I wonder if you’ve ever heard the following or similar statements made about the Church from representatives of the media, wider culture, or even from friends and family?:
- The Church no longer has a relevant contribution to make to our modern society, and She is unable to offer useful answers to the problems of our world.
- She is also a diminishing presence in every area of modern life – Her voice does not count and so can be disregarded.
- The Catholic faith is divisive, especially in education. It is also unscientific.
- The Church is undemocratic and should have no voice in politics.
- The Church has backward ethical and moral values which constitute a hateful and bigoted system designed to constrain people’s freedoms and exert institutional power.
- The sins of the Church at both individual and institutional levels prove not just a false compassion and love, but a contempt for the most vulnerable people in our society.
- Christian culture is out of step with the lives of modern Britons, so why would anyone be attracted to something so dull and uninspiring?
- There will no longer be a Church in the future because of collapsing mass attendance, falling vocations, Christian persecution, an exodus of the young, a crisis in catechesis and closing parish churches.
I’m sure you could add to these points many of your own, and embellish them with harsher criticisms than I have done!
I’ve certainly read and heard comments like this and it can naturally make one feel disturbed or concerned about the future of the Church. What also makes them hard-hitting is that some contain kernels of truth, or facts that we’d rather not contemplate. So runs the bad news!
While it is tempting to fight fire with fire or respond to every example we find of misunderstanding or attack, God’s answer to this bad news is simply The Good News. Amazingly, He has entrusted the mission of sharing it to each one of us, without exception.
This Good News is addressed first to individuals. Christ commands, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations‘. (Matt 28:19) Disciples are those who have met and responded to the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ, have allowed His saving power to meet them in their sinfulness, have accepted God’s mercy and who follow Him wherever He goes. ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person‘. (Pope Benedict XVI)
Christian disciples are also people who acknowledge that they do not possess the power in themselves to change others or the world into what they might like it to be. Rather, evangelisation is about trust and faithfulness to God’s commands. An Anglican Bishop wrote: ‘the awakening of faith in an individual is not something that can be engineered by human endeavour or persuasion. All our programmes, techniques and strategies are nothing without the gentle action of the Holy Spirit.’ This is the only power that can change our world, and it does so from the inside out.
So whenever you feel tempted to despair or feel impotent against a world which turns away from God, pray that as you have received the Good News, you will also be able to offer it in love to those who have as yet received only the bad news. Then, the world might start to look like a very different place.