Monday, January 9, 2017

Three Pastors Who Went Deep and Transformed the Church in America

This week, Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. died.  I never met the man, but I, like the entire Catholic Church in the United States, have benefited from his vision, his fidelity, and his commitment to the evangelical mission of the Church.  Fr. Scanlan, until his retirement, served as the President of Franciscan University of Steubenville.  Dedicated to strengthening its Catholic identity, Fr. Scanlan transformed Steubenville into the heart of Catholicism in the United States.  From this heart new life has been pumped into parishes, evangelical organizations, and youth ministry thought the US. Fr. Scanlan's Steubenville taught students to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.

The other day, I was speaking to a friend and I said that, in large part, anything great that has happened in the Church in the United States during the past twenty-five years can be traced back to one of three places: Steubenville, Denver, or John Paul II.  While perhaps a slight exaggeration, it is fairly accurate. Steubenville shows that a Catholic college can actually . . . well, be Catholic. Steubenville formed a generation of young people who returned to their dioceses on fire for Christ. In turn, the fidelity to the faith and the devotion to the sacraments of these young men and women transformed parishes and ecclesial institutions.

Under the leadership of Archbishop Chaput, Denver became a hub that welcomed Catholic men and women who heeded John Paul II's call to go out into the deep and risk everything on Christ. While many in positions of leadership in the Church were displeased with the zeal of a new generation of Catholics, Chaput sought to support them and to encourage them. It seems to me that Denver became the first outpost on the American shores for the John Paul II New Evangelization.

And that brings me to the great St. John Paul II. In his preaching and in his writing, John Paul II called young men and women to greatness.  This call to greatness touched the hearts of the young, but they needed somewhere to go in order to live this greatness.  Thanks to pastors like Scanlan and Chaput, young people were given places, organizations, and communities where their zeal could be formed, trained, and exercised. In turn, these young men and women were responsible for drawing others to Christ and for witnessing to the joy of orthodoxy. 

These three pastors--John Paul II, Archbishop Chaput, and Fr. Scanlan--understood that young people want to be called to greatness. They understood that young men and women can become disciples who risk everything for Christ. They understood that, as Bishop Barron has called it, "beige Catholicism" does not work. The reason Steubenville, Denver, and John Paul II were so effective in lighting a fire in the Church in the United States is because they were not afraid to propose the Catholic Faith in its totality. There was nothing watered down AND it was joyful.

Where have priestly and religious vocations come from in the past three decades? From beige Catholicism or from orthodoxy? Where have well-formed Catholic marriages and families come from? Where have effective youth ministry programs come from? Where has Eucharistic devotion and devotion to the Sacrament of Penance come from? For the most part, wherever you find joyful and abundant Catholic life in the United States, you can trace it to Steubenville, Denver, or John Paul II. And, even in successful places where there is not a direct connection to one of those causes, the same characteristics of true life in the Church are still present, namely a joyful orthodoxy.

While many others were hesitant to go out into the deep, John Paul II, Scanlan, and Chaput risked everything on Jesus Christ and went out into the deep to cast their nets. Their pastoral example ought to encourage us to do the same.

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