Saturday, February 4, 2012
Thank God For the Laity of the New Evangelization
Nuttiness breeds nuttiness--especially in the theological world. And, the longer you let nuttiness continue, the nuttier things become. Every so often, some video that depicts a loony-tunes prayer service or liturgical event goes viral. Perhaps it is a prayer service with people tying themselves up in yarn or a Mass with the priest dressed up as a clown. The video arrives on the scene with cries of, "This cannot be allowed to continue." But, we should remember that this is not where the decline began. The decline likely began in some classroom where some well-intentioned student was taught bad theology. Examples are . . . legion.
When I was a seminarian, I was given a variety of pastoral assignments. In one such assignment, the director of a particular program asked me to put together a penance service for a retreat. I looked through the ritual for penance services and selected various options. While most of what I assembled was permitted, there was a big disagreement on the "Examination of Conscience." Included among the items for examination was the question, "Did I attend Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day?" This question, I was told, came from a poor understanding of theology. (This would have come as a surprise to those who wrote the Ritual for the Sacrament of Penance.) I was told that while, "objectively missing Mass on a Sunday might be a sin, subjectively we just can't say." So, that one had to be removed. I made the point that while "objectively not loving your neighbor might be a sin, subjectively, we just can't say either." I thought by making that point, I had won the argument. Instead, it was decided that there would be no Examination of Conscience because "we just can't really know what is and isn't a sin."
In another assignment, the person in charge of youth constantly would ask (as though he were being intellectually provocative), "Well, none of us can really know whether Jesus was God or not or whether the Hindu's have it right and we have it wrong." The head of a Catholic High School once told me that the Church might change its teaching on gay marriage some day because, "The Mass used to be in Latin and it isn't any more." With pseudo-theology like this, the liturgical clown costumes can't be far behind.
There's a temptation when we see these things just to roll our eyes and say, "Well, that's so and so." But, the long-term effects are staggering. Eventually, when Catholic retreats are based on, "What figure in the Muppets do you most identify with?" the whole thing starts to collapse. When the basic approach to Catholic teaching and Liturgy is, "How close can we get to the line without crossing it," the whole thing starts to collapse. If you leave people out in the theological wilderness long enough, they'll soon be dancing around a golden calf, clown costumes and all.
Probably one of the good things about the Internet and these nutty videos that go viral is that we can see how sad things can become. But, if these videos are solely an opportunity to rail against bishops and inundate chanceries with phone calls, they are of little use. More important than stopping liturgical, moral, and theological abuses that spring up everywhere is the need to substitute good teaching in place of bad teaching, good Liturgy in place of deficient liturgy, articulate presentation of the Faith in place of faux-theology.
We see that happening in many places now. In Boston, for instance, there is a new program entitled the "Theological Institute for the New Evangelization." It is a program designed for lay people who desire to deepen their theological knowledge. I have had numerous parishioners take courses in this program and they all come back with greater knowledge of the Faith and with greater love for the Church. The course work is not dumbed down and it respects the intelligence of these students. It is awesome to see lay people being given the benefit of solid and faithful doctrine.
I see it in some amazing Catholic colleges that have sprung up across the country. One example is the University of Steubenville. I see many young graduates from there who are on fire with the Faith and with love for the Church. They have experienced what it means to be part of a Catholic community and they want to share that with others. They love Jesus and they love the Church that Jesus built on the Rock of Peter. They pray in diverse ways, but always in union with the Church.
I see it in speakers who have come to my parish from the Archdiocese of Denver. They travel around the country speaking to teenagers about the Theology of the Body. They show that normal men and women can be holy and can adhere with love to the Church's teachings. They propose an entirely different option to young people. Many times, we seem to present two options to young people. We either have people in clown costumes telling them that the Church's teaching should be changed. Or, we have angry looking people constantly saying, "No." But, the New Evangelization has to be about presenting the Church's teaching in ways that are attractive and comprehensible.
In a particular way, I am very grateful for the awesome lay people who are showing up on the scene these days and who are are introducing something new into the life of the Church in the United States. What they have done is to propose an alternative; the alternative of the Truth. And this alternative is making a beautiful difference in the lives of many. These men and women are doing something new. They are the first line of missionaries in the New Evangelization. They are a generation of Catholics who are starving for Christ and his Gospel and they are joyful in sharing Christ with others. They are not fighting ideological battles. They are following Christ and inviting others to do the same. They love the Church. They love the Sacraments and Eucharistic Adoration. They love what the Church teaches. They saw for themselves what happens to generations who are abandoned to silliness and they want something more than that.
I am increasingly surrounded by people like this. They are re-proposing Christianity to a new generation and are doing so in the midst of a culture that is increasingly less hospitable to the Gospel. But, they've encountered Christ, they've been fed solid doctrine, been nourished by the Sacraments, and have participated in true worship. They are intellectually and spiritually strong and they are part of something new. They are making their way into diocesan offices, religious education programs, Catholic schools, and Campus Ministries. They meet considerable resistance from the old guard, but they just joyfully proclaim Jesus and win by the shear force of their joyful love for Jesus. They remind me somewhat of the Magi. Instead of going back to fight with Herod head-on, they've discovered that they can go home a different way. They are strong in their faith and in their convictions and the secret weapon that they bring to the battle is their joy in Christ.
They remind me of a small seed that despite the very worst of adverse conditions, somehow manages to defeat the odds and emerge as a magnificent tree. These men and women were, in many ways, surrounded by nuttiness. But, God's grace reached them anyways and they are well-prepared to engage the culture with the Christian Gospel.
The New Evangelization is here. No more clowning around.