In our recent back-and-forth on discipleship with the Intentional Disciples folks and our respective commentariats, we focused more or less exclusively on the notion of discipleship and took discernment from there. If I may overgeneralize, discipleship is an invitation of God to a human being (or a community, if you will). “Intentional” seems to be the human end of the equation–what we offer God.
In the Crisis thread below, Tony makes a few comment I thought I’d like to expand into a post. First, we have the wheel analogy, which I’ve heard used as a contrast to the pyramidal hierarchy as the Church is often viewed. I have to say I’ve never run into this notion before, and I’ve run in some pretty far-out circles in my time:
I once heard the Church described as the spokes of a wheel with God at it’s center. As we get closer to God, we get closer to each other.
As I’ve understood it, the main thing about a wheel is that the spokes are complementary: they add to the strength and function of the whole. Rather than God being at the hub, liberals I know place the hierarchy at the center, giving order, leadership, and being the fulcrum for direction.
I think the major focus of “spirit of Vatican II” theology has turned to the opposite. In other words, we get closer to God as we get closer to each other (through social justice, deemphasizing the priesthood, removing the concept of sin so we all feel good about ourselves, etc).
I think that in every age, Catholics have easily focused on “doing” the faith rather than “being” the faith. Protestant objection to the focus on “good works” would seem to indicate Catholic critics have often found fault with the externals, as Tony describes them. The target of critique may change, but the aiming and firing remains a constant.
I don’t know if we’re talking a removal of the concept of sin so much as an avoidance of admitting it. As I see it, it’s a top to bottom problem in the Church. That Polish bishop: first he confesses at the brink of his installation, then he retracts weeks later. What is that all about? If I had a heavy sense of guilt hanging over me before embarking on a life-changing role, I’d go on retreat, searching to get to the bottom of my troubles.
For a Christian, an examination of conscience is not just about a passionless assessment of a laundry list. It’s not a political concession speech to the Almighty. If we’re treating the Sacrament of Reconciliation with the gravity it deserves, we have to go deeper. A whole lot deeper. Another post, another day, but I don’t think the sacrament was in that good shape before Vatican II.
I believe this is wrongheaded, and the diocese and parishes which get closer to God (through right teaching, devotion to the blessed sacrament, the blessed mother, communion of saints, etc.) will be the parishes which foster more butts in the pews, and more priests in the sanctuary.
Orthodoxy and devotional prayer, like adopting Matthew 25, can also be fine externals. As my pastor asked, do we have a sense of prayer inside the building, only to bite and tear at each other in the parking lot, before elections, and in our tendency to gossip and backbite? I don’t think numbers up or down in the pews or in the sanctuary are more than a piece of the puzzle. I’d say it’s more about how seriously the people take their faith in their daily lives.
Now you can skew the goals to redefine what you consider as a “vibrant” parish, but that’s simply declaring success by moving the target in the way of the bullet.
I don’t agree entirely. What would make for “vibrant” parishes and dioceses? I think a stronger intentionality about living the faith. Does it matter if the parish has Eucharistic adoration, Divine Mercy, or a soup kitchen? Truthfully, those are just externals leading us to greater goals: the worship (or adoration or love) of God and the sanctification of the faithful.
We have the saints. Some give us a fuller life’s picture, and most of those exhibit that intentionality. It’s almost as if every minute of their lives says, “I want to be a saint.” Rarely do you find a saint who was a one-trick-pony. Francis of Assisi had a deep and passionate prayer life, yet he also attended to the poor. And he formed a community of like-minded people who still exist today. As a friendly and charismatic guy, he attracted companions. It remained true after his conversion; and it wasn’t just a side effect of his prayer and charity. He turned his gift of personal charm into a way to glorify God and gather other like-minded people to join him.
I think a modern believer must look at her or his life. And look intently. Assess the strengths and preferences. A person of prayer must be challenged to be a person of charity. And vice versa. It’s not a matter of one part of the Body saying to the other, “I don’t need you.” A parish that does charity very well must be challenged to pray. The Church also teaches that worship leads the believer to witness to Christ in the world through personal example, and through charity. Twenty-four hour adoration and soup kitchens by themselves are not the full expression of Catholic Christianity. No matter how many butts they put in the pews or at the altar.
A mature and intentional Christian will be aware of the avoidances and move to put her or his whole life in balance. In other words, every part of a believer’s life should be self-scrutinized. Anything falling short of the goal needs work.
No survey of vibrancy will ever be complete. Only God tracks the full picture. But we might be able to say that if priest vocations are a value, then perhaps so are religious orders, missioners, parish musicians, and theology degrees. If RCIA neophytes, then why not the welcome of immigrants, refugees, the homeless, and the hungry? Does the sponsorship of poor third world parishes count? It should.
And these things are not important for the numbers they contribute to an overall ranking. They are only windows that give us a glimpse of the two primary things every believer, parish, and diocese should be about: the adoration of God, and the sanctification of the human race.
As Catholics, we should accept no less.