I realize that the vast majority of Catholics are probably only getting a snippet of information regarding these deliberations on the evening news or from a brief article on the internet. The interpretations of the events seem to be quite diverse depending upon which news source you consult for your information. One thing is for sure. The Synod has created an opportunity for agenda-driven individuals and groups to get their message out to the public. Furthermore, Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Burke demonstrate the great divide that exists even among the highest echelons of leadership within the Church.
I have frequently heard it said that politics is simply a reflection of the contemporary culture. In the United States we see that accurately played out in a variety of venues. There is no doubt that our politics are deeply divided and extremely partisan with very little concern for the common good. Our culture seems to exhibit great divides as well. A few examples would be the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri which is twofold—the divide between black and white as well as between the citizen and the police (authority figure), the tension between the LGBT community in Houston (in union with the mayor) against the local pastors, and from an economic perspective the distance and divide between the salary of a CEO and the hourly worker.
Are politics an accurate reflection of contemporary church culture? It would certainly appear to be so, at least as it is being lived out in the United States of America. Obviously, the happenings in Rome impact the Catholic Church around the world. However, the same divide that exists in American politics seems to be reflected in the divide in the Church. Look at the liturgy. Do you prefer Mass in Latin or in the vernacular? What happens if the congregation is made up of a couple of prominent cultures? Do you prefer a bi-lingual Mass? How do you like your music at the Eucharistic celebration—organ or guitar with drums? Are you pro-life or are you a social justice person? Do you want the Church to get with it and start accepting things that the culture is accepting or do you want the Church to be counter-cultural?
These are questions relevant to the wider discussion. As church attendance continues to decline and participation in religious education programs dwindles at alarming rates, the question must be asked, “WHY?” Is it simply that the cultural values have usurped the values and morals taught by the Church subsequently making religious convictions obsolete or irrelevant? If so, why has the culture been more effective at transmitting a message of self-gratification as opposed to the Church which has the message of everlasting life?
It seems to me that there is a grave necessity in our churches at the local level to do some soul-searching. That means there is a need to do some real self-evaluation of the church community. I don’t mean a simple evaluation of programs at the church. I mean an evaluation of the programs and processes in light of the impact that the church community is having on its own members as well as the wider community. Do we witness a sincere growth in holiness that is overflowing into the community beyond the church walls?
There are many tools available to evaluate “success” at the local level. I’ll let you describe and define success for your local parish. Here are some questions to get you started thinking.
1. Are the Eucharistic liturgies spiritually moving and prayerful?
2. Are the homilies well prepared, well delivered, substantive and inspiring?
3. Does your parish call people to a deeper faith in God?
4. Does your parish offer multiple opportunities for spiritual growth?
5. Does your parish do a good job of welcoming guests and new parishioners?
6. Does your parish invite and encourage non-practicing parishioners to return?
7. Are parishioners kept informed of parish activities?
8. Do you get a sense of warmth and hospitality in your parish?
9. Do you have an effective religious education program for all age levels?
10. Is youth ministry a priority in your parish?
11. Are there meaningful social activities for adults and senior citizens?
12. Are your facilities easily accessible to all?
13. Does your parish provide outreach to the poor in the local community?
14. Do your parishioners actively cooperate and work with neighboring parishes?
15. Does your parish provide adequate training for parish ministers and parish staff?
16. Is your pastor readily available to the people?
17. Overall, how does your parish impact the world?
We all have a role to play in being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How brightly is your light shining right now? Do people encounter Jesus Christ through you and in you? The world needs faithful witnesses in a desperate way. Will you make a commitment to be a person of prayer, study, and action? I hope you will. Tough times are ahead for Christians; we are only experiencing the tip of the iceberg right now. The events in Houston will be lived out with greater frequency and growing intensity in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Let us put on the armor of Christ!