If we’ve been paying attention as Catholics, we’ve heard or read the figures: Catholicism is bleeding like a ripe tomato in a meat grinder; people of all ages and ethnic groups are leaving the Church for parts known and unknown. Liturgy and preaching are unfulfilling and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is unknowable. Is any of this true?
In a word, “no.” And “yes.”
The truth that the Church holds will always be the truth, even if the world, in all its unremitting ignorance, denies it.
Sherry Weddell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” though published in 2012, comes highly recommended by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and a couple of highly regarded priests — hence my call to its covers.
Weddell begins with the numbers, so detailed and daunting that even the angels must weep. The faith is there, the truth is there, but the problem is transmission. The faith and the truth won’t go anywhere unless, we, you and I, make it so.
As people of God, we can run countless RE, RCIC and RCIA programs, we can read the Bible, the Catechism, the Social Doctrine of the Church, and even the Code of Canon Law. But without the personal encounter with the Risen Christ, we are an empty gong.
Still, the empty gong makes the truth sound good, gives it a little shine, and then allows people to forget about it. Complacency is the strategy and according to the numbers, it’s working for the postmodern world.
Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus
Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor
Author: Sherry Weddell
Release date: July 10, 2012
Length: 256 pages, Paperback
Order: www.osv.com or 1-800-348-2440
[/quote_box_left]How do we counter this complacency, how do we battle a postmodern world armed with relativism and rabid secularization?
Active participation is the key and spiritual fire is the fuel. Weddell makes it clear that active participation is not defined simply as belonging to the Men’s Club, the Bible study group, the Knights of Columbus, or even Lay Dominicans.
Weddell and Friar Mike Fones, OP, a long-time personal friend of mine from back in the day at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe, outlined the essential nature of active participation through the three spiritual journeys of normative Catholicism; they are:
The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship; the ecclesial journey into the Church through the sacraments of initiation; and the journey of active practice (evidenced by receiving the sacraments; attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).
We all go through the second journey, and getting involved with the Men’s Club and the Bible study group along with Mass and the sacraments is the third journey. However, two out of three is not enough for our call to discipleship. We can see that the second two journeys are meaningless without the first, the personal encounter with Christ.
The first journey begins with the pastor, the associate pastor, and the faithful who fill the Church. Their call to others must come from this deep, personal encounter. Does the Mass in the parish, the preaching and the administration of sacraments vibrate with that call to intentional discipleship? Does the prayer of the people, the care of the people, the outpouring of self, cloaked in the shining raiment of Christ reach out to the outside world? The big question should always be: if the parish disappeared, would anyone but the parishioners notice?
Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are central to the transmission of the faith. Those who experience the life-changing encounter with Christ are naturally moved to ask: “what does God want me to do?” Discernment of our charisms answers this
question; for some, the charism is evangelization, for others, it is encouragement, charity, or preaching.
Weddell also discusses the importance of grace, especially its effect in terms of our receptiveness.
Finally, she provides us with a blueprint for the evangelization of others with the five thresholds of conversion; they are:
Initial trust; Spiritual curiosity; Spiritual openness; Spiritual seeking; and intentional discipleship. By understanding these thresholds, we can understand where any person is on their faith journey. We can stay with them and always help them to move to the next level.
The Church and faith will not grow on its own and this book explains why and gives us the tools to help that growth happen. More than a must-read, this book should be a requirement for Catholics in this postmodern world.