Ten Mission-Focused Encouragements from the Decree of Ecumenism

The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumentism (Unitatis Redintegratio) is in a plain sense, about ecumenism. But, it’s also filled with encouraging gems to inspire and enliven our participation in evangelization. It represents an outlook that is outwardly postured, mission-focused, not maintenance-focused. In no particular order, my ten favorites…

#1 Keeping It In Perspective

When the fastest growing local church in your area isn’t a Catholic one, it’s easy to start complaining about their “performance-like worship,” “shallow preaching,” and people who love their great coffee bar.

But this is a temptation to earthly competition, not mission. The Church writes that other Christians are to be “embrace[d] as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect” (para. 3). Running one’s mouth in complaint against a growing non-Catholic church doesn’t make us more mission-focused, (and it can become an unhealthy distraction).

#2 It’s Christ’s, Not “Ours”

The Church reflects:

“some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.” (para. 3)

We can’t own God.  When we see God’s gifts working outside the visible elements of the Catholic Church, we’re moved to a trust that in God’s time these gifts indeed do “lead back to Christ,” a unity of His, not our making.

#3 It’s all Connected

Separated Churches and Communities, “have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church” (para. 3).

Thanks be to God, even in our human sins of division, the “fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church” overflows and extends beyond the “visible” Catholic Church. This is why it’s true that there is “no salvation outside of the Church”–because the means of salvation which exist beyond the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church are still connected to the one Church.

#4 Our First Duty

Speaking of Catholics, the Church says that our, “primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be done or renewed in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have come to it from Christ through the Apostles.” When we fail to make this “honest appraisal” of ourselves, “the radiance of the Church’s image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, at the growth of God’s kingdom is delayed” (para. 4).

This is no easy task. There are many customs, habits, and elements of Catholic life that are quite popular, yet do not make our witness to others clear. I recently had a lively conversation with a group of Catholic educators about saying, “I pray to St. so-and-so…” and how, objectively, to any outsider hearing this, it literally sounds as if we are treating a human saint as God. Might we be clearer in our language that we’re asking a particular Saint for intercessory prayers versus “praying to them.” It doesn’t change what we’re doing–it simply bears witness more clearly to what we believe.

#5 Let Us Live in Freedom and Charity

Advice on preferences made in legitimate Christian freedom, within the realm of orthodoxy:

“All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.” (para. 5)

I think of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, where he advises them that on many of the matters they are divided, there are multiple “right” choices a faithful believer could make (1 Cor 10:31). The same for us today–where the Church gives multiple options, who are we to criticize others for choosing the option that’s not our top preference?

#6 Be Prepared to be Enriched

An outlook that “we” probably have it better than “them,” and thus can’t/won’t/shouldn’t learn anything from our separated brothers and sisters is simply not Catholic. The Church teaches:

“Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.” (para. 5)

#7 Words Matter

How we say what we believe impacts the way it is received. Changing the way we speak and communicate in order to better share the deposit of faith isn’t “watering things down,” it’s being mission-focused. As the Church explains:

Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of men here on earth. Thus if, in various times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies in moral conduct or in church discipline, or even in the way that church teaching has been formulated – to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself – these can and should be set right at the opportune moment.” (para. 6)

When we choose words that are not stumbling-blocks for our separated brothers and sisters, or even non-believers, we are communicating great and profound truths of the faith in a way that prepares for their acceptance, not rejection.

#8 Our Bond is Supernatural

As we think of the many who are baptized by not living a life of discipleship, we become more mission-focused when we recall that we are already joined, that Christ has already brought us together in a real way, “a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it” (para. 22).

This means we can’t simply be a “maintenance-focused” ministry, inwardly concerned, and planning to “keep ourselves growing” to the neglect of those around us. We have a missionary call to the world, including those who have been baptized, who are filled with God’s life and Spirit, and yet are in need of accompaniment to start or continue their journey as disciples of Jesus.

#9 An Attitude of Gracious Thanksgiving

The Church teaches:

“Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise.” (para. 5)

This means we don’t need to be shocked or apologetic when we prudently adopt practical techniques for missionary renewal and evangelism from our separated brothers and sisters.

#10 Maintenance Isn’t an Okay Option

Sometimes in parishes or ministries we can think that only “extraordinary” groups are called to truly be mission-focused…the rest of us, well, um, we’re just treading water to maintain what we’ve got. But the Church makes the bold claim that “divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her” meaning that “the Church herself finds it more difficult to express in actual life her full catholicity in all her bearings” due to such divisions (para. 5). In practice, this tells us that being maintenance-focused when it comes to renewing our parishes as places of evangelical outreach, even to the baptized, isn’t an “okay” option. It’s a sad option in that it actually prevents the Church from attaining her full beauty. This is what inspires a missionary-parish, the profound realization that when we whom Jesus died for are together, the full “catholicity” of the Church is all the more beautiful for the world to behold.

picnic
Image via Flickr user “waferboard” (CC BY 2.0)
Advertisements

Catholic Tradition and Mental Models in Ministry

Misunderstanding the Catholic meaning of “Tradition” can stifle inklings of innovation, creativity, and new design in our mental models as we minister. Let’s start from the beginning…

What is Tradition in Catholicism?

Three powerful points on the meaning of “capital-T” Tradition in the Catholic faith:

Para. 78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition…Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”
Para. 79 The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church – and through her in the world – leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.”

Para. 83 Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed.

Insights from David Fagerberg

Through the lens of liturgy, Catholic theologian David Fagerberg offers insights with application to decision-making and planning in a ministry or parish. Three key points:

  1. Tradition is Something More than History.
  2. The love of tradition in Roman Catholicism came to be identified, as was natural, with conservatism, but conservatism proves itself to be inadequate.
  3. Tradition is a capacity, a faculty.

Fagerberg’s synopsis of Church teaching is, “The pure notion of Tradition can then be defined by saying that it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, communicating to each member of the Body of Christ the faculty of hearing, of receiving, of knowing the truth in the light which belongs to it and not according to the light of human reason” (Fagerberg, “The Cost of Understanding Schmemann in the West”).

Pondering Church teaching, he emphasizes that Tradition would therefore seem to be both how something is delivered, and what is delivered. By an action called tradition (a verb), a content called tradition (a noun) is delivered. A thin sense of tradition is merely precedence. By this definition anything can become traditional if given enough time. Do it more than once and it becomes a tradition. In this thin sense, everything was “untraditional” the first time it was done (Fagerberg, “Two Centuries”). 

Fagerberg continues:

Under a more complete grammar, the thick meaning for which I am searching, something could be said to be Traditional the first time it was done. A sacramentary in Latin, the iconostasis, Gothic architecture, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the term homoousios—all these were Traditional the first time they appeared.

Patristic theologian, Jarislov Pelican, captures this contrast between a Tradition alive in the Holy Spirit, and tradition as “dead,” unmoving custom or convention, writing:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead;
traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

On Common Mental Errors in Ministerial Leadership

As leaders in ministry, how does this apply to us? Mistaking traditions for Tradition limits our openness to God’s spirit and curtails brainstorming before it even begins.

Pope Francis reflects:

 I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. (Evangelii Gaudium27)

Without an accurate and deep appreciation for Tradition, we can find it difficult to imagine, dream, or renew–difficult to brainstorm about “transforming everything” when it comes to customs, schedules, structures, etc. for the sake of the Church’s preeminent evangelizing mission.

Phrases That Hint at Our Self-Imposed Limits

When our minds (or mouths!) say…

  • Tradition is something we stick to…
  • Tradition ignores changes in culture…
  • Tradition prevents us from ______________…

Or, when we generally scapegoat our own strategic choices or decisions on “Tradition”–in all of these cases we’re turning the Great Tradition into a dead traditionalism. When others hear us do this or see it in our actions, to put it bluntly, we are reflecting poorly on the beauty and fullness of what the Church proclaims Tradition to be, we’re not making the fullness of our Catholic faith seem very appealing. 

Typical versus Normal

In our modern use of English, “typical” and “normal” are often used as synonyms. But, when we examine them with more precision, they have different meanings.

Typical is what is characteristically most common. What’s usual. Happens the most. Normal, on the other hand, is what conforms to a particular, pre-determined standard. The baseline for deriving or assessing other related things.

For us in ministry and in the Church, what’s typical in our current, cultural/historical setting is not necessarily what’s normal in the richness of Church teaching. For example, in parts of the United States, it’s much more typical for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) to be used with baptized Christians seeking full communion with the Church. However, this is not normal based on what the RCIA tells us, the “standard” from which various Appendixes are derived for the baptized, is the un-baptized.

In the Church, what’s normal per Tradition as seen in liturgical rites, Church teaching documents, etc. may not be what’s the most popular, commonly done, or typical in one’s ministry setting.

Tradition Matters

Praying for wisdom in the Spirit and a deepening appreciation for the richness and living vitality of Tradition can prevent us from short-circuiting our mental models in ministry, stopping good ideas before we even begin to discern them. As ministry leaders, Tradition is never a scapegoat, but a Spirit-inspired richness that renews in and through us.

Depths
“Depths” by Thomas Hawk via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

10 Years Later. Still a Gem.

Musings on ordinary Catholic culture, from Sherry Weddell…10 years later, and this tongue-in-cheeck writing from real-life mission work is still a gem:

When it comes to talking about eternal things. Jesus. Holiness. And more…we have:

Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion”…Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

A don’t ask, don’t tell [culture] because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it–but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

Because, “we’re all saved and we’ve all earned it, but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.”

Here’s the full post (from the Catherine of Sienna Institute’s not-currently-available blog site): 

We Are All Saved and We Have All Earned It But None of Us Are Saints Because That Wouldn’t Be Humble.

10 years of nearly continuous travel from parish to parish and thousands of personal interviews have given us a fairly good sense of typical ordinary-Catholic-in-the-pew’s worldview regarding intentional discipleship and our ultimate salvation — at leastKristin Thiel Embarassed among Anglo laity in the US.

(The worldview of the clergy is naturally very different but many clergy share in the assumptions described here in surprising ways. Priests are remarkably like human beings in this regard.)

The American church is huge and very complicated, so the culture I am about to describe would not include those groups of Catholics heavily influenced by evangelicalism (such as in the deep south), the charismatic renewal, traditionalism, lay movements or third orders, parishes that regularly do evangelism, groups with a strong social justice orientation or Catholics in “hotbed institutions” like Catholic universities or seminaries. Neither would this describe Hispanic Catholics, Vietnamese Catholics, etc.

The worldview I’m describing is common among ordinary-Anglo-cradle-Catholic-laypeople in ordinary parishes in the west coast, midwest, high plains, intermountain west and east coast.

Caveat: I am writing in a hurry and my tongue is rather firmly in my check. But I am also really describing attitudes what we have encountered over and over again in the field. There are remarkable exceptions everywhere but there is also, in our experience, a startling consistency across dioceses and regions.

The major premises could be summarized as follows:

We are all saved and we’ve all earned it but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

A fascinating, if unlikely, mixture of practical universalism, Pelagianism, and work-a-day Catholic humility seems to have been absorbed by Catholics across the country.This homespun version of universalism runs something like this: *Decent* people are automatically saved because of their decency, and almost everyone is essentially decent or at least means well, which is basically the same thing as being decent. God would never condemn a decent person. Salvation is pretty much yours to lose and you can only do so by intentionally doing something really, really, not decent like mass murder and then not saying you are sorry.

Pelagianism was an early 5th century heresy that held that original sin did not taint our human nature and that human beings are still capable of choosing good or evil without God’s grace. Pelagius taught that human beings could achieve the highest levels of virtue by the exercise of their own will.

The contemporary American version holds that human beings can attain acceptable levels of *decency* by their own efforts. We earn our salvation by not doing the really, really bad things we could do if we chose. In real life, it is pretty close to impossible for most people not to attain the minimum decency requirement. (See caveat above).

Since basic decency suffices for salvation, holiness is completely optional, and is the spiritual equivalent of extreme sports. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place. They do not pretend to be something they are not (see point #2 below).

Note: the role of Christ and his Paschal mystery in this view of salvation is extremely obscure.

There are two basic Catholic “tracks”:

a) The “ordinary Catholic track” which includes 99% of us. Your parents put you on this track by having you baptized as a baby. This track can be divided further into 1) “good” or practicing ordinary Catholics; 2) “bad” or non-practicing ordinary Catholics; and 3) pious ordinary Catholics.All ordinary Catholics, good, bad, or pious, are saved through their essential *decency* or meaning well and nor screwing up horribly. (see #1 above). God does give extra credit for visible devotion or piety.

b) The “extraordinary Catholic track”: priests, religious, and saints (.1%).

God plucks a few people out of Track “a” and places them on track “b”. That is what the Church means by having a vocation.

Priests and religious are also saved by being decent but the standard of decency is a bit more rigorous for them because they can’t have sex.

Sanctity is reserved for the uber-elite: When someone becomes a saint, it is the mysterious result of spiritual genius or an act of God and is not expected of or related to salvation for “ordinary” Catholics (see #1), because God decreed they should be on a different track. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place.

c) There is no “disciple on the way” track. When many Catholics hear the phrase “intentional disciple”, they immediately think of the only known alternative to the “ordinary Catholic” track in their lexicon, which is that of the saint and is supposed to be reserved for the uber-elite. They naturally presume that the aspirant to discipleship is pretending to have been plucked out of the ordinary track by God and is, therefore, an arrogant elitist (see #1 above).

Corollary A: Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion” because it violates #1 and #2. Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

Corollary B: don’t ask, don’t tell because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it–but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

The Christian in Christian Leaders

“If, therefore, those called to office and leadership roles in the church remain content merely to organize and manage the internal affairs of the church, they are leaving a vacuum exactly where there ought to be vibrant, pulsating life.

Of course Christian leaders need to be trained and equipped for management, for running of the organization. The church will no thrive by performing in a bumbling, amateur fashion and hoping that piety and goodwill will make up for incompetence.

But how much more should a Christian minister be a serious professional when it comes to grappling with scripture and discovering how it enables him or her, in preaching, teaching, prayer, and pastoral work, to engage with the huge issues that confront us as a society and as individuals.”

–N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, 138-139

The Call, The Loss, and a Disciple’s Vocational Integration

Fr. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, on the essential relationship of connection between loss and response to a call, to any true vocation:

Grief and loss are inseparable from the call.

If we accept the call but not the loss
we will live in a contradiction.

When people make a decision, for example to live in l’Arche,
but do not fully accept the consequences of their decision,
it is a cause of great distress.

They constantly feel sorry for themselves,
sorry that they do not have a  higher salary,
or more time for themselves,
shorter working hours, etc.

There is the call
and there is the loss.
But who wants loss?

When I left the navy more than fifty years ago,
I sold everything I had,
which wasn’t much, and gave it to the poor.

Today I do not have much to sell
and I doubt if anyone would want what I have!
But the call and loss continue.

Excerpts from Vanier’s Befriending the Stranger (2001), p. 20

Living this Paschal Mystery (h/t Joyce Donahue) is part of any healthy discernment of a call to a particular form of work, life, or oftentimes–both. As Vanier alludes to, if we as disciples seeking to follow Jesus in the Holy Spirit fail to integrate loss and call early on, the effects will linger. “Distress” will simmer beneath the surface, negatively impacting our relationships with God and others.

The degree to which this “distress” appears outwardly negative will vary by individual and situation. I know that I have been guilty of making decisions about following the call without fully accepting the consequences–and yes, this led to interior self-pity, to regret–even as my life was filled with genuine joy. It can be an odd mix sometimes.

But, a healthy, wholesome integrated life of discipleship avoids this temptation, as this temptation ultimately harms our relationship with God. We can be joyful for a time, but it is difficult to authentically sustain this joy from the Source if we have not fully accepted the consequences of our calls as disciples.

Theology Teacher Problems [as Gift]

This is why designing theology curricula and syllabi is hard. 🙂

When wading around in matters liturgical, one has in fact stepped into the headwaters of a river (lex orandi) which can be followed downstream into any number of channels (lex credendi). Liturgical theology involves ecclesiology, because the Church is the people that this ritual creates; and ecclesiology involves Christology since that is whose body the Church is; and this requires triadology for an ontological Christology and soteriology for a functional Christology; and redemption outlines a doctrine of sin, which assumes knowledge of what it means to stand aright, which is a doctrine of creation. (David Fagerberg, On Liturgical Asceticism, “Century List” #27).

 

Happy evaluating and planning this summer and beyond!