CATHOLICS have the lowest church attendance in weekly mass or service among religious groups in the Philippines: only 41% Catholics, compared to 90% Iglesia ni Cristo, 81% Muslims, and 71% other Christians. Social Weather Stations, whose survey was conducted last March 25-28, found a 48% over-all attendance.
The 2017 record is still embarrassing for Catholics although four years ago SWS reported an even lower figure: 37%. Then, as now, the Catholic Church trailed other religious groups on attendance.
Fr. Joel Tabor, SJ, president of Ateneo de Davao, writing in a 2013 blog heaped a lot of blame on homilies: “corny homilies that ramble in inanities that begin and never end and they never end because they should’ve never been begun.”
Churchgoers, Fr. Tabor said, are tired of being “preached to as if they were younger than adolescents.” People are tired, he said, of arbitrary claims to absolute truth “when the thinking world would continue to seek the truth”--and of being scolded and dictated upon.
On brevity: the church has reportedly adopted a time limit to keep churchgoers awake and in focus as well as meet schedules of succeeding masses, more so in urban areas.
But obviously it’s not just length but content and tone. Many homilies keep hammering on faith and doctrine to which the listeners can’t relate, the sermon not being tied to a current subject to make it relevant and useful.
Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop emeritus Oscar Cruz, in a media interview, said there are now many causes of distraction. Msgr. Esteban Binghay, on “Frankahay Ta” (dyCM radio, with Atty. Frank Malilong), agreed, a diversion that Binghay said also afflicts priests (mentioning, for the clergy, “FaceBook, mahjong and “tigbakay”).
Those compete with church activities. But why the heavier toll on Catholics? Why do members of other church groups still, ah, religiously attend the required function?
Shorter, more enlightening and interesting homilies must help but a major factor is “discipline.”
Catholics are not punished by the church for not showing up at mass (no one checks attendance and threat of hell and damnation must not work anymore), or not paying tithes (no one records what each puts into the collection net). Parishioners are not compelled to attend mass just as they are not forced by their priest or bishop to vote for or against candidates in elections.
See you in church Sunday. If nothing else comes up.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on April 21, 2017.
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