Tuesday, 30 January 2007 12:29
Written by JACK
Over at Amy Welborn's blog, an interesting conversation ensued after Amy posted a bleg of a reader for advice on how to help her young adult cousin who is politically conservative and has decided to leave the Catholic Church, noting certain stances of the bishops on immigration and war as his reasons. The blegger was seeking genuine help in what to do to try and help this young man choose to stay in the Catholic Church.
It's a problem that many of us face. Family members who no longer go to Church. Some don't seem to believe in Christ, if we are honest. Others believe in Christ but don't see the fundamental connection with the Catholic Church. (I still struggle with the fact that my parents don't darken the stoop of my home parish unless I am visiting. When I realized -- after they stopped going to Mass when my younger brother moved out -- that my parents had insisted on the family going to Mass every week all those years because they thought "it was the right thing to do when raising kids", not from a living love of Christ, I was devastated. Still am, even if more used to the reality now.)
And the usually recommendations ensued. Books to read. "Conservative" parishes to attend. Talks about the nature of prudential judgment and how the bishops in fact do err at times. It wasn't until Sherry added a comment that what only a few of us had hinted at was expressly said:
"At the risk of sounding radical, I would like to suggest that the bishop's stands on immigration may turn out to be the "presenting problem" as counselors call it but not the real issue. The chances are high that the real issue is existential, not theological. I say this based upon having done at a thousand one-on-one interviews with lay Catholics of all ages about their lived experiences of God. (which I wrote a piece about on Intentional Disciples (blog.siena.org) yesterday, scroll down to "Do Ask, Do Tell"). My suggestion: If you have a fairly good relationship with your cousin, get together one-on-one for a meal or coffee in some quiet place and ask him this question: "Can you describe your relationship with God to this point in your life?" And really listen. Ask a few clarifying questions but resist the temptation to leap in and correct his faulty theology or opinions. Listen for the experiences and feelings behind the opinions and that may reveal what the real issue is."
I think there is a lot to learn from this. First, what a dramatic example of the fact that all of us -- even us laity -- are called to evangelize. Here's a great example of how the only person that might be able to reach this young man is not some bishop or priest, but a relative. Second, I must ask (even myself) why our first instinct is often to recommend a book rather than a relationship. As the years go by, I more and more think that many of these situations exist because the individual doesn't have any lived experience of the Church being for them. No one has embodied for them everything that God promises us through the Church. Knowing more facts about what the Church claims or having a better systematic intellectual understanding of the Church isn't what is needed. What is needed is the verification through one's own experience of these facts. Many of the recommendations on that thread emphasized "conservative" authors or "conservative" parishes that might appeal to the young man. I don't wish to disparage any of the authors or parishes recommended. But if it only stops there, versus becoming a concrete way in which this young man experiences the truth of the Church (i.e., that she is the place of Christ's presence and the extension of His mission through time), I fear that it will have little effect or (even if he stays in the Church), will result in just as pressing of problems.