Father Dwight Longenecker
Nones or Nuns?
It's true that many people leave the church because of their own sin and unbelief, but it is also true that many good people are leaving organized religion because it has failed them. The religious leaders have watered down the faith, weeded out the miraculous element, got comfortable in their suburban lives, ignored the poor, and catered to the rich with a religion that has become an easy mix of self help philosophy, pious platitudes, and entertainment.
Jesus Christ is the Lion of Judah and we have tried to tame him. But Christ, like Aslan, is not a tame lion. He will not be kept in a cage on display. The Christian churches are emptying because they've lost touch with the powerful, life-changing, and astounding reality of the historic and traditional Christian gospel.
What's the answer? It is very simple; but what is simple is never easy. The answer is for a renewal of a vibrant, self-sacrificial, and dynamic orthodoxy that is joyful, hard working, and energetic. What we need is nuns not 'nones'. The renewed religious orders offer an example of the way forward. The Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, the Sisters of Life, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, the Cistercian Nuns of the Valley of Our Lady, the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. These women show the way forward for the whole church.
The way forward is a return to the core of the faith and a refreshment of the ever-living tradition of the church. The way forward, of course, is not for all men and women to run off and join a religious order, but to see the renewal that is taking place within the religious orders and transpose that same spirit into the lives of our families, our parishes, and our schools and colleges.
What are the hallmarks of this renewal? First, there is a re-commitment to the prayer of the church. Only through prayer will our lives, and the life of the church and the world be transformed. Secondly, there is a re-commitment to the liturgy. A renewal of the liturgy of the hours and the liturgy of the Mass are crucial, for the heart of prayer and mission is energized by the liturgy. Thirdly, there is a new commitment to simplicity of life that enables and empowers the life and mission of the church. When Christians live in simplicity of life they achieve focus and energy to do God's work in the world. Fourth, there is a renewed vitality to study and scholarship. The movement is smart and articulate. Finally, this renewed life is marked by a zeal for souls, a joyful and dynamic desire to live and preach the gospel. This renewed Catholic life is what will save the church in decline, and nothing else.
It seems Pope Benedict has been reading the same passage from the Book of Revelation. In his address this week to the synod of bishops for the new Evangelization he has stated that being 'tepid' is the worst danger for Christians. What the Church in America needs is not some new five-year plan, or more wringing of hands and long faces, but some fire in our hearts and a new passion for our faith.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Catholicism Pure and Simple. Visit his blog and sign up for Faith Works! his free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith here.