Monday, July 1, 2013

‘We Need to Be Active Witnesses of Our Faith’

I love Archbishop Chaput. He always seems to hit the nail on the head. On June 22 he gave a speech honoring St. Junipero Serra. He speaks of our mission, the new evangelization, St. Francis and Fr. Serra. It is excellent. Below is an excerpt. I hope it encourages you to read the whole speech. It can be found here.

The “how” of a New Evangelization, or any evangelization, needs to begin with our own repentance and conversion. That hasn’t changed since Father Serra walked the Camino Real, the trail that linked California’s missions. We can’t give what we don’t have. 
As individuals, we control very little in life; but we do control what we do with our hearts.  We can at least make ourselves available to God as his agents. Personal conversion is the essential first step. It immediately affects the people around us. 
The “how” also requires us to understand the real human terrain we’re called to convert. 

Christian Smith, Notre Dame’s distinguished social researcher, suggests that the de facto dominant religion among American teenagers today is “moralistic therapeutic deism.” And he frames the creed of this new religion in this way:

First, a God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth. Second, God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions. Third, the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. Fourth, God doesn’t need to be particularly involved in one’s life, except when he’s needed to fix a problem. And, fifth, good people go to heaven when they die.

“Teen religion” largely derives from the world of adult religion, especially parental religion, and it flows naturally from what the parents of these teens actually practice.  Old patterns of religious faith among many adults have faded into a kind of vague “spirituality,” which then shapes the world into which American adolescents are socialized.

For many young people, the moralistic part of “moralistic therapeutic deism” simply means being pleasant and responsible, working on “self-improvement,” taking care of one’s health and doing one’s best to succeed. “Therapeutic” means focusing on feeling good and happy, being secure and at peace. It’s about subjective well-being and getting along amiably with other persons. And “deism” means that God exists — he created our world — but he’s not particularly involved in our affairs, especially when we don’t want him around. He’s available to meet our needs. He’s not demanding on us, but we can be demanding on him.

Obviously, very little of this has anything to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the faith of the martyrs. And that’s a problem.
In practice, American society now breeds a kind of radical self-focus and practical atheism — not by refuting faith in God, but by rendering God irrelevant to people’s needs and urgencies of the moment. 

As Christopher Lasch saw in The Culture of Narcissism, consumer culture tends to create weak personalities dependent on group behavior and approval — and therefore more susceptible to advertising and product consumption. The hard and social sciences replace the clergy as a source of guidance and meaning. And social media and mass entertainment abolish solitude and personal reflection.  

So, in an age of massive self-absorption, the result is that real individuality and self-mastery are withering. Why? Because the communities that root and shape an individual in distinctive moral codes and histories — in other words, our families, churches, synagogues and fraternal organizations — can’t compete with the noise and flash of consumer society.

Here’s what that means for all of us as believers:  A “new” evangelization must start with the sober knowledge that much of the once-Christian developed world, and even many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan. 

Christian faith is not a habit. It’s not a useful moral code. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others — or it’s nothing at all.

Mastering the new social and demographic data that describe today’s world, and the new communications tools to reach it, are vitally important for the Church. 

But nothing can be accomplished if we lack faith and zeal ourselves. We — and that means you and I — are the means God uses to change the world. The material tools are secondary. People, not things, are decisive.

No comments: