The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Secularism and the Church in Spain

Having just returned from a trip during which we spent about a week in Barcelona, I couldn't help but notice the obvious secularism of the people. I believe it's safe to say that Spain, sadly, is no longer a "Catholic" country. On Sunday morning, for example, we attended the 9 a.m. Mass in the Barcelona Cathedral, joined by only a scattering of worshipers. Although I can't be certain, it seemed as if the majority of this small congregation were foreign visitors like us. The 11 a.m. Mass, which included a full choir, was only slightly better attended. Indeed, by noon the square in front of the cathedral was packed with people who came only to listen to the music of a live orchestra and take part in the Sardana dance that celebrates Catalan culture, unity and pride.

Hundreds gather outside the cathedral on Sunday...but there are few disciples in the pews and no Zacchaeus in the tree looking for Jesus

I recently read that although 94% of Spaniards are Catholic, Mass attendance has dropped from 44% in 1980 to only 19% in 2008. Considering the rate at which this change has taken place, I expect it is even lower today. The most recent figure I've seen for Spain is 13%. (For details on worldwide Mass attendance, click here to access the tables published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate -- CARA -- at Georgetown University.) Spain, of course, isn't the only European nation to have largely abandoned the Faith. 2008 attendance among German Catholics was at 22%, among the French only 12%, and in the Netherlands a minuscule 7% of Catholics attended Mass weekly.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb to assert that Catholics who have stopped attending Mass are, in effect, no longer Catholic. Without the grace of the sacraments, without the opening up of the Word of God, without the guidance of Church teaching on moral and other matters, without the support of a loving community of essence, without the Church, one drifts ever more deeply into a life where God too is absent, into a state where the urgings of the Spirit are no longer recognized.

During our recent visit, I saw lots of evidence of a Catholic past, but very little of a Catholic present. Most people with whom I spoke seemed to view the Church as something that once mattered to their ancestors, and perhaps even to their parents or grandparents, but certainly did not matter to them. One young man who worked at our hotel said he was an atheist, but still considered himself a Catholic. As it turns out, he cannot let go of his Catholic heritage which forms such an integral part of his cultural identity. Completely uncatechized, he knows absolutely nothing about the Catholic Church except what he encounters in the secular media. God and Faith and Church, then, play virtually no active role in his life which seemed to be focused solely on worldly success and pleasure. I told him I'd pray for him. He looked surprised, but then said, Thanks." Perhaps a sign of hope? Maybe he'll be urged by the Spirit to attend the World Youth Day scheduled for August 15-21 in Madrid. I pray he will respond.

This young desk clerk in Barcelona is really not that far removed from many American Catholics who, for a variety of reasons, have drifted away from the Church but still call themselves Catholic. They might not be declared atheists, but they live lives of virtual atheism in which God is largely forgotten. Believe it or not, we can even find these folks among regular weekly Mass attendees. Not long ago a man approached me after Mass and said, "Nice sermon. I don't usually like coming here to Mass." Half-jokingly I asked him, "Well, then, why do you come?" He just pointed to his wife and said, "She makes me."

All of this came to mind when I read a story about a group of Spanish activists whose planned disruption of a speech by Madrid's archbishop, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, forced the cancellation of the event. The cardinal had been invited to speak at the Autonomous University of Madrid on December 1. His subject? “The God who Is Unknown to 21st Century Spaniards.” It seems that, for some Spaniards, the "unknown God" will remain that way, at least for a while.

It's remarkable how left-wing activists no longer even pretend to believe in freedom of speech or other traditional, liberal concepts. Now they simply attack anyone whose beliefs differ from their own, particularly those who speak of God and His plan for humanity. The Catholic Church, then, has become their most frequent and hated target. Read more here: Activists Force Spanish Cardinal to Cancel Lecture.

Spanish Youth Praying & Singing at Montserrat Monastery

Keep the Spanish people and the Church in Spain in your prayers. Many young Spaniards, dissatisfied with the emptiness of the world's attractions, are turning to the Church and rediscovering the Faith of their ancestors. And so, pray too for the success of World Youth Day 2011.

Pax et bonum...

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