The Catholic Leader of March 25, 1973, printed a letter from a young man who simply signed himself "Howard." We missed the letter, but picked up a reprint of it in The Protestant Review of April, 1973. We would like to reproduce Howard's letter here.
"Dear Father Fox, "I read your article on why young people don't go to Mass. I would like to express my feelings on attending Mass in the Catholic Church. First of all, I am a Catholic and also a 19-year-old confused student. I'm going to be blunt but sincere and honest.
"Mass turns me off completely, because I'm sick and tired of going to Mass to keep my parents happy by listening to sociology. I get plenty of sociology in school. Besides, half of the priests talk so dead. It makes you just about fall asleep.
"It seems like every Sunday the Church is continuously asking for money. Now I realize that the Church might have a heavy budget like our parish has for installing an air-conditioning unit. The Church is so concerned with material and social things that it forgets about the human soul.
"I've gone several times to talk to a priest for spiritual help. No one has yet to help me but my friends. One priest gave me a solution to my problems. He told me to forget girls and go off to a far off college and study really hard. Is that the answer to happiness?
"I asked one priest what happens when you die. He told me he didn't know. No one had ever come back to tell us. This might sound like I'm exaggerating but it's the truth.
"I wanted to study the Holy Bible so I went to talk to the priests of my parish about it but they let me down. They had nothing to offer. Now they have the CCD classes which I attend. Oh, they let us paint pictures, do a little hand craft, had a few alcoholics come to tell us drinking is a 'no, no.' I never heard the name 'Jesus.' I never heard anything from the Bible mentioned. The CCD classes were nothing, just a place to go to have a good time.
"Our parish has a teen club. We also have bingo. But where can I find a way to heaven? Where can I find Jesus? It's a shame there is nothing that can be offered like Bible study classes instead of social activities. There must be something wrong with the Church and I think that maybe I have plainly pointed it out. But what good will this forgotten letter do?
"Most of the people who attend Mass regularly are full of hypocrisy. As supposedly Christians, they are responsible for setting examples to others. They sure do a poor job of it, like leaving their love for their fellow man at the church when Mass is over.
"Sometimes I feel just like lying down somewhere and crying.
"P.S. The Church has gone modern. I think it's time for people or sleepers to awaken." *
Does that warm your heart? Does it make you feel just a little easier to know that other churches have their internal critics just as yours does? Do you feel a little smug, perhaps, thinking that we have just the program that this young man is looking for? And do you expect the remainder of this article to be taken up in pointing out the shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Church? If your answer to any one of the above questions was Yes, then it is time you woke up yourself; apparently all the sleepers do not snooze in Catholic pews.
It is not our purpose to examine the weaknesses of the Roman Catholic Church here. It is our unabashed purpose to try to lift the standard of our own. For be it known unto you that there are, within the confines of our own churches, young people who are just as wistfully looking for a way to heaven and not finding it! There are young people in our communion who look at the regular worshipers and feel that there is no other name for them but hypocrites. There are young people among us who go to the ministry for help and come away empty, with a gnawing, aching soul, hungering for the Bread of Life. There are young people (and older ones too) who go to our churches hoping to hear words of life but who hear only sociology . . . or psychology ... or some other -ology ... or l-centered preaching ... or some humorist who mistakes the pulpit for the concert stage and who jokes his way through the sermon, working for cheap laughs.
Sure, if that young man Howard had come to our church, he would have been given a Bible, and Sabbath school is a place where we study the Bible. He wouldn't have been worried about bingo in the church hall or painting and pottery when he wanted to find something serious to study. But he could have easily found (we blush to say it) "priests [who] talk so dead."
The cry of Howard is the cry of so many in his church and ours: "Where can I find Jesus? Where can I find a way to heaven?" These are not only pertinent questions; they are urgent. They are not merely the whims of just another teenager who is turned off by ritual and formality. These questions are the omnipresent questions in the breast of every Christian (professing and/or lukewarm) who occupies the pews of our sanctuaries week by week. Where can I find Jesus? Where can I find the way to heaven?
Now the load, in the main, devolves upon the ministry. We recognize that. But not the entire load. Sure, the ministry must gird up the loins of its preaching to ensure that no hungry soul goes away unsatisfied; but notice that this young man looks to his older brethren to set him an example. Is his criticism relevant as far as you are concerned? Do you "leave your love for your fellow man at the church when [the church service] is over"? We cannot be too detached about this. Howard may be a Roman Catholic, but there are ten thousand Howards right within our own churches; some right within your church.
It is possible (and again we hate to suggest it) that we, too, can be more concerned with air conditioning than with the fresh air of God's Spirit. Materialism has not passed our church by so that it can concentrate on the Roman Catholic Church. Did that sentence in Howard's letter, "It seems like every Sunday the Church is continuously asking for money" bother you at all? (Wise church administrators, recognizing the increasing cost of running a church, now involve their congregations in the Stewardship Plan, and thus obviate this continual request for money.)
Most of all, did you notice that sentence, "The Church is so concerned with material and social things that it forgets about the human soul"? That, of course, is not the case with our church. The value of a human soul is the most important thing to us. Or it should be. Or it used to be in the pre-materialism days. Could it be that we, too . . . ?
That letter makes you think, doesn't it? It makes you acknowledge that a church, when it loses sight of the human soul, is finished. Howard's problem, after all, is our problem.
* Reprinted from Our Sunday Visitor, copyright 1973.