Challenge for Christianity Today

The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ consists of two characters. One character stands for danger, the other for opportunity.

“It’s an opportunity, a time of abundant graces” stated the Pope when he was reviewing the situation of the Church during a meeting with the Canadian bishops from Ontario recently.

Questions

The Pope identified three problems that face the modern man living in the city – rootlessness, anonymity and inequality. The city has become a prison. The heavens are closed and God seems far away. Today man dispenses with God, thus creating a one-dimensional society where everything does as long as it is pleasurable. Only now, only here, only me… are the new slogans. Thus a new slavery has crept in – slavery to power, pleasure, money.

The consequences are serious – loss of identity and loss of the sense of human dignity which eventually begets violence. “At the core of this violence is a protest bred of deep-seated disappointment: the city promises so much, and delivers so little, to so many. This sense of disappointment is also linked to a loss of confidence in institutions – political, legal and educational – but also the Church and the family.”

Our generation is not succeeding in passing on the faith to the next generation as clearly as in the past. In the next 20-30 years, this will become dramatically visible also in Guam.

Answers

In front of this situation the Church cannot remain stagnant. In many places, unfortunately, the ecclesial authorities are closing Churches and joining parishes. ‘Clustering of parishes’ is the key word in many pastoral circles. Instead of taking an aggressive stance on vocations, many seminaries are closed or being closed. Many pastoral operators feel helpless in front of this onslaught.

This is sad because the Church is and always will be missionary. Modern man needs to hear the news of salvation and to be freed from chains that are no less dangerous than in former times, just because they are less visible. Missionary means going forward, blaze open new paths. The frontier today is the city!

“We can no longer expect people to come to our communities spontaneously : there must be instead a new missionary outreach in the cities, with dedicated men and women, and young people, going forth in Christ’s name to invite people into the community of the Church.”

Needed today are dynamic urban lay missionaries and truly zealous priests. This is the offensive which the Church must bolt into! And this will be possible if we create in our parishes “a new and more profound experience of community in Christ”.

Bottom line, if you want a good future for the Church, create small communities, says the Pope. “In such a human context, it will be easier to gather to hear the Word of God, to reflect on the range of human problems in the light of the Word, and gradually to make responsible decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of Christ…. We are at the heart of what Christ is calling us to be and to do in the new evangelization.”

“The anonymity of the city cannot be allowed to enter our Eucharistic celebrations.”

“Wherever there is a very weak experience of this community, we can expect a greater number of faithful abandoning religion or turning to sects and pseudo-religious groups that respond to their alienation and grow among Christians who are disillusioned with the Church, for whatever reason.”

Speaking about the parish of the future, the Pontiff used the formula coined by the Synod for America : “a community of communities”. It is from this renewal that the future of Christianity depends. “Scripture leaves no doubt that Christ is not encountered apart from the experience of Christian community,” the Holy Father emphasized.

The Result

In his fine novel The Power and The Glory, Graham Greene narrates the story of a seedy, alcoholic Catholic priest who, after months as a fugitive, is finally caught by the revolutionary Mexican regime and condemned to be shot. In the evening before his execution, he sits in his cell with a bottle of brandy to keep his courage up, and thinks back over what seems to him the dingy failure of his life.

“Tears poured down his face,” Greens writes. “He felt an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty handed. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would have needed only a little self restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who had missed happiness by seconds at an appointed time. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted – to be a saint.”

Yes, only one thing which counts. To be a saint! This is what this challenge is all about.


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.