I'm in the last throes of packing to spend a few days in Seattle visiting family and friends. Then to the Mackenzie River Valley or Oregon for a week of retreat. From there to Los Angeles to train 18 new Called & Gifted teachers with Fr. Mike. And then home June 13. I may blog some as I have time and inclination but these six weeks are supposed to be a sabbatical during which work gives way to other things. Like gardening (I planted 130 perennials last week!)
Before I left, I wanted to comment on a column of George Weigel's that was published last week. Weigel was writing words of advice to Polish Catholics but it seemed to hit the exactly right note for American Catholics as well.
“John Paul II truly believed that in the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences. What seems to us “coincidence” is actually an aspect of Providence we have not understood yet. So his curiosity was a matter of looking into “here” and “now” to see where the wind of the Holy Spirit might be blowing, and in what direction.
Polish Catholicism should adopt this future-oriented stance. Remembering the John Paul II years should now be a remembering in service to the future. The 21st-century Church in Poland must take up John Paul’s challenge in the 1991 encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” and re-imagine itself as a Church that is a mission, not an institution for which mission is one among many activities.
Or as John Paul put it in closing the Great Jubilee of 2000, the Church must leave the shallow water of institutional maintenance and put out “into the deep” of the New Evangelization.
The Polish Church must recognize that the faith can no longer be transmitted by the ambient culture; it has to be persuasively and courageously proposed.
If the Church cannot transmit the faith in Poland by means of "ambient culture" - Poland which, in 2011, is probably the most deeply Catholic culture on earth, eclipsing even Italy and Ireland - how much more true is this of the US?
We cannot revive a Catholic culture without believing Catholics. To build a Catholic culture, we first have to make Catholic disciples. To build a Catholic culture, we first have to be people of mission rather than maintenance.
We will have to come out and talk with and listen to people who have no idea what we are talking about, whose background is completely non-Christian. We will have to search out the 85% of millennial Catholics who aren't attending Mass on a regular basis. Because American "ambient culture" in 2011 is deeply post-Christian and often anti-Christian and will not lead them to the parish door.
Art, literature, music, philosophy, history and personal mysticism will be real doorways for some but not for most. Some will search us out but most won't. Some will stumble over us, discovering the faith as they are exploring something else but most won't. Some will know and be moved by the witness of saints-in-the-making but most won't be that blessed. And most of those who first encounter the Church through those means will still need to hear the Great Story of Jesus and his Church proclaimed in ringing compelling terms. Nostalgia for an idealized golden past is not the way to reach the majority of 21st century men and women for whom post-modernity is the air they breathe.
St. Francis never said "Preach the Gospel always. If necessary use words." But even if he had said it, it would no longer be true. In the 21st century, in our generation, we need to say:
"Preach the Gospel explicitly in words and deeds always. Always look for existing cultural bridges that can carry a weight of truth. Where there is no existing bridge, build a bridge. From scratch if necessary."
Because the Church's future is not a simple recovery of an idealized past. Just like the great saints and apostles of the Catholic Reformation knew that simply trying to recreate the pre-Reformation world was not sufficient, just as they knew that the Holy Spirit was calling forth "novelties of God" (to use Pope Benedict's term) to meet the needs of their generation, so we need to embrace the fresh and remarkable things that God is calling forth in our time.
Are you and I open to the "novelties of God" that are being raised up to meet the needs of the 21st century? Are you and I open to being one of those "novelties of God"?