And other quick portion of a relevant post from a year and half ago:
increasingly, evangelicals are more than willing to acknowledge Catholic strengths and are more than a little dazzled by them. I attended a gathering of high powered evangelicals committed to spiritual formation in early July. They were talking and quoting Catholic authors almost exclusively: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Green and referred a great deal to monastic practice. Their passion was a profound union with God and so naturally, they turned to the great mystics. I learned from them that many of the foremost evangelical universities in the country now have spiritual formation programs in place that are adopting the same approach.
But so many of their evangelical assumptions were still in place. One impressive missionary leader, who lives in St. Petersburg, was stunned when, in response to his questions, I had to explain to him that being a Christian and being a disciple weren’t the same thing in the Catholic tradition. One was sacramentally based and the other a personal response.
The bewildered look on his face said it all. There was no place in his spiritual worldview for such a distinction. After all, he was turning to historic Christianity for guidance in how to help immature disciples become mature disciples. It had not yet dawned upon him that a faith that produces such saints could simultaneously have large numbers of members who are not yet disciples at all. Who don’t even know that discipleship is possible. Many of whom don’t even have an imaginative category in their heads for discipleship. Because they have never heard anyone talk about it.
Yes, evangelicals produce lots of spiritual babies. They may only be one year old spiritually but at least they are crawling and/or beginning to take their first steps. While we are finding that our pews are filled with the spiritually pre-natal. Many still in the first trimester. And they've been in the first trimester for decades and are showing no signs of growth at all. (Which is scary since unborn babies that don't grow, eventually die.) There are days when I’d give anything for a room full of toddlers. For all of our pro-life rhetoric, our practice and our culture is seems to be firmly in favor of spiritual contraception.
Or to use another metaphor, Catholicism is the graduate school of the spiritual life. We have this enormous, gorgeous library, full of the riches of the ages and open 24/7 to anyone who wants to enter and peruse at their leisure.
But first you have to teach yourself to read and write. Cause we don’t have a public elementary school system and the majority of our people are illiterate. Now this works for some of our own who are especially gifted and persistent or have parents who tutored them privately or sent them to be educated by the emerging network of small, specialized private schools. But many, even the majority in our village don’t even know books exist. So our wonderful library is beginning to fill up with the graduates of hundreds of humble evangelical public elementary schools who know there is more and are hungry for it.
To continue with the metaphor: There is no reason at all that we could not establish our own public elementary "spiritual formation" system but when someone points out the need for such a system, the common responses seem to be:
1) We built the library and wrote most of the books in it!
(Hmmm? True indeed, but exactly how is that a meaningful response to a wide-spread lack of spiritual "literacy" (discipleship) which means few can read and understand those wonderful books?
2) Catholics don't do elementary schools. That's Protestant. The majority of our people have never been "spiritually literate".
Even if it is true - and it hasn't always been true everywhere - why does that make it ok? Especially since the founder of our library, gave us a very clear mandate: Go therefore and make disciples ("spiritual literates") of all nations . . .
3) We already have our own educational network and our people spend years in it!
Yes that is often the case, but we don't conduct tests to see what they have learned before they graduate. All the available evidence indicates that most of our pupils graduate still unable to read and write. (They never pick up a book and can't read our blogs for heaven's sake!) Shouldn't we ask ourselves: "is our existing educational system giving us the results that our founder clearly stated was the norm and our mission? If we keep doing what we are presently doing, we'll keep getting what we have gotten. Isn't it time to re-evaluate and revamp our "spiritual school" system?
Even if setting out to teach all our people to read and write smacks of Protestantism?