Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The "Missional Moment": Young Life & The Catholic Church

Last week I was able to speak to Young Life area directors from across the country about the exciting “missional moment” that we’re currently experiencing.  More than ever, Young Life is dedicated to a strategy of evangelization that is sensitive to Catholics.  We need to help Catholic kids be the best Catholics they can be, calling them into the highest ideals of Catholicism (see my last post on “Evangelical Catholicism”) and welcoming the manifold gifts the Catholic tradition offers.  In addition, we need to partner with Catholic parishes, parents, priests, schools, colleges and social service agencies to ensure that “even kid, everywhere” has the opportunity to know Jesus Christ and follow him.

On the other side of the coin, this “missional moment” is seeing an incredible openness of the Catholic Church to embrace the very things that Young Life is so good at.  The “new evangelization” has been proclaimed as the central strategy of the Catholic Church for engaging the world in the 21st century and beyond.  Going where people are, earning the right to be heard, proclaiming the truth in love, new methods, a new ardor – these are all things that the Catholic Church is talking about right now, with great fervor. 

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. recently noted that the Catholic Church is in a position similar to that of the early church.  The rise of secularism means that modern disciples “bring the experience of the risen Lord to a world that simply doesn’t know what they are talking about. . . It’s introducing the experience of a relationship with God to people who are so absorbed in this secular culture that their horizon doesn’t reach that high.”[1]

What prelates like Wuerl and practitioners like Sherry Weddell have been calling for is a return to what is called the kerygma.  Kerygma is a Greek term that refers to the primary proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The kerygma is sharing Christ and inviting people to respond.  The first disciples preached the kerygma and the world is in need of the kerygma again.  Cardinal Wuerl continues:

Engaging secularism is going to be the major challenge. I think that is going to mean a return to a very basic kerygma. We sometimes get so caught up in one or another aspect of the teaching, we forget that if a person hasn’t been introduced to Christ, if a person hasn’t embraced the risen Lord and the church that’s an expression of that experience, what we’re saying just sounds like a bunch of rules or negative statements limiting their personal freedom. We have to get back to that core kerygma.[2]

The wonder of this “missional moment” is that the stated needs of the Catholic Church are precisely what Young Life is doing every day.  With great success around the world, Young Life leaders are proclaiming the kerygma of Jesus Christ in ways that counter the secularism of our age and transform lives, one relationship at a time.  This is simply what we do.  We’re good at it and we are primed to share it with the Church and the world over.  Just imagine the impact of 1.2 billion Catholics on earth, energized by the “new evangelization” and a fresh kerygmatic proclamation of Jesus Christ!  The impact would be colossal, world-changing, kingdom-building. 

Are you ready to embrace this “missional moment”? 

[1]             John L. Allen, Dennis Coday and Joshua J. McElwee, “Wuerl: ‘Teach truth from the pulpit, then meet people where they are’,” The National Catholic Reporter, Feb 26, 2013 accessed 2/26/13 at: http://ncronline.org/node/46101.
[2]             Ibid.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Evangelical Catholicism: The New Face of the Catholic Church

Is the face of Catholicism changing?  The simple and exciting answer is, “YES”!  Several important shifts can be observed in the history of the Catholic Church – from the primitive Jesus movement of the New Testament to the patristic era to the medieval Church to the Counter-Reformation era  – and it seems that another definitive shift is happening right now, in our very lifetime.  And what are theologians and ecclesiastics calling it?  Evangelical Catholicism.

George Weigel of the Institute on Religion and Public Life suggests that the unique combination of postmodernity and the consistent call of the Great Commission have “impelled a new evolution in the Church’s self-understanding and self-expression.  The result of that evolution [is] Evangelical Catholicism.”[1]

The distinct marks of Evangelical Catholicism are particularly exhilarating for those of us who minister in Young Life, a ministry which necessarily calls for the cooperation of Christians from many different theological traditions.  So exactly what is Evangelical Catholicism?

·      Evangelical Catholicism is not about maintenance but mission.  As Catholics we are not “keepers of the aquarium” but fishers of men (and women). 

·      Evangelical Catholicism is not satisfied with church membership and Mass attendance.  It is in the business of disciple-making and everything falls under that essential mission. 

·      Evangelical Catholicism is about friendship with God.  There is a big difference between knowing about God and truly knowing God.  It is personal.  It is relational.  It is a true friendship and everyone is called into that friendship.

·      Evangelical Catholicism is about conversion and transformation.  Gone are the days of “pray, pay and obey.”  The new normal is a continual life-changing encounter with the living God.

·      Evangelical Catholicism is a friend of reason and a lover of mystery.  It sees the cooperation of faith and reason “are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”[2]  Our God-given faculties of reason and the tools of science, combined with our faith, are complementary avenues for exploring and discovering the world and the ubiquitous presence of God in the cosmos.

·      Evangelical Catholicism is biblically-centered and finds its center of gravity in a return to the sources.  The Bible is the normative measure for Christian faith, always understood in continuity with the apostolic witness.

·      Evangelical Catholicism calls every person to holiness and participation in God’s great story of redemption.  Every member of the body of Christ plays a critical role!

·      Evangelical Catholicism does not hide from culture but engages it.  “You are the salt of the earth”(Mt. 5:13). The gospel both affirms and challenges the world to be the seat of God’s mercy, justice and love.

·      Evangelical Catholicism lifts up evangelization (or the New Evangelization) as her deepest identity and the overarching strategy for the Catholic Church for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Is the old, stingy, dogmatic, defensive, rule and ritual-laden, culture-fearing posture of the Catholic Church a thing of the past?  Of course, that’s not exactly a fair assessment of an era of Catholic Christianity spanning the greater part of the last 500 years but I think that gets to the heart of the way many outsiders perceive the Catholic Church today. Many will continue to cling to their bygone ways. This shift will not occur overnight. 

But behold, a new day is dawning and the birth of Evangelical Catholicism marks an exciting new development in the life of the Church and for the world it has been called to serve in the name of Jesus Christ.  Click on the video below and explore the new face of Catholicism.

[1]             George Weigel, “Evangelical Catholicism,” First Things, No. 231 (March 2013), NY: Institute on Religion and Public Life, p.34.
[2]             Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), 1998.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Christ Our Foundation

It is hardly imaginable for me to speak about anything else this week but the surprising announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will be resigning at the end of the month.  He literally gave his two weeks notice.  People have responded in wildly different ways, of course, but the key element in this news has been surprise.

No one was perhaps more surprised than Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria (see video below).  He was sitting in the consistory meeting of bishops where the pontiff first broke the news.  Arinze is a fascinating character.  Born in Nigeria, Arinze was converted to Christ from African tribal religion at the age of nine.  He entered the seminary at age 15.  He became a priest and later graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in sacred theology from Rome.  At age 32, he became the youngest bishop ever ordained in the Catholic Church. 

Perhaps even more fascinating is that Arinze could very well be the next pope.  There are no guarantees with this sort of thing, yet many Vatican insiders suggest Arinze is a frontrunner.  No matter who appears in St. Peter’s Square as the next successor to St. Peter, I found Arinze’s reaction to Pope Benedict’s announcement to be among the most beautiful and grounded:

Some people may be so shaken [by the news of the pope’s resignation].  But my hope and prayer is that it will help many to become more mature in their faith.  Our faith is not on the pope.  It is on Christ who is the foundation of the Church.  Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  We all are servants.  We come and go.  Christ doesn’t come and go.  He stays.[1]

As we enter into the season of Lent, the ashes on our foreheads (today is Ash Wednesday) remind us that “dust you are and to dust you will return”(Gen 3:19).  Our lives are like grass, flourishing one day and gone the next (Ps 103:15-16).  Yet our common faith is not ultimately in priests or pastors, Young Life leaders or youth directors (however great they may be).  Cardinal Arinze reminds us that our foundation is not even the pope.  The hope that binds us all is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever.  In this we stand united.  In this the Good News is proclaimed.  In this God’s reign will endure forever.

The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Romans 10:8,13

[1]             Cardinal Arinze’s comments were taken from an interview conducted by Francis X. Rocca of the Catholic News Service on February 12, 2013.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Give me your hand": A Protestant Reflection on Catholic Spirit

Jehu greeted [Jehonadab] and said,
“Is your heart right as my heart is with your heart?
Jehonadab answered, “It is.”
Jehu said, “If it is, give me your hand.”
2 Kings 10:15

It is with these sacred words from Scripture that John Wesley, eighteenth century Reformer, began his 1750 sermon entitled “Catholic Spirit.”[1]  A dear friend of mine recently led me to this buried treasure, a Protestant friend who always embodied, in word and action, a truly catholic spirit.[2] 

What a beautiful question, “Is your heart right as my heart is with your heart?”  It seems to distill down the essence of Wesleyan spirituality, a movement that dramatically influenced the church and is powerfully relevant for us today.

I find Wesley’s Christian vision so compelling for Young Life and pastoral ministers for several reasons.  First, because Wesley was a “folk” theologian.  He was not so much concerned with writing a systematic theology but simplifying and communicating the essential teachings of Christianity to common, everyday people.  This is precisely the kind of ministry Young Life staff and other youth ministers are engaged in today.

Second, Wesley was not satisfied with presenting a coherent doctrinal account of Christianity.  He was most concerned with helping people experience Jesus Christ personally.  This is something that Young Life staff are so gifted at doing with teenagers.  This is exactly what Catholic Church needs to revitalize its core today, representing the very heart of the new evangelization: “to invite men and women into a relationship with Jesus Christ.”[3]

Third, Wesley’s renewal movement was decidedly concerned with Christian unity.  Though firmly grounded in his own convictions, Wesley was constantly searching for the essential core which held all Christians together.  Wesley was deeply pained by the lack of Christian love that is supposed to define our lives.  “Where are even the Christians who ‘love one another, as he hath given us commandment’?. . . Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike?”[4]

We might ask the question, “So what does this unity actually look like?  How are we to love the world and love each other even though we don’t always agree?”  For Wesley it was not a matter of trying to “convert” the other.  “You need not come over to me, or bring me over to you,” Wesley reminds us.  For John Wesley, the most credible form of Christian witness in the world is “the religion which breathes the most love.”[5]

I pray that you and I might listen closely to his words and let them be the words that we, both Protestant and Catholic, speak to each other today:

Love me…

If your heart is right
as my heart is right with your heart
then love me with a very tender affection,
as a friend that is closer than a brother…
as a fellow-citizen of the new Jerusalem,
as a companion in the kingdom.

Love me with a love that is patient if I am ignorant or out of the way,
bearing and not increasing my burden.
Love me with the love that 'is not provoked'
either at my follies or infirmities.

Commend me to God in all your prayers;
wrestle with him on my behalf,
that he would speedily correct what he sees amiss
and supply what is wanting in me.

Beg of him…that my heart may be more as your heart,
more right both toward God and toward man.
Provoke me to love and to good works…
Speak to me in love whatsoever you believe to be for my soul’s health.

Love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth. 
So far as in conscience you can
(retaining still your own opinions and your own manner of worshipping God),
join with me in the work of God,
and let us go on hand in hand.[6]

[1]             John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit,” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, eds. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991, 299-309.
[2]             Many thanks to Chris Noyes, a friend and former colleague, for whom I dedicate this post and from whom I have drawn this post’s inspiration.  Chris’s paper, “Rediscovering ‘Catholic Spirit’,” was originally presented at Aquinas Institute of Theology in 2005 and served as the primary resource for this piece. 
[3]             Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Disciples Called to Witness: The
New Evangelization, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.,
[4]             John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit,” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, eds. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991, 301.
[5]             Randy L. Maddox, “Opinion, Religion, and ‘Catholic Spirit’: John Wesley on Theological Integrity.” Asbury Theological Journal 47 (Spring 1992).
[6]             John Wesley, “Catholic Spirit,” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, eds. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991, 307.