Written by Kathleen Lundquist
I’ve been following the dust-up regarding the word “evangelical” – the conflict between Protestant converts’ varied understandings and experiences of it and the negative images the word conjures in cradle Catholics’ minds, and the concerns about elitism and condescension on the part of those involved in such lay groups.
In my opinion, the best posts framing the issues and answering the questions are here (by Sherry W), here (also by Sherry), and here (Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things), as well as Fr. Mike's post (below) from today.
From my perspective as a participant in the Institute's programs and an avid supporter for many years, I have to say this first regarding the charge of an elitist attitude: No one is trying to turn introverted, shy, prayerfully devoted contemplative cradle Catholics into happy-clappy extroverts who shout “Amen!” back at the priest during his homily and chatter incessantly about their “personal relationship with Jesus” to the person who sits next to them on the bus. No one is trying to turn faithful Catholics into something they’re not. The programs and resources of the Catherine of Siena Institute are not geared toward changing your personality; rather, they are designed to treat your personality, your personal conception and experience of God, and your specific charisms with the greatest of respect and care. Discerning one’s charisms in response to God’s call is a deeply and uniquely personal process, and the Institute’s goal is to equip you intellectually and emotionally to grow into the best you that God designed for you to be.
Though the standards of holiness are the same for us all, because of our unique personalities, holiness looks different on everyone – and this is what we recognize and encourage. Our vision is the diametric opposite of elitism – for how could we measure such a thing? Could we say that St. Thomas Aquinas was a more “intentional” disciple than St. Francis of Assisi, or vice versa? That Mother Theresa was more “evangelical” than St. Teresa of Avila? Taking the analogy of the human body for the Body of Christ, for a moment: Is the eye less important to the function of the body than the spleen? Is your right hand more important than the hormones secreted by your pancreas? Please – anyone who’s ever actually encountered the programs or materials of the Institute can vouch for the fact that charges of spiritual arrogance or elitism are unfounded (except for the unfortunate fact that we all sin personally now and again).
To me, “intentional discipleship” means “things I think about and plan on doing for/with Jesus, and then I do them”. There are no prescribed practices, no celices, no special society prayerbooks. Nothing but the “me” I’ve dedicated to the service of God and my fellow man on planet Earth; the equipment He’s given me in terms of my talents, experiences, and intellect; the resources of the Church and the power infused into my soul by the Sacraments; and my willingness to do the tasks and love the people He sets before me each day. That’s it.
I’ve been reading a book by Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion & Liberation, entitled The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. Here’s a quote from his exegesis of Acts 1:12-14 that describes what happens when someone encounters Christ in a personal way, i.e. responds to the kerygma with faith, i.e. has an experience of Jesus Christ that radically alters their view of themselves and their place in the universe:
One who truly discovers and lives the experience of powerlessness and solitude does not remain alone. Only one who has experienced powerlessness to its depths, and hence personal solitude, feels close to others and is easily drawn to them. Like someone lost, without shelter in a storm, he or she feels his or her cry at one with the cries of others, her or her anxiety and expectation at one with the anxieties and expectations of all others.
Only one who truly experiences helplessness and solitude stays with other people without self-interest, calculation, or imposition, yet at the same time without “following the crowd” passively, submitting, or becoming a slave of society.
You can claim to be seriously committed to your own human experience only when you sense this community with others, with anyone and everyone, without frontiers or discrimination, for we live our commitment to what is most deeply within us and therefore common to all. You are truly committed to your own human experience when, saying “I”, you live this “I” so simply and profoundly that you feel fraternally bonded to any other person’s “I”. God’s answer will reach only the person committed in such a way. (Giussani, Fr. L. The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. Quebec City: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, p. 55-56)
Fr. Giussani’s words take some pondering and unpacking, but what I get from the above passage is this: It’s only through our experience of Jesus Christ, the One Reality, that we can have any sort of healthy bond to our fellow creatures at all. The recognition of our own powerlessness, sinfulness, emptiness, and aloneness without God is what we truly have in common with every other human being, and it’s on this basis that we bond, with the goal of helping one another succeed in apprehending the grace that God offers us and becoming what God intends for us to be. It’s only through the personal recognition of the truth of who God is, and therefore who we are and what our experience means, that we can be knit together in a diverse, complex, yet unified entity that can be a powerful force for good on our planet.
Every Protestant I know would agree with the following statement: The experience of Christ always leads a person to the Christian community. Though some Christians don’t make it into the Catholic Church, they still respond the best they can to Christ’s directives in the Scriptures, not the least of which is “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25) Yes, Protestant ecclesiology is different; though they don’t believe in The Church, nearly all believe in a church. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be anything we call a “Protestant denomination”; we would simply encounter individual Christian believers outside the Catholic Church, floating like tiny atoms of light in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us.
I hope this helps to allay the concerns of those who fear a “Protestantization” of the Church, but I don’t know if it will… Comments? Clarifications? Questions? (Coffee?)