Sherry Weddell on the Pope, Holy Thursday…

and his mission to the peripheries.  This guy gets the New Evangelization.  I’m not so sure we do.

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  • midwestlady

    Actually, based on a lot of evidence, I’m very sure that most Catholics, at least the ones in the US, don’t comprehend the New Evangelization. They’re too busy arguing about red shoes (etc), politics and their underpants most of the time. And many of them have departmentalized the “New Evangelization” into just one more discrete catch phrase, when they don’t downright try to avoid it because it sounds dangerous and “Protestant” to them.

    I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, on and off-line. There is a lot of very heavily entrenched stuff that mitigates against evangelization within the Catholic church in the USA at the present time, even though the need for it is huge right now. I think eventually it will certainly happen, but it probably won’t happen until the Church in the United States crashes demographically, which is coming soon enough. Right now we’re in deep dark denial about that, even though if you look at the real data, which is readily available if you look for it, the demographics are stunning. We are heading that direction, and fast. The Church will be much smaller here in a generation or two and we will control far fewer material resources.

    Crashing demographically will be mixed blessing but sometimes these things happen in order for the Church to go on the way she needs to, and keep doing her work in the world. This isn’t the first time this has happened in a geographical area, far from it. And it likely won’t be the last either. It’s already happened in Europe; centuries ago it happened in North Africa. But the Church will go on. It will slip out of this mess unscathed and survive to keep the message of Jesus Christ alive and well in the world. You can count on that.

  • midwestlady

    Right now the Church in the US looks like an ongoing funeral with branch offices. It’s not supposed to look like that; it doesn’t have to look like that; but it does right now. The fact that I realize that is what’s keeping me from leaving. LOL. Pretty bad but true.

  • James H, London

    An anecdote from that article:

    “A Caritas worker in the penal institute says that one of them, having heard the news, exclaimed: “At last I shall get to meet someone who says he is my father!”

    Dammit – all that kid ever wanted was a dad!! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have something in my eyes and I have to go and wash them out…

  • Sherry Weddell


    I can understand your frustration – having lived with it for the whole of my Catholic life. But it is because I have lived with it so long that I can assue you: a *dramatic* change has already begun over the past year. I’ve talked to evangelizing leaders all over the country and they are seeing the same things. There is a wholly new level of spiritual and personal openness at all levels of leadership to recognizing the need for dramatic change from a largely institutional spirituality to an out-going, explicitly Christ-centered and Holy Spirit-empowered missionary spirituality in order to survive and flourish in the 21st century west. There are alot of heavily entrenched cultural assumptions, structures, patterns of relationship, and communal habits of being, thinking, and speaking that make evangelization hard for us but God has sent us a Holy Father who have lived this for decades and who can speak and act in the simplest, most direct manner to break through these assumptions and help us, as a body, grasp the mission. There are alot of reasons for hope!

    • Blog Goliard

      This new pontificate is so exciting and at the same time terrifying already.

      Sherry, your post is full of hope, but I’m left with a question: how can we tell if “dramatic change” will be different this time, and if we should get on board and help it along?

      I wasn’t around in the ’60s, and wasn’t Catholic in the ’70s or ’80s, so I’m operating from a presumption of what happened then that may be flawed, but it is this: that many well-meaning people were caught up in a passionate discarding, rethinking, revolutionizing, reorienting, and re-centering of everything in the post-Vatican II years. It wasn’t just the iconoclasts or ideologues or agnostics-in-habits who drove this; rather it must have felt to many, at the time, like a refreshing return to roots, a revival of essentials, creating space for a new spirituality that could survive and flourish in the 20th century west.

      We all know how that turned out. It wasn’t all bad, of course, and some of the changes were even necessary. But boy howdy.

      In the wake of it all one finds, among other things, younger generations of orthodox Catholics who were left with the task of first (re-)catechizing themselves as adults, and then starting to pick up the pieces amidst a palpable sense of their birthright having been given away for a mess of pottage (or, as some wags put it, a “pot of message”).

      Slowly, slowly we have felt the ship turning back towards orthodoxy and sanity. (The new translation was a particular watershed moment and a tremendous help.) Now suddenly there’s an eruption of new talk about overturning assumptions, uprooting entrenched habits, dramatic change…even a new feeling of tradition being up for grabs, as minor and justifiable as each of the new Holy Father’s breaks with precedent are when looked at individually. (For what it’s worth, I thought foregoing the mozzetta that first night was a smart, savvy move, for instance.) And many of the excited voices are old enough to have participated in the prior cataclysm…

      I love our new Holy Father. I believe passionately in the call for a New Evangelization. (The John Paul II generation have, after all, been evangelizing their parents–and, in extremis, even a pastor or two–for some years already!) But I still find myself troubled by the same questions and expressing the same fears:

      “Again? Really? Haven’t you lot done enough? Are you really sure it will be different this time? Hasn’t the Bright New Catholic Future, the Revolutionary New Catholicism of Today, wreaked enough destruction?”

      • Longinus

        Very well put. It seems to me that a lot of folks, Mark included, tend to overreact a bit to the RadTrad mutterings, and immediately dismiss as either unimportant or minor ANYTHING traditionalists espouse, Rad or otherwise. This, of course, merely serves to alienate and divide everyone involved–not a good way to proceed when the Church has only just begun to regroup after the last few decades of turmoil. When the RadTrads start up their usual post-V2 Pope-bashing, everyone else should just ignore them and get on with the daily business of being Catholic, whether they like the Novus Ordo or not.

      • Tom K.

        As Sherry has discovered, a big piece of the New Evangelization has to be evangelizing practicing Catholics, teaching them that they not only *can*, but are *supposed to* be in a personal relationship with Jesus — viz, discipleship (though I personally prefer to go whole hog with “co-heirs”).

        You’re certainly right that this could devolve into an advertisement for corporate membership in this or that program, devotion, or association.

        So here is what you should do: Remain in Jesus.

        There is, after all, no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. Not Catherine of Siena Institute, not CRHP, not Cursillo, not Communion and Liberation, not Francis or John Paul or Pius. And anybody who says otherwise is selling you something.

        I realize “Remain in Jesus” is easier said than done. But since it is the Father’s will that you remain in His only-begotten Son, you can do it if you want to.

        • Sherry Weddell

          Tom – how about your favorite both/and? intentional disciples of Jesus and “co-heirs”? I’m feeling daring. Its Easter!

          • Tom K.

            Well, it is both/and, of course. But I still, personally, much prefer the “co-heirs” part to the “disciples” part.

            • Sherry Weddell

              Obedience is always harder than inheritance . . .

  • midwestlady

    Evangelical Catholicism as the New Evangelization is being talked about by quite a few people now. This is not an isolated topic. It spans the gamut from the New Monasticism to George Weigel and beyond. Here’s what George Weigel has to say on the subject.
    Here’s a (fairly tame) example of the New Monasticism: John Michael Talbot.

    The premise of this new evangelism is really 2 things:
    1) Every several hundred years the Church has always gone through a massive “sea change” because the most important thing the Church does is convey the life of Christ and the Gospel on earth. In order to do that she has gone through the Primitive Church Age, the Patristic Age, the Medieval Age and the Counter-Reformation Age. But it’s been about 400 years since the last “sea change” and what we’ve been doing is no longer working. It could very well be that God is taking us “where we do not wish to go” because a new “sea change” is necessary. In fact, it’s very likely that this is what’s happening.
    2) “Osmosis Catholicism” or the cultural sort of Catholicism that assumes that Catholicism can exist in friendly agreement with the surrounding culture, and be passed on by “preaching without words” is DEAD. This is the Catholicism that works almost exclusively in cultural symbols and only requires passive institutional assent and only takes a few hours of explicit activity per week. This is by definition Counter-Reformation Catholicism. It avoids the activity that the Church found so divisive during the Reformation, but has not yet made the distinctions that can be made, and are coming–distinctions which demonstrate that it is not bad to be actively engaged in the Gospel in union with the Church and for the mission of the Church. Rather it’s where we have to go because the Church is, above all, about the mission of Christ. We have to go there because Counter-Reformation Catholicism no longer works. It no longer passes the faith from one generation to the next and that has been demonstrated demographically and conclusively. It can no longer hold the gigantic truths of the Gospel in peoples’ lives and in the aggressive culture where we now live.

    Don’t make the mistake of believing that this is either a “right” or “left” thing politically. It’s not that sort of thing because those categories don’t apply to Church history. But over and above that, there are things here that are going to profoundly shock and disorient both political camps, the greatest of which is probably that this is not going to be another “minimalism,” which is a fond tendency and a firm agenda of both political camps. It’s not going to be passive like that. It’s going to break down and destroy categories of thought that we have long taken for granted. Hold onto your hat.

    • Mark Shea

      Have you read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples? It’s a fantastic book and you and she have a lot to talk about. You are on the same page in many ways.

      • midwestlady

        Yes, I just finished reading it and portions of the Weigel book and watching this last conclave, and a lot of things came together. I’ve been a Catholic for 30 years, a convert from agnosticism, and long ago the granddaughter of a Protestant minister. Catholicism is true and I can’t leave it, but Catholicism has always been very difficult because there’s this minimalism in Catholic life that I wasn’t prepared for and still have trouble with. I’ve done all kinds of things to try to get around it, including trips to Rome, experiments with Charismatic Renewal, forays into ultra-Trad-dom, all kinds of things. I even belong to a third order. But the form itself isn’t really the problem and neither is the place. The problem is that what we have in 21st century Catholicism is a kind of smorgasbord of minimalisms, all living side by side. Everybody has their symbolism which is supposed to correspond to their little checklist, and it’s the LAW. Catholicism is a touchy and neuralgic place sometimes, but I probably don’t need to tell you that. You have a blog.

        • Mark Shea

          I hear you. But do not despair. You really should get in touch with Sherry. There have been Clunys in the past. It can happen again. God is a God of providence and even this long struggle you’ve faced is for your good and the good of the whole Church. There remains hope.

          • midwestlady

            Thank you, Mark.