We are used to thinking of Christianity as a spent force, a dying ancient religion that had its day in the sun and now is over and done with.
That is exactly how his opponents thought of Jesus on the original Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
If the Church is the body of Christ, then we can expect the same thing to happen in the life of the Church, as it has in every age since the Church began. Here is a summary of the 10 signs that Christianity is on the rise I shared at Aleteia.
1. Christianity is growing worldwide.
“Christianity should enjoy a worldwide boom in the coming decades, but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American,” writes scholar Philip Jenkins of Baylor University, author of The Next Christendom.
A few examples: Christianity grew from 40 million African members in 1900 to 100 million in 2000, and hasn’t stopped; India has five times as many Catholics as Ireland, and China will be the country with the largest number of Christians in the world by the year 2050.
Secular scholars see this: Books like God’s Century by Monica Duffy Toft of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and God Is Back by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist are trying to figure out what that will mean. British geneticist Steve Jones sees sceptics dying out and religious people on the rise.
2. Believing Christians are Replacing Nominal Christians.
Meanwhile, in America, research showing Christian numbers in decline is a little misleading. Ed Stetzer points out that the data shows a decline in “cultural Christians” and “congregational Christians” but a rise in “convictional Christians.”
In other words: The total number of people claiming they are Christians is dropping; the total number of people saying they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is growing.
3. Catholics are rediscovering Confession and Mass.
Meanwhile, among Catholics, there is a rise in interest in the sacraments. Many parishes that rarely offered confession have returned to regular schedules and the Church has gone through a long process of renewing the Mass.
The Church is promoting confession as never before: Examples from Lent included Vatican’s 24 hours for the Lord churchwide, a successful effort in Great Britain, Chicago’s Festival of Forgiveness and Philadelphia’s confession initiative.
4. Eucharistic Adoration is on the rise.
The worldwide church is led by a man who prays a daily Eucharistic hour and the Church in America is actively promoting Eucharistic adoration through events like the Eucharistic Adoration Novena.
In 2005, RealPresence.com’s president, Mike Mortimer, estimated that there were 715 perpetual adoration chapels in America. The Vatican now estimates that there are 1,100 perpetual adoration chapels in America. More people are spending more time with the Lord than they have for years.
I don’t remember encountering Eucharistic Adoration ever as a child or teen in the faith; now it is part of every youth activity my children attend from a variety of different groups.
5. Catholic youth movements are huge …
A movement’s future is only as strong as its next generation, and so for Catholicism to have a future it has to have a youth movement. Catholicism does. Our most recent World Youth Day attracted 3.7 million—one of the 30-year event’s largest gatherings ever.
At home, we see a pro-life force largely led by young American Catholics, which dwarfs almost every other activist movement.
I love the startled reaction of Nancy Keenan of NARAL when she stopped at Union Station in Washington, D.C., during the March for Life. She saw the young pro-life protesters and said, “There are so many, and they are so young.”
6. … and the youth movements are linked to higher education.
When my wife and I met in college we were attending one of the very few higher education programs in the country that boasted fidelity to the magisterium. Today, the National Catholic Register’s latest Catholic Identity Guide lists more than 30 schools that are promoting the strength of their Catholic identity.
At the same time, new Catholic centers at state schools are trying to make inroads in hostile environments that routinely dismantle students’ faith … and the Seek 2015 conference of FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students) attracted nearly 10,000 college students this year.
7. New, young vocations.
Research shows that millennials are “even more likely“ to consider vmy vocations than the generation before them, and anecdotal evidence shows that there was a Benedict Effect before there was any Francis Effect in vocations. Today priests under 35 represent a sign of hope in the Church.
8. Strong, engaged bishops.
But the 21st century has seen a huge change in the way American bishops engage the world. It first became noticeable with the candidacy of John Kerry, a radically pro-abortion politician whose nominal Catholicism forced bishops to take a stand. Then came the rise of Obama and the HHS mandate—which every U.S. bishop denounced. Finally, new strong bishops are emerging from what Thomas Peters calls the “Benedict Bishop Bump.”
9. Cultural interest in Scripture.
Many people predicted when the Da Vinci Code was popular that the long-term effect of the novel’s crazy anti-Scriptural premise would be to increase interest in Scripture. That paradoxical prediction has proven true. In the wake of the Da Vinci Code, a new interest in Scripture can be seen in popular books, television miniseries, and major Hollywood movies.
10. The witness of the martyrs.
Last and far from least is the witness of the martyrs. The beautiful way Christians are showing their deep faith and love for Jesus Christ will grow the Church just as it did in the former atheist communist bloc, and as it did in the early Church.
The bottom line is that if Jesus Christ really did die and rise from the dead, then we expect to see the same pattern of death and resurrection in his Church.
He really did rise from the dead.
His Church will, too.