Someone once said, “Statistics are wonderful and beneficial, but the truth is in the interpretation: it is possible that two individuals can use the same statistics and attempt to prove two very different proposals.” And in our day and age, when “fake news” can be found everywhere, this statement may be true far more often than we might think. However, statistics also offer many interesting insights into what may very well be happening in our changing world. Let me offer some statistics and then allow you to draw your own conclusions and see how you might use this information to make a difference in the future.
“Nones,” those who profess no religious affiliation, are now the largest subgroup in American society, their numbers having grown in the past decade while the percentage of Catholics in the United States slipped over the past 10 years. In a Pew Research Center “religious landscape” report issued recently, nones have jumped from 17 percent of the adult population in 2009 to 26 percent in 2019. Catholics, meanwhile, have slipped from 23 percent in 2009 to 20 percent today.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church can no longer claim a majority of the nation’s Hispanic population. The figure dropped from 57 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2019, although the latter number still represents a plurality. The percentage of Hispanics who say they are unaffiliated climbed from 15 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2019, and those who say they are Protestant went up 1 percentage point from 23 percent to 24 percent.
Amid a number of setbacks for religionists outlined in the study, it did say 62 percent of those who profess Christianity say they attend services at the same rate they did in 2009—at least twice a month. Overall, 65 percent of respondents described themselves as Christians. However, the study’s numbers also suggest that the overall number of Christians has dropped in the United States over the past decade, from 178 million in 2009, to about 167 million today, while the number of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated grew by close to 30 million.
Pew said that in the General Social Survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago—originally the National Opinion Research Center—the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. population peaked at 27 percent in the early 1970s, the early 1980s and the late 2000s, but slipped to 25 percent in the early 2010s and 23 percent in the late 2010s. Protestants peaked at 64 percent in the late 1970s, but have either slipped or held steady every survey since to the current 48 percent in the late 2010s. The overall Protestant designation that accounted for 51 percent of the population a decade ago has sunk to 43 percent now. While the number of U.S. Protestants overall outpaces that of Catholics, there is no one Protestant denomination with more adherents than Catholicism.
Even for those who fall into the “none” category, there are different strains. The most significant rise was among those who espoused “nothing in particular” when it came to religious belief, up from 12 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2019, a jump of five percentage points. The number of self-described atheists doubled from 10 years ago, from 2 percent to 4 percent. Self-described agnostics moved up from 3 percent in 2009 to 5 percent today.
Much of these results were distilled from 88 polls conducted by phone over the past decade, with 168,000 Americans over the age of 18 reached. Each of these polls asked the question, “What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular? Most, but not all, of the 88 polls also asked: “Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services? More than once a week, once a week, once or twice a month, a few times a year, seldom or never?”
The answer to the latter question also showed a shift over the past decade. In 2009, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, said they went to church at least once a month, while 47 percent said they did not. In 2019, those numbers are basically reversed, with only 45 percent saying they attend religious services at least once a month, and 54 percent saying they do not.
The decline in the number who say they are Christian cut across every major demographic group; the smallest drop cited by Pew was 2 percent among the “silent generation,” those born between 1928 and 1945. Double-digit drops were recorded among both men (12 percent) and women (11 percent); women are less likely than men to describe themselves as nones, 23 percent vs. 30 percent, and more likely to go to religious services at least once a month, 50 percent to 40 percent.
Other double-digit drops were recorded among whites (12 percent), blacks (11 percent) and Hispanics (10 percent); college graduates (13 percent) and those with less than a college education (11 percent); those living in the American Northeast (15 percent), South (12 percent), and Midwest (10 percent). The density of Catholics in the Northeast, long considered a Catholic stronghold, dipped by 9 percent to 27 percent, being eclipsed by nones at 28 percent. The South, once considered a Protestant stronghold, fell 11 points, although, at 53 percent of the adult population, they still constitute a majority. Pew said there are as many millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—who say they never attend religious services as there are who say they go at least once a week, both at 22 percent.
As I said at the beginning of this article, statistics can be interpreted in a number of ways, but these statistics certainly show us that what the Archdiocese of Chicago is trying to address in programs such as Renew My Church and To Teach Who Christ Is are extremely vital. Both, but in differing emphases, are trying to reach out to all kinds of people in order to bring the message of Jesus to the masses in ever more dramatic and dynamic fashion. We pray that by the guidance of the Spirit they will be successful.
FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD
The Eastern Churches celebrate this feast as “The Meeting,” a reference to the long-awaited meeting of the Messiah with his people, represented by Simeon and Anna in the Temple. The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is rooted within Old Testament traditions. The Book of Exodus stipulates that every firstborn Israelite male, human or animal, belongs to God. When Pharaoh would not allow the Israelites to leave Egypt and slavery, God saved the people. Consequently, the firstborn now belongs to God: “Consecrate to me every firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the Israelites, whether of human being or beast, belongs to me” (Ex 13:2).
The Israelites carried out this instruction by presenting their firstborn to God in the Temple: the firstborn of their animals was sacrificed to God while their firstborn sons were bought back by substituting animal sacrifices in their place to God.
Mary and Joseph fulfill this law by presenting Jesus in the Temple and making an offering. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, prophesying, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples.” He stresses that this revelation is for everyone: pagans and Jews alike. Jesus’ life will involve rejection and suffering, while his mother will experience tremendous sorrow: “And you yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35). Simeon is ready to die, while Anna (who is in the account in the longer version of the Gospel reading) will live to spread the good news of the Messiah.
In the Gospel, we hear that Simeon had long waited for God to send his Son. Today, members of the Church look to Christ as their head and realize that Christ dwells within them, the Body of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “As Lord, Christ is also head of his Church, which is his body. Taken up to heaven and glorified after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth in his Church” (#669).
For Simeon, the child Jesus was a sign of the work of God in the world. God has always used what is visible to reveal the invisible. The Catechism notes that God speaks through “the visible creation” (#1147). Continuing, the Catechism states: “Inasmuch as they are creatures, these perceptible realities can become means of expressing the action of men who offer worship to God. The same is true of signs and symbols taken from the social life of man: washing and anointing, breaking bread and sharing the cup can express the sanctifying presence of God and man’s gratitude toward his Creator” (#1148).
For Your Reflection: How do you see God revealed in the actions during the Mass. Through what things and beings is God revealed in your daily life? How did the Mass celebrate Christ as the King of glory, as the Responsorial Psalm proclaims?
FEAST OF ST. BLASÉ (Blaise)
Monday, February 3, 2020
We know more about the devotion to St. Blasé by Christians around the world than we know about the saint himself. We know that Bishop Blasé was martyred in the Episcopal city of Sebastea, Armenia, in 316. The legendary Acts of St. Blasé were written 400 years later. According to them, Blasé was born into a rich and noble family who raised him as a Christian. He was a good bishop, working hard to encourage the spiritual and physical health of his people. Although the Edict of Toleration (311), granting freedom of worship in the Roman Empire, was already five years old, persecution still raged in Armenia. Blasé was apparently forced to flee to the back country. There he lived as a hermit in solitude and prayer, but he made friends with the wild animals and supposedly could walk among them unafraid, curing their illnesses.
One day a group of hunters seeking wild animals for the amphitheater stumbled upon Blasé’s cave. They were first surprised and then frightened. The bishop was kneeling in prayer surrounded by patiently waiting wolves, lions and bears. As the hunters hauled Blasé off to prison, the legend has it that a mother came with her young son who had a fish bone lodged in his throat. At Blasé’s command the child was able to cough up the bone.
Agricolaus, governor of Cappadocia, tried to persuade Blasé to sacrifice to pagan idols. The first time Blasé refused, he was beaten. The next time he was suspended from a tree and his flesh torn with iron combs or rakes. (English wool combers, who used similar iron combs, took Blasé as their patron. They could easily appreciate the agony the saint underwent.) Finally Blasé was beheaded.
Here at St. Peter’s we will offer the St. Blasé Blessing after each of the weekday Masses on Monday, February 3. If you cannot make it to one of the Masses, you may receive the blessing at the front office during the regularly scheduled hours on Monday.
THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL OF PRESIDENT TRUMP
I hesitate to include this item in this bulletin only because it is being written some time before its publication, and I have no idea how long or in what format the trial will be. However, I believe that each of us needs to pay close attention to this happening, no matter where we stand on its appropriateness or its importance. These are extremely important days taking place at the Capital in Washington, D.C. All 100 Senators must be present in the Senate chamber each day the trial is in session (Monday-Saturday). They do not get a chance to speak; they are to listen carefully so that they can render a fair and impartial judgment about whether the two Articles for Impeachment voted by the House of Representatives are grounds for convicting the President to be dismissed from office or rather that he should be exonerated. It is a process that has been used very sparingly (thankfully) since our nation was founded, but one that is at the heart of how we remain a democracy in the mind of those who wrote and signed our Constitution.
Because of the significance of these days, we will continue to include a petition for this intention each day in the Prayer of the Faithful, and I would encourage you to remember this intention in your daily prayers and Masses until the trial has come to completion.
ANNUAL CATHOLIC APPEAL
Some families in our parish will be receiving the Annual Catholic Appeal request mailing from Cardinal Cupich. On behalf of those served by the ministries, parishes, and schools who receive funding from the Appeal, we thank you for your gifts. Please return your response as soon as possible. For those who do not receive a mailing, we will be conducting the in-pew aspect of the Appeal on the weekend of February 15-16.
A CHUCKLE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
A man was driving down the highway late one night when his mini-van broke down. He turned on his flashers and tried to get someone’s attention to help him. Eventually a Lamburgini Countash pulls up.
“Any chance I could get a lift into town?” said the mini-van driver.
“I can do better than that,” the man driving the Countash replied. “I’ve got a V-12 under this hood. I can tow you to the nearest town, no problem. Just honk your horn and flash your lights if I start going too fast.”
They head off down the road and eventually come to a stop light, and up pulls a Farrari F40 with a V-10. The F40 began to rev up its engine to get the Countash to race. The Countash revs its engine and the light turns green. They fly out of there, and about a half a mile down the road they pass a speed trap.
The officer there watches them pass and radios to base saying, “Base, you will not believe what I just saw. A F40 and a Countash were driving down the road doing about 120 with a mini-van honking its horn and flashing its lights trying to pass them!”