Rebuild My Church

I suppose that anyone who has ever heard the story of St. Francis in the chapel of San Damiano becomes susceptible, sooner or later, to a similar awakening. From the Crucifix in the broken down chapel Our Lord repeats to St. Francis three times…"Francis go and repair my house. You see it is all falling down." At first the direct vision terrified him, but eventually the message penetrated his heart and he went into ecstasy, says St. Bonaventure. After a period in which he physically repaired many run down local chapels, the Holy Spirit made him realize that his mission was to the universal church: this is what St. Francis later explained to his friars.

My awakening came recently while joyfully exploring a survey post entitled 'What is the Religious Climate in Your Country?'. Mostly, some very faithful Christian stalwarts reported on religious realities outside of the U.S.A. Even some generous nonbelievers lent their comments in a kindly sharing of their observations. What was different about this survey was that its 'value' was in the narrative comments; not in some dry statistical summation of which we have all seen ad nauseum. I hope that Jennifer F. over at 'et-tu?' develops the survey responses into future posts, and for that reason I will try to restrict my remarks, for now, to the issue that moved me the most: the Church in decline.

I guess I should begin by describing my reaction so that you can gauge my response as 'on' or 'off' target.

I felt a sense of angst, a true existential dread; as nearly every response (when taken as a whole) pointed to a tide of secularization that has swept over what many would have described as, Christian nations. As I said, most of the responders were the faithful stalwarts who were 'holding the line', so to speak. Yet from my perspective, they described myriads of Christians who were dropping like flies into the clutches of Secularization and Relativism. America herself is certainly not immune from this force, particularly my region of the nation. I live in a State that, on paper, is largely Catholic and predominantly Christian, but far too often that is very difficult to discern. Again, none of this is news for those who have been following trends but I was completely dumbfounded by my own visceral reaction: and thus my 'awakening'.

I don't expect that many others felt a similar response, nor do I maintain that they should have. After a few days of praying about it, I sensed that it was merely a personal revelation, but a revelation that deserves consideration and action. One of the ways I will respond is to reflect and blog about it in a systematic manner. Today I am creating a 'label or category' of posts titled 'Rebuild My Church'.

One of the goals of this ongoing reflection (with your help) is to give new impetus into ways that we can gently confront this oncoming tide. I sense we need to explore and pray about our fears that we experience in witnessing (or not) to Christ. Some areas of concern are:

  • What are the true costs and rewards, both temporally and spiritually?
  • How is the Secular culture affecting us in our daily lives: do we change it or does it change us?
  • How does a Christian know where the boundaries are of authentic evangelization, without trammeling over the 'free will' that God has given to all of his children?
  • How do the Christian faithful stand up for their own beliefs and practices in a pluralistic society, without having them become so diluted in meaning and purpose, as to become 'worthless salt'.

Considering the Church's struggle in our own times we must consider practical solutions through listening and discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying. The Spirit is our guide. The first step may be in realizing that this Spirit is calling us here and now to 'move the mission' of the Church. I guess I would call that my 'awakening'.


Will Duquette said...

When it comes to practical steps....I think the first step is to be "First Greatest Commandment" Christians, a term I got from the folks at Into the Deep via Happy Catholic: that is, to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, which in turn means devoting ourselves seriously to prayer, the Eucharist, and to penance. And then, to trust in God's leading.

Frankly, this is the only activity I can think of that applies generally. What each of us must do in our own situations will depend on those situations.

Jennifer F. said...

Wow, these are fascinating thoughts. Thank you for articulating this -- I felt the same way while reading those comments, but hadn't put it into words.

I'm very interested to ponder the answers to the questions you posed, particularly this one...

How does a Christian know where the boundaries are of authentic evangelization, without trammeling over the 'free will' that God has given to all of his children?

As I type this, I have three young neighbors in my house who are searching for answers to life's big questions, already realizing at their young ages that the "gospel" that has been preached to them in secular culture does not work. This question you pose is one that I've been praying about a lot.

Great points.

Tausign said...

Re: Three Young Neighbors. With all visitors to our home the key method of evangelization is our hospitality to both young and old. The home in particular opens up the guest to receive in new ways.

When guests come into my house they experience the Faith in a number of ways. If we are hosting a holiday meal (or any meal for that matter) they will experience the prayer of 'grace' before the meal. Though I know most of my guests don't do this on their own they participate willingly and occassionaly remark 'graciously' about 'grace'.

Remember 'The Prayer Corner'? Usually kids are fascinated with the statues, sacramentals, holy medals, curios, etc. and are completely open to any 'non-doctrinal' explanations of how they are 'related' to your family. Keep it very simple and don't sprinkle holy water on their heads (unless they ask for it).

An outdoor statue of Mary or some favorite Saint will catch their attention. They might even help with care of the flowers that surround them,etc. Remember, your home is a 'domestic church'.

Anonymous said...

The free will question is especially important and sensitive. One of the things I tell people most is: "If God respects your free will, who am I not to?"

The fact is: we can't convert other people. No matter how hard we try, we just can't. Only God can do that.

What we can do, however, is show them by our words, actions, and lives that there is an alternative to the secularist, non-Christian, non-believing world. And that this alternative gives us joy and wisdom and virtue. When people see someone who lives life with joy, people want that joy for themselves! They become curious and more open. They start asking questions... sometimes hard questions. And they want the answers. That new openness allows God to plant the seeds of conversion in them! We are just to tend and water and fertilize the ground.

I have been pleasantly shocked at random times by friends of mine who are atheists and friends of mine who are living dissolute lives suddenly asking me for a bible to read or for prayers or asking me questions about what I believe and why and what the Church really teaches. I happily oblige, of course, and I do so frankly and boldly. And of course, I pray, pray, pray! You just never know what may be happening in another person's mind and heart and spirit!