Recently, while discussing the Church, some friends and I realized that there’s very little useful information about it. We’ve lots of data about the numbers of converts and people leaving, the number of priests and how powerful progressive and conservative elements are. Most dioceses count Mass attendance, baptisms and students in Catholic schools. But this tells us little about the real health of the Catholic community.
We exist to bring Jesus’ revelation to our world. Just repeating Jesus’ words to people doesn’t begin to accomplish our task. The only meaningful measure of the Church’s health is how well we promote and support love and justice among our members and within the larger world community.
As most institutions, we tend to focus on internal matters: are our ranks waxing or waning, how are the finances, whose priorities are ascendant, are our different factions satisfied with the distribution of power, where’s the next threat coming from? Since we’re a community of human beings, all these concerns are understandable. But they divert huge amounts of attention and energy from the function that we exist to perform.
Maybe one day there will be a form sent to each parish asking: how many times did your members bring God’s forgiveness to their world by loving those who harmed them, to what extent were your members willing to forego their comfort and risk their security so that others could live securely with dignity, how frequently did your members encourage those who were losing heart because their efforts for good bore no visible fruit?
As difficult as it would be to gather that information, it would create a very useful snapshot of the Church. It sure would help us know the extent to which the gospel has freed us for God’s work and the efficacy of our Church as Christ for the world. It would remind us of what we all believe is really important.