Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 27, 1999
Y2K outpolls Jesus in survey
Five years ago, Pope John Paul called for a period of more or less intense preparation for the dawn of the third millennium. It is a time to celebrate how the Son of God came into our midst, seeking us out, drawing us to him. "One thing is certain," the pope wrote. "Everyone is asked to do as much as possible to ensure that the great challenge of the year 2000 is not overlooked."
Indeed, there have been many preparations for this jubilee. It has drawn a great deal of attention within our Church. And so perhaps it can only be discouraging to learn that the 2,000th birthday of Jesus Christ is the last thing Canadians associate with the new millennium.
When the Angus Reid Group asked 1,493 Canadians the first thing that comes to their mind in connection with the year 2000, only six named Christ's birthday. Six!
For one-third of those surveyed, the Y2K computer glitch was the first thing that came to mind. Even regular Church-attenders mentioned the computer bug more than the Son of God.
This makes a loud statement about the lack of power of the Church in forming late 20th-century Canadian culture. The survey result doesn't mean people have forgotten Jesus - although many surely have - but that when we celebrate his birthday, he's not the first one we're thinking of.
Such a survey is bound to spur a round of hand-wringing: "The people need to know the year 2000 is about Jesus. We need to educate them."
Well, perhaps. But that misses the point. The point being that Christian faith is in sharp decline in our culture and merely "throwing a party for Jesus" - as the group which sponsored the Angus Reid survey plans to do - won't spark a new springtime of faith.
Elsewhere in this week's WCR is a story about next month's Synod of Bishops for Europe. The Church in Europe is in deep trouble. The preparatory document for the synod spoke frankly about the image of "an aging, lethargic Church" in Europe. The continent appears to be "lost, confused, adrift."
The fall of communism meant religious freedom in Eastern Europe. The result? The number of men entering the seminary has declined sharply as has the number of women going into religious life.
The Church, it seems, only flourishes when the life of faith is presented as a demanding life, something which calls us to sacrifice. This is the opposite of what one might expect. The road to popularity, one would think, is paved with assurances that this product or idea will make life easier and more enjoyable.
For many things, this is true. But for the life of faith, something else is needed to call people forth. If faith makes life easier, why bother with it? Lots of things can make life easier without suggesting that one get out of bed on Sunday morning.
But if faith promises sacrifice, adventure, maybe even being killed for standing up for the truth, well, there's something which can draw a crowd.
Jesus, of course, wasn't born 2,000 years ago to make life easier. He came to suffer and die so that we might enjoy eternal life.
He also came not to abolish the Law or the prophets, but to make them even more demanding. Before Jesus, one could get along by not violating the commandments. But Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, a law we can never do enough to fulfill.
To the rich young man who had obeyed the commandments, Jesus said, "Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor. Then come follow me." He offered something more demanding than anyone had ever previously imagined.
The surprising thing is that it caught on like wildfire. By the end of the first century, despite vicious persecutions, the faith had spread through large parts of the world.
Most people want a life that calls out the best in them. Only the Gospel can offer that. The fact that so few people automatically associate the year 2000 with the birth of Jesus is a sign that the witness of faith in Canada today needs to be louder and clearer than what we currently offer.
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