Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The New Evangelization: What a Mess

Every Tuesday night at the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University, there is an event that includes worship and praise music and discussion of some particular topic.  The evening is planned and presented by the students.  Last night's topic was, "Keeping Catholic in College."  For me, the most moving part of the evening was hearing the testimony of one young man whom I have known for only a couple of weeks.  In the course of his testimony, he shared just how grateful he was for the Catholic Community here.  He said, "I never thought when I left home and came to college, that I would go back home my first summer and tell everyone that the best part of college has been my life at the Catholic Center."  His talk was humorous, sincere, and profoundly human.  Most of all, it was real.  I was touched by his sincerity and his courage.

Since I am new in this community, I can claim no credit for all of the positive things that I see happening around me.  They are clearly the fruit of many years of dedicated work by other chaplains, staff, and students.   Witnessing these beautiful things causes me, not only to be grateful, but also to point them out so that all of us can learn from them.  Let me tell you what I see here.

The young people here are human.  They are interested in sports, science, video games, music, arts, politics, and dating.  They are funny and enjoy a good laugh.  They crack me up.  They are real.  They are also on fire in their love for Christ.  They talk about their faith, witness to their faith, and live their faith.  They come to daily Mass.  They come to confessions.  They pray together.  They are filled with enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel.  Although they're busy with school work and other activities, they dedicate themselves to the life of the Catholic Community and take responsibility for the community.  

During World Youth Day, Pope Francis told young people to go back to their dioceses and "make a mess."  This is precisely what we need.  We need young people like this who are not tied down by the bureaucratic structures, ideological agendas, and lukewarm faith that has become the hallmark of so much of the ecclesial life of so many dioceses.  The status quo has not been effective and a more organized version of the status quo won't work either.  Shaking things up or, in the pope's words, "making a mess" doesn't mean establishing a new bureaucratic stranglehold on the Faith to replace the old bureaucratic stranglehold.  It doesn't mean ushering in a new ideology to replace the failed ideologies advanced by so many who previously and currently influence decisions in the Church.  

A new ideology is not the answer.  A new cadre in power is not the answer.  A new bureaucratic structure is not the answer.  These things are not the answer because ideologies, power, and bureaucracy are not the tools of evangelization.  It doesn't matter who is influencing the shots, whose agenda is being advanced, or whether we call it the "Committee for the New Evangelization" or the "The New Evangelization Committee."  These types of changes are merely a new version of the old product.  No, this is not the type of mess for which the pope is calling.

The young people to whom I have been assigned are passionate about their Faith and are passionate about sharing the Gospel with others.  They have very little worldly power.  They don't seem to want any either.  They aren't looking for ecclesiastical power, nor are they looking to advance their particular ideology on the Church as a whole.  No, they are just busily and joyfully witnessing to Christ.  They are receiving the Sacraments and are sharing with others the joy they have found in Christ.  They are filled with apostolic zeal.

The mess we need is the mess that happens when the sower went out to sow some seed.  Much of the seed that he scattered came to nought.  It was an agricultural mess.  But, where there was good soil, it grew a hundredfold.  We need a Church that is willing to make an evangelical mess.  Sometimes, because growth occurs in a way that seems contrary to a particular ideology or bureaucratic system, it meets opposition from those in power.  Wherever there is tremendous growth in the life of the Church today, it seems to be happening not as a result of restructuring and reorganizing.  It is not happening as a result of a new ideology.  It is not happening where one ideological power base ousts another ideological power base from power.  Instead, it is happening entirely outside of that way of thinking.  It is happening in the new religious orders and in the new movements.  It is happening one on one.  It is happening where Catholics are on fire with their faith and are joyfully sharing it with others.

At the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University, there are kids going to Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, Mass, retreats, and service projects.  They are joyfully sharing their faith with others.  They love Jesus Christ and want to deepen their relationship with Him.  They are following Christ as his disciples and this discipleship makes their humanity attractive to others.

It is admittedly a bit discouraging at times to watch as ecclesial institutions seem to organize their own funeral.  The temptation is sometimes strong to think that if only we could replace one bureaucracy, ideology, or power structure with MY bureaucracy, ideology, or power structure, then everything would be better.  This, however, is why things are so broken in the life of the Church.

Instead, we need a mess.  We need the kind of mess that is caused by apostolic zeal and joy.  Such zeal and joy might sometimes cause a bit of havoc, but it is better than being dead.  I hope that the young people with whom I work heed the call of Pope Francis to make a mess in their dioceses.  I hope that they make a mess by remaining faithful to what Christ is doing among them.  If the young people here remain faithful to living the sacraments, to a life of prayer, to fidelity to the Magisterium, to their apostolic zeal in spreading the Gospel, and to their Christian joy, there is no doubt that they will make quite a mess in their dioceses.  We need this more than ever.

I am grateful to be a witness here to the New Evangelization.  It's a mess.  Thanks Be to God!

1 comment:

  1. "people like this who are not tied down by the bureaucratic structures, ideological agendas, and lukewarm faith"

    Yes. If it is to succeed, the New E must be a bottom-up phenomenon.