Monday, November 10, 2014

The Birth of Counter-Cultural Catholicism

Cultural Catholicism is dead.  Just going through the motions because of ethnic or familial allegiances has proven to be an inadequate response to the challenges posed by radical secularism.

What will replace it is only beginning to emerge, but the birth of counter-cultural Catholicism will undoubtedly require the same the heroic virtue of great Christians from centuries past.  At the very least, this counter-cultural Catholicism will:
  • Not shy away from the call to discipleship, but will purposefully and intentionally follow Jesus, embracing his revolutionary way of life.
  • Not just "sacramentalize" members of the Church, but will promote effective evangelization--helping all Catholics know that the story of Salvation History is their story, that the good news of Jesus is their Good News.
  • Not reduce Christian charity to mere volunteerism or philanthropy, but will see life in terms of a gratuitous gift of one's self--including one's time and money.
This counter-cultural Catholicism will be neither pre-modern and reactionary, nor post-modern and complicit with the nihilism of our time.  Rather, as some observers have noted, it will be "trans-modern." Drawing from the rich treasury of resources within the Christian tradition, it will cut across the assumptions of modernity and open up new horizons for encountering the living God here and now.  Counter-cultural Catholicism will be transformational, changing hearts of believers person by person and so helping to rebuild society.

The eminent Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that, "Atheism and positivist secularism work like manure to make Christian seed sprout."  Thus the birth of a counter-cultural Catholicism is about the deepest truths of the faith producing fruit amid a culture in a state of decline and decay. It is about new life--life in Christ--and new beginnings for those with the courage to encounter the "Other" and to step out of our bourgeois comfort zones.

Some evidence of new life can be seen in the youth and young adults who are emerging into prominence in the Church.  Small in numbers but soaring in spirit, they are not mere "self-identified" Catholics--as though a radical conversion of  heart can be pulled on and off like the game-day jersey of one's favorite football team. No, these youth and young adults are apostolic souls.

They have experienced Someone who has changed their lives, and they know that there is More to life than the world would have us believe.  They are not afraid of inviting others to the meaning-filled path of discipleship.  They have experienced authentic Christian community and have found a deeper connection with all those on the margins--including those who do not yet have a birth certificate, citizenship paperwork, or a death certificate, and anyone else in between.

The birth of counter-cultural Catholicism is also bearing fruit in the witness of single men and women who are seeking out intentional places of belonging, striving for authentic friendships.  It is bearing fruit in Catholic families who have committed themselves to prioritizing their children's eternal destiny rather than mere temporal success (e.g., in athletics, academics, economics, etc.).  It is also bearing fruit in the suffering love of seniors who are deeply wounded that children and grandchildren have drifted from practice of a faith, but who have responded with a an even more profound commitment to prayer and penance on behalf of their loved ones.

And counter-cultural Catholicism is bearing fruit in parishes that have started to make the "missionary transformation" which Pope Francis has urged.  Abandoning both internecine battles and self-absorbed navel-gazing, these communities of converted Christians are "going out" to make the lives of actual people actually better.

Yes, a counter-cultural Catholicism is being born before our very eyes.  Of course, it naturally comes along with some death and dying.  The end of a merely cultural Catholicism may be painful in some ways, but as our Lord himself said:

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
(Jn 12:24)

Sts. Benedict, Francis and Ignatius, pray for us--

P.S.  For a brilliant commentary on the Church's presence in the new mission territory which is the U.S., check out Archbishop Chaput's "Strangers in a Strange Land."