Evangelical Catholics on offense

STEFANO RELLANDINI REUTERS Pope Benedict XVI waves to faithful from his ‘Popemobile’ upon his arrival to conduct an open-air mass … Continued

STEFANO RELLANDINI

REUTERS

Pope Benedict XVI waves to faithful from his ‘Popemobile’ upon his arrival to conduct an open-air mass service at Beirut City Center Waterfront September 16, 2012.

Despite what the world often sees as endless crisis and scandal, a bold new era in the two thousand year history of the Catholic Church is beginning. The curtain is coming down on the institutionally-focused Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation – the church in which every Catholic under 50 grew up – as the curtain rises on the Gospel-focused evangelical Catholicism of the third millennium. More than a century of Catholic reform is now coming to fruition as the living, vibrant sectors of the world’s largest Christian community accept the challenge posed by Blessed John Paul II at the end of the Great Jubilee of 2000: the challenge to “put out into the deep,” like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, in order to invite the post-modern world to friendship with Jesus Christ.

The Gospel-centered Catholicism being born today is, on the one hand, an evolution impelled by the church’s own need to make herself a more transparent witness to her Lord, and, on the other, an essential response to an increasingly hostile environment. As recently as the 1950s, Catholics could reasonably expect the ambient public culture to help transmit the faith to future generations. No more. To live an integral Catholic life today is to be a sign of contradiction. The Catholicism that has a future can’t be a weekend recreational activity, a lifestyle choice. The Catholicism of the future must be a life-changing and life-forming embrace of Jesus Christ, his truth, and his authority: a radical commitment that shapes all of life.

Evangelical Catholicism is thus full-time, full-throttle Catholicism. It’s not sectarian Catholicism, though, nor is it remnant Catholicism. Evangelical Catholicism is not about retreating into enclaves, bunkers, or 21st-century catacombs; evangelical Catholicism is about offense, not defense. Evangelical Catholicism intends to convert the world, beginning with the worlds that surrounds every evangelical Catholic: family, neighborhood, workplace, the public square. Evangelical Catholics go into mission territory every day, know they’re doing precisely that, and welcome the opportunity to offer a deeply confused postmodern world the truth about the human condition that is found in Jesus Christ.

And so the evangelical Catholicism of the future will be a culture-forming counterculture. It will form its own culture, built upon friendship with Jesus Christ, belief in his authority and the church’s authority, sacramental intensity and liturgical beauty, biblical literacy – and a clear understanding that, while everyone in the church has a unique vocation, all those vocations are ordered to mission and measured by mission-effectiveness. At the same time, though, the lives of integrity, compassion, dignity, and charity lived in the culture of evangelical Catholic will be a countercultural challenge to the culture of I-did-it-my-way. And in posing that challenge, Evangelical Catholicism will raise some interesting questions: Is human happiness really found in the sandbox of self-assertion and willfulness? Isn’t there more to life than me, myself and I? Might it be, as Vatican II taught, that we only come to know the truth about ourselves – and thus discover the royal road to human flourishing – through a generous giving of ourselves?

Evangelical Catholicism is emerging from a process of deep Catholic reform that began in the late 19th century, and its flowering will require further reforms in the church. Those reforms, however, will not be cut to the cloth of secular expectation. Rather, authentic Catholic reform will unfold according to two ancient criteria: the truth the church bears (which it knows through its teaching authority, not through New York Times editorials), and mission-effectiveness.

Authentic, evangelical Catholic reform will touch and change every facet of Catholic life: from the episcopate and the papacy to the priesthood and the consecrated life; from the renewal of the lay vocation to a redefinition of the church’s role in public life. But because these reforms will be conducted according to the criteria of truth and mission, they will not deconstruct the Catholic Church, nor will they return it to some imaginary golden age of the past.

The reform of the church will, rather, make Catholicism ever more evangelical – and ever more a sign of contradiction, calling the 21st century world to a nobler vision of human possibility.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, and one of the world’s leading authorities on the Catholic Church. His twenty-first book, “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church,” was published on February 5 by Basic Books.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Just a bit more evidence that the Catholic Church is in its death throes. It can’t die quickly enough, although I would have given anything to see the look on that Galilean carpenter’s face if he ever came back and stood in front of the palace of St. Peter’s.

  • Smelt

    It has been in its “death throes” for 2000 years, it’s full of jerks, lunatics, sinners and glorious saints, but it still keeps going, doesn’t it? Maybe there is a reason (or a promise….Mt 16:18).

    As for the carpenter, I say, Maranatha! Come, Lord!

  • nkri401

    Crusade by any other name is still just as bloody, I’m afraid.

  • DisraeliPM

    Never, never forget that George Weigel endorsed pro abortion politicians and policies when they came from Republicans. He is an enemy of Catholicism who would see it subordinated to his political party!

  • patsambab

    As a Catholic, I have to say that “Evangelical Catholicsm” is not going t o save the Catholic Church as Weigel contends. His vision is of a people who are will go out to convert others, but to what? They would be converting others to a Church which, like the fundamentalist churches, is in denial about its need to change to make any positive change in the world or to give real spiritual growth and maturity to its members. The Church now is made up of a few old men in control of millions who often live in fear that they will go to hell if they don’t these same leaders who often are not close to God even. The Catholic Church has a future if it becomes a faith community of love, justice and community – only that will save it!

  • Catken1

    The Hindu faith has been around for centuries, perhaps thousands of years, more than yours. It’s thriving too. Does that make it truer?

  • Ikilope

    I am never sure what planet George is writing from.

  • Smelt

    I am pointing out that Catholicism survives in spite of its followers. Many people have predicted its imminent downfall, yet it has never come. It is a religion with a central authority figure and creed, while Hinduism is more of an umbrella term for many beliefs that stem from similar ancient sources. I am not degrading it, but it is hard to pin down a set of beliefs that is constant across the religion. Hinduism has many beautiful elements to it, and some truth. I believe Catholicism is true because it corresponds to reality, and in fact elevates our understanding of reality. I believe it proposes what is best for human flourishing, individually and as a society. I believe it is true because there is so much beauty in this world, and Catholicism acknowledges that. I believe it because it has shown me how have a relationship with our Creator, who gives us every good thing, and holds nothing back. I believe it because it teaches me to try to do the same, with God’s help. I believe what the Catechism says because it is beautiful, and eminently reasonable. That is all.

  • sjgl8032

    A bold new era for an organization headed by a man who made it his mission to minimize scandal, because managing the church’s reputation was more important to him than helping victims.

    A bold new era for an organization where a majority of adherents do not share core values held by the leadership. If you were running a company where a significant number of your employees didn’t believe in or practice the company’s policies you’d be out of business within the fiscal year.

  • leibowde84

    And it begins. The Catholic tradition will be a thing of the past if people like this writer are successful. They want to traditionalize an already overly traditional way of thinking. First, “the authority of the church” is something that is questioned more an more every day by good catholics. Second, the idea that the church understands what Jesus wanted is a falacy that has been proven false consistently. Finally, they are trying to make something that people find hard to agree more strict. Not a good idea.

    As a Catholic I am disgusted with the use of tradition and religious history to deny social progress.

  • plattitudes

    “If you believe that the bible is inspired, then you would believe it is inerrant.” That’s a bit too far of a jump for me. After all, those who wrote the books that later became the Bible were humans, doing the best they could, but certainly not perfect.

    The inclusion (and exclusion) of books in the Bible also was done by men, many of them with acknowledged political agendas. Since it’s aggregation, it has gone through periods of translation to different languages. All of the above offers the opportunity for errors to creep in to our understanding of what was said, and written, two millenia ago. Do I believe the Bible was inspired? Yes. I also believe the US Constitution was inspired. That doesn’t mean I believe it is perfect either.

  • Smelt

    I see what you mean, and I respect that viewpoint. What I meant by inspired, and what I should have made more clear, is that God wrote it through human instruments. Humans wrote it, but God guided them, and had them write exactly what He knew we needed. I also happen to believe that the group of people that selected the books of the bible were guided by the Holy Spirit, whatever their individual character. I believe God never left us, and that he uses us silly and flawed people to guide humanity, as much as we let Him anyway, toward our own true happiness and heart’s desire. He writes straight with crooked lines, and all that. I was kind of jabbing at ccnl123. He or she posted a sort of anti apostles creed in these comments, and it was clear that they were not in the “bible is the inspired word of God” camp. A camp with an idea that, by the way, usually takes some time to get used to and understand. Not everyone does, and that is ok.

  • plattitudes

    Ah, got it. I’ve been lurking in these forums long enough to start skipping his/her comments by habit. I think that anti-apostles creed has been posted verbatim in just about every article for the past 3 years+ …

    Anyway, appreciate the reply explaining your viewpoint.

  • samelaa

    You failed to mention that this Gospel styled Catholicism has been inspired and encouraged by our present Holy Father: Pope Benedict XVI. He is the one who has actually begun this revolution. Pope JP II was more about piety and philosophy than theology. Pope Benedict aka Joseph Ratzinger has spent his entire life studying, teaching, preaching and living Scripture. He has long been THE expert in theological matters. A brilliant theologian recognized by the entire theologian field; as well as someone every religion can grown in understanding from contact w/this amazing man. PJP ii became a saint during his papacy. PBXVI was already a saint when he was elected to the papacy. And that’s what it is all about. If you read any of his writings you will recognized that many of the writings of PJPII are actually based on Ratzinger’s writings. Small wonder PJPII kept Ratzinger close during his own papacy. He wouldn’t allow him to retire allow Ratzinger requested it several times. Ratzinger is a Master Teacher and Priest in the line of Jesus Christ himself. And that makes all the difference.

  • nkri401

    Any church and RCC in particular need to realized that each and every citizen of US is protected by constitution to be free of the authority of any church.

  • Smelt

    Think of it more like authority on spiritual matters. After all, how many divisions does the Pope have? (Paraphrasing Stalin’s mocking of the Church.)

  • nkri401

    According to the constitution of the US, the Pope has no more spiritual authority than I. In fact, it can be argued that, if any, I have more sipritual authority than the Pope as I have not hidden any pedophiles in my house of worship.

  • Smelt

    The constitution states that there will be no union of the US government and any particular religion (the way Anglicanism and the British government were melded). It also says that the government will not interfere with anyones practice of their freely chosen religion.
    I think you are misunderstanding the word authority in this sense. It means legitmacy, not power. Hence my joke in the comment above. No one is forced to be a Catholic, or do anyone’s bidding, even after the fact. The Church advises and proposes. It doesn’t compel anything of its adherents. The individual chooses. Some people recognize the Church as worth listening to. Some don’t.
    The Church’s legitimacy is independant of the actions of its persons. No one is sinless. Was not one of the 12 a devil (Judas)? And he was selected by Jesus. Each of the people that committed these terrible and unspeakable acts was not following Church teaching. The Pope, since you brought it up, has actually been very agressive in trying to clean out the “filth” in the Church. Look it up.

  • nkri401

    Smelt,

    I realize you mean well but the history shows if the Church could, they would ban people eating meat on Friday by law.

  • Smelt

    That is a discipline, not doctrine or dogma. None of which are compelled by force. Nor would the Church choose to if it could. If you make someone do something, its no longer a choice. The hope is that people choose to follow Christ. I can try to explain some of the Church’s practices if you like. I do not know everything, not even close. I think Fulton Sheen was right when he said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”

  • Smelt

    Also, the Church holds a deposit of truth and is guided by the Holy Spirit, but over time, and as we all grow in knowledge, the understanding of that truth evolves. The same way that we all understand now that slavery is contrary to human dignity. We are kind of all growing up together, guided by the light of Christ, and hopefully making the world better.

  • pramer

    Dear Dr. George,

    very glad to read your post. We have the best product in the world, Jesus the Power of God, and yet we are lukewarm. Christ is too patient with us. He has already set ablaze the world with HIS LOVE, and now the onus is on us to carry that Light and fill the world. The Church is waiting for that ‘offense’ to take place and to live with greater authenticity of the radical approach of the Gospel, and otherwise it has no future. The world wants to build a society without God, and other religious beliefs want to silence the Truth of Christ. Let us give that TRUTH, LIGHT and WAY. THe Church has the most cherished treasure of faith. Let us give to the world. Let us set ablaze. Thank you

  • tieege

    I want a “New Evangelization” to be fruitful. But shy of a supernatural Pentecost event, people of all ages will continue walking away from the Catholic church. Mr. Weigel writes: “belief in his authority and the church’s authority”. As one who has been employed as a lay person in the Catholic Church for four decades, I witness the majority of the laity, of all adult ages, disconnected from the authority of the church. This attitude is not going to disappear because the Church wants it to, or because the Church has chosen to be more overt in its evangelical efforts. Institutional authority in general is erroding. Our institution, as recently revealed in Los Angeles, continues to reinforce our fears, misstrust, and anger.

  • leibowde84

    I agree with you Smelt, but I don’t see how you can try to claim that the hierarchy of the RCC feels the same way. They have the mentality that they know what is wrong. As you said, they try to “clean up the filth” and by that one must assume that they think they “know what is filth and what isn’t.”

    The problem I have with the Pope, a man who has shown his inability to evolve as a moral man, is his reliance on past doctrine and out-of-date tradition to “save” the church. His reliance on “how things used to be” is going to drive more and more people away from the faith. Going back to latin … is that a joke?!

    Homosexuality, abortion, contraception, priests getting married … these should all be social issues, solved with social reasoning, logic, and respect. The church literally tries to claim that things are wrong simply because “God says they are.” That is balogna, and it has to go. The pope, the son of the most vile of humans (Nazi’s), showing hatred for those he sees as irregular, looking back on the horrible way the church used to be and saying “that is the right way.” He’s a joke of a man. And doesn’t deserve my respect.

    And, btw, I am a practicing Catholic. I just don’t have any respect for the current Pope … or anyone who wants to move backwards for that matter.

  • nkri401

    evangelical == crusade.

    Have we not seen this movie before? It didn’t end well, did it?

  • ctutt407

    If this is what you think the Catholic church is, then you do not know it very well. The “few old men line” does not hold muster if you turned on your TV during the Pro-life March and saw all the Catholic groups with women and youth. The success of the church lies with the faithful, doing their individual part for the church and the world. Do I do my part? Imperfectly, but I try. Do you do yours?

  • SODDI

    Just think of how highly people regard protestant evangelicals….

  • Smelt

    I understand what you mean, but I disagree with a few things. No one is trying to turn back the clock. The whole reason for Vatican II was to set out into the deep, and re-engage with the world. Most in the Faith had stopped trying to share the Good News, they were born into it, and were insulated in their own practice.
    Some in the Faith value Latin. It is useful as a universal language, because since it is a “dead” language, the meanings of the words don’t change. All this pope did was allow priests, if they want, and if their parishioners want it, to celebrate the mass in Latin, without having to ask the bishop for permission. I personally prefer the mass in my own language, but it is sometimes wonderful to celebrate mass with others who speak a different language. It is a powerful experience to pray alongside those who you cannot easily communicate.
    The Church has troves of thoughtful commentary on many different issues extending over centuries. And it is not done. The hard thing to see in our day and age is that the Church moves very slowly. They start from what is known through faith, and what has been passed down, and use reason to filter through evidence. It is our age that demands answers now, and the world that demands conformity to its current thoughts. The Church is cautious and prudent, and much wiser then the world gives them credit for. It’s not because its members are especially gifted, but I think it is because God is acting through the Church. He is gentle, and speaks in the soft breeze, rather than the earthquake (1 Kings 19 11-12).
    In some of the issues you mention, there has been quite a bit of discussion and writing. Some things are customs or a discipline (like priests being married, which in certain rites or under certain circumstances is allowed!) I would encourage you to take a look at Catholic Answers at catholic.com. There are some great articles, and an interesting forum with a ton of people asking all kinds of questions

  • jeanlou

    Tieege:
    Might be time to move on from your current employment.

  • jeanlou

    Smelt:
    I love reading your comments. Thanks for taking the time to post them. I found the “Oooookay” at the beginning of one of your replies just perfect. I’m going to use that in the future!

  • itsthedax

    I suppose the church could start by eliminating the contradictions in its basic doctrine, and reduce the need for christians to embrace several instances of cognitive dissonance…

  • Smelt

    That’s very nice of you to say. Thank you .

  • Smelt

    Tieege, I think part of the problem is that we in the Church need to be truly converted. I’m reading through a book right now, “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Wedell. I think she nails it. The group that she works with had the opportunity to work with several parishes and found that many Catholics, including lay leaders and even pastors did not have a strong prayer life or a firm relationship with Jesus. She also outlines ways to encourage people to become what she calls an intentional disciple, and make a decision to follow Him. We seem to have forgotten this simple formula. She’s got some useful observations about the process that I think will be helpful in a parish setting. Parish life must be renewed and set afire with love for Jesus.
    The Church scandals truly make me ill, especially when it involved hands that were consecrated. I can think of few things more revolting. I am ashamed, but it helps me realize how urgently we need to be converted.

  • leibowde84

    I appreciate your value of celebrating mass with other language speakers, but is that worth hundreds, if not thousands, who leave the church because they feel as if it is overly old-fashioned and makes church worthless, as they can’t understand the priest?

    About priests getting married, it has been proven that the reasoning behind it was to limit the amount of money spent on supporting the familes of priests. While it is a perfectly reasonable reason for denial of rights, that doesn’t excuse the church misleading its followers as to the reasoning behind it. They constantly claim that it is merely a way to show conviction and promote chastity, but Paul himself said that not every priest had to be chaste. That “being chaste wasn’t for everyone in the service of the church.”

    I read stories on Catholic.com all the time, and I just don’t buy what the church says. In a way I think you are right. When you are talking about the church as a community, I think God works them. When it comes to the Vatican, God is shaking his head saying, “jeeze guys, what is taking you so long to make the obvious right choice.”

  • Concerned Catholic

    This is so true! Thank you so much for defending the truth!

  • tieege

    Smelt: You write that Wadell observes that: “The group that she works with had the opportunity to work with several parishes and found that many Catholics, including lay leaders and even pastors did not have a strong prayer life or a firm relationship with Jesus”.

    This observation is an attempt to discredit the hard working, faith-filled men and women who courageously continue to minister to a very wounded church. How dare she!!!

    The problem today, is that faith-filled men and women will no longer submit to a hierarchical structure that does not have a personal relationship with Jesus, and is proving over and over again that it abuses its sacred trust. Faith-filled and prayerful men and women see this. They get it. And they are walking.

  • Smelt

    That was my sloppy phrasing. I’m sorry. Not hers. It is not an accusation or attempt to discredit anyone.
    This is a problems with ALL Catholics. Not specifically lay leaders or pastors. I included them in the description to show how extensive a problem this is. People who work for parishes are very dedicated, and I am sorry for the confusion.
    Waddell states that only about 5% of the Catholics of an average parish (perhaps yours is more?) is what she terms an intentional disciple. Meaning the other 95% have not make a conscious decision to be a disciple of Christ, and follow Him on a personal level. Many of that 5% are the ones doing the work.
    I hope this is more clear. I know that a parish is mostly run by a few people, and that not nearly enough people help.
    The scandals are a breach of trust. But you also know that there are wonderful people in the Church, and in the hierarchy, who have devoted their lives to service, especially priests, who give up quite a bit to serve. You know that most of them are good, and doing the best they can. We all fall short. It is especially hard on them.
    Most of the people in our Church need to be awakened to the call of Jesus. We are being called to minister to each other, and the world around us. This is not just for a few of us, but all of us, though in different ways.

  • Woody Nicholson

    Bravo! Beautifully written!

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

Read More Articles

5783999789_9d06e5d7df_b
The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

shutterstock_188022491
Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pile_of_trash_2
Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

shutterstock_134310734
Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

shutterstock_188545496
Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

sunset-hair
From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.