I know that many of us have had the wind knocked out of our sails a bit by the fairly grim figures of the new Pew Study (see my “wee snapshot”, here). But nothing that Pew found was not entirely predictable. I actually *had* predicted it 5 years ago and talked about these realities endlessly in my old blog. (For my readership of three people, one of whom was probably looking for Amy Welborn!)
It is different to see it in black and white. But all we have lost are the remnants of our illusions.
The great Catholic revival and the generation of saints in early 17th century France emerged from circumstances vastly grimmer than this. 8 religious civil wars in 32 years. 20 percent of the population of Paris died in a religiously-fueled siege. Finally, two generations after Trent, the exhausted survivors looked about them and decided to give building something positive a try – collaborating across the generations and categories like bishop, priest, lay man or lay woman.
It was God’s Providence that the greatest figure of the great “generation of saints” was St. Francis de Sales, whose gentleness, and trust in God was proverbial. It was his influence that meant that while the generation that lived through the wars was scarred for life, the next generation turned their energies to heroic systematic charity, evangelization, missionary work, created the Catholic school system, the seminary system, etc. They literally re-invented Catholic life, practice, and spirituality in an evangelical mode.
Not in the image of the pre-Reformation Church, which was two generations gone, and not primarily in reaction to the terrible losses of the past but by really engaging the needs of their time – the early 17th century – out of love and in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Let us see what love will do” was St. Francis’ motto. Heroic love birthed a vast spectrum of creativity, renewal, and transformation whose influence lasted 150 years in France and gave birth to most of the institutions that 1950’s American Catholics regarded as immemorial and immutable.
The great 19th century evangelist, D. L. Moody was fond of saying that “The world has not yet seen what God will do through one man or woman wholly committed to him.” And he would always add, “By the grace of God, I will be that man.” What God has done in and through his Church before, he can easily do again. He is simply looking for men and women who will say “yes” with their whole being.
It is a wonderful thing to be clear about our situation. It is a wonderful thing to be forced to go beyond ecclesial cliches and instant remedies. Now is the time to respond in intense communal prayer. Now is the time to respond: “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Now is the time for a 21st century Generation of Saints.
Thanks be to God, Forming Intentional Disciples helped start a new and absolutely crucial conversation nearly 3 years ago. What are you asking God for in light of our realities? What are you believing God for? Do you have a sense of how God is calling you to respond in your area of apostolic responsibility?