Meeting the Master

Supper at Emmaus by Rembrandt

When discussing the problem of the Catholic Church one of the main culprits is “poor catechesis”. The lukewarmness of the laity, the misguided political correctness, the sentimentality, and bland, suburban do-gooder mentality prevalent in the pews is all blamed on “poor catechesis.”

“If only the people had been taught what the Catholic Church really teaches. Then we’d be okay!”

I’m the first to agree that there has been some very poor catechesis in the church, however, I’m not sure the problem is completely the fault of the religious publishers, trendy nuns, poorly educated Directors of Religious Education, left wing theologians and unconcerned pastors.

There is also a problem amongst the laity themselves. The best way I can describe this problem is an attitude of “I’m a cradle Catholic. Don’t you try to catechize me!” How many adult Catholics have taken the trouble to have any form of religious education after being confirmed? It would be interesting to know. Catholics still make up the largest religious grouping in the United States. Why are Catholic publishers not selling millions of books like the Evangelical publishers do? Because Catholics don’t read about their faith. How many adult Catholics have taken the trouble to go on a retreat, a conference, a seminar to learn more about their faith and grow in their knowledge and love of God? Not many.

Ignorance of the faith? Absolutely. Poor catechesis? Absolutely. Who’s fault is it? Just as much the laity who don’t have the level of commitment or interest necessary to do anything more than turn up for Mass on Sunday (when they don’t have anything better to do)

Underlying this complacency is the lack of a real, life changing experience of Jesus Christ. They encounter with the One who changes everything has not happened. The typical Catholic in the pew has been sacramentalized but not evangelized. They have even been catechized (and often not too badly) but not evangelized. They have yet to be converted. Excuse this former Evangelical from lapsing back into Prot-talk, but many Catholics have yet to “meet Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior”. They have not looked up from the fishing boats of their ordinary lives and heard the call of the Master to leave their nets and follow Him.

Furthermore, there is a deep seated resistance to such an encounter. “I’m a cradle Catholic. Don’t you try to evangelize me!”

The bottom line–and this is a message hammered home by Pope Benedict and Pope Francis–is that the Christian adventure is about the encounter with Christ. All the sacraments, all the catechesis, all the liturgies, all the good works of the church, all the theology, all the spirituality, the canon law, the devotions and disciplines–all of it is a structure or a method or a framework for the soul to encounter Christ, and to walk in the way with  our hearts burning within us.

How does this evangelization take place? I have just been keynote speaker this month at two conferences focussing on the New Evangelization and my talk each time revolved around the way we transmit the faith. Why are you a Catholic today? I’m a Catholic Christian because of the example of my parents and because of a few radiantly alive Catholics. People who lived the faith and loved Christ and his people. They were not especially pious or holier than thou. They were simply alive in Christ, and what they had is what I wanted.

Benedict XVI calls this “attraction”. It is the supernatural attraction of a soul to Christ seen in another person. It is the moth being drawn to the light and the metal drawn to the magnet. It is as natural and real as water flowing downhill or the sun rising and setting. This abundant and authentic life is not something which can be manufactured with a method or produced with a gimmick. It is not something which can be taught, but is something that can be caught.

This attraction happens as a side effect of sanctity. It is the result, not the first aim of the would be saint. Pope John Paul II outlined the way in his pastoral letter Into the New Millennium  where he says that this flows from the heart of contemplation. A person spends more and more time with Christ until Christ’s glory is reflected in that person’s abundant and whole life. They become like the thing they worship, and Christ in them draws others to the everlasting encounter.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker