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.