The challenge can be defined simply: throughout the western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will, somehow, convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.No, in our new situation, Catholicism has to be proposed, and Catholicism has to be lived in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. Recreational Catholicism—Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps 90 minutes of one’s time on a weekend—is over. Full-time Catholicism—a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission—is the only possible Catholicism in the 21st century.
I agree with this whole-heartedly.
But why am I suspicious?
Perhaps it is because Evangelical Protestantism tends toward the following
- Feelings become paramount - if you feel something, you've got the Spirit, if you don't, you don't.
- Our own lives become the touchstone for what the Faith is; it becomes smaller than we are, not bigger than we are.
- We are the Church; it is in no way beyond us, independent of us, or even objectively true without us.
- There is no still small voice where there is a jumbo-tron and a rock band.
- Suffering and failure are to be avoided, as are renunciation and sacrifice, since we're all about Sales and not really about the cross - which we don't think will sell.
Now these things are not necessarily part of the call to Evangelize, nor are they characteristic of all Protestant Evangelicals, who are typically very good people, strong Christians and great lovers of God and Scripture.
But they are tendencies in the Evangelical Program, and they become tendencies only because something is askew.
For there is implicit in what Weigel says something similar to the Super-Disciples approach to the Faith, which believes that you can't be a good Catholic if you're a soccer mom driving your kids to their suburban activities; that's not seen as love or self-sacrifice because it's not big and bold and sexy enough. I'm sorry to say, I help spread this false message, in my rather incessant attacks on the suburban parish and its loss of awe and reverence. On the one hand, you can't live as all others live, but on the other you can't gin up something on your own efforts; complacency is wrong, but so is pushing a program.
In other words, if you live in such a way that you are simply another post-modern affluent American, you're not evangelizing because you're not being transformed by Christ. But if you focus on transformation by Christ, you often find it's your own agenda you're transforming into and your own narrow church you're out there peddling - "Look at me and be a Christian!" can simply mean, "Look at me and be a self-made Enthusiast!"
To conclude, then, Weigel is utterly right that the culture won't do it for us because the culture is now anti-Christian. But because he's right, the fact is that we're really on our own, floundering a bit, vamping because the bishops aren't setting the tempo; we're over-emphasizing our own view of things, and trying to keep the fires burning when the great paradox of the Christian Faith is it's not about kindling that fire, it's about receiving those tongues of flame; it's not about us, even though it's all for our sake; it's there and it's true because He's there and He's true, but the more we push, even in prayer and solitude, the more we can sometimes push Him away.
So we must take seriously the Great Commission - but we do so more effectively if we humbly realize it's not going to go the way we envision it; for His vision and His love is greater than ours.