Are you part of the decline?
The results of the latest Gallup Poll on religion came out, and they didn’t look good for the Church. My first reaction was sorrow over the increasing lack of belief and practice in my fellow Americans. However, as I looked closer at the study, something else emerged.
The report goes on to say that about a third of the decline can be “attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference”. Furthermore, “among religious groups, the decline is steeper among Catholics”.
Yes, part of the decline in membership is due to people leaving the faith, but that’s not the whole story. Who are these people who identify as Catholic, regularly attend Mass, but said no when asked if they were a member of a particular church? Immediately, I began reminiscing about the years of my young adult life when I hopped from church to church, attending whatever Mass was at the most convenient time for me, never registering as a member anywhere. I was part of the decline.
Why does it matter?
In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, one demon reminds another, “Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” Why does Lewis present church hopping (or rather, church shopping) as a work of the devil? He goes on to say, “the [parish] should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity [God] desires…In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where [God] wants him to be a pupil.”1
Being a member of a particular Church unites me with my community in a visible way. Belonging to a parish doesn’t necessarily mean I exclusively attend Mass in one location. There are a host of just and prudent reasons for sometimes attending different Masses. But belonging to a parish means being part of a community and making sacrifices for the good and unity of that community.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that it is “in these [particular Churches] and formed out of them that the one and unique Catholic Church exists”2. As a member of a parish, I don’t just belong to the universal or invisible Church. I belong to a particular Church with planted roots and visible members. I have taken a step to make my identity and my communion publicly known. I have humbled myself to listen to particular representatives of Christ and work out my salvation among my neighbors, in my neighborhood.
Additionally, belonging gives me a pastor, brother and sister parishioners, and a particular mission to aid in the care and evangelization of a specific group of people in a specific place. The parish relies on its parishioners not only to keep the lights on, but also to care for the poor in the community. Your parish desperately needs the time, treasure, and talents the Lord has given you for the service of his people. If you don’t already belong to a parish, make haste, sign up today!
How to Pick a Parish
Now on to what the title promised.
Step 1: Determine what Parish you live in.
While some people have just reasons for not belonging to the parish they live in, for most Catholics, it makes sense to follow the Church’s lead when choosing a parish. Your local diocese has divided up the area under its care into parishes with geographical boundaries. Mostly likely, the Catholic Church closest to your home is your parish (you can easily find a list of Catholic Churches and their distance from your home using Masstimes.org or your favorite map app). If there are several and you want to be sure, some dioceses have these divisions published on their websites. You could also try calling your diocesan offices or local parish and asking where the parish boundaries are.
Step 2: Register
Most Parishes have a form to fill out on their website for new parishioners. If you can’t find a form on the website, give the parish a call and ask how to register.
Step 3: Start Giving
Join a ministry in the parish, get to know other parishioners, sign up for monthly donations, or do whatever you do best. I promise (or rather Jesus does) that in giving you will receive a hundredfold (Mark 10:30).
- Screwtape Letters, Chapter 16
- CCC 833