In an episode of the television show, Everybody Loves Raymond, Debra asks Raymond why he doesn’t go to church. His response: “I don’t know. Maybe it is because of the kneeling. You know I have bad knees.” Eventually, however, Raymond turns the tables on his wife and asks her why she goes to church. Her response: “I go to church to thank God for you and the kids…I go to get re-energized…I go to be part of something greater than me…I like the feeling of community and the sense of tradition.”
These days, with fewer people attending church services, it remains a good question to ask. In a 2016 Patheos essay, author David Murrow offered some possible reasons why church attendance may be down:
Social expectation and pressures have lightened. People used to live their lives according to social convention. Those who strayed from accepted norms were ostracized and shamed.
Church is no longer the best show in town. For centuries, Sunday morning was an entertainment desert. Shops were closed. Sports commenced at noon. There was no cable TV or video games. Church was literally the only thing happening on Sunday morning – so people went.
Increased mobility. People travel as never before, so more and more churchgoers find themselves out of town on Sunday. Relatively few see the need to visit a nearby church.
Weekend work. Blue laws used to keep businesses shuttered on Sunday. Now many people work on the Sabbath, which makes attendance difficult or impossible.
People need a day of rest. For stressed-out couples Sunday may be the only pajama morning of the week.
The rise of do-it-yourself Christianity. The Internet and various media offerings allow believers to tailor a spiritual life to their own liking. They get Christianity without the challenge of having to interact with other Christians.
The expectation of choice. Modern Americans are used to getting exactly what they want. Amazon offers more than 200 million items. Petco sells more than 100 varieties of dog food. Christians shop for pastors they connect with.
This October marks my fifteenth year of ordination. As a “seasoned” permanent deacon, I’ve come to experience that my ministry, rightly so, is that of a “bridge” between the Church and secular. Daily, I encounter those who’ve stopped practicing their faith and remind them that they are always welcome home. While occasionally taking me up on the offer, some angrily tell me they’ve left the Church because of the clergy sex scandal or due to the rudeness of a priest, deacon, sister, or brother during a time of need. Still others, with little charity, raise their voices and proclaim: Your Church is out-of-step with modern lifestyle choices and why can’t you all understand that love is love. Given all of this, many have decided (to borrow words from a burger joint) to have it “their way.”
But it’s not our way, it’s God’s way!
As the Psalmist notes (2:2-4), as the rulers of the world plot against the Lord, the One enthroned in heaven laughs.
In the Gospel of Matthew (21:12-17), Jesus enters the temple area to drive out those engaged in selling and buying. After telling the chief priests and scribes that they have turned His house into a den of thieves, Jesus proceeds to cure the blind and lame. And with the crowds singing “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Jesus once more turns to the religious leaders and says: “Do you hear what they are saying? ‘That out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise.’”
Enter a fifteen-year-old soon-to-be saint.
Born on May 3, 1991, Blessed Carlo Acutis grew up in Milan, Italy. From a young age, absent devout parents, Carlo had a special love for God. Early on, he had a great devotion to Mary and loved to pray the Rosary. He went to Mass and confession as often as he could. He loved his neighbors, as well. As part of his mission, Carlo would regularly seek out the homeless and offer them food and clothing. At school, he could be found defending students who were being picked upon, especially those with disabilities.
Carlo had a special love for the Eucharist and became interested in Eucharistic miracles. His parents would take him on pilgrimages—to the places where they had occurred. Using his research, he began creating what would eventually become a website to catalog and share the information with others.
His love for the Eucharist was contagious. The priest promoting his cause for sainthood noted that Carlo “managed to drag his relatives, his parents to Mass every day. It was not the other way around; it was not his parents bringing the little boy to Mass, but it was he who managed to get himself to Mass and to convince others to receive Communion daily.” His mother, Antonia, recounted that as a result of Carlo’s faithful example, she returned to the full practice of her faith.
Like so many of us today, who love Christ and His Church, Carlo was concerned that people were growing distant to the Church and the sacraments and desperately wanted to bring them back.
While there are many reasons people give for not attending Mass, Blessed Carlo Acutis provides us with THE reason we should attend Mass: “the more often we receive the Eucharist, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on this earth we will have a foretaste of heaven.”
Blessed Carlo Acutis died from leukemia on October 12, 2006. At his request he was buried in Assisi because of his love for St. Francis. His cause for canonization began in 2013 and he was designated “Venerable” in 2018. Following a healing miracle attributed to his intercession he was declared “Blessed” on October 10, 2020. He once said: “To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life plan.”