I’ll admit that I sometimes worry about the future of the Church, especially in America – and, for the record, it’s not only because God-willing as a priest I’ll someday be a leader of it. It troubles me when I hear about catechism classes with kids who don’t know the title of the “Our Father”, not to mention the words to it, or when the kids willingly admit that they don’t attend Mass on Sundays and don’t seem to mind. Then there’s all the hullabaloo in the news about this or that Church thing and all the uproar that follows – misguided commentary from the mainstream media and an impossible-to-keep-it-all-straight frenzy in the Catholic blogosphere. Everywhere my pessimist’s eye turns I see disinterest, disagreement, and detachment.
At Mundelein, Fr. Michael Fuller breaks the spiritual life down into four points:Encounter, Gratitude, Expansion of the Heart, and Union with God. Lately, I’ve had this (admittedly prideful) feeling that I’d made it past the first 3 and had achieved a kind of union with God. And, I think, for most people with well-functioning prayer lives that it’s probably true that most of them are in fact experiencing union with God in some way. But then something funny happened in prayer the other day…… All of these quotes and ideas and scripture passages concerning gratitude came to mind and I began to realize that while I often a exhibit a kind of “thank you very much, see you soon” kind of gratitude usually shown to nice neighbors and mail men, I am a far cry from any kind of deeper gratitude for the wonderful things and people in my life, not to mention gratitude toward and for God in my life.
At first this was a major bummer because it looked like St. Ryan of Oswego might not be the done deal I thought it was, and it also meant that, following those four points, I was also a far cry from intimate and unceasing union with the Trinity. But that also means something that my rarely used optimist’s eye picked up: I have yet to experience a true expansion of heart, a true conversion of the way I love the Lord, am loved BY the Lord, and, in turn, love the world. In a word, the best is yet to come. There is still so much work for Jesus to do in my heart, and not because I deserve it, but because he loves me and wants to see his will fulfilled in and through my vocation.
“Don’t worry, Ryan. I don’t go to Church anymore but I’m still trying to be a good person.” Fantastic! But why are your desires so puny? If the point in life is only to be “good” (whatever that means in a culture dripping with relativism) then what am I celibate for? We aren’t called just to be “good”, but to be holy! We aren’t called merely not be to jerks to one another, but to love one another as we love ourselves. And, in our culture which places such an emphasis on love of the individual, you’d think we’d love our neighbors even more.
So the good news is this: we aren’t lost, we aren’t doomed, we’re just confused. Preaching the encounter with Christ means to preach the expansion of our hearts BY MEANS of that encounter and a discovery (with Jesus’ help) of a gratitude more authentic than we’ve ever known before. The hardest thing about it is actually deciding to let Jesus in; change hurts, acknowledging our faults hurts, and there are a million things that I would rather do than have God almighty point out where I’ve gone wrong. But you know what? It’s a lot better than the alternative; it’s a lot better than living life with me as the means and me as the end; it’s a lot better than living life looking down and in instead up to God and out at the world; and it’s beautiful to know that, even at the hour of my death, the future still lies ahead of me as far as eyes (of faith) can see. Church, we’re not folding up shop; please hang in there….we have yet to expand.
Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.
Ss. Claude la Colombiere and John XXII, pray for us.
Sans Reserve | oboedentia et pax.