Sherry, who writes for the Catherine of Sienna Institute, currently has a post up on Cultural Catholicsim, versus our efforts as Catholics to make disciples of Christ through evangelization. In it, she argues that we as a Church can no longer rely upon the simple cultural aspects of our faith that for many years held us together as Catholics. The thing that struck me most from her article was her reference to a comment by Sara S. at Mark Shea’s blog, Catholic and Enjoying It.
“I do wish we could stop referring to our experiences of 40 years ago when the crisis is with people who weren’t born when older Catholics were cutting and pasting for Jesus.”
I’ll raise my hand. I am a 29 year old convert from “nothing”. I don’t care one bit about how bad it was for the folks on my RCIA team when they were kids, and I wish they wouldn’t have wasted so much of my time trying to explain it to me when I was in RCIA. Both sides think it was bad. The “old hippies” were all trying to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how bad it was when everyone had to speak Latin, and when they were finished, the angry young men were waiting on the other side to pull the candidates aside and explain to them how the old hippies had ruined the music.
I wish I could explain how disillusioning and ridiculous it all looks from the outside, and how much of it makes literally no sense to someone like me who doesn’t already have years of exposure to this stuff. If you can “evangelize” more effectively– or put up a more heartfelt defense– about some bit of Church culture or liturgical issue or controversial teaching– than you can about the Kingdom of God– what is someone from the outside supposed to think is more important to you? I literally thought that the majority of Catholics I met were just nice folks who liked music and doing good works but didn’t believe in God much… because every time I tried to talk about how I was falling in love with God they changed the subject to music and/or good works.
I love to evangelize and I don’t find it hard– to me it is just about, as another commenter said, living with my faith on my sleeve. There are a lot of “nothings” out there, like I was, who are so deeply moved by people who live joyful, counter-cultural lives and aren’t afraid to say that they are motivated by a deep love of Jesus and a desire to follow Him.
The 20 somethings I talk to, who have abandoned the religion of their childhood if they ever had one at all, might *think* that they are dead-set against the Church because of its teachings (so did I, 5 or 6 years ago)– and if I were to approach them with Church teachings I would have some very short conversations. But I find that I can talk with these same people just by talking about my own life– about Scripture, about saints, about how faith informs my choices every day– just give them enough to start feeling hungry. I trust that the Holy Spirit will do the rest when they get to the point that they are worried about controversial teachings.
Sara’s description is exactly what I have seen in many parishes where I have served when it comes to RCIA, but it is not something that is limited to RCIA. How often are we as Catholics more than willing to simply push our own agendas so that the things that we like the most might become more prevalent in the Church? How many times to we fall prey to the false belief that we can somehow control how others act, simply by arguing our own position more eloquently than another? I honestly believe that all these different “camps” that continue to spring up within our Church do violence to others rather than calling them to relationship with Christ.
It seems to me that if we are to truly be a Church centered in Christ, we must abandon these internal divisions among us and try to understand the strengths found in each person God has called to be in His Church. I don’t suggest this path as simply a pious platitude. It is difficult to live as a disciple of Christ and we as Christians will undoubtably have disagreements with one another. The key, I think, is how we approach those disagreements. It has been fascinating for me, for example, to see the comments on my recent podcast about the role of women in the Church. I don’t think that there has been one person to comment who did not disagree, at least in part, with my thoughts expressed there. But almost to a one, there was mutual Christian respect and charity shown in how the disagreements were aired.
But returning to the idea of evangelization and discipleship, I must say that we as Catholics have many ways that we can improve our efforts to preach the Gospel. Too often we tend to sit back and wait for others to come to us, rather than following the example of the early saints who spent their lives going out to tell people about the salvation won for them by Jesus. Too often we sit back and let other Christian denominations convince our own members to leave the Church, in order to embrace something less than the fullness of the faith. We often take an approach of minimalism that creates weak Christians, rather than strong ones.
If we are to truly be Christians who share the Gospel with others, we must be bold in our proclamation. We must be strong in our prayer and understanding of our faith. We must show our love to the world. This is not an easy task. It takes discipline. It means we have to set aside petty differences and work together with those we don’t always agree with. It means above all else taking up our cross and following Jesus as one of his disciples.