Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Without Words, Always Inviting

It began as a consequence of reading three pieces.  First, I read a piece over at Aleteia on "Practical Steps to Keep Your Kids in the Church." and subsequently, a bit of Sherry Weddell's writtings over at Mark Shea's "Catholic and Enjoying it!" blog.

In December of 1990, Pope John Paul II issued these words of prophetic power in Redemptoris Missio:
God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.
Since then, I’ve read hundreds of very critical, even sneering internet comments because the “springtime of the New Evangelization” didn’t just happen magically through bishops issuing a document or lay Catholics writing books. (Obviously, the sneerers aren’t gardeners or they would be able to recognize the “signs of the times”. The actual work of springtime is the most intense of all and that it begins in late winter and extends into early summer. Mid and late summer are the times when a gardener can relax in the midst of an abundant garden.)
In many ways, it was missional late winter when JPII published those words and late winter merges into early spring here in the Rockies. We had snow in mid May and the last frost here was on May 19. You spend late winter/early spring clearing the debris of winter and preparing soil for spring when it does come. You plan and order your plants and supplies and sharpen your tools. But you don’t *plant* until after the last frost.
You know that when “full” spring arrives, things begin to move really fast. You have been prepping for months and then suddenly, massive change occurs seemingly overnight. Full spring and summer also merge.
Note that JPII talked about committing our energies to TWO things, one of which we never talk about: “a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes.” In 1990, it wasn’t as clear as it is today that the “new evangelization” has merged with the “mission ad gentes” which refers to the first evangelization of people who have never been baptized or heard the proclamation of the Gospel. With the emergence of “baptized unbelievers” (Vatican term) or “baptized pagans” (Pope Benedict), the rapid cultural change in the west has blurred realities that in a Christendom setting were distinct.
Millions of “Marginal” and “non-practicing” Catholics dropping the religious identity altogether and spinning off into a vague spirituality that rapidly morphs into functional or self-declared agnosticism or atheism. Increasingly, “Catholics” in the west are already functional agnostics before they bother to drop the religious identity.
More and more, we can’t start with a simple proclamation of Jesus and a warm invitation to come back home. We are going to have to get very serious about a new kind of mission ad gentes to the already baptized who are spiritually, imaginatively, intellectually, culturally untouched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ in any meaningful way. The categories of Christian and non-Christian are blurring in ways we never anticipated.
Now is the time to get really serious about “near” pre-evangelization” and “far pre-evangelization” for the millions who have experienced almost nothing of the faith but baptism as an infant or small child and were and are being raised by non-believing, non-practicing parents. Many who still have some extremely tenuous historic or familial connection to the name “Catholic” are a million miles away from the faith in every conscious and living way.
The work of late winter: building bridges of trust and rousing genuine spiritual curiosity about Jesus is the work urgently needed now in the post Christendom, post modern west. And it is something for which we have few structures, little vision, and little leadership – especially at the parish and diocesan levels.
This involves really leaving the ecclesial building. This involves a true “ad gentes” approach to the nations, going out to the far, far places of heart and mind and imagination for the sake of those for whom God become incarnate, lived, suffered, died, and rose again.  
I finished it off with Rebecca French's excellent piece, The Hardest Part is Watching...
I agree with her.  The hardest part is watching.  

The combination roiled in my brain.   We cannot "keep" our children in the faith, that is, we can do all the right things and still, they might drift or run away.  You can do everything and still, free will taps into the equation.  After all, God created Eden, He gave his first children everything and still, they rejected a relationship in favor of their own opinions. There isn't a formula, there's you care for them, you love them, you sacrifice for them, you witness to them, and you hope more of it sinks in than they admit.   Other than that, you have to hope and pray and fast against the age.

When I finished reading, I looked up the term "ad gentes."  It means, "to the nations," and is a term used in Vatican documents, as part of an address or decree.  We're called to evangelize ad gentes, omnes gentes if my Latin is correct, which after a quick google translate check, it is.   We cannot guarantee results, we are, as Saint Bernadette said, "to inform, not convince."  We still have that free will which means, we're always invited to the table.  It's will we come to the feast?  I went back to the problem.  How do we thaw the ground to plant the seeds?

The media dubbed the young adults of this age, "Nones."  "Nones" are people who belong to no community, no faith tradition, even if they've grown up in one.  It seems to be that for the newly minted agnostic in all but name, the number one common denominator is a deliberate indifference to the Divine; sort of a "I don't know if God is, and I'm not about to find out," boredom with all things beyond the present.   The "None" is a soul committed to being uncommitted and deliberately unquestioning.   Because they still are, because grace is still possible, they are like seeds sleeping.  To extend Sherry  Wendell's metaphor, it is Winter.  Snow and Ice cover the ground.  We need to begin the thaw.  Except I'm not sure how.   

The basic ways of evangelizing are Truth, Beauty, Love, Sacrifice, Miracles and Witness, but our age is soaked in Relativism.  Everyone believes, "there is no truth." and no one is swayed by the irony of saying, "there is no truth," being professed as a truth.  They do not see beauty as anything but aesthetics. Love is not sacrificial, or if it is sacrificial, it is too costly to seek or sustain. They do not see marriage as anything but a personal choice, and children are burdens, consumers of time and energy and effort.  All sacrifices are merely preferences; they hold no weight.  And miracles?  There are none.  Witnesses, well, that's just proof of your preferences.  The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and to me, indifference is the hallmark of the soul committed to not encountering God.  I'd managed to depress myself in the process. 
Then, I was tasked with writing a lesson for the Chapel room in my writing critique group, so I wrote:
Most people aren't converted by argument. Most people aren't evangelized by scripture quotations or sermons. Most people go deeper and deeper into their faith as a result of an encounter, and if you ask them about that experience, it's a story.  
A story isn't sensation or feelings. We can't share your feelings just because you tell us, these are my feelings. We can't know your awe of God because you state, I am in awe of God. We can't even appreciate your being overwhelmed with God's grace or mercy or forgiveness unless we know the why of that experience.

It seemed to me, this is the problem with most CCD/instruction ABOUT the faith.  It is about the business of the faith, not an encounter.   How, not who.  Which begs the question, how do you introduce people who do not know Jesus, to Jesus.  I know how it isn't done.  Walking up to someone and saying, "Do you know Jesus?" is like walking up to someone and saying, "Will you be my friend?"  No one wants to answer yes, even if they might think "yes" in reality. We get a lot of direct frontal assault story telling in the Chapel room, the kind that uses sweeping generalities and sentimentality when what is needed is reality, and witness. I'd meant to try and illustrate how that doesn't work so 
I'd written more:

To give you a better sense of what I mean, I could tell you my son has Down Syndrome. He is often the means by which God lets me know how to love my children. Saying that doesn't really convey anything that doesn't sound like a clich√©. Telling you, "he brings his family closer to each other," may be true, but that statement doesn't move. I have to bring you into the story, to bring about the revelation.  

I illustrated the point: 

Taking my son to the ocean, he filled his pockets with shells. Next he dug and flung sand on all of us. His joy at digging overwhelmed even his oldest sister's cynicism, and she helped him dig out a fort. Covered from head to toe in sand, he tackled his brothers to take him into the water. For the next hour, they held his hands and helped him jump the waves. When they wouldn't jump, he'd tell them, "Come on guys!" They jumped until their shins grew sore.
We hadn't planned to spend the whole afternoon digging and jumping waves. Some wanted to go for ice cream, one for a jog. Three hoped to return to the cabin and play computer games, and we had a pool waiting for us. Nine children ranging in age from six to twenty-four scrambled to build a massive fort big enough to withstand the first few waves of high tide. Paul had caught most of us in his play. However he wasn't satisfied with having 90% of his family with him, and began to search for the one sister who went jogging instead of coming to the beach, calling out her name.
His calling for her reminded me of when we serve dinner. He always wants everyone to come to the table, and won't sit himself until we either tell him, this is all there is, or everyone is seated. His desire for everyone to be there, mirrors my own. I always want everyone home. I always want everyone at the table, everyone involved.  

I cannot gather all my children as I once could.  Many of them are adults. However my son has no problem going to taking any of his siblings by the hand and leading them to the beach or to the table. He isn't about to be deterred by age or opinions. He simply wants them present. His simple desire for their company often brings them along. Sometimes, he calls and they come.  Sometimes, when they don't come, he seeks them out. 
All I can think is, "And a little child shall lead them," and who knows, he might.  He isn't interested in how they get to the table.  He's interested in who's at the table, and he wants them all.  It isn't full or complete or home without them.  

Who, not how.   He is warm, and he invites constantly, and never with words.   He trusts the invitation to do the work.

That's how we thaw, without words, always inviting.

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