one foot outside?

Jun 6, 2014

You have heard me comment about Fr. Robert Barron’s 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

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.




  1. A recent retreat day for the DRSs of the Auckland diocese, was a celebration of an enthusiastic love-filled faith that was being handed down to children. The old fear-filled faith of some of our grandparents, may have been effective for church attendance, but did it bring people to a oneness with the unfailing love of Christ Jesus?

    • Thanks Joy, I hear too many people suggesting that we need to return to pre Council teaching content and methods. We have short memories and we forget that the fear that was often used as a tool in this catechesis is the opposite of love and is NEVER effective in communicating faith.

      I remember a Catholic quiz where the winner knew the answer to every question of doctrine and Catholic rites, but had no personal relationship with Jesus, and no evident experience of Jesus’ love.

      I do believe that if we are effective communicators of the love and mercy of Jesus, then so many other “issues” will take care of themselves.

  2. Great post Fr. John.

    The Pope’s words are a powerful challenge for all of us:

    Are we rigid and demanding uniformity instead of unity? (Heck, how easy is it to fall into that trap?! Augustine saw it centuries ago when he declared his famous maxim: ‘In essentials; unity. In non-essentials; freedom. In all things; charity.’)

    Are we treating the Church as a doctrinal ‘rental’ home, where we come and go, picking and choosing which doctrines we will embrace, and which we will reject, at will? Effectively usurping Christ and making ourselves the master of the house instead (cue Les Miserables song!)

    Or do we treat the Church as a mere status symbol, of pride and prestige (how often does this trap arise when the issue of Catholic education crops up, and we find ourselves boasting about the ‘private school’ quality of a Catholic education?)

    Such a powerful reminder from Francis to embrace the call of Saint Paul from Philippians: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ”

    • Thanks Brendan for the comment. In recent weeks while driving around the Hurunui I have been listening again to Augustine’s Confessions. THe kind of clarity with which he communicated is a charity which is possible only in relationship with Jesus. My hope is that people will begin to listen to ALL that Francis is teaching, not just the attractive bits that make it to media headlines, but also the more challenging parts which really do stretch me to grow into the height, depth, breadth of life that is the fulness of God.

      We begin to realise in this growth that true charity is possible only when life is lived with a deep clarity about fundamental factors, ie we are created by a loving creator, we are sinners, and we are still loved…

  3. I belong to a generation that straddles the pre-Vatican Ii era and the V2 era. i believe that about fifty years ago, church-people in this country stopped catechising Catholic believers properly, and as a result many ignorant of the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church or indifferent to them have drifted into heresy and apostasy.

    Now, while many deserted for other denominations or into non-Christian groups, many more stayed behind, but secretly picking and choosing from the teachings of the Church,
    or drifting into habits of sin which they did not recognise as sin, and all the while cheerfully partaking of the sacrament of the Eucharist in a state of sin, often unchallenged by the shepherds of the Church.
    Now there is a developing a terrible schism which many on the internet are very worried about but about which the person in the pew, the priest at the pulpit and the catholic journalist at his desk know nothing about, or if they do know anything, they are saying not a word.
    These concerned churchgoers on the internet include two kinds of people – one, those who will not have a bar or “private revelation”, and two, those who are clued up about Catholic end-times prophecy from seers present and past and are very very worried.
    As for the pupil at the school desk, they are no more clued up than their elders, and this is a tremendout scandal which I am starting to complain about everywhere I can/
    Somewhere, the odd penny is going to start to drop.

    • Thanks Adrian. I started school in ’66 and received some solid foundations in faith from Dominican sisters in Oamaru. In Timaru in my latter years at school some of the Marist Fathers were presenting real food for faith in their Doctrine classes. Certainly they knew the answers to questions that this searching student asked.

      I made comment in my posting about a frequent reduction of faith to values and service projects which is common in some Catholic Colleges. I am often impressed by the commitment and zeal of the teachers, and I know too that they cannot be blamed for a lack of knowledge of faith as centered in relationship with Jesus, since they have grown up in environments which have tried to move away from the fear that was all too common in Catholic teaching, but been unsure what to replace this with.

      I am impressed with movements in some of our NZ Catholic High Schools where faith-filled teachers are embracing the fulness of faith once again and desiring themselves to live as witnesses for their students.

      This is a move that needs our prayer and our support.

  4. If you haven’t already read my most recent column, headlined ‘There’s an elephant in the classroom’, on the subject of Catholic education and commenting on the bishops’ statement, you might like to see it on my blog (above).

    • I did read your column last month Julia, and it got me thinking again. My experience of teachers and students in our NZ Catholic schools is not that they are “deaf and blind” but that they have eyes and ears and hearts open to whatever is attractive, reasonable, and life-giving. I am convinced that life with Jesus Christ is the most attractive, reasonable and life-giving existence. Too often we have been occupied (and pre-occupied) by presenting doctrine and other “facts of faith” with little reference to the person of Jesus Christ. Without Christ, the catechism and even the scriptures are just paragraphs on paper, dry as dust. But when I live in personal relationship with Jesus, then I become curious and even hungry for the wisdom of others who have lived in relationship with Jesus Christ.

      I didn’t hear Charles Drennan’s address at the March Catholic Education Conference in Christchurch, but his power-point presentation is available at Note especially his emphasis on “lifting the veil on Jesus.” One of his slides has an image of Jesus calling out (in a voice bubble): “I have a name!”

      There is a presumption that the Church in New Zealand was healthier in 1950 than it is in 2014. I do not accept this. I think that the Church in New Zealand is much healthier today. Yes, the church is smaller, and we have had to move from many of the edifices we built in prosperity, we have lost our social privileges, but this is an essential part of our growth towards a more spiritualized and simplified Church – a Church of the meek. Pope Benedict is well worth reading on this at

      We are not there yet – “expect a journey not a miracle”!


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