I finished Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples yesterday.
If you haven’t read it, do. Weddell’s reading of contemporary American Catholicism, grounded in both statistical evidence and personal experience as founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, has changed my own understanding of why the flock is going astray. Hint: it has little to do with “entertaining” Evangelical Protestant worship services—one cause I, for one, assumed to be true.
As I read, one thought circled over and again in my mind: Who is this Jesus? Weddell’s driving point is that we are disciples of Jesus Christ in the heart of the Church. Seems like a duh point, but as it turns out, many, many, MANY Catholics don’t believe in a personal God with whom one can have a relationship.
Even if they attend Mass regularly, they do so as passive, rather than active, disciples of Christ. To say explicitly that one “follows Jesus”—and to encourage others to do the same—is verboten. It’s too Protestant. And God forbid we be like those Protestants.
This, Weddell says, results in a suffocating silence in our parishes. The community that ought to be fostering discipleship instead threatens our evangelical spirit. We fail at helping adult Christians grow in their life of following Jesus.
It’s strange. When I joined the Church, it was the result of wanting to know Jesus better. One would think that being an Evangelical would have ensured my knowing Christ. It’s not that I didn’t know him, but that I didn’t know him well. I’d say I followed the Bible more than I followed Christ, if that makes any sense. I spent more time reading Isaiah or St. Paul (all well and good) instead of reading Our Lord’s words.
When I attended my first Easter Vigil in order to watch my friend Missy receive the Sacraments, I was struck by how much Catholics talk about Jesus. The Gospel is proclaimed every Mass. The Mass is the Eucharist (and the Eucharist is Him), its prayers almost entirely the words of Our Lord and the words of Scripture. And in front of us, behind the altar, was a huge (sort of cartoonish, but still) crucifix with HIM. He was everywhere and in everything.
Some Catholics may be surprised by this, but I was struck by how much more Scripture I heard in Mass than I ever did in an evangelical service. Protestants tout their love of Scripture, but the plain fact is that Catholics hear more of it. Furthermore, they hear the words of the Second Person of the Trinity far more than I ever did as an evangelical.
When I was a Protestant, my concept of God was vague. While I would have never said this, my prayers mainly amounted to an appeal to a sort of personal-God-life-force whose Presence was somehow enmeshed in the state of my feelings.
But Our Lord became incarnate so that we might see the face of the Father. He took pity on our need of concrete tangibles. He had to be more than my vagaries and feelings.
Wanting to know Jesus was the driving force behind my conversion.
That being said, the Catholic suffocating silence does exist. Being in a parish now that suffers that silence, I feel it and I’ve responded to it. It weighs me down. What’s worse is that I haven’t done well fighting back.
I’ve allowed myself to fall into a sort of my own status quo of theoretical faith, the faith of assent, while my active discipleship wanes. (Seeing this, it’s no wonder that my behavior of late has been of the “crazy lady” variety. I’ve been acting in ways I haven’t acted in a long time.)
So I’m part of the problem.
I’m ready and willing to change. As Father said to my in Confession this past Saturday, God “is chomping at the bit” to kindle the flame of faith within me. But spiritual sloth is sticky and hard to shed. I’m most definitely in need of grace.