Pew Research Center just released a new study on Catholicism in the United States. The study, conducted May 5-June 7, 2015, polled 5,122 adults about their views on family life, sexuality, and Catholic identity. Included in the study participants are Catholics who claim Catholicism as their current religion, those raised in the Faith and now fallen away, and those who maintain a cultural connection to Catholicism.

The researchers define “Cultural Catholics” to be those who no longer consider Catholicism to be their religion yet “still think of themselves as indelibly Catholic by culture, ancestry, ethnicity or family tradition.”  Cultural Catholics also may be those who have some other attachment to the Faith, like being married to a Catholic.

Of those who identify with Catholicism in some way, one-fifth claim the Faith as their current religion, one-tenth were raised Catholic but have fallen away, and a similar number are somehow what Pew considers “culturally connected.”

But here’s the part that really caught my eye: Forty-five per cent of Americans are connected to Catholicism in some way.

Nearly half of our nation has some kind of an attachment to the Faith.

That may include your next door neighbor, grocery store cashier, or the construction worker repairing the road you take to work. That’s almost one of every two people you meet during your day. And that’s a lot.

Granted, one-tenth of those who identify with the Church have fallen away. I’m not blind to that.

There are some other disconcerting statistics from the study as well.

  • One in ten Catholics is living with a romantic partner and one in four has done so at some point in their lives.
  • Eighty-five percent of Catholics condone cohabiting in general.
  • Eighty-four percent say unmarried parents cohabiting is acceptable.
  • Two-thirds say it’s acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children.
  • Fifty-four percent of Catholics say cohabiting is not a sin
  • Forty-nine percent say divorcing and remarrying without an annulment is not a sin, and
  • Sixty-six percent say using contraceptives is not a sin.

More than half – and in some cases, a majority – of US Catholics are in dissent from the Church on key issues of marriage and family.

That disturbs me.

On the other hand, one finding of the Pew study has given me great hope.

The study found that Catholics who regularly attend Mass are more likely to adhere to the teachings of the Church.

One could argue the chicken-or-egg question.

Do those who regularly attend Mass do so because they already are committed to the teachings of the Church?

Or, does regular Mass attendance encourage greater commitment to the Church’s teachings?

I definitely think that folks go to Mass because it’s what the Church teaches.

I also think, however, that the Mass has a power of its own to foster a desire to love Jesus and adhere more closely to his Church’s teachings. The closer you come to Christ – and you can’t get much closer than in Mass – the more closely you will want to follow him.

The Eucharist has the power to transform hearts.

When you go to Mass, you receive the strength and courage you need to more fully live your Catholic Faith and to be able to more faithfully and joyfully adhere to the Church’s teachings.

As St. Paul taught, the love of Christ will impel you (2 Cor. 5:14).

So when you meet up with others of the 45% who are connected to the Catholic Church, you’ll be able to reflect to them the beauty of our Faith by the way you conduct yourself. When you receive Christ in the Eucharist, you’ll be able to pass his love on to others and help them to love Christ, too.

The Pew study pinpoints some serious problems in the beliefs and behavior of a good number of American Catholics. But that’s not the end of the story.

We have the Eucharist.