(This column is scheduled for January publication on the Catholic Mom website. Deacon Tom feels that this topic is worth sharing on other venues, and he welcomes your thoughts and feedback)
Two seemingly unrelated starters:
- For nine years, I have attended the priest, deacon, seminarian conference and retreat at Franciscan University. Each time I attend, I participate in a three day Life in the Spirit seminars led by charismatic-oriented priests and laymen. It has fundamentally and forever changed my understanding of what it means to live as a Catholic.
- For four years and more, my wife Dee and I have co-moderated the Catholic Vitamins podcast. Each week, we have had some of the most inspiring guests. I shouldn’t start to mention names, for there are over 150; any listing would be confusing to me to know what order to put them in. And truly some of the names aren’t yet well-known enough for their growing contributions to the faith life of the Church.
What do these two starters have to do with each other? To spend time in the presence of people like Fr. Michael Scanlan (the former President of Franciscan University), Scott Hahn, Theologian in residence at Franciscan University, Ralph Martin, founder of Renewal Ministries, and others… And to be able to interview Catholic singers like Danielle Rose and Audrey Assad — and to know that they have spent (sometimes) weeks writing and setting powerful Catholic thinking to music – and then performing in important Catholic venues — to interview Steve Dawson, the founder and National Director of St. Paul Street Evangelization — these sorts of ‘vitamins’ to my faith are great gifts from the Lord.
But, what to do with the nourishment (and challenge) that these gifts have been to me? In recent days we sang Go Tell It On The Mountain at our parish. People liked the upbeat tempo and more than the usual number joined in. But their singing and their spirit seemed to end at the door. When I see this – I feel like preaching like a Southern Baptist or a Pentecostal preacher — at the expense of all relationship with the pastor and many of the regulars. Here’s what I mean.
Have you ever heard of, or read any of the words of Bishop Paul Loverde of the Arlington (VA) Diocese? He asks this question: Is the parish on a treadmill of activity where ‘maintenance’ is overshadowing ‘mission?’ Are there current activities that can yield their place in our parish priorities so new activities focusing on evangelization might bear more fruit?
In my own life in the parish, I want to yell out “Hell yes, excellency. Hell Yes!” (And excuse me for the word hell dear bishop and reader :-). Enough with the pancake breakfasts and bazaars and parish raffles and raising funds to buy new altar linens. We have people fleeing the Catholic Church for a ‘life in the Spirit’ that they don’t see or understand to already be present where they have been.
Bishop Loverde expressed it this way: “When I was ordained just 10 days after the close of the Second Vatican Council, 2 in 10 marriages ended in divorce. Abortion was illegal. Fewer than 300,000 Americans were incarcerated. Today, 2 in 10 pregnancies end in abortion, over 1 million annually, which is so heartrending. More than 4 in 10 marriages end in divorce, and in the public culture, marriage and the family are in the process of being redefined. One in 31 adult Americans is in prison or on probation.” (Quoted from a Pastoral and public letter to all in his Diocese by Bishop Paul S. Loverde, on the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 24, 2013)
Today, in places we appear to have a ‘too safe’ grasp on a maintenance model of faith practice. Pastors hang close to the guard rail of convention, many deacons aren’t stand-alone models of on-fire clergy as was our model, St. Stephen. And often DRE’s allow CCD programs to be gatherings which teach arts and crafts at the expense of excitedly educating students on ‘why did God make me?’ And as another priest said about this ‘safe approach’ to the faith – everyone in the Church wants to keep everyone happy. And of course, Bishop Loverde reminds us that we are far from keeping everyone happy because 35 percent have left the earnest practice of the Faith.
In 2014, right now, we need Catholic Mandelas who will prayerfully look at what we are doing inside the Church and bring a battle cry of reform. We can’t succumb to the ‘whatever Father thinks’ mentality if what Father thinks is to maintain a status quo of convention and peace and quiet. Important note: I promised the Archbishop that ordained me that I would be obedient to him and to his successors. Make no mistake: this is a tough promise to keep. But the Archbishop that ordained me is on-fire for the Faith and for a lively Catholic Church. I’m not under his personal jurisdiction right now. But I bet if I took this sort of a struggle with an on-going maintenance approach to Church to him – he would listen and help me to find a way to be ‘obedient to the Church,’ but to also set the Spirit within me free.
I’m not sure who will read this. If God wants it made somewhat visible, He will help that to happen. I just know that around me, there are Catholic Mandela’s willing to go to ‘prison’ (of some sort) and to pray while there. Praying without stopping that other Mandela’s will also be in prayer and that with God’s help and grace, we can bring about change in our own lives, change in our families, change in our parishes, change in our dioceses.
We have job openings for Mandelas in our Church.
Yes Deacon… keep going. Keep dreaming.
Deacon Tom Fox