I have spent a lot of time seeing programs/ministries developed and used in the parish context. Some of these are Alpha, Why Catholic, Catholicism, Wild Goose, Life Teen, Christ Life, Intentional Discipleship, and so forth. The amount of manpower required to run some of these programs well usually require 1 full-time staff member plus your usually army of volunteers to get the job done. Much fruit (which I have written on before) is claimed by these programs. While some of these can be scrutinized for the specific content offered (I am thinking of Alpha), for the most part, most of them are “fine” to use in the Catholic context. A lot of the focus on these programs is to evangelize, catechize, and to revitalize a sleep faith. Once these programs (or commonly referred to my new favorite buzz word as “processes”) are done, you will ultimately be left with some yearning to grow and go into the world. I am by no means an expert in each of the items listed above, but have a general understanding of all the content offered. I want to spend some time unraveling why they are so popular, and really offering a much cheaper (although more difficult) tool for conversion.
Some of the motivation I hear as to why action must be taken in the Church today is that we are coming to this cliff. This cliff is the baby boomers, who for the most part make up the congregation in your average Catholic church. They are also the ones who predominately give to the Church as well. So in order to fight back this inevitable cliff where we lose both parishioners and money, action must be taken now.
I suppose its good to stop and ask whether this is an issue or not. I hold the opinion that our motivation for conversion should not be driven by:
- Number of people in the pews
It is quite unfortunate to see the plethora of renewal programs developing in order to create an army of new/revitalized church goers who will help curb this crisis. I suppose my grief is the motivation behind these programs. It is very hard to distill what is the true motivation for this desired renewal. While some honestly pose some genuine proposals forward with the desire to bring people to Christ, the whole message is really butchered when you tack on, “We need to do this because we are coming to a cliff in 10 years.” A program/process whose intent is just to delay this inevitable cliff, in my view, is not worth it. I would hope that the Church of the future will be filled with people that want to be there, and with people who desire to be Christ-like. This may mean, get ready for it folks, a Catholic Church that is smaller…but purer! Is there anything wrong with that? Spiritually…no! Temporally…yes! Just think of all that money the various dioceses are going to miss out on.
You also have to accept the following: humans are prone to exterior action over interior action, and people need money to live. Most of these renewal programs are not free. These are businesses selling renewal for the most part. I don’t know. I don’t have the perfect solution to this as people need to eat, but I suppose one can rightly ask: why do you think you need to act? Is this type of action the correct thing to do? I often look back to the saints and see how some of these great reformers approached this problem. I often like to look at St. Francis of Assisi as an ideal role model. Man, he had this powerful conversion, and decided just to live a life so dependent on Christ. Not only dependent on Christ, but also with the mind to imitate his Holy Master by his service to the poor, the sick and fellow Christians. If you read St. Francis’s autobiography by St. Bonaventure, you never read that his motivation was to start a renewal program and make a living on that. It’s completely the opposite. Men were drawn to him, simply for the sake that he had something tangible, something unique that drew people to him. What was this? People saw Jesus Christ in him! So doing some self reflecting on these new programs/process/books, what is the intent of all this action? Are you causing a distraction at all by this? Something for us to think about. I am sure many disagree with my thoughts, but for now, this is what they are.
So, enough talk, what is the answer to this then? It’s really simple: each one of us must strive to be Christ-like if we wish to change the world. That’s it. Best part is, it’s free! But, here is the catch: this life is extremely difficult, hence why no one is proposing this as solution. All of this can, of course, be only be done by grace (have to throw in that reminder in case you think all this can be accomplished by our own efforts). You know what the benefit of running an Alpha is? The people running it excuse themselves of having to be good, holy examples, and the program can supplement the deficiencies of an individual, in order to create the image that conversion can happen (accept I really don’t know or care to live that myself). Simple! Sure its costs money, but this is much easier than living the life Christ demands of us: self-denial, virtuously, sacrificing, overcoming sin, and so forth. That is not to say that the people running this programs are not good, and do not strive to live out the life mentioned above (I as of yet cannot read hearts so I cannot know this). I suppose the general hope is that through the use of the programs, people will naturally grow to do the things I have listed, but that is rarely spoken by anyone developing the programs. Perhaps it is just assumed? Or is it ignored? I suppose each person can discern that, though to me, the issue is we really don’t know who Christ is today, and what He is actually asking of us.
If you want to change the world, change yourself first. Be holy first yourself, and if the Lord calls you to change the world in a more visible manner or larger manner, so be it. I think we get caught in the trap that the world is going to rot without our action. I need to act to save the Church. Well, you are correct, you need to act, but not in that easy way. It’s not about building a program/process: it’s about being converted ourselves first. I firmly believe that the most effective tool for conversion are good, holy people. Not just your run of the mill hypocrite or superficial good person, but truly good. Someone with this Christ-like presence. People need this type of person! Why are the saints so attractive? Because they strove and reached this degree of holiness in their own life. That is what draws people to them, not because of their efforts, but because Christ is truly dwelling in them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Well, there you have it. The cheap and most effective solution to the Church crisis. Unfortunately, few will take this path. It is only for those wishing to go down the narrow path. This path that requires us to subdue the carnal man so the spiritual man may reign. Perhaps the Lord will bless the Church with more visible saints, but for now, let us strive for this ideal to best we can by grace.
This post is long, and definitely not fleshed out. I don’t really want to backtrack and have to justify each point made, because like anything, perhaps there are minor differences in opinion. I am sure there are differences in opinion about the minutia of each program, but at any rate, the end solution is the same the same for me. Be a saint. Be like Christ. You will change the world. This is the harder path, but this is the path we as Catholics are called for. Get it done.
Blessed Mother, on this day where we honor your Assumption into heaven, please intercede for us that we may be given the grace to go down that narrow path. We pray that the Holy Spirit will give us an increase in grace, the gifts and virtues, especially humility.