Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI is one of my favorite authors because he regularly seems to be able to connect the Church's teaching and Christian spirituality to contemporary daily life. On his current website he offers a brief reflection on the missionary nature of the Church in which he makes the following observation:
"Jesus' mandate is still there: Leave the ninety-nine who haven't strayed and go after the one who has strayed. Today, however, the default seems to have shifted and it's perhaps more a case of leaving the one and going after the ninety-nine."
In other words, we may be spending too much attention on those who are in the pews, rather than those who might be there, but aren't. He goes on to observe,
"And this requires that our teaching and preaching, and our reaching out to the world in general, must contain more than only catechesis, explanations of our creeds, clarity around dogma and morals, and even the repetition (however valid, needed, and timeless) of the language of Scripture and the creeds. Those things need to be done, but that is only part of the task. The other part, equally needed and perhaps more difficult, is the task of relating these things (Scripture, the creeds, our dogmas, our moral teaching) to the energy, the color, the endeavors, the longings, the health, the sickness, the virtues, the sin, the beauty, and the pathos of our world.
More and more people feel themselves thoroughly disconnected from our church circles and our church language, and the fault isn't all on their side. We need missionaries to the world, people like Henri Nouwen, who can stand solidly within the church and invite the world, with all its desires and grandiosity, to join us, not as adversary but as family."
I believe this is a crucial point, and one that we need to hear today again and again. While it is true secular society in the west is more and more hostile towards Christianity, we Catholics do not have the luxury of returning spite for spite or condemnation for condemnation. Nor can we in good conscience simply circle the wagons and ignore the world. That would be to abandon the mission Christ has given us.
Cardinal George of Chicago once said, "what you do not love you cannot evangelize." So rather than look with suspicion upon the world around us, that world in which the laity live and work, clergy and laity have to collaborate to come up with effective ways of relating the rich heritage of Catholic thought and wisdom to the secular world.
We cannot afford to distance ourselves from our brothers and sisters like the elder brother in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, even if our brothers and sisters have not yet begun the journey back home. Unlike the elder brother who stayed home "slaving away" (as he put it) for his father, we are to go seeking for our wandering brothers and sisters, and invite them to the table set by Jesus for us all. That is the work the Father has given us.
The big question is, how can our parishes become places where these kinds of conversations take place? I would offer a few general suggestions.
1) Homilists will have to regularly turn to the theme of the Church's missionary imperative, "Go and make disciples," in order for this fundamental aspect of our life as Christians to be on our horizon;
2) Parish planning needs to include a conscious turn to the secular world, and include lay men and women who are active in the civic life of the town or city to help parish leadership understand the needs and dilemmas facing the local area;
3) We need to evaluate our existing programs and ask how they either reach out to secular society or form the laity for that mission. That will include, of course, catechesis, spirituality, sacramental life, prayer, etc. But the relationship Christ forms with us through these means cannot simply end with the individual's relationship with Christ. That would, indeed, be a "me and Jesus" spirituality. Christian spirituality has a "me and Jesus and you and Jesus and all of us together in Jesus" aspect, i.e., a consciously communal sharing in the relationship with Christ, or it is not entirely authentic or complete.
4) When we do address secular concerns we have to remember the old Thomistic dictum, "that which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver." In other words, we need to acknowledge and understand the secular worldview and present the Church's insights into human nature, the common good, justice and human rights in such a way as to be intelligible to those with whom we are speaking;
5) That means we need to be willing to listen to those whose ideas are opposed to our own, and to ask intelligent questions that uncover the presuppositions (sometimes unconsciously held) that are the foundation of those ideas.
Do you have any other observations or suggestions?
Labels: lay apostolate