Friday, March 14, 2008

Church of the Young

John Allen has an interesting article attempting to put a finger on one of his "mega-trends: "Evangelical Catholicism. John Allen has frequently reported on his experience of this reality and is even devoting part of his new book to the topic. I suppose the first question is, why should we care?

When I look at my coming years as a priest, the devotion and discipleship that I hope to foster is often framed by this developing notion of Evangelical Catholicism. In these first few months, I more clearly see that my priestly vocation must be aimed at developing such Catholics. So what are they? Evangelical Catholicism isn't a whole-sale adoption of American Protestantism but rather marked by three aspects
  • A strong reaffirmation of traditional markers of Catholic belief, language and practice. Examples include the revitalization of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, reassertion that Catholicism alone possesses the fullness of what it means to be "church," and rejection of theological tendencies that would put Christ on the same level as other saving figures;
  • Bold public assertion of those markers of identity;
  • Personal embrace of those markers of identity, as opposed to simply imbibing them from traditional Catholic cultures, neighborhoods and families.
This final point is the most interesting one, personal embrace of those Catholic identities, counter to a culture imbibing. This has been something I've thought about before- in my Pew blog. What is this this phenomenon and how is it different from that cultural imbibing? More importantly, how do we foster it?

Allen offers two other understandings of this movement in contemporary Catholicism. One isn't worth much, but William Portier, a professor at the University of Dayton has some great insights. His understanding comes through his experience with college students whom:
"conventional wisdom and my peers would call conservative," he said. "They liked to go to Eucharistic adoration, and they didn't think the pope was a freaking idiot. They'd wear t-shirts that said, 'Top Ten Reasons to be Catholic.' Yet they also did all the things my liberal colleagues would want them to do, like going on service trips and being worried about the poor...These students have been converted [to a strong form of Catholicism.] They've been intentionally drawn to it from out of the maelstrom of pluralism," Portier said. "It's not because the pope said so, or some action of coercion by authority. They've been attracted to it, in evangelical fashion."
The second explanation is from David O'Brien, a professor Holy Cross College. His explanation is an incomplete vision of evangelicalism, in any denomination or vision. O'Brien reduces it to a by-product of America's pilgrim roots, when Allen has elsewhere identified Evangelical Catholicism as an international phenomenon. Further, O'Brien robs evangelicalism of its personal dynamism- such as Portier's observation that the young want to encounter Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Portier makes the most sense as he connects the need for a solid individual identity before one can engage others, suggesting that
"Catholics can't meaningfully engage the broader culture without some clear sense of who they are or why they're doing it. "I don't see how people can be concerned about ecumenism, social justice, interreligious dialogue, or any of the other issues that liberal Catholics would love, unless they're located somewhere," Portier said. "That doesn't have to be a fortress, but it does have to have some kind of theological shape."

[Which seems like a basic reality of interpersonal communication, right?]

I agree with Allen that we are seeing what he calls Evangelical Catholicism. He is right on the mark to express the return of many to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII (frequently called the Latin Mass) as an effect of Evangelical Catholicism. This is a returning to the heart- the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. I also think this Evangelical Catholicism, in its reaffirmation of traditional markers, public assertion and personal embrace is precisely the fruit the Second Vatican Council wished to foster- as asserted by Pope Benedict in his December 2005 address to the College of Cardinals.

So my priestly desire to develop and foster increased devotion founded on discipleship returns to its question, how? I am not sure how, except another address of Pope Benedict continues to ring in my heart: "The Saints are the True reformers!"


Adoro te Devote said...


May I make some suggestions?

* Firstly, don't just invite young men to be priests...invite single women to consider the religious life. We need that invitation, too, and in the absence of religious sisters we can see and identify, unfortunately you have to take up the slack. An invite to consider our Vocation from a priest we respect goes a long ways.

* Encourage young adults to continue their solid theological programs and conferences. (When it comes to school, I'm biased because there are few programs like it...Ave Maria's Institute for Pastoral Theology is incredible and includes all that you care about. It's brutal, but worth it, and the fruits are evident in the graduates and the professors themselves) A couple priests at my own parish stuck their necks out to help me get into grad school even though they really didn't know me well (one did assist me and was present for talks I gave to the RCIA class)...but their letters were so important. I have no idea what they said and it doesn't matter because I was accepted to the program. (Maybe they just said how much help I need to become a good Catolic..)

* Do EVERYTHING YOU CAN to evanglize the parents of your sacramental classes...First Confession, First Communion, and Confirmation. The parents of those children come from a couple of lost generations and if they are not evangelized, their children will follow them. I am seeing this firsthand every single day. You probably do, too.

* 2 words: Perpetual Adoration.

* Don't take your faithful for granted. They need encouragement. Recognize what they are doing, thank them, help them take the next step, go deeper, etc. Speak the Truth, don't be afraid to speak against contraception and abortion and tell people that missing Mass on Sunday is STILL a mortal sin. People REALLY DON'T KNOW!

* In your homilies, give what YOU think are the basics, even down to why we use Holy Water and why we genuflect. One of the things that you may NEVER hear but which I do is that people don't remember what they've been taught and they will NEVER ask the most basic questions because they don't want to feel stupid. What they don't realize is that a huge population of the parish wonders about the same basic things they do and not a single one will approach you to ask those all-important questions.

* Remember that you also have a large population of mixed marriages. Many of the spouses have been up to receive Communion because they don't know different. Some of them find out later that they should not, and stop. Others are obstinate and continue becaus their uncatechized Catholic spouse says it's OK. Many of these non-Catholic spouses want to ask their questions because their Cathouc husband/wife doesn't know the answer. But they fear to approach you because they think if they say they are Lutheran, or Methodist, or some other religion that you will either not take them seriously or that you will say they MUST become Catholic. They fear being "recruited" against their will. (This has been expressed to me thanks to meetings I've had with these people whose children are in the sacramental programs. I am not making this up.) Reach out to them. Find a way to identify, for them, people they can go to (if not you) to have their questions answered. INVITE them to follow Christ into the Church!

I don't think I've EVER heard a priest invite people to consider becoming Catholic. They all seem to assume everyone who is there is already Catholic or interested in being so. Evangelize from the pulpit...that's what the Apostles did!

I don't know if any of this helps you. Hopefuly it does...there are so many souls that depend upon you to be their Father and there are so many ways for you to fulfill such a task. You are in my prayers.

Fr. Andrew said...

Adoro- Thanks for the encouraging and inspiring words. Some of your ideas I have done, or actively tried; others, I had not thought of in that way; and others I have not been able to implement as a young parochial vicar.

The best thing is you comment speaks to those concrete aspects of our faith that invited you to consider Christ's particular call to you to take up your cross and follow after Him. I am more convinced that it is from those holy examples that my best efforts will spring.

I just had a inspiring dinner with a family this evening that encouraged me in some of your same areas.

adoro said...

Father, I know that your "power" is limited, and I thank God that you are one who will do all you can. I used to be one of those people who would occasionally come to Mass and would actually sit in the back of the church, afraid to move forward. I avoided everyone. I was terrified to engage, because I was deserving of Hell. (really...this is not drama). I was terrified to come face to face with the priest because I had an irrational idea (call it "conscience") that he would see immediately that I was in desperate need of Reconciliation.

There are SO MANY people out there just like I was. I have no idea why God has been so good to me..I don't deserve it. But now I'm seeing things I never understood or saw before, and I know that our priest is not seeing these same things because people won't bring these things to him...not in the same way. I love pointing people to him, encouraging them to come back and I love being enthusiastic about the faith, but it's not enough.

Please pray for me, Father...I'm not doing a very good job of taking up my cross and following Christ, no matter what my words seem to say. And if I don't do what He is calling me to do...I shudder to consider the consequences.

Anonymous said...

Evangelical Catholicism has many other proponents. It's good to see that John Allen is giving it some press (however he did not invent the term.) Some links--

I think this is a great idea not only for "cradle catholics" but those of us who came to the church from an evangelical Protestant background.

Thanks for writing about this.

Fr. Andrew said...

Anon- Thanks for the links. JAllen admits he wasn't the first to use the EvCath phrase.

From the article: I had originally referred to this mega-trend as the "Catholic identity movement," but that drew fire from liberal Catholics who argued that reaffirming traditional belief and devotion, such as the Latin Mass, is not the only way to articulate a strong Catholic identity. Since I'm trying to describe this movement, not to pass judgment on it, I went back to the drawing board in search of a more neutral nomenclature.

Fr. Andrew said...

Adoro- Last night (between confessions) my pastor and I were visiting about this frustrating aspect. So often, the programs, bible studies, adult formation offered is generally attended by those who are already striving, how do we reach those souls who are less devoted in their following?

The messy answer I keep hitting is the apostolic (and Jesus') model: one soul at a time. To plan myself so that I am encountering those souls individually and calling them forward. The difficult part is that in 2 year PV assignment or in a 6 year Pastor's term- how many souls in a 1200 family parish can I reach?

My Synoptics professor, a good and holy man, suggested that we follow Jesus' model as our pastoral plan. Find 12 good people, especially married couples, and evangelize them silly and teach them to do the same. It is just hard to keep perspective.

Always drives me back to Paul: I planted, Apollow watered, but God caused the growth. 1 Cor. 3:6. It would be nicer if I could know that everything would happen in my time. But that would feed the "me monster," who is Cloverfield in size as it is...

Adoro te Devote said...

Father ~ That's great advice. I spoke with my DRE about it today as we're planning a parish mission for next fall, and of course we're trying to reach out to people to encourage them to COME to the mission. And of course...just come to Mass once per week! Part of my job is to work with the parents of the children receiving the Sacraments, and it's an uphill battle. They are so secularized! Hockey is th local idol, along with the goddes that is competetive dance. They'll skip important sacramental prep stuff in favor of those things, and they're ticked at me for daring to provide Catholic teaching in a Catholic Church. (Seriously, I nearly got lynched about a week into Lent.) And no, I wasn't preaching fire and brimstone.

The good thing is that there ARE some parents that are coming back to the Church because they want their children to receive the sacraments, and some of those parents are really looking for guidance. It's cool...I get nearly a front seat to conversions and get to direct people to Father for Confession and (hopefully) help calm their fears about it. (I've been there...I know EXACTLY what that is like!)

It really is an uphill battle with many of the parents, though. They have no interest in really being Catholic..they just like the cotillian and debutante ball that takes place in the spring with all the white dresses and veils and little boys in suits carrying their candles. * sigh *

Sorry, I'm just a bit discouraged. I'll get over it.