For most of my life Saint Patrick’s Day did not mean much more to me than green beer, shamrock shakes at McDonald’s and corned beef and cabbage specials. I almost never thought about Saint Patrick as a living, breathing human being much less a Catholic saint. As an escaped slave turned priest, then turned bishop, Saint Patrick was a model of an evangelical Catholic who shared a vision of the Universal Church that modern Catholics would do well to remember.
From his Confession and today’s reading in the Liturgy of the Hours:
“How did I get this wisdom, that was not mine before? I did not know the number of my days, or have knowledge of God. How did so great and salutary a gift come to me, the gift of knowing and loving God, though at the cost of homeland and family? I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others.
“If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor. I am deeply in his debt, for he gave me the great grace that through me many peoples should be reborn in God, and then made perfect by confirmation and everywhere among them clergy ordained for a people so recently coming to believe, one people gathered by the Lord from the ends of the earth. As God had prophesied of old through the prophets: The nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth, and say: “How false are the idols made by our fathers: they are useless.” In another prophecy he said: I have set you as a light among the nations, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
“It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie, He makes this promise in the Gospel: They shall come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.”
My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.
— Luke 15: 31-32
I wasn’t going to write here today, but I was excited to read today’s gospel, the story of the prodigal son. Ooh, ooh, I thought, I love this story. Then it occurred to me that I was actually excited to read the gospel, and then I got excited about being excited. It occurred to me that this is how God wants us to feel about reading His Word. Excited. I read the readings of the day every day, and this is how I should feel about them every day. Excited. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Maybe I really am becoming an Evangelical Catholic.
The story of both brothers is the story of many of us. Of course it is the story of the prodigal son that stands out for most of us. It is a genuinely heartwarming story of the son that was lost to his father and then was found again. How can you not share in his father’s excitement at his return and his need to celebrate? I want to jump up and down and celebrate right along with him. And from time to time I’ve walked in his son’s shoes too, lost, but always returning. How much more clearly could God tell me how happy He always is to have me back? How much more clearly could he tell me of His infinite love and forgiveness? Wow, to have a Father like that is just awesome.
Yet at times I have also been the dutiful, obedient son. When I was younger I always made a point of being thankful for all of God’s wonderful gifts. He has truly been bountiful to me in life. It is right to be thankful to God for everything He has given us. In fact I was so thankful, that I made a point of not asking God for anything if I could help it. Hadn’t He already done enough for me? Would it not be ungrateful of me to ask Him for anything more? I could deal with the rest on my own.
Oops, that was a little prideful, wasn’t it? In truth we don’t deal with anything without His help. And in truth He wants us to ask for His help always. The dutiful son was angry because his father had never given him so much as a young goat to feast on with his friends. But that was only because he had not asked. His father tells him quite plainly that everything he has is his. He tells him as if to say but don’t you already know that?
I don’t always remember that. I have to be reminded. I have to remember that it’s OK to ask God for things. When my son or daughter ask me for something, I’m happy to give it. I’m happy because they are grateful and not spoiled. I’m happy to be asked. How much more will our Father in Heaven give us than we give to our children? All we have to do is ask.
Yes, I find that exciting.
Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68.
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. Mark 9:7.
Is Catholicism relevant? If you find yourself asking this question, then ask yourself are you happy with the world as it is? If you blog, then you only have to look at your spam to know how full of filth the world is. Evil hunts you. You cannot hide from it. What about the people you know, your co-workers, your friends and acquaintances, your family? Are their lives as God-centered as you think they should be? Were you happy with our choices for the Presidential election? After all, there were Catholics on both sides of the ticket. This caused a number of us to consider family values Catholicism versus social justice Catholicism. Why should we have to vote for one to the disparagement of the other? Ask yourself, are you content with the growing secularism of societies? Are you content with the proliferation of pornography and mass murder? Do you walk away when talk turns to the filth that has infiltrated our Church?
I could not sleep last night thinking of such things. During the day I had read George Weigel’s column “The Rise of Evangelical Catholicism.” I longed to read his new book. I was wide awake, and so I opened up my Kindle in the dark bedroom and ordered it. No, I haven’t finished reading yet; I’ve just begun. No, this isn’t a review or an endorsement, not yet at least. However, I think I know what is coming.
In his article he considers the challenge that lies before us. “The challenge can be defined simply: throughout the western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will, somehow, convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.
“No, in our new situation, Catholicism has to be proposed, and Catholicism has to be lived in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. Recreational Catholicism—Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps 90 minutes of one’s time on a weekend—is over. Full-time Catholicism—a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission—is the only possible Catholicism in the 21st century.
“The Evangelical Catholicism of the future is a Catholicism of radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship and courageous evangelism. Evangelical Catholics put friendship with the Lord Jesus at the center of everything: personal identity, relationships, activity. Evangelical Catholics strive for fidelity despite the wounds of sin, and do so through a daily encounter with the Word of God in the Bible and a regular embrace of Christ through a frequent reception of the sacraments.”
The environment in which Catholicism, and yes all Christianity, depends upon for life and growth has become toxic. Our faith will no longer grow on its own. Recreational Catholicism as he defines it is no longer sufficient to grow our faith or even ensure its survival. No less than radical conversion, dedicated discipleship and renewed gospel-centered evangelization are what is now required.
I write primarily for the laity, because that’s where my experience and vocation lie. And make no mistake, the role of the laity is a vocation. Ever since Vatican II the Church has called for a renewal of the religious life and role of the laity. See The Essential Role of the Laity at Ignatius.com. Lay Christians need to permeate social, political and economic realities. Lay Christians must bring Christ’s message to the whole world. This is part and parcel of our coming evangelical orientation.
“Evangelical Catholics enter mission territory every day,” writes Mr. Weigel. The call is for our role of discipleship to invite the question “how can you live that way?” And to that our answer must be “how can you not live that way?” This brings to mind the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words. We must not only preach the gospel by how we live but sometimes, yes, by standing up for our faith with words and being counted.
It is not only Lent but a time for electing a new Pope. This is a great time to put on the new man and to renew our baptismal vows. This is a great time to be reborn again in the Holy Spirit and fire. And it is a necessary time of prayer for our church and the wisdom of its leadership as we move into the 21st century. Do not forget to pray and then pray some more. And burn for Our Lord.