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Beginning With the End in Mind PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 21 September 2007 08:28
Todd wrote in response to my post below

Sherry, thanks for the reply. I do agree with your thrust at ID as part of a catholic whole, shall we say.

Hi Tod:

Thanks for your response. First of all, I need to make it clear that I’ve heard nothing but good things about Archbishop Dolan and my limited experience of the archdiocese has been very positive so my concern really isn’t about Milwaukee as such. This is but another instance of a dynamic I have encountered all over the Catholic world: this same strange reluctance to talk explicitly about Christ and our response to him, this same strong preference for a spiritual language so general, vague, abstract, and bureaucratic that that our personal response to Christ is never called in question.

Following Christ is not the whole of Catholic belief and practice certainly but it is the source and center of the whole: all belief, worship, practice, theology, culture, etc. It is the encounter with Christ and the following of him that has birthed everything we hold to be essentially Catholic. And when the Church or members of the Church lose track of that Center, we know what happens: the belief, the worship, the practice, the theology, the culture cannot stand; it begins to wane and then disintegrate until renewed once again by intentional disciples that we often now know as saints. This cycle of renewal has been repeated many hundreds of times in the 2,000 year history of the Church.

You wrote:
I'm a little cautious about attributing too much to what people say. It's not as though modern society or even the Church offers much opportunity for people to be articulate.

Here we agree. One would hardly expect modern society to support articulation of Christian belief and hope but why should the Church fail to do something so critical to our most essential mission with great energy?

In the "Terzo Millenio Innuente" the late Pope John Paul II stated that the Church's mission is that of evangelization. And this idea evolved when in a gathering the Pope had with young people at the turning of the millennium, he told them,

"Do not be afraid to go out in the streets, and in public places, like the first apostles who proclaimed Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, town and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the roof tops." "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight: what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops." (Mt.10,27).

Yet, as a community overall, we nod our heads at magisterial teaching on the subject and remain mute about Christ and the Gospel. We regard our muteness as not only normative but as somehow spiritual and faithful and find it puzzling and even bizarre when some Catholics violate that norm. Why is “don’t ask, don’t tell” our deeply embedded working paradigm – even at the level of diocesan leadership? Where did it come from? And, as you point out, that extends in startling ways to the blogosphere where the very idea of intentional discipleship has proved to be controversial even among seriously practicing Catholics.

You continue:
As long as we realize that mouthing the name of "Jesus" in a certain way is a tool, just like any other human-made endeavor, like Fr Philip's "crap," we should be fine.

Todd, human beings can use anything as a tool – including worship, and gestures of love and acts of justice but it doesn’t follow at all that the world would be better off if we just stopped. Sure, “Jesus language” can be a pious “front”, a form of manipulation or deception or shallowness but so can any language on any topic of significance. I haven’t noticed that we expect people to stop talking openly about those topics because such talk might be misused or empty. We simply must demand better, more thoughtful, deeper talk, talk that wells up from prayer, meditation, study – which may be conducted in silence - and having lived the reality of discipleship in our own settings.

It simply does not follow that our habitual silence regarding Christ among ourselves and in conversation with those who are not Christian is a good thing. It is not a sign of an attachment to Christ so deep, so profound, so habitual, that talking about it is unnecessary. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary.

I have never known a human being, introvert or extrovert, who does not talk about what they love. We talk about beloved friends and family, things we love to do, books or films or music we love, etc. Often, even to strangers or casual acquaintances. If we love someone, we not only won’t hide it, we usually can’t hide it altogether from the thoughtful observer – even when we try.

And to not talk about “first principles” – about Christ, about evangelization and personal faith and discipleship when wrestling with why larger numbers of Catholics don’t practice the faith is like hospital staff not talking about patients and their illnesses and instead focusing exclusively upon room décor, food service, and the arrangement of medical records. (I worked my way through grad school on an oncology unit.) The physical health and well-being of the patient is the point, the end of all the various specialties and services that form the whole spectrum of medical care. In the absence of the patient and their needs, the purpose and the meaning of the rooms, the food, and the records vanishes. If you deal with a doctor or hospital administrator who talks only about such things, you know there’s something seriously amiss.

Ultimately, the fruits will tell the tale.

Absolutely. But outside a direct intervention by God (which I would never rule out) the value of the answers that human beings get when attempting to solve a problem are usually determined by the value of the questions they ask.

When diocesan leaders talking about a major diocesan initiative in an article in the diocesan paper clearly intended to publicize their efforts mention only peripheral things, you have to ask why. One has to presume they are talking in a straight forward manner about the questions they mean to ask. And when you begin to realize that this focus on peripheral things is not unique in any way to that diocese, that it is part of Catholic culture and practice on a much larger scale, it is time to ask why.

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