Every Sunday since the pandemic, I have been to Mass on TV. It’s very convenient. You choose your priest. First I chose Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD, enjoyed his long homilies. He would ask his congregation to make friends with one another. Eventually, I preferred Fr. Tito Caluag. His Mass was short and sweet. I liked that. Then, two Sundays ago, I decided to see if the Sunday Mass at the Wack-Wack chapel, a stone’s throw away from where we live, was back.
The priest was now a Filipino, not the usual foreigner. Before the Mass he took the mic, walked down to us and asked, “Why are you here today?”
Someone said, “Because it’s Sunday.”
Another said, “It’s my way of thanking God for all the graces He sends me.”
“But why are there so few of you?” the priest asked. “People—especially young people—are not going to church anymore and it’s upsetting.”
“I think they’re going to Mass on TV,” I volunteered. “They learned from the pandemic.”
“But they must come to church,” the priest said.
The following Sunday I needed to hear Mass earlier. I went to another friend’s condo that had a 9 a.m. Mass. The priest asked the same question: Why aren’t people going to Mass anymore?
I have a priest friend whom I invited to an event. He said he couldn’t come because of an important meeting. Maybe that meeting is about why people don’t go to Mass anymore, I thought. Suddenly I remembered reading something many years ago when the Church was besieged by child molestation cases. A church in the US was forced to close down. No more Masses or other activities. There was a lady who took it upon herself to open the church on Sundays. She set up tables and chairs and invited the neighborhood. They sat and talked about the Bible. They brought bread and wine. More and more people from the neighborhood came. I was impressed by this little story. That’s when it occurred to me that perhaps the Catholic Church was slowly losing intimacy with her congregation.
Today so many people are Born Again. I don’t think they realize it but I suspect they left the Catholic Church in search of human intimacy. Maybe it is time for the Catholic Church to update itself. The Mass has not changed since I was in high school when the priest suddenly faced their audience. That was a move towards intimacy. The priest was looking at you. But did he really see you?
For hundreds of years, we Filipinos haven’t been that friendly with priests or with each other. We have our own little circle of friends, yes, but that warmth does not fill the church. Among the Born Agains and other religions I have been invited to, there is a pervasive warmth, an intimacy in the friendship of the congregation. People enjoy their worship more. They know each other better. We do not see this in the Catholic Church.
There are many things you can do to improve the situation but you must face it with a combination of facing the real truth and creatively imagining how you can get your customers or your market or your congregation back.
When the pandemic came, we were introduced to Mass on TV. You could tune in any time of day. If you forgot it was Sunday, you could still catch Mass at 11:30 p.m. You could go in your pajamas from bed. You fulfilled your Sunday obligation. Without intimacy, the Mass can seem like a weekly obligation, like something that your family required. It didn’t always give you intimate contact with God, but it at least pleased your parents. Now, TV brought God to you. There was more intimacy in that. Furthermore, you didn’t have to give money. No tithes.
It occurs to me now that maybe tithes are what the Catholic Church misses. The collection basket passed around at the Offertory once, twice, sometimes thrice, provides the parishes with money or budgets for their lives. With fewer people going to church, less money is collected. It’s like a household. Let’s say your parents run a business baking and selling bread in your neighborhood. Suddenly someone opens another bread store close by. They lose more than half of their customers. Your family income is reduced. How will your family live? You have to sacrifice. That’s what the Church teaches—the need to sacrifice.
I think you have to sit down to imagine what you can do to improve your relationship with your customers. Maybe you can begin to stuff your pan de sal with bits of longganisa to innovate on the flavor. There are many things you can do to improve the situation but you must face it with a combination of facing the real truth and creatively imagining how you can get your customers or your market or your congregation back.
Isn’t it strange that solutions can appear so simple? The way seems simple. It’s the execution—how we do things beyond the collection basket —that’s complicated.
Now I’m wondering—did I accidentally answer the real question?