These are disheartening times for Catholics. It is a helpful time to review some of the strong signs of hope in the Church today — signs of hope that simply weren't here 20, or even 10 years ago.
1. New Catholic Colleges.
The past 10 years have seen seven new American Catholic colleges founded in the spirit of Ex Corde Ecclesiae; other, older schools are renewing themselves according to what the Church asks.
In America 20 years ago, very few Catholic colleges put fidelity to the magisterium at the center of their concerns. But three editors of the nation's leading Catholic news publications — the Register, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic World Report — all graduated from one school devoted to the magisterium, the St. Ignatius Institute. What will come from the graduates of today's "magisterium-friendly" schools? Far more. They will surprise us with what they accomplish.
2. Young Catholics.
The record-setting World Youth Day crowds have helped supply students for these new Catholic colleges, and these colleges have helped supply attendees for World Youth Day, in a symbiotic circle.
The March for Life is literally filled with young Catholics. Young pro-lifers bring spirit and originality to the right-to-life movement.
They are comfortable with the new mediums of video and viral Internet messages. NCRegister.com often features their efforts, such as Planned Parenthood exposes, the CatholicVote.org ads and the "May Feelings" videos promoting the Rosary.
3. Pro-Life Majority.
The efforts by young people are working. Statistics have shown a years-long trend in the general public toward pro-life views. The slow and steady rise of right-to-life support sharpened this year. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that overall support for legal abortion is down 8%. A majority of Americans call themselves "pro-life."
4. Renaissance of Religious Life.
The crisis of women's religious life has reached the point where apostolic visitators are investigating one major association of nuns. But the untold story of women's religious life is the other association of nuns — the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. These include such congregations as the Missionaries of Charity, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, the Nashville Dominicans, the Sisters of Life and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Their fidelity to the Church is symbolized by one important factor: They still wear habits.
Many of the houses of this association of nuns are experiencing a crisis of a different kind: not enough room for all the new postulants.
5. "John Paul II" and "Benedict XVI" Priests.
A few years ago, The Catholic University of America's Life Cycle Institute did a study of new priests. They compared new priests in 2005 to new priests in 1990.
Among the telling findings: Few priests in 1990 (before Denver's 1993 World Youth Day) cited Pope John Paul II as a major influence. In 2005, Pope John Paul II's influence was clear.
Our favorite finding: In 2005, new priests were more likely to subscribe to the Register than to a dissenting Catholic newspaper. In 1990, the dissenting newspaper beat us handily.
6. Bishops' Increased Engagement.
In 2004, when John Kerry, a Catholic, was at the top of a presidential ticket promoting a new assault on the right to life, many bishops set about clarifying the policy positions that make candidates impossible to support. In 2008, that new attitude was even more in evidence as many bishops warned their flocks not to vote for a candidate who rejected the right to life. This spring, dozens of bishops taught that the University of Notre Dame is violating bishops' guidelines by honoring President Barack Obama at the height of his legislative assault on the right to life.
7. Renewal of the Liturgy.
Nearly every year since the Jubilee Year 2000 (which Pope John Paul II called "profoundly Eucharistic') has seen a major document come from the Vatican on the Eucharist, seeking to renew the Mass and return it to its roots. As we reported last week, some parishes in the United States are already gearing up to teach the new Roman Missal. The Vatican is seeking to restore authenticity, awe and reverence to the liturgy. As the Mass is the "source and summit of Christian life," this can only bode well for the future.
8. New Interest in Catholicism.
At the bookstore, titles that explore Catholicism — sympathetically or antagonistically — continue to be top sellers. Church attendance swells in places where a concerted effort is made. A recent survey purporting to show "the death of Christianity" actually showed the death of mainline Protestantism. The percentages of evangelical Protestants and Catholics grew. God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World is the new book by the editor of The Economist.
9. Confession's Comeback.
Tim Drake found several signs of hope for confession in his story "Confession's Comeback" in the Register, but he wasn't alone. Time magazine in 2007 also printed a story called "A Comeback for Confession."
As Pope Benedict XVI said last year in Washington: "To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance."
10. Eucharistic Adoration.
The most important sign of hope in America: the renewed interest in Eucharistic adoration, where Catholics come in contact with the Lord of History himself.
We included it here because we at the Register have seen anecdotal evidence of an increase in Eucharistic adoration. First, the Register's chapel started to offer adoration. Then, during the past several months, two nearby churches began offering adoration for the first time.
But the numbers at TheRealPresence.org confirm a larger trend. The number of chapels offering exposition of the Blessed Sacrament has swelled to 7,046, and more than 800 chapels in the United States now offer perpetual adoration.
So, we can take heart. Christ is still the Lord of the universe, and we can be absolutely certain that sticking to his plan will win in the end.