Ten Signs of Hope for Catholics
Let’s review some of the strong signs of hope in the Church today — signs of hope that simply weren’t here 20 years ago, and which suggest the renewal is here to stay.
1. New Catholic Colleges.
… and newly Catholic colleges. The past 10 years have seen seven new American Catholic colleges founded in the spirit of Ex Corde Ecclesiae; other, older schools are renewing themselves according to what the Church asks.
In America 20 years ago, very few Catholic colleges put fidelity to the magisterium at the center of their concerns. But when I was editor of the National Catholic Register, the editors of three of the nation’s leading Catholic news publications — the Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic World Report — all graduated from one school devoted to the magisterium, the St. Ignatius Institute. What will come from the graduates of today’s “magisterium-friendly” schools? Far more. They will surprise us with what they accomplish.
2. Young Catholics.
This year’s World Youth Day brought a new spate of articles noticing just how significant the youth movement in Catholicism is.
John Allen Jr. wrote, “It’s the Evangelicals, Stupid.”
USA Today published, “For these Millennials, Faith Trumps Relativism.”
It is significant that the largest Western audiences in history were young people gathering to hear popes. The record-setting World Youth Day crowds have helped supply students for these new Catholic colleges, and these colleges have helped supply attendees for World Youth Day, in a symbiotic circle.
3. Pro-Life Majority.
These efforts are working. Statistics have shown a years-long trend in the general public toward pro-life views. The slow and steady rise of right-to-life support sharpened this year. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that overall support for legal abortion is down 8%. A majority of Americans call themselves “pro-life.”
4. Renaissance of Religious Life.
The untold story of women’s religious life is the success of such congregations as the Missionaries of Charity, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, the Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters of Life and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Many of the houses of these sisters are experiencing a crisis of a different kind: not enough room for all the new postulants.
As John Allen Jr. put it in the above-mentioned article:
“In general, younger religious, both men and women, are more likely to prize fidelity to the church and to pick a religious order on the basis of its reputation for fidelity; they’re more interested in wearing the habit, and in traditional modes of spiritual and liturgical expression; and they’re much more positively inclined toward authority.”
5. “John Paul II” and “Benedict XVI” Priests.
A few years ago, The Catholic University of America’s Life Cycle Institute did a study of new priests. They compared new priests in 2005 to new priests in 1990.
Among the telling findings: Few priests in 1990 (before Denver’s 1993 World Youth Day) cited Pope John Paul II as a major influence. In 2005, Pope John Paul II’s influence was clear. At World Youth Day this year, Allen saw in “that inner core of actively practicing young Catholics who are most likely to discern a vocation to the priesthood … an Evangelical energy so thick you can cut it with a knife.”
Today’s priests are increasingly young, energetic and totally committed to the teachings of the Church.
6. Bishops’ Increased Engagement.
In 2004, when John Kerry, a Catholic, was at the top of a presidential ticket promoting a new assault on the right to life, many bishops set about clarifying the policy positions that make candidates impossible to support.
In 2008, that new attitude was even more in evidence as many bishops warned their flocks not to vote for a candidate who rejected the right to life. In 2010, dozens of bishops taught that the University of Notre Dame was violating bishops’ guidelines by honoring President Barack Obama at the height of his legislative assault on the right to life.
7. Renewal of the Liturgy.
Nearly every year since the Jubilee Year 2000 (which Pope John Paul II called “profoundly Eucharistic’) has seen a major document come from the Vatican on the Eucharist, seeking to renew the Mass and return it to its roots. As we reported last week, some parishes in the United States are already gearing up to teach the new Roman Missal. The Vatican is seeking to restore authenticity, awe and reverence to the liturgy. As the Mass is the “source and summit of Christian life,” this can only bode well for the future.
8. New Interest in Catholicism.
At the bookstore, titles that explore Catholicism — sympathetically or antagonistically — continue to be top sellers. Church attendance swells in places where a concerted effort is made. A recent survey purporting to show “the death of Christianity” actually showed the death of mainline Protestantism. The percentages of evangelical Protestants and Catholics grew. God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World is one new book by the editor of The Economist.
9. Confession’s Comeback.
Tim Drake explained the dynamic that Time magazine noticed: We are experiencing “A Comeback for Confession.”
As Pope Benedict XVI said last year in Washington: “To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance.” This past Lent, in many dioceses across the country, priests spent their Wednesday nights in the confessional.
10. Eucharistic Adoration.
The most important sign of hope in America: the renewed interest in Eucharistic adoration, where Catholics come in contact with the Lord of History himself.
I have seen anecdotal evidence of this. I moved to the small town of Atchison, Kansas – and discovered I was in walking distance of a perpetual adoration chapel. My first winter here, thousands of high school Catholics descended on Kansas City – and filled the center of town in a giant Eucharistic procession.
The numbers at TheRealPresence.org confirm a larger trend. The number of chapels offering exposition of the Blessed Sacrament has swelled to 7,046, and more than 800 chapels in the United States now offer perpetual adoration.
So, we can take heart. There are plenty of negative signs in the Church, always. But we have every reason to hope.
Tom Hoopes, former editor of the National Catholic Register, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.