Comedian Bill Maher continues to go back to the same trough for a few laughs at the expense of the Church of his boyhood.
At the beginning of Lent, Maher copied a television commercial produced by Catholics Come Home, a lay-run evangelization effort that works with dioceses to invite fallen-away Catholics back to the practice of the faith. He manipulated the commercial’s images to produce a caustic comedic vision of a Church that is a figment of Maher’s imagination: a Church that proclaims it has gotten past the clerical sex-abuse scandal, but is really just devising better ways to cover it up.
Maher’s message: The Church is “losing customers.” Sunday Mass is like a “Broadway play,” with audiences of “white hair.”
Poor Bill. He really doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Catholics Come Home, one admirable initiative producing great results, is only part of the underreported good news on Holy Saturday each year. If Anno Domini 2011 follows the recent trends, many parishes will see new Catholics join at the Easter vigil. Collectively, the Church in America — and throughout the world — is growing by leaps and bounds.
Tens of thousands of catechumens and candidates became Catholic last year across the United States, with dioceses in Texas and California standing out. The Diocese of Dallas welcomed more than 3,000 new Catholics into the Church, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles saw nearly 2,400 join.
Worldwide, the number of Catholics continues to rise, as documented in the Vatican’s 2011 Annuario Pontificio. At the end of 2009, the worldwide Catholic population increased by 15 million.
The number of men willing to give their lives to Christ and his Church also continues to rise. The number of priests went from 405,178 to 410,593, increasing everywhere except Europe.
Similarly, Maher’s claim that senior citizens dominate the pews is hardly based on reality. As Register correspondent Marge Fenelon reports in this issue (page B5), Catholics Come Home ads running during Lent 2010 in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., resulted in a 7.4% increase in Mass attendance among young adults.
Then, of course, there’s World Youth Day. The triennial event, inaugurated by soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II, has drawn 13.5 million over its 26-year history, and even in a year when the economy could keep many people home, this year’s WYD, in Madrid, is expected to draw at least 300,000 youth.
So what is it that keeps drawing people to Christ’s Church? Readers of the Register know the answer. What’s important is how to counter the false message of Maher and too many others. The answer is simple: Live the Gospel faithfully, and people will be drawn to it.
As author Matthew Kelly says in Fenelon’s story, “Are we living attractive lives? The first Christians intrigued people with their lives. They lived differently, loved differently and worked differently. Who does your life intrigue? As modern Catholics, we tend to just blend in. Our responsibility as lay Catholics is to make Catholicism attractive — no, irresistible.”
By the way, Bill, you’re welcome to come home, too. What you find will surprise you.