Friday, April 24, 2015

Ronald Reagan and the New Evangelization?

The other evening two alumni of the BU Catholic Center returned in order to give a presentation on the Eucharist.  Their talks were well done and faith-filled.  Their witness, however, is what was most striking to me.  Both of these men currently study at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, one for the Archdiocese of Hartford and the other for the Archdiocese of Boston.  (There is another BU Catholic Center alumnus studying at the North American College Seminary in Rome for the Archdiocese of Boston and I hear another BU alumnus will enter St. John's next year.)

After these two seminarians gave their presentation, we all spent some time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and after the Benediction, students who are running for President and Vice-President of the Catholic Center next year gave speeches.  It was good to realize that no matter who is elected, the Catholic Center is in good hands.  I was particularly impressed by something that both candidates for President said.  They both--in their own words--said that in a way, it doesn't matter who the president of the Catholic Center will be--because all of us are called to evangelize, to welcome others, and to be disciples.  You got the sense from listening to them that "winning" wasn't what was important to either of them.  Serving is what was important.

I'm guessing that Ronald Reagan isn't often referenced as an expert on evangelization, but he did have an oft-repeated line that can be applicable.  He would say that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."  Similarly, sometimes in the life of the Church, we can "help" things right into a premature death.  There are clearly times when parishes and ecclesial institutions require immediate attention, but, there are also times when a good pastor knows that what is needed is to build on the foundation laid by others.

There have been times in my life as a priest where I've gone into a situation where there were significant issues that needed to be addressed.  Sometimes those issues were financial and, at other times, more of a spiritual nature.  Sometimes we--especially priests--can act as though every situation that we walk into is a disaster needing our particular expertise.  There have been times in my priesthood when I've inherited various crises.  But, that's not always the case.

Two years ago, I walked into the Catholic Center at Boston University.  My first impression was that there was a strong Catholic community there that was the result of a solid formation over the course of many years.  There was no major crisis affecting the place, no disaster to fix, no huge spiritual, theological, or pastoral issues to tackle.  Two years later, I am confident that my first impression was correct.  Those who preceded me (and who accompany me now in my work) have created a community of young men and women who pray, love the sacraments, study the Word of God, devote themselves to serving others, share the Gospel with joy, seriously discern and are open to a priestly or religious vocation, love one another, and welcome others.  

Do I bring my own particular contributions?  Sure, but I am simply building on what preceded me.  In so many ways, both as a parish priest and as a college chaplain, I have discovered that the Church often thrives most when a pastor knows how to encourage and not interfere with the good that is already present.  At the BU Catholic Center there are young men and women who go to weekly meetings at a local Opus Dei center, others who participate in Communion and Liberation, others who attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form, others who love Praise and Worship, others who host an improv comedy group, host bible studies in the dorms, do homeless outreach, or any number of other activities.  All the while, there is no "us against them" attitude.  These young people encourage one another in their various expressions of faith and nobody tries to impose his or her own particular spirituality or interest on anybody else.  

If evangelization efforts in the Church are going to thrive, the structures that are in place must be designed to encourage all legitimate expressions of the Faith.  The structures must encourage what is good and not begin with ideology and bureaucracy.  Where are vocations flourishing?  Where are people receiving the sacraments with love and with devotion?  Where are the poor being served?  Where are people growing in the Faith?  Wherever this is happening, we should encourage and strengthen it.  We should not try to fix it by imposing our own ideologies upon it.  We should not attempt to chain the Word of God or to make an idol of our own particular biases.  Evangelization needs to encourage the good that is present and not try to "fix" what isn't broken.

The priests, brothers, sisters, and lay men and women who preceded me at the BU Catholic Center built a solid foundation. This is entirely evident.  The place still thrives because of their pastoral and spiritual wisdom.  They left me no crises to solve.  Instead they left a solid Catholic community to shepherd. They make it possible for me to say to the community I inherited, "I'm from the Church and I'm here to encourage you to keep up the good work."

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