While I agree that there should be strong scriptural components to a good homily, I disagree with the form of "expository homily" that Shane suggests.

Yes, please do exegesis, and connect all of the scriptural elements of the Liturgy of the Word for the day. But please don't re-read them. There is a reason for the proclamation of the Word. Re-iterating them as a practice in a homily is gilding the lily.

I also see a place for topical homilies as they incorporate exegesis of the day's readings.