Professionals and Entitlement

Professor Ralph Martin’s commentary on post-conciliar evangelization, or the perceived lack of it, is interesting. I think he has one misdiagnosis:

(M)any Catholics were confused by the council’s laudable emphasis on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue into thinking that “maybe it doesn’t matter anymore whether people are Christians or not.

The theologian said that many Catholics today have adopted an attitude of “practical universalism,” which Martin described as a belief that “broad and wide is the way that leads to heaven, and almost everybody is going that way; but narrow is the gate the leads to hell, and hardly anybody’s going that way.”

This might be true of some people. It’s a complex thing. And complicated things often have two or more factors in play. My own sense is that mixed in with all of this is a continuation of two preconciliar themes.

One, that evangelization is for professionals. Bishop Sheen had high profile converts. Priests and RCIA directors do the heavy hitting in a parish. Lay people in the pews–many of them see evangelization as someone else’s ministry. Like a lot of things.

Two, I think we have an extension of a pre-conciliar mindset of Catholic entitlement. The extreme side of Professor Martin’s “practical universalism” is a practical triumphalism. We know we’re on the right track. We don’t chase after “lapsed” Catholics. If they don’t come back, it’s their own damned fault. Literally. Protestants, too. Catholics have all the answers, and surely other people have heard about it as much as we have. So if they don’t come to us, it’s their loss.

Before Vatican II, we didn’t have RCIA. In the US, it’s nearly universal in parishes. And we get a lot of people: engaged persons and newlyweds and those married for a long time to Catholics. We get people who are attracted by how we live. By what we do.

I’m a skeptic on placing too much blame on mistaken intellectual ideas. When I was in grad school, I was a member in a parish that had open Communion for non-Catholics. The pastor made that very, very clear. And we had people wanting to join the Church through RCIA, too.

I think we need a lot of ideas to solve the evangelization challenges, and not limit ourselves to a few.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Professionals and Entitlement

  1. Brendan Kelleher svd, Japan says:

    I put up a link to the CNS article on Ralph on my facebook page. As an SVD, a member of an international missionary congregation, with friends and confreres scattered fairly widely across the world I wondered what the reaction might be – so far no one has come out agreeing with his analysis. We had our most recent General Chapter in July and August, and the overall tone of the reports was upbeat. One interesting phenomenon is the emergence of groups of lay people who want to associate themselves with our work, to share in our spirituality.And from reports they are a growing in countries as diverse as the Philippines, Ghana and Latin America.
    One interesting story of a “revival” in Europe comes from the Paris Mission Fathers, who played a significant role in the reopening of missionary endeavour in Japan in the 19th century. The did suffer a rapid fall off in vocations from the late 60’s on, and at one point closed down their formation program. selling off their seminary. Then just around the turn of the millenium decided that they didn’t wan’t to die, to fade away. A variety of vocation promotion programs now sees some 30 young men in formation, and the first fruits are being sent to countries like Japan – two are currently studying the language at our university. And France is the “home” of secularization, of laicitie…
    In the USA 10 SVD’s took Final Vows this year, and we have more in formation than we have had for quite some time.
    Maybe Ralph Martin, a long-standing apologist for the Charismatic Movement, needs to broaden his horizons, to look to the working of the Holy Spirit beyond the narrow parameters he works within.

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