Questioned extensively during his application by Janine Melnitz as to whether he believed in a large number of supernatural occurrences and beings (such as UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and the theory of Atlantis among others), Zeddemore replied, "If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say."
Macht nichts; it stands nonetheless, for me, as an axiom of our time. I have variously applied it in recent years. Tonight it came to me after glancing at a piece of paper and seeing a surname that triggered the memory of two other persons of that surname (likely unrelated to the person on the paper) who entered the Church years before.
The Big Deal: Not very long after their initiation, they stopped attending Mass. Despite a handful of earnest, welcoming encounters (I hope they were!), and about as many faint expressions of interest in further conversation and promises to return to Mass, nothing materialized. (Now watch they come back, to confound me! I'll take it.)
The sight of the names and subsequent rumination stirred a bushel of assorted fruits: anger, fear, and sadness. These are a kind of unholy trinity: always present and active together, though in the moment of revelation we tend to notice only one of them.
Anger: Often the first and loudest in the trinity. It often takes the form of rash judgments and sarcastic suspicions. An example: "People join so that they don't have to pay a non-Catholic tuition rate (a "steady paycheck" of sorts)!" "He came in just to get a sponsorship letter for his niece's Confirmation." "We have a pretty church with a long aisle, great musicians and great parking (all true), and we won't see them again until the baptism of their first child."
Fear: It lurks underneath, and for me it's a close second to, anger. "What am I doing wrong?" "The system has to be fouled up! How can we possibly remediate it and retain these people?" "How much longer can the Church, or our parish, last like this?"
Scratch the surface and find the seeds of those fruits (including but not at all limited to): high expectations; low estimation of/belief in human nature; weak organization, preparation, and follow-up in the RCIA process.
Sometimes anger can be righteous, but I can't lay much legitimate claim to that. It gets really dangerous whenever somebody like me tries to back up my peeves with Divine Sanctioning! Sometimes my fears are well-founded, or at least they hold some truth. I am not the best organizer of things and persons. It takes a parish to raise a convert (not to mention the "wealth of nations" that we call the Communion of Saints)!
Sadness: The unholy spirit at the heart of it all. Discouragement is spiritual cancer (of the heart--cor). One synonym is "disillusionment." Put that way, it's not so bad: after all, what's so good about illusions? Face it: people use the Church. In a sense, she puts herself out there to be used. It's an occupational hazard, when your occupation is the steady paycheck of Unconditional Love.
It's sad that venal incentives could possibly, in anyone's case, prompt them to enter the Catholic Church or to seek our "services."
Since Churches have started to look like superstores, have people been starting to use them so? Has the Parish Office become a Customer Service desk, as if "the Parishioner is always right," Divine or Canon Law be damned?It is sad that many people are not so "entranced by the beauty before [them]" as to keep coming to Mass and draw ever nearer to the Audible and Tangible Lord who reveals Himself therein. It is sad that the beauty of Catholic doctrine, liturgy, morality, and prayer can be obscured by...priests, parishioners, trite music, McChurches, and other representatives of our holy faith.
God's Love is indeed unconditional, but somehow that truth is balanced against the conditions of law and the just consequences of bad choices. It is sad that people get themselves in complicated situations as a result of the abuse of their freedom.
But shall I say that it is sad that God trusts people so much as to reveal His wisdom, power, and love through feeble signs, to feeble senses? I cannot and dare not, for that trust is itself a manifestation of divine Love. "I would let you reject Me, for otherwise you could never love Me."