Renewing Our Mission
Dear Friends in Christ,
In December, the Pew Research Center released a study that again points to some serious problems in our country and for you and me as Catholics. The latest research indicates that 3 out 10 Americans do not claim any religious affiliation (Nones) and that fewer than half of all Americans say that they pray daily. The disaffiliation is most acute among Protestants, but Catholics are not far behind. Rather than spending a lot of time wringing hands, I see this as an incredible opportunity! I believe that God is
calling us in this moment to something wonderful and huge! This is a chance for you and me and committed Catholics to boldly and joyfully proclaim to more people than ever before the saving gospel
of Jesus Christ!
Time will tell, but I believe the die was cast for this moment decades ago. The world we live in today is the result of the decades and even centuries that preceded it. I believe that the Holy Spirit has been at
work in the Church to prepare us for this new moment, this new time of challenge. Vatican II speaks of a new springtime for the Church and St. John Paul II spent much of his papacy preparing the Church
for a new Evangelization. But as the great Jesuit theologian, Fr. Bernard Lonergan wrote, “The Church always arrives on the scene, a little breathless and a little late!” This reminds me of St. Peter on that
first Easter morn! As in so many previous ages, it takes the Church a little time to understand what is going on and to where the Spirit is calling and leading us. No less a figure than St. Francis of Assisi had
to re-evaluate his response. At first, he thought that the divine call to re-build the Church was a construction project!
It is easy to look at the last several decades of the Church and be discouraged. But if we take a step back, we can see that the Lord has indeed been preparing us for mission. The 20th Century was the bloodiest and deadliest century in human history and the 21st Century has ushered a whole new set of problems and challenges. One of the fallacies of the past few decades is the erroneous notion that we could renew the Church and the world by re-shaping and re-configuring accidental qualities alone. In the years immediately after the Council, there were those who thought that changing the Mass from Latin to the vernacular or replacing chant with ballads or multiplying parish committees would be the revitalization that people needed. However, any look at the results of this kind of thinking shows how shallow it was. No doubt there was great excitement about change but change for sake of change is seldom productive and created many more unforeseen problems.
The renewal of the Church that St. John XXIII, the subsequent pontiffs, and the council fathers believed the Holy Spirit was leading the Church into is still very much a work in progress. Those who are rejoicing and those who are lamenting the end of the Church would do well to study history before declaring the Church dead, gone and irrelevant. The Church’s demise has been declared and her epitaph written many times before and always prematurely! Too often the promise of Jesus that, “the gates of hell will never prevail against” His Church is overlooked or not believed. To be a disciple of Jesus requires a healthy dose of realism. As disciples, we cannot and should not be lulled into thinking that this life is without struggle. Even in the best of times, it remains a vale of tears! Jesus was quite clear that to follow him would always entail carrying a cross. The renewal that Jesus calls us to and that the Holy Spirit is leading us to is first and foremost a renewal of our hearts. We are always being called to a conversion of life, to turn from sin and embrace God’s mercy and grace. It does little good to invite others to conversion when we fail to live it ourselves.
As we move forward into this new year and as we progress in our pilgrim journey of carrying our cross, we know that we are not alone. Jesus, Emmanuel, is with us. When we carry our cross with Jesus, a whole new world of opportunities arises: opportunities of grace, faith, hope, charity and joy. At this moment in the life of the Church, we are being called to be renewed in our commitment, mission and resolve in living the gospel and sharing the gospel with many people (family, friends, and strangers) who have yet to discover the great joy of knowing, loving, and serving God.
In pace Christi,