In his address to the bishops of Brazil Pope Francis offered a frank and honest assessment of the reasons why Catholics leave the Church, as he put it, ‘under the illusion of alternative ideas’ who mistakenly think that the Church ‘can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important.’
The Holy Father uses the account of the misplaced discouragement of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as the motif to examine the problem of lapsation:
‘We must not yield to disillusionment, discouragement and complaint. We have laboured greatly and, at times, we see what appear to be failures. We feel like those who must tally up a losing season as we consider those who have left us or no longer consider us credible or relevant. Let us read once again, in this light, the story of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15). The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the “nakedness” of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day (vv. 17-21).’
Pope Francis sees fault on both sides for Catholics leaving the Church ‘under the illusion of alternative ideas, on the part of members of the Church predominantly, but also on the part of those Catholics who leave.
The Fault of members of the Church
‘Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age.
The Fault of those Catholics who leave ‘under the illusion of alternative ideas’
‘It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.’
A relentless process of globalization, an often uncontrolled process of urbanization, have promised great things. Many people have been captivated by the potential of globalization, which of course does contain positive elements. But many also completely overlook its darker side: the loss of a sense of life’s meaning, personal dissolution, a loss of the experience of belonging to any “nest” whatsoever, subtle but relentless violence, the inner fragmentation and breakup of families, loneliness and abandonment, divisions, and the inability to love, to forgive, to understand, the inner poison which makes life a hell, the need for affection because of feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness, the failed attempt to find an answer in drugs, alcohol, and sex, which only become further prisons.
Many, too, have sought shortcuts, for the standards set by Mother Church seem to be asking too much. Many people think: “the Church’s idea of man is too lofty for me, the ideal of life which she proposes is beyond my abilities, the goal she sets is unattainable, beyond my reach. Nonetheless – they continue – I cannot live without having at least something, even a poor imitation, of what is too lofty for me, what I cannot afford. With disappointed hearts, they then go off in search of someone who will lead them even further astray.’
Protect the Pope comment: After analyzing the reasons why Catholics leave the Church ‘under the illusion of alternative ideas’ Pope Francis proposes the Church’s perennial cure of souls that leads the lost back to Jerusalem, ‘Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles.’
However, the Holy Father asks each of us, are we capable to leading the lost and discouraged back to Jerusalem? ’ Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty? Many people have left because they were promised something more lofty, more powerful, and faster. But what is more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love! Are we still capable of demonstrating this truth to those who think that the apex of life is to be found elsewhere? beauty?’