Mark Lambert has picked up on Fr Dwight Lonenecker's piece about why church attendance is, for the most part, in decline in the Western world.
Conclusion: many people just don't really understand what church is for.
This is certainly true whenever we now interact with those who don't usually darken the doors of the Church - at times of marriages, funerals, baptisms and first Communions. What they are looking for is not what the Church actually offers but all too often we cave in and give them the watered down, insipid, secularised version that they come seeking and so those that come to such events experience very little of the true content of the Faith.
What they experience is just not powerful enough or different enough from what they might get in other arenas to make people make the effort on a Sunday morning.
I think he's hit on something there.
Once we present church as entertainment, we can't compete with the professional entertainers in film, stage and TV.
Once we present it as a commodity (everyone "getting Communion") we can't compete with teh professional emporiums of commerce.
Once we present church as a party we can't compete with a good restaurant or a noisy bar.
Once we present church as a crèche we can't compete with the professional child carers and educators in our schools and nurseries.
The only Unique Selling Point we have is salvation, redemption from sin, warfare with the forces of darkness, the reality of the spiritual world - but these are things we have so often lost confidence in talking about, so we try to compete on other people's turf and come off looking second rate, boring and irrelevant.
A loss in confidence in its core message is bound to reflect rather poorly in any organisation - human or divine. We do indeed have a unique "product" but it's hidden away in the back room (or the back sacristy). It takes confidence to bring it out.
The wonder is that so often we hear of great "celebrations" taking place in regard to the way the Church has moved in recent decades. The "celebration" to close the church / convent / seminary / monastery or "celebration" some other aspect of Church life that is, in anyone's reality, so obviously in decline. A real bit or Orwellian doublespeak.
I'm reminded of the lyrics sung by Marius in Les Miserables - the empty chairs and empty tables being the empty pews and empty altars:
There's a grief that can't be spoken.
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
Here they talked of revolution.
Here it was they lit the flame.
Here they sang about `tomorrow'
And tomorrow never came.
From the table in the corner
They could see a world reborn
And they rose with voices ringing
I can hear them now!
The very words that they had sung
Became their last communion