Fr. Carl Chudy, SX
Twenty first Century Pentecost
The core purpose of the Xaverian Missionaries is parceled out in a small slice of the larger evangelical commitment of the Church in something Vatican II called the “mission ad gentes.” This Latin term is a fancy way of saying that we attempt to connect in meaningful ways the Catholic Church with the larger stream of humanity who is neither Catholic, nor Christian, which by the way is most of humanity.
The feast of Pentecost of today is a dramatic 21st century icon of this Catholic commitment to a world of faith and doubt in a growing secular culture. This bridge-building mission reverberates through the Word of God and is presented to us during this ever renewing time of Pentecost:
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Acts 2
The joy and hope of the Easter Season is with us in a very different world than the first disciples experienced, and yet there are some interesting similarities as well. The world of the first disciples and the initial growth of Christianity was in a very culturally diverse, and religiously pluralistic world, much like today.
In fact, the United States, like others, is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world. The extraordinary religious and non-religious pluralism we are very aware of and that marks our communities and families is one element where our 21st century Pentecost finds a home. We need to find ways to connect meaningfully with this world from the prayerful plea of Jesus: “Father, may they be one as you and I are one.”
The Catholic Bleed
Another element that conditions what Pentecost means to us today is recognizing our “Catholic bleed.” In our country today the Catholic Church is experiencing what I would call the “the Catholic bleed.” According to the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, for every Catholic convert overall, six Catholics leave the Church. There are thirteen million Americans who call them selves “former Catholics.”
Furthermore, the young millennial generation of Catholics (20’s and 30’s) are untethering themselves, not only from the Catholic Church, but from any institutional religion in large numbers. For the Catholic Church, this group has risen 27% since 2007. This group, often called the “nones,” are more numerous than all Catholics and Protestants in the United States.
What shape does our Pentecost commitment make when more people are leaving the Church than entering it? Are we speaking a language that is understood by an increasingly secularized culture, or is it overly dependent on a medieval and devotional spirituality. Are we connecting to the real needs of our families in shifting times? Do we provide space for a dialogue on important issues that the Church stands for with many Catholics who have serious reservations for some things that the Church teaches? Do we help our Catholics understand our important relationships with those of other faiths and non-religious convictions who are their neighbors and friends?
The Wide-Embrace of Catholicism
In this simple blog post, I point out just two of many elements that dictate how our modern day Pentecost plays out in our parishes, communities, and the world around us. The ever-increasing pluralism of faiths, convictions, and world views, and our inability to engage them meaningfully has led to a sense of insularity and insecurity in our changing world, developing some parish communities as fortresses to be defended, instead of the open and transparent heart of mercy we are called to.
We have also succumbed to the temptation of a hyper-differentiated world where islands of faiths, ideologies and convictions seem incapable to connect with one another. Perhaps we too have become one of those islands, to some extent, without a meaningful connection to that world which is neither Catholic, Christian, or even religious.
The Courage Pentecost Provides
The courage of the first disciples who fearlessly saw the rich, diverse world as an opportunity to find new and creative ways to bring the compassion and mercy of the Trinity to the world around them. Dialogue, connection, engagement, finding common ground, building trust, are all part of a little known aspect of the National Catechetical Directory of the United States called “pre-evangelization.” Today, more than ever, it is the building of bridges, alliances, and commitments to sustained dialogue as we gulf the chasms of mistrust and honor our plurality as a gift of the Lord.
Pre-evangelization is a central concern to the 21st century Pentecost of today. One way at looking at this crucial impetus is through the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, in which he proposed a courageous dialogue between the Church and the contemporary world as one of the foundations of our global mission. He helps us understand that this dialogue we have with the world around us is based on the simple, but profound truth that it is God who initiated dialogue with us first. (ES #72)
Even though we have very different views, our search for common ground is at the heart of this dialogue and a central way we share our own faith with those who do not share ours. Bridge building is all about proclaiming what Christ demands of us.