Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Identity Crisis

Before the turn of the year, I was conscripted into service for the Diocesan We Walk by Faith Appeal.  In this appeal, we hope to raise $12.5 million.  The first half of this goal was accomplished by the Bishop and his development people before I was ever involved.  Perhaps they were lying, but these people seemed to make the first half seem easy.  The second half has been like pulling teeth.  We are very near the end now, and are asking the vast majority of parishioners to consider making a pledge or $1500 over the course of five years.  This amounts to slightly less than one dollar per day.  Each parish in the diocese has pledge cards for every registered Catholic in the parish.  Our goal is to get the people to listen to a short presentation (about 10 minutes) and then fill out a card. There is no hard sell, no arm twisting, and no stress.  If you can contribute, great.  If not, that's great too.  At the Cathedral, we have about 900 families who we would like to see participate in this part of the appeal.  Of course, such a goal is unrealistic.  Of these 900, perhaps 400 are completely inactive, coming to Mass only at Christmas and Easter if even then.  The rest are a combination of very active to semi-regular Catholics.  We made our pitch on Sunday.  Of the 900 potential participants, thirty-five decided to come downstairs for a cup of coffee and to fill out their cards.  As you might imagine, I am pretty annoyed.

The problem, as I see it, is not so much the fact that people are uninterested in participating in this particular project.  Rather, it is the fact that we have so many baptized people who are completely disengaged from their faith lives.  The incredible apathy that people demonstrate toward their faith, frankly, disgusts me.  Ultimately, in my mind, what we are dealing with is a crisis of identity.

For me, I am a Catholic Priest.  By virtue of my vocation, my primary identity is rooted in the fact that I am ontologically configured to Christ, the Head of the Church.  I am defined by who I am in relationship with Christ.  In a way, it is easier for me, because I have willingly consented to and actively pursued this identity.  Nevertheless, the truth of the matter is that every baptized person is identified first and foremost by his relationship with Christ.  In baptism, we are changed.  It is not just a symbol, it is not just a right of passage, and it is not just an initiation ceremony.  In the moment of baptism, we are transformed into Children of God.  This is not just pretty imagery.  We are creatures completely different from those who are not baptized.  In baptism, we begin to share a life of intimacy and union with the Holy Trinity.  God's Divine Life permeates all we are from that point forward.  Baptism is the most significant event of our lives.  And yet, we treat our Catholicism as though it were somehow accidental to us, having no particular bearing on who we are.  The way we live suggests that like the color of my shirt, the essence of who I am is unchanged by the fact of my baptism.  As a result, we do not find our identity rooted first and foremost in Christ.  Rather, it is tied up in our work, in our place of study, in our family, in our sport of choice, or in our political party.

It has been suggested that this is a worldwide phenomenon.  I disagree.  Sure there are lots of Europeans who do not do not practice the faith in which they have been baptized, but the difference is this:  They actively resist the faith.  They have intentionally decided to oppose the faith.  They at least show a little passion about religion, albeit in the wrong direction.  Love and hate are simply two sides of the same coin.  Apathy is something altogether different.  Apathy is just another word for tolerance, which Dorothy Sayers  understood so well:
In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for
which it will die.
Today, in the Church, we have not the luxury of apathy nor even of laziness.  Today's Catholic must be zealous.  Today's Catholic must let his faith imbue every moment of every day in every aspect of all that he does.  Anything less will lend itself to the apathy, tolerance, and despair so prevalent in this generation.

I have some thoughts on how to begin, knowing that each time I point a finger, I point three back at myself.:

1) The Church's liturgy must always be about the worship of God.  The music we use, the way we preach, and the dignity with which we celebrate must speak to the fact that we come to render worship unto God who, while present in the community, remains apart from and something distinct from the community.

2) We must renew our familiarity with a firm Catholic anthropology.  We must devote ourselves to the venerable Catholic intellectual tradition that helps us arrive at the truth of who we are.

3) We must take seriously our baptismal call to be evangelizers in the world.  We live our faith not just at home with our families, but especially outside the home.

4) We must stop insisting that faith is expressed most deeply in the various services we render at Mass.  Such a postulation only reinforces the idea that I have done my part if only I showed up.  Certainly there is a need for people who will read, serve, and assist in the distribution of Holy Communion.  These things, however, flow from an intimacy with God that leads me to devote myself more wholly to the life of my parish.  My spiritual growth does not begin because I am Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Rather, such a role should be an expression of maturity in my faith.

5) We give preference to those who are already committed.  We take their opinions more seriously, and are more willing to make concessions for them, knowing that because they are faithful, they already have some sense of what they need in order to do what God through the Church calls them to do.  

1 comment:

  1. Shorten this and send it to all the people in all the churches, the ones who go and who do not. That might be just the start we need.


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