You have heard me comment about Fr. Robert Barron’s wordonfire.com website, and his inspiring Youtube clips on a variety of contemporary topics. A few weeks ago I was watching his latest series on New Evangelization. Early in the first episode an Australian comments “It takes one generation from inadequate adult catechesis to non-church attendance, and then it only takes one more generation from non-church attendance to unbelief.” (You can watch the trailer for the series at catholicismnewevangelization.com/).
That comment has played on my mind since. The reason is that our own New Zealand evidence confirms the truth of the comment. Many New Zealand Catholic grandparents live with the sadness that their adult children might only attend Mass a couple of times each year (if that), and while their grandchildren may have been baptised as Catholic, these children often have little or no knowledge of or attraction to the person of Jesus Christ.
At a session for Religious Education teachers in our Catholic schools a couple of years ago I made the comment that it was difficult to see signs of living faith in many of the children who attend our schools. A few of the teachers responded defensively, wondering how I could make such a comment when the children were good children from good families who had strong values, a healthy respect for others and were law-abiding citizens. The point is that such good qualities do not constitute or even suggest Christian faith. I am not making a harsh criticism in saying this, simply acknowledging that a life of Christian faith can never be reduced to (albeit praiseworthy) moral or legal behaviour.
New Zealand Catholic social media has this week been abuzz with lively critique of Catholic schools. This burst of comment was prompted by a substantial letter from the New Zealand bishops published in February: “The Catholic Education of School-age Children.” The letter begins:
“Every member of our parish and school faith communities has the wondrous task of bringing Christ’s good news to those whom we are privileged to serve. All the more joyful is this duty when it is our young people with whom we share the love of Jesus and the mission of his Church.
Pope Francis has been calling us to imagine with freshness who we are as God’s people. Indeed, every generation of Christians seek understanding and clarity about our nature and purpose as disciples of Jesus. For we adults this is particularly important if we are to contribute effectively to the sacred duty to pass on our faith to the next generation (cf. Dei Verbum,7,8). In his very first homily as Pope, Francis said: “we can walk [and talk] as much as we like, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ … we are not the Church …and everything is swept away”.
This resource puts the encounter with Jesus at the centre of Catholic education.”
Pope Francis made this challenge even more directly this week when he said:
“Many people say they belong to the church,” but in reality have “only one foot inside, For these people, the church is not home, but is a place they use as a rental property,…
…There are those with alternative teachings and doctrines and have a partial belonging to the church. These, too, have one foot outside the church. They rent the church,”not recognizing that its teaching is based on the preaching of Jesus and the apostolic tradition. must be motivated by love and enter with your whole heart…
…Being open to the Spirit, who fosters harmony in diversity, he said, brings “docility,” which is “the virtue that saves us” from entering the church half-heartedly. (Wednesday 5 June)
Pope Francis also is not making a harsh criticism in saying this. Rather he is reminding Catholics that the Church becomes a home of faith only for those who live the life of faith whole-heartedly. When I am open to the Holy Spirit, I am gifted with a docility which heals the hostility that enters life when faith is reduced to rules and regulations, doctrines and rites. Each of these reductions, while having a purpose and a place in any human family, brings decay and death when adhered to without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who is the personal beating heart of true faith.
In our parish “we can walk [and talk] as much as we like, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ … we are not the Church …and everything is swept away”.
The Pentecost event transformed the timid and fearful followers of Jesus, not into an institution or an organization secure in material assets and good values, but into company of disciples who fearlessly went to the ends of the earth to speak of nothing but their love for Jesus who had offered them the ultimate joy of love in his life, even to and through death.
Today, as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost, we implore the Holy Spirit to move anew among us, making our families, our neighbourhoods and our parish a true home of faith in Jesus Christ that satisfies all human desires.