Fr. Gene Schnipke, C.PP.S., is the pastor of the Marion Catholic Community in and around Maria Stein, Ohio. Fr. Gene was featured in the November issue of the Catholic Telegraph, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, for his ministry as a former Air Force chaplain. Here is a reflection he wrote recently on parish life.

By Fr. Gene Schnipke, C.PP.S.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) is headquartered out of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. The center conducts surveys and does a lot of research that helps us get a better understanding of such things as attendance trends, what today’s Catholics believe and how Catholics from different generations practice and perhaps will practice the faith in the future.

Some recent statistics show that the number of people who attend Sunday mass continues to decline. With that, there’s also a decrease in the number of children who are baptized, make first communion, and get confirmed. Later on, these children are likely to choose to marry somewhere other than in the Catholic Church. From high school to about 35 years old is the group where we lose the greatest number of people.

From some of the studies I’ve seen, one of the reasons is that, even though young people have gone to church, attended our Masses and religious education programs, they often find they have never had a personal encounter or a personal relationship with Christ. In religious education programs, the focus is often on learning prayers, preparing to receive the sacraments, and what the Church teaches about how we live the faith in to-day’s world.

All of these are important, but it’s also important to pay attention to and try to help young people explore that personal relationship aspect of the faith.

I like to use the story of Moses and how he’s tending his sheep when he notices the bush that is burning, but not consumed by the fire. Curious, he decides to check it out and as he does so, he hears God tell him to remove his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground. In the conversation that follows, Moses has this personal encounter with God that changes his life and the lives of God’s people.

What if Moses ignored the burning bush? I’m confident God would not have not given up on Moses because the prophets continually remind Israel, and all of us, that God, like most parents, wants to be in relationship with his children. The challenge for most of us today is to be tuned in or willing to make time to recognize and pay attention to the burning bushes in our lives.

It might be the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset, it could be an unexpected hug from your child, seeing volunteers taking communion to nursing home residents, people in the hospital or recovering at home. It could be seeing a teacher give extra time to a distressed student, or knowing a friend who cooks and delivers a meal for a grieving family, or watching someone offer assistance to a neighbor in need. These are just a few of what I like to call modern day “burning bushes.” This too is “holy ground.” If it catches our attention and invites us to check it out then, as it did for Moses, it can lead us to a relationship with God that has the potential to change our lives and the lives of God’s people.

Here in the Marion Catholic Community, I am truly blessed and happy to serve a community where so many of our young people and young families are still active members of our church communities. The Catholic faith is an important part of the fabric that keeps our families strong and helps our communities care about and take care of one another. At times, it can also be so much a part of the culture that people participate in the church simply because it goes with being part of the community. It’s not a problem if that is what first brings people in. It might even be one of those modern-day “burning bushes.” However, my hope and my prayer is that people see it as “holy ground” and will enter a conversation that can lead them to a deeper relationship with God and with one another!