Appleton, WI

LISTEN Sr. Marie Kolbe Zamora shares the State of the Catholic Church––the good, the bad and the let’s-be-real

Listen now or read below.


The numbers can be startling, but we have the ability to have this conversation in front of the Lord, Jesus, but it will bear fruit. It is not a surprise that the Catholic church is at a crossroad. The clergy sex abuse has not gotten us to this crossroad––it’s only made it clear that we are at a crossroad.

  • Infant baptism ↓44%
  • Adult baptism ↓ 53%
  • Marriages ↓66%
  • Priesthood ordinations ↓36%
  • Deacons ↑ 47%
  • Elementary RE ↓46%
  • High school RE ↓ 57%
  • Christianity ↓4.8%
  • Catholicism ↓ 3.1%
  • Only two to grow were non-Christian religious groups and those not affiliated with any religious group almost ↑ 6.7%
  • 72% of disaffiliated are 50 and below
  • The Catholic group has had the most attrition––for every person that enters, 6 leave

I don’t believe the culture says Jesus doesn’t matter, I think culture believes the church doesn’t matter.
And they’re saying that, perhaps, because we’re really kind of silent a lot of times about Jesus. How many of us have been invited to reflect how the Lord Jesus has changed my life? Or invited to reflect on how to articulate how the Lord Jesus has changed my life? We have many, many stories on how the church has impacted our lives––many are good; some of these stories are very tragic. But as Catholics, we don’t have the same stories relative to how Jesus impacted our lives. Those are the stories that we need to be able to bring to the surface.”

I asked God for a community… “You told me to send you a community.” I would not have embraced the Gospel if it weren’t for the Franciscan Charity. I would have never chosen the Franciscan Charity for myself.

We are the culture. Catholics mirror the culture on every moral issue––every single one.
61% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in every case. 61% of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in every case. “This Is Us”, to use the phrase of a very popular show, Catholics mirror the culture on every moral issue––every single one. 96% of Americans believe that contraception is just A-OK, 92% of Catholics believe that contraception is A-OK. We are the culture.

Doctrine or Love?
A lot of us have decided that these rules––we don’t get them, “they don’t correspond with the way I live my life,” and we just give ourselves permission not to live these rules. And then the younger generation is looking at us like, “Why should I live these rules?” Baby Boomers don’t live the rules, but they keep coming to church. Maybe they’re afraid to get on God’s bad side. The younger generation don’t think that God has a bad side, so they think, “If I don’t get these rules, I’m not coming to church.” So, Baby Boomers still come, even if they don’t get the rules, the millennials aren’t coming at all. And it’s not like they’re switching religions. It’s not like they got mad at their pastor so they decided to be a Lutheran. They’re just stopping religion, period. It seems to me that in the absence of a meaningful relationship with the Lord Jesus, Catholic rules are burdensome; we just can’t do it. And in fact, we’re not doing it. Millennials are looking to older generations for integrity, and so they live this integrity by not going to church. So, how can we reframe our response? We are entering a new era in human history. We’re not living in an age of change, we’re living in a change of age. We’re living in a threshold of a brand new thousand years. And if we permit the millennials to speak––if we listen to the millennials, they can teach us what the contours of this new era look like. Millennials are looking for life and love. And honestly, we’re all looking for life and love. Jesus came to say, “I came that people might have rules unto the full.” Right?
Or, “I came that people might have canon law unto the full.” Or doctrine. What does Jesus say? He says, “I came that people might have life unto the full.” The millennials are reminding us that it’s not about the rules. It’s about life and love. And guess what. This is exactly what the Gospel and the Lord Jesus are all about. Millennials are reminding us that we must turn to the Lord Jesus. We need to shift gears, and now is a time for the Gospel. Can we become a people who can communicate an experience––not a knowledge of, but an experience––of the Gospel? By everything that we do. And at the end of the day, I think the invitation is this––can we fall in love with Jesus? Can I fall in love with Jesus? Can I permit myself to experience the mercy of the Lord Jesus to such a degree that I have fallen in love with the Lord Jesus, and am I willing to communicate that? The culture is expecting us to fight, to defend our faith, to defend our church. The church is not ours; the church belongs to the Lord Jesus. He can take care of defending his bride. He doesn’t need me to defend his church. He needs me to be his church. He needs us to be his bride. Could you imagine being so transformed by Jesus that the world was like, “What happened to her? She’s not who she used to be.” This is, in fact, what happens when we are baptized––we are baptized into the life of the Lord Jesus, so that I am no longer alone in the life inside myself. Jesus Christ is living inside of me. And I don’t even need to imitate Jesus. I just need to remember that I’m not alone; Jesus Christ is living in me. I just need to relax and let him do his thing. Millennials are reminding us that we’re all looking for life and love. And we’ve got it in the Gospel. The church has it in the Gospel––we’ve got it in the living Eucharist and we have it in each one of us here. Can we be that living Gospel? My prayer is that we can. I know that we can. It just requires a surrender––not a fight, but a surrender.

Saturday Q&A

What’s the difference between mindfulness and prayer?
We can talk about prayer, but do we really pray? I understand the draw of Buddhism. Do I believe Jesus Christ really rose from the dead? And all the events regarding him before and after that? If I don’t believe that, he’s the same as the Easter Bunny. We need to permit the Lord to encounter us, and then we need to surrender to that encounter and talk about it. We need to say these things in a very real way. If our faith in Jesus is not real, we have nothing to say. My baptism is one of the greatest gifts [but] what sustains me as a Catholic is my relationship with Jesus. Baptism started me there. I don’t even need to imitate Jesus anymore because baptism made me never live alone inside myself. I need to surrender to the life of Christ and let the Lord Jesus do his thing in me.

Non-denominationals seem to be better at appealing to millennials. What should we be doing that
they are?
I think we live Catholicism as a burden. We’re doing the best we can, but we’re not living it with integrity. We have to uncover a relationship with the living God so that “you” become important to me. When I hear about New Evangelization [in relation to] getting people back in the pews, that is not evangelization. Mills can see through that. We have to be loved for who we are, not what we do. The latter causes painful relationships. We just need to walk with people.

We have 400 that experienced Alpha. It’s about being in small group with others as they rediscover Jesus. Christianity 101. We get asked “what are we doing next?” MAO is Ministry of Evangelization. This notion of falling in love with Jesus…how do we help people do that?
You need people who are in love with Jesus. A person who is will be able to speak the story of Jesus’
mercy in their life. They can articulate how Jesus has shown them mercy. Mercy can be when a sin, but also just being stupid.

In order for someone to experience Jesus, they need to walk with someone who has experienced Jesus. I’m not sure how it can be programmed, but nourishing a team who knows themselves and are on the lookout for others. There’s a skill for looking out for those who are knowing. And then 1:1 conversations. Mercies fit in each situation. Jesus knows who’s good at courting, walking, welcoming. It’s just a messy thing you have to discern, you can’t program. You need the right people with the right gifts.

My hunch says the Holy Spirit will guide you with those answers.

I get anxious sometimes, but I keep reminding myself the Lord is working through us. The Lord’s pulse is in this community.

Our leadership has immersed us in this cultural war. We need to go out, to be aware. We’re not embattled with the culture…
I wholeheartedly agree. The culture war mentality needs to be abandoned. It’s not “us” and “them”. We are us. I believe everything the Catholic church teaches. It’s not right for Catholics to point at the culture for being bad. Maybe I have failed. Jesus Christ did not come to conquer the culture. He came to conquer sin and death. And in doing so, he transformed the culture inside out. I’m not saying we need to abandon the Gospel, just the way we communicate them.
(Re: a conversation with a gay man) First, I thanked him for trusting me. We talked and I listened.
Accompaniment. Remember that you and I live the same Gospel. Chastity means the same for you as it does for me.
(Re: a woman with gender issues and gender roles) In her world, men are the smart people and women are the dumb people. She considers herself gender-fluid. Listened first, asked all kinds of questions, asked for permission to make an observation. In my heart, you are a young woman, and I’m going to ask the Lord to heal whatever is causing a wound. No culture wars, but rather accompaniment. If a pastor has a way to be in communion with the baptized, that is a gift.

About Sr. Marie Kolbe

A longtime theology and ministry professor at Holy Family College, Sister Marie Kolbe is the kind of teacher who watches Grey’s Anatomy because her students do. She knows that story, not information, is key

to connecting with them. Committed to changing how the Church goes about its business, Sr. Marie Kolbe presents a stark picture of its current state. She believes, however, if we engage all believers in the work of Jesus, we will go beyond the church walls and shift from ‘communication of information’ to ‘communication of life’ and can reverse the trends