What should we do? This is the question dominating so many of the conversations in the Church these days. What should we do about the nones? What should we do about the studies showing how many Catholics don’t believe in some of the Church’s most fundamental doctrines? What should we do about Gen Z and the sheer number of young people abandoning the faith? It feels like the Church is in a constant existential crisis, and frankly it’s overwhelming. Not only does every study and news story seem to bring ever more dire information about the state of the Church, there is now a barrage of new initiatives and programs that are happy to tell parishes what their problem is and how to fix it… for a price.
At this point, we are all well aware of the problems, but trying to find something that actually helps has become little more than an additional burden on already overburdened priests and parish staff. Maybe it’s time we stop, reflect on what we’re doing, and even consider the possibility that we’re overthinking the problem and the solution. Maybe we don’t need to hire expensive consultants or to take sales calls from a hundred different programs. Maybe the solution is far simpler, and one that was already given to us by the Blessed Mother herself.
One of the most underappreciated events in North American history is the apparition of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, WI. In 1859, Mary appeared to Sister Adele Brise carrying a message of action and evangelization. Here is the story from the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help’s website:
According to the direct accounts of those who worked with Adele throughout the years of her mission work, she was instructed, in a series of locutions by Our Lady, to ‘make a general confession, pray and offer communion for the conversion of sinners and to gather the children in the wild country to teach them what they needed to know for their salvation.’ She further instructed Adele, to ‘teach the children their catechism, how to ‘make the sign of the cross’ and how to ‘approach the sacraments.’ Mary ended by saying: ‘That is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.’
These locutions by Our Lady of Good Help became the foundation of a life-long legacy of catechetical mission work by Brise with local families. She traveled on foot in a 50-mile radius around the present-day Shrine to teach and instruct as she was told by Mary. Adele’s father later built a chapel on the apparition site where she also began her teaching work.
On October 8, 1871, almost twelve years to the date of Mary’s last appearance, a Midwestern drought caused two of the worst fires in America’s history – one in Chicago and the other in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. The same drought caused an inferno that began raging through the rural area, threatening the chapel in the town of Robinsonville. Local families who had been involved with Adele Brise as part of her mission work in catechesis traveled during the fire to the chapel on the Shrine’s grounds, many with babies, small children and farm animals, to pray the rosary.
On their knees and in procession all night long, as the areas near the Shrine were reduced to ashes, those who gathered at the Shrine prayed the rosary, asking Our Lady of Good Help for her intercession with her Son, Jesus, to save them from the fire. Their prayers were answered when the rains came and extinguished the fire, preserving the chapel and Shrine grounds.
It is this miracle that eventually led to the apparition being officially recognized and approved as authentic by the Vatican.
The beauty of Our Lady’s message is in its simplicity: “teach the children their catechism, how to make the sign of the cross, and how to approach the sacraments.” This may not be as exciting as a “rebranding effort,” or building a new church, or using the latest video series, but it is what the Blessed Mother herself offered as the path forward for the Church in this “wild country” of America. It gives us the criteria on which to judge any money we spend on evangelization efforts. Sure, there are absolutely programs out there that can be helpful. How do we know if they’re helpful? Simply ask: does it teach the children their catechism, how to make the sign of the cross, and approach the sacraments? If so, great! If it’s unclear, move on. It is time to stop the cacophony of “transformative” programs, and keep it simple. As we have written about in the past, we believe that in order to renew the Church we need to get back to the fundamentals and what we have been instructed to do. Maybe that seems too easy or somehow too simple, but for our part, we’re going to stick with the Blessed Mother.