I continue to read too many depressing accounts of our age, and of the Church, filling the blogosphere. ENOUGH! Some mock the notion of a springtime of the Catholic Church. Make no mistake, I understand their concerns. I am not naive. However, I absolutely reject their cynicism. I choose instead to be to live in the theological virtue of hope. We are living in a new missionary age.We are the missionaries.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - "So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
"When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish." (John 21)
My friend Fr Randy Sly, the associate editor of Catholic Online and a priest of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, offered a wonderful homily based the readings for Mass on this Friday in the Octave of Easter. I have known Fr Randy for many years. I was honored to be a part of his journey to the full communion of the Catholic Church.
I was inspired years ago when he laid aside a full and fruitful ministry after having served faithfully for years as an Archbishop of a community in the Anglican tradition. After the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate, he was invited to ordination. It was an honor to be present at both his ordination as deacon and as priest. It gave me great hope for our Church. These new Catholic priests are such a treasure and just in the nick of time!
Fr Randy is what I call an evangelical Catholic priest. He is in love with the Lord Jesus Christ whom he knows personally because he has encountered Him, and continues to encounter Him in a lifestyle led by the Holy Spirit. He also understands that he has been ordained for a new missionary age of the Catholic Church and has rolled up his sleeves, ready to do the work it entails. There are many priests just like him. Their numbers are growing. We need many, many more.
Along with them, there are a growing number of Bishops who have realized that the times we live in require a Church on fire with the Holy Spirit - and that they are the teachers who can light the flame. They are teaching with the kind of compassion, courage and conviction which is desperately needed. They understand that the choice is ours. We can curse the darkness and bemoan the collapse of the culture or we can rise to the hour and set the world of this day ablaze.So, they are sending out the fire of the Spirit to kindle the flame by their words and deeds.
Finally, there are a growing number of those ordained servants who are the lowest members of the hierarchy, ordained not unto the priesthood but unto service. Deacons are an order of clergy in the midst of the world. We go from the ambo to the altar and into the world - in order to bring the men and women of this world into the new world of the Church. We have a unique role to exercise in the new Evangelization of the Church and in this new missionary age.
Last, but certainly not least, are the growing numbers of renewed members of Christ's lay faithful who are on fire with the Gospel. One manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit in our age is the growth of the ecclesial movements. We often feature the ecclesial movements on Catholic Online. We agree with the last few popes that they are the finger of God for this new missionary age.
They are for this millennium what many of the movements which became religious communities were for the last millennium. They are the resources, the living stones of which the Apostle peter writes in his first letter (1 peter 2:5) being built up into a spiritual house. It is no accident that these movements are such an essential part of much of what is alive and growing in the global catholic Church.
Benedict XVI once wrote concerning his first encounters with the ecclesial movements in these words "at a moment of weariness in the Church, at a time when we were hearing about "the winter of the Church", the Holy Spirit was creating a new springtime." Though each of these movements have their unique charism, they also have commonalities. They all invite Christians into an encounter with the Risen Lord which leads them into the mission of the Church, each member in accordance with his/her state in life and vocation.
The members of these ecclesial movements actually believe that the same Holy Spirit which animated the first century Church is available today to all believers. Of course, they are correct. The growth of the ecclesial movements in the Catholic Church is a testimony to a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit which is fueling a much needed missionary age of the Catholic Church.
Like Paul and Silas in the first millennium, all of these members of Christ's faithful, clergy and lay, are on fire with the love of God. They are ready to "turn the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) with the effective preaching of the Gospel in its fullness, in both word and deed.
I continue to read too many depressing accounts of our age, and of the Church, filling the blogosphere. ENOUGH! Some mock the notion of a springtime of the Catholic Church. Make no mistake, I understand their concerns. I am not naive. However, I absolutely reject their cynicism.
I choose instead to be to live in the theological virtue of hope. The cultures which the early first century Christians went into were very much like our own. What was different? The Christians were different! They had a living faith. They showed heroic virtue. They had no time for cynicism. They had a mission to accomplish. So do we!
The Gospel of today's Mass recounts the story of some apostles trained in the skills required of fishermen. However, they were unable to catch any fish. When they responded in obedience to the Lord and cast the net on the proper side, they caught so many that their nets were breaking.
When they stopped relying only on their own skills, stopped complaining about the circumstances, and chose to enter into the stream of living faith, they experienced the miracle. The miraculous provision filled them with awe and drew Peter to an appropriate action. He focused on Jesus and moved toward Him.
In Luke's account, Peter's action was accompanied by repentance, a very evangelical response to encountering the Lord. Jesus tells him, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." The passage ends with the proper response from every disciple of the Lord, "When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him." (Luke 5)
Those words formed the basis of a 2001 letter from Blesses John Paul II entitled "At the Beginning of the New Millennium." He called for a rebirth of a missionary spirit in what he called a New Evangelization. His Holiness Benedict XVI continued the call in both word and deed during his wonderful service in the Chair of Peter.
Now, with our Holy Father Francis, we are witnessing a missionary Pope, perhaps like few in history. He has done nothing but evangelize from the moment he stepped out onto that balcony at St Peters. His words and his actions have set the tone. There is no doubt in this deacon's mind that he is leading us all to embrace the missionary moment in which we live. He is calling us to live our lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. He is sending us out in response to the command of Jesus to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. (Mk 16:15, Lk. 14:23, Mt. 28:19)
Jesus Christ is Lord. His salvation is extended to all men and women. The Church is God's plan for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the world reconciled. Through Baptism, we were born into a new relational reality; we now live in the Church for the sake of the world. We are called to love the Church with the affection of sons and daughters because she is our mother.
There is no plan B through which He will save this world. He established One Church through which to continue His work until His return. She has undergone purifications and reforms many times throughout her missionary journey for over two thousand years. Her hull may be battered but she is still the Ark of Salvation.
Church history demonstrates that seasons of purification are usually followed by times of great restoration and triumph for the Church. So it is in our own day.This Church that is called Catholic is not a mere human institution. If it were, it would have shipwrecked long ago.
The Church exists to evangelize and that the essential nature of the Church is missionary. The Catholic Church has always taught that every single human being on the face of the earth has a right to hear the liberating Gospel message of Jesus Christ as fully revealed in the heart of His Catholic Church. That will be accomplished in this hour by you and me, no matter what our state in life, or specific vocation.
We are all baptized into Christ to participate in the saving mission of His Church. However, in order to be able to engage such a missionary task, many Catholic Christians need to be renewed in their own Baptismal faith through a personal and transformative encounter with the Risen Lord. In addition, that encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ needs to be strengthened and secured by solid catechesis in living as a Catholic Christian. This is what is meant by the New Evangelization.
This New Evangelization invites each of us to live our baptismal vocation, completely given over to the work of the Lord, in the heart of the Church. It is meant to bring about an authentic renewal of the Church so that she can then undertake a new missionary outreach to the whole world. Only a Church fully alive in the Lord and filled with His Spirit can carry out such an evangelical mission.
The Church is the Ark, the boat, presided over by the Lord. He is at the helm, steering His redemptive course through time. The Lord of the harvest is calling workers for the New Evangelization and the new missionary age. He is sending us out on mission, fishing for men, women and Nations. He will work His saving and redemptive mission in and through us, because we are members of His Mystical Body, the Church.
I believe we are at the beginning of a great resurgence in the Catholic Church precisely for this new missionary age. Just when her opponents are ready to count the Catholic Church out, the sleeping giant is rising. Along with the needed purification of the Church, the seeds of a new springtime are beginning to sprout.
For example, the fact that the ecclesial movements are flourishing, new and renewed religious communities are growing, new and renewed Colleges and Universities, desirous of being fully and faithfully Catholic, are flourishing, all point to the work of the Holy Spirit. They are the seedbed of vocations, sending out missionaries into every segment of the fields of this age which are ripe for harvest. There is a growing dynamically orthodox Catholic faith and life being manifested among the lay faithful.
The movement of our Anglican friends into full communion, the growing number of other Christians' coming home to the full communion of the Catholic Church, the movement toward the healing of the division between East and West, are all signs of a resurgent Catholic Church and a new missionary age.
The Lord who birthed the Church from His wounded side on Golgotha's Hill her and died for her is purifying her and renewing her by His Spirit to continue his redemptive work until he returns to bring it to completion. He has been raised from the dead and now walks with our feet. This is the Dawn of a New Missionary Age. We are all missionaries. Let's get to work!