The Holy Father has announced the establishment of a new dicastery for the evangelization of Europe. What energy and zeal he has in leading the church forward! An awful lot has been said and written about evangelization, furthermore there have been endless theories, movements, gimmicks and ideas about how to evangelize.

St Francis’ dictum, “Preach the word always and use words if you have to” is a favorite of Catholics, but too often this is a cop out from actually preaching. Conversely, there are other Catholics who spend all their time preaching and getting all the theology right, but neglect the social action that is required. Remember St Francis kissed lepers and ministered to them, but he also preached to the Sultan and the birds and anybody else who would listen.

What is therefore required for evangelization is word and action. People want to see lives transformed, but they also need to hear why and how they have been transformed. Combined with this emphasis on word and action, it is also vital to have another pair in balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis–that is right belief and right action. Orthodoxy without orthopraxis is dull theology. Orthopraxis without orthodoxy is a religion of sentimentality, subjectivism and good works.

The biggest problem I see with the ‘traditional’ Catholics is that too often they are so concerned about beautiful liturgy and fine churches and pretty vestments and sublime music  that they often neglect charity. Too many of them have no time or interest in evangelization, care for the poor and they are too slow to roll up their sleeves and get to work for God’s holy poor.  On the other hand the peace and justice Catholics are too often swept up in social change, political agendas and dubious causes. They have neglected orthodoxy for orthopraxis.

Both are good and both are vital, and true evangelization is impossible if they are not both activated in the Catholic life. Those who are all works centered will rightly be asked, “So what?” and without an answer no one will know why they do the good works they do. Those who are all showy worship or fine preaching will rightly be asked, “So what? What are you doing about it?”

This is one of the reasons why the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are perfect examples of the new evanglization. The friars are working right there in the heart of the Bronx with the addicts, prostitutes, pimps and drop outs. At the same time their life is driven by prayer, solemn and beautiful worship, and totally orthodox preaching. The same can be said of the Sisters of Life, the Missionaries of Charity and the other new and vibrant movements in the church.

If we are to evangelize then we must live this radical gospel life with the fullness of joy–proclaiming a gospel fearlessly and in truth and beauty, then living the gospel life fearlessly in truth and beauty. Then as the lives are seen and the word is heard others will long to know how they too can have such peace, such joy and such a beautiful energy for life.

This takes us to the heart of evangelization. The evangelist does not have some great ideology or plan or gimmick. He is simply believing, proclaiming and living the power of the resurrection. This sparks in the human heart not only admiration but desire: desire for reality, desire for life, desire for truth, desire for beauty, desire for goodness, desire for eternity, desire for love. Once that desire is truly sparked the soul can begin the long search that will finally lead them home.

When I was growing up in the USA an ice cream truck used to come around the suburban neighborhoods and the man selling ice cream was the ‘Good Humor Man’. I was never quite sure why he was called the Good Humor Man. I guess it was simply the name brand of the ice cream he sold. Anyway, around he came with his van playing a merry tune and all the children would run out from playtime clutching pennies and nickels and dimes to buy ice cream from the Good Humor Man.

From time to time on this blog I sprinkle if some humor–my satirical pieces, a few lighter moments from everyday life, some wry observations and maybe from time to time some belly laughs. Why is that? There are a couple of reasons:

First of all, I take my responsibility on this blog seriously. In other words, I’m writing for my audience, and I usually ask myself before I write a post whether I am going to write something that I would actually like to read myself. If not, dump it. I also therefore try to write in a style that is both informative and entertaining, and a few laughs help to keep it entertaining.

But there is more to it than that. I find that often when I am being most serious I am being most serious about myself, and that surely can’t be a good thing. We have to be able to laugh at life. Most of all, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. What is most worrying is when religious people can’t laugh at themselves and see the lighter side of their religion too. You know what C.S.Lewis said, “You can usually tell the pillars of the church because their faces look like stone.”

The other day I was counseling someone about a personal problem. It was all very serious, but not that serious. I mean, not life or death stuff. This gal was getting all worked up and in a lather about her problem and finally I said, “You know, in the cosmic perspective this is not such a big deal. Are you maybe taking yourself too seriously? Maybe you should see how dead serious you are and have a laugh.”

God be praised. She paused for a moment and then burst out laughing. “You’re right father. I’m taking myself far too seriously!” It’s when a person gets that serious, self righteous and lofty look that I start getting creeped out. Whoa! Here’s a person heading down the path of self righteousness big time. Too bad! They’re heading for the ‘down’ escalator and they don’t even know it.

Now I know that life and death and heaven and hell are a serious business and I realize that the church is being attacked, and I know that there is an awful lot of wickedness out there (and in my heart too) and I accept that the devil is working overtime, but there’s also an awful lot of po-faced, super serious Catholic anger out there and that’s not nice to see.

So that’s why I weave in some humor: to pop our balloons, to poke fun–especially at those who think they’re taking the faith seriously, when all they’re doing is taking themselves seriously. I use humor because ‘humor’ and ‘human’ and ‘humility’ and ‘humus’ (which means earth) all come from the same root. That means humor goes down deep. It brings us down to earth. It levels us, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the litmus test for real spirituality. If a person can’t joke–especially about themselves–there are some big time problems.

So call me the good humor man if you like. I’m going to tool around playing the merry music of humor and hope all the children come running. Did you know that on average adults laugh 17 times a day and children laugh 200?  They’re the ones who will get into the kingdom remember? Ask for the joy of your youth to be restored, for unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom.

Tonight was the final session of our RCIA course at St Mary’s for this year. It was great at the Easter Vigil to see so many come into the church. We had nine baptisms and thirty to be received. Praise God!

Tonight we concluded with a talk on prayer. In speaking on the liturgy of the hours it seemed to me that I was swept away a little. It is so hard to communicate the beauty and richness of learning to pray the hours. Somehow one connects with the centuries of the monastic tradition and through the psalms right back to thousands of years of Jewish worship.

Your own little words of worship are caught up in a mysterious mystical music of the spheres. The liturgy of the church seems to connect with the liturgy of the cosmos. The ritual and rhythm of time and space coincides and connects at a deep level. The liturgical cycle repeats and throbs in the rhythm of time.

Am I crazy? Has anyone else experienced this sense that my own life is caught up through this liturgy in something far greater and far more universal than you can imagine. Sing the psalms. Sing the responses and you are in touch with everyone else from the Holy Father to the loneliest hermit in a cell on an island lost in the sea.

In the wake of the Catholic soul searching and hand wringing over the child sex abuse allegations and cover up, I’ve got some ideas on how the situation might be improved. It involves discipline, and lest this sounds too harsh for our delicate soft, selves, let’s remember that ‘discipline’ and ‘disciple’ are from the same root.

Here are some problems and solutions. I don’t propose this as infallible or as a complete (or even accurate) list. But see if it gets some discussion going.

1. We’re soft and decadent. We give ourselves too much of a break. We’re materialistic, self indulgent and too easy to let ourselves off the hook. What we need is some good old fashioned asceticism. Let’s look to the desert fathers who, repelled by the decadence of established Roman Christianity, fled to the desert to practice mortification. “These only come out by prayer and fasting…”

2. We’ve lost the idea that we’re involved in a spiritual battle and that the devil is like a roaring lion stalking about seeking whom he may devour. What we need is more prayer and a new alert and vigilant spirit that does not give the devil even one toe in the door. We need that vigilance first for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters. St Therese cries out, “Sanctity! It must be won at the point of a sword!” Call on the angels and saints.

3. We lack discipline and direction. People consider it essential to have a coach and strict self discipline for success in every other endeavor. Athletes, musicians, business men, academics all demand professional direction and discipline. We think we can get to heaven by sauntering along in some kind of spiritual feel good hippie trance. We need firm spiritual direction and self discipline.

4. We’re good at acknowledging that we’re good, but bad at admitting that we’re not perfect. We’ve gone too far in the “I’m OK. You’re OK” philosophy. God does love us just as we are, but he loves us far too much to leave us that way. He wants each one of us to be saints, and most of us are far from that goal just yet.

5. We’re too cowardly in dealing firmly with one another. All of us, but especially fathers, husbands and pastors need to speak out against sin and speak to family members, colleagues and Christian brothers and sisters who offend or who are in danger of offending. When a person is caught in sin proper forgiveness should be balanced with proper restitution and reparation.

6. We think we can be half a saint. We want enough sanctity to make us feel good and no more. St Therese cries out, “You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!”

7. We think that morality doesn’t matter. This is gnostic. It’s a false separation of the spiritual from the physical. What we do in our bedrooms, what we do in our boardrooms, what we do with our check books and what we do with our prayer books all affect our spiritual life.

8. We’ve replaced worship with good works. We’ve made the church into a social services organization, a fund raising agency, a school, a charity, a glorified soup kitchen, a babysitting service, a luncheon club, a dating agency, a social networking group, a group therapy session, a singalong and just about anything  but the gathering together of the saints of God. Only when we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness will we begin to be transformed not by our good ideas and good works, but by contact with God’s awesome grace, and only when we are truly transformed can we hope to transform the world. Thomas a Kempis says, “Why do you wish to change the world when you cannot change yourself?”

9. We are too easy on our clergy. We love our priests. We love our deacons. We love our bishops. We support them. We honor the sacrifices they make. However, we should also hold them accountable. The fact is, money and power corrupt and priests and bishops often have more money and power than they know how to deal with. Together we should uphold the sanctity of their office and the laity should work together to confront and challenge clergy in a respectful and firm way when they go astray. We should not be surprised at corruption, and I think a bit of healthy suspicion of those in power is not a bad thing. Furthermore, wayward priests and religious should be disciplined by their superiors, lax bishops should be disciplined, not given plum jobs.

10. We have neglected catechesis and spiritual formation. Instead of teaching the fullness of the Catholic faith, liberals have dished out sentimental, feel good religion on the one hand while the conservatives have dished out dogma and apologetics and liturgical ‘correctness’ without enough spiritual formation and direction in dynamic life of the Spirit. Christian love is always tough and tender at the same time. Liberals give us tender without tough. Conservatives give us tough without tender. We need both.

Sorry not much blogging this week. Along with everything else crazy busy and Lenten we’ve been having our first school mission with Fr Luke and Br. Felix–two of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. They’ve been at St Joseph’s Catholic School for three days, and the students have been enthralled. I love this pic of the friars in London.

I’m passionate about introducing our kids to vibrant, dynamic and cutting edge Catholicism. In fact I’m passionate about this not just for our kids at St Joseph’s Catholic School, but for everyone. What on earth is the point of what C.S.Lewis called Christianity with water? Give me the full blooded stuff! Christianity with water is the weak hearted compromising pablum that actually does more harm than good. What I’m talking about is a kind of complacent, sentimentalized, do gooder religion that doesn’t do much good except if you’re suffering from insomnia.

While they were here I took the friars over to Bob Jones University art gallery, and in telling them the story about Bob Jones I related how the old boy was a good ole fire breathing, stompin’ and sweatin’ and yellin’ evangelist. At the same time Bob Jones Sr. was tender hearted. he loved people and genuinely loved saving souls. Of course I have my criticisms of fundamentalist Protestantism, but at least it has some guts and backbone.

This is what the Catholic Church most needs in this age: we need to stop all the internecine quarrels about this form of liturgy or that form of church music. We need to grit our teeth and put up with one another and open our hearts and minds and learn from one another. Mostly we need to all draw closer and closer to Christ, soak up his Spirit and each in our own way according to our own vocation and charism live out cutting edge Catholicism.

The question then arises, “What is ‘cutting edge Catholicism’?” It is nothing less than being transformed into the image of Christ, and what I have found in my journey is that no particular group or religious community or personality type has the monopoly. It should go without saying, but I’ve found saintly, joyful, simple Catholics who are traddies and trendies. I’ve met sour, legalistic, self righteous and angry traddies and trendies. I’ve met the real thing amongst charismatic Catholics, liberal Catholics, conservative Catholics and just plain bread and butter Catholics. Likewise I’ve met phoneys and frauds and pharisees in all of the above groups.

What I want for me and what our Church and our world needs most is that indefinable air of authenticity. It is hard to pin down, but it always has a sense youthful curiosity mixed with the wisdom of age. It always has a sense of seriousness mixed with zest for life and a joyful sense of humor. This person takes others seriously, but does not take himself seriously. He is patient with fools, but not with tomfoolery. He is modest but not prudish. He loves to pray but is bored with mere piety.

The friars I was with this week had these gifts. I want some.

If we are made in the image of God, then it must follow that we are little Trinities. I think we are: body, mind and spirit are three in one and one in three within us. The problem is that, unlike the holy Trinity, we are not perfectly unified. The body wars against the spirit, the mind wars against the spirit, the spirit (without grace) goes astray.

Furthermore, I have this theory that each one of us favors one of the three as our preferred mode of being. It’s like being right handed or left handed. We are primarily head people, heart people or body people, and we process our lives with one of the three predominant. So head people think things through. Heart people feel things, and body people do things. We’re thinking, feeling or acting. Which are you?

Yes, these are generalities, and all of us are more complex than these simple categories, however the categories are useful for discussion and useful in the strange and wonderful task of getting to know ourselves.

If this is so, then it makes sense that we also approach our faith in one of these three ways. At school I see some kids who just naturally connect with the religious stuff. They understand the spiritual. They understand a relationship with God. They understand the poetry of the sacraments, the intuitive moments of peace and the mechanics of prayer. Other kids are well meaning and they want to love God, but they seem to draw a blank. It’s like some kids have musical talent and others have to struggle.

It doesn’t mean the non-spiritual are left out. They just connect with the faith and encounter God in other ways. I see the mind centered ones engaging with God through their theology and philosophy courses. I see them struggling to understand. They read their way into meeting Christ and argue their way into an encounter with God. That’s OK. They join in with the sacraments too and they join in with the life of the church, but they do so first through their mind.

Then there are the ones who are body centered. Maybe they don’t connect so well with prayer and rosaries and sacraments and worship. Maybe too they’re yawning in theology class and can’t really see the point of Bible study and philosophy and apologetics. But they love going on mission trips and serving at the altar and doing service in the community and helping others and that’s how they connect with God and encounter the the One.

If this is so, then we ought to be patient and curious with one another. Curious because it’s a wonder that others connect with God in perfectly valid, but different ways than I do. Patient because I should honor their way and not seek to impose my own. Patient because if God is doing something in their life in their way then he’s really humble and I ought to allow that to happen and enable that to happen and be amazed when it does happen.

Instead how often do we seek to impose our own spirituality, our own tastes in worship our own understanding of the church’s teachings on others? How often we assume that our way is the right way? How often we scorn others and find all sorts of arguments to prove them ‘wrong’ and so make ourselves right.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not arguing for a kind of wishy washy relativistic faith based only on subjective personal experience. However I am saying there is such a thing as personal experience in our faith, and it’s a good thing, and it comes to us in as many different ways as there are people.

This is why the objectivity of the sacraments and of the church is so important. It is this objectivity that we return to. Whether we are head, heart or body people, no matter how we best connect with God on a personal level, all of us need to be grounded in the solid rock of the church and her sacraments. There the personal is grounded and the subjective is experienced with objective certainty.

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