Two Very Different Futures

There seem to be two very different ideas in the air about the goals of parish ministry. One idea, which we might call the St. John Vianney school or the St. John Chrysostom school, or the Pope St. John Paul the Great school, is the conviction that God calls each person to be holy–to be a saint.

The other idea, and we should probably call it both the dominant and competing model, rests on an apparent conviction that God wants each person to have “just enough Catholicism” to not lose contact with the Church entirely.

This “just enough Catholicism” model is minimalist and inadequate for a number of reasons. And it is not the fault of the people. Almost everyone comes into the Church with a “just enough”attitude towards belonging in a parish. Frankly it is a lot to ask, in our culture, that a person crosses the threshold of a parish church on any given Sunday, much less wakes up an entire family, including children and fathers with many opportunities to be elsewhere, organizes dressing and grooming, packs everyone into the SUV, turns off all the cell phones, and gets to church on time. There is something heroic about a family’s presence in church on Sunday morning and we don’t say that enough.

The aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10)

But the Catholic life does not end there. Getting in the door is just the beginning. Getting everyone in the door is the beginning. And from that point, everything can soar–or not. And it truly must soar.

It is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity. (Lumen Gentium 40-41)

“Just enough” Catholicism has goals that stop at a certain fairly low level of the life of faith. In some cases, pastors do not even challenge the faithful regarding matters of serious sin. But what is particularly wonderful about Catholicism, as seen from the above quotation from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is that the level to which we are to aspire is not that set by the limits of our imaginations but by the model of Jesus Christ Himself. In other words, the sky is the limit. The Holy Spirit, active in the lives of the faithful, blows freely, and not by measure. Freedom from sin is only the beginning. Pastors who wish to cooperate with the Holy Spirit will foster an open-air, open-ceiling atmosphere in which ever-increasing prayer and charity can have room to grow.

“Just enough” Catholicism has a soundtrack. Somewhere between John Denver and Enya and the Kingston Trio, this music calms and soothes without fostering recollection. Its message can be summed up by the catchphrase, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” It is far too moderate for the Christian life, which ought to be a life for heroes. Young people in particular seek to live meaningful lives. Should our music then be meaningless?

 Rather our music ought to be inherently rational and breathtakingly beautiful, like the beauty of a soul that is even now beginning to participate in glory.

One Reply to “Two Very Different Futures”

  1. This past weekend, I visited my old parish, the one I grew up in, at the parish picnic. There was Mass at the end of it, and they distributed the parish bulletin at the end of it. (It was held at a city park, not on the parish property.) There was a notice on the front page, announcing that they had chosen a new permanent hymnal to replace the newsprint missalettes. They had selected — drum roll, please:

    Journeysongs. From OCP. Wow. Talk about "Just Enough" Catholicism. I wanted to rip my head off.

    So my old parish, where I grew up and had lived in for nearly 40 years, went from TEMPORARY self-worshiping, faux-Catholic, frozen-in-the-Sixties musical programming, to PERMANENT self-worshiping, faux-Catholic, frozen-in-the-Sixties musical programming. Sigh.

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