As part of our formation work at the Newman Center at Boston University, we are looking into a six week series on the New Evangelization by Fr. Robert Barron. While reviewing the materials yesterday, a couple of things really jumped out at me. The first was the term, "Beige Catholicism." This is how Fr. Barron describes the type of Catholicism that many of us were exposed to over several decades. It is, what I would call, a "safe Catholicism." It is the bland milquetoast approach to Catholicism that has been the hallmark of so many programs, parishes, schools, and institutions in the life of the Church. It is the type of Catholicism that shies away from any sort of notion that following Christ demands some sort of decision on my part. It is a Catholicism that is more "Chicken Soup for the Soul," than it is, "Take up your Cross and follow me."
When I read the term, "Beige Catholicism," I thought, "Yes, that's it!" When Pope John Paul II urged the young people of the Church towards the New Evangelization, he met with a lot of opposition from those entrenched in the "Beige Catholicism." John Paul II called young people to make a decision for Christ. He called them to follow Christ despite the opposition that they would encounter. Ten years ago, the words, "New Evangelization," were considered a conservative plot. If you uttered the words, "New Evangelization" ten years ago, you could be certain that the ideological machines would be moving against you.
Today, there remains some effort to co-opt the New Evangelization and to turn it merely into an advertising campaign. This was the second thing that struck me about Fr. Barron's materials on the New Evangelization. In the DVD series, a woman from Australia says that if you approach the New Evangelization simply as a marketing tool to make parishes grow, you are setting out on the course of failure. The New Evangelization is about people encountering Christ and being transformed by that encounter. It is a decisive evangelization. Even today, many of those who exercise positions of influence in the life of the Church are seeking to reduce the New Evangelization to a lukewarm, milquetoast beige kind of Catholicism.
The alternative to "Beige Catholicism" is not "Nasty Catholicism." The alternative is "Joyful Catholicism." It is a Catholicism that I witness in the life of the young men and women whom I serve at the Newman Center at Boston University. They are thoroughly normal, well-adjusted, humorous, and intellectually astute young men and women. They are also devout. They love the Eucharist and the Sacraments. They love to share the joy of the Gospel with others. They are characters. Beige Catholicism, I think, tries to to destroy character. Beige Catholicism tries to suffocate characters. In the "Beige" worldview, Charismatics are too charismatic, Opus Dei is too conservative, the Neocatechumenal Way is too controlling, Communion and Liberation is too political, and those attached to the Latin Mass need to be reigned in. Beige Catholicism likes to talk about "diversity," but seeks to squelch any signs of true and authentic diversity.
How did this all come to mind today? It's difficult to describe. This morning, I heard the confessions of college students and then had Mass with about twenty-five of them. In the afternoon, I hung out with students and had beautiful conversations about dating, marriage, priesthood, practical jokes, YouTube videos, the Sacraments, music, and all sorts of other things. They made fun of me. I definitely made fun of them. And in the midst of all of this, I thought, "This isn't beige." This is the joy of Catholicism. Catholicism is a friendship in Christ. The New Evangelization is NOT about making the Catholic Church bigger. The New Evangelization is about encountering Christ and being moved by joy to be servants of that encounter for others.
There are always those who seek to impose programs as the path to evangelization. This path always leads the Church to a more bland color of beige. True Evangelization is personal and is the result of a true encounter. True evangelization arises from the friendship of the Church. This friendship can never be imposed or mandated. This friendship is a gift that is received and lived with joy. Today, I was evangelized because I lived the friendship of the Church with others.