Bishop Kevin Dowling, (A redemptorist) from South Africa offers the following thoughts that others including America Magazine’s Fr James Martin, SJ, (h/t to the good Father) have been noting positively and that traditionalists are abhorring today (check the comment box at America). This part on young adults influencing him should certainly not be overlooked:
When I worked internationally from my Religious Congregation’s base in Rome from 1985 – 1990 before I came back here as bishop of Rustenburg, one of my responsibilities was the building up of young adult ministry with our communities in the countries of Europe where so many of the young people were alienated from the Church. I developed relationships with many hundreds of sincere, searching Catholic young adults, very open to issues of injustice, poverty and misery in the world, aware of structural injustice in the political and economic systems which dominated the world……but who increasingly felt that the “official” Church was not only out of touch with reality, but a counter-witness to the aspirations of thinking and aware Catholics who sought a different experience of Church. In other words, an experience which enabled them to believe that the Church they belonged to had something relevant to say and to witness to in the very challenging world in which they lived. Many, many of these young adults have since left the Church entirely.
On the other hand, it has to be recognised that for a significant number of young Catholics, adult Catholics, priests and religious around the world, the “restorationist” model of Church which has been implemented over the past 30 – 40 years is sought after and valued; it meets a need in them; it gives them a feeling of belonging to something with very clear parameters and guidelines for living, thus giving them a sense of security and clarity about what is truth and what is morally right or wrong, because there is a clear and strong authority structure which decides definitively on all such questions, and which they trust absolutely as being of divine origin.
The rise of conservative groups and organisations in the Church over the past 40 years and more, which attract significant numbers of adherents, has led to a phenomenon which I find difficult to deal with, viz. an inward looking Church, fearful of if not antagonistic towards a secularist world with its concomitant danger of relativism especially in terms of truth and morality – frequently referred to by Pope Benedict XVI; a Church which gives an impression of “retreating behind the wagons”, and relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis in the face of such dangers. The fear is that without such supervision and control, and that if any freedom in decision-making is allowed, even in less important matters, this will open the door to division and a breakdown in the unity of the Church.
This is all about a fundamentally different “vision” in the Church and “vision” of the Church. Where today can we find the great theological leaders and thinkers of the past, like Cardinal Frings and Alfrink in Europe, and the great prophetic bishops whose voice and witness was a clarion call to justice, human rights and a global community of equitable sharing – the witness of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, the voices of Cardinals Arns and Lorscheider, and Bishops Helder Camara and Casadaliga of Brazil? Again, who in today’s world “out there” even listens to, much less appreciates and allows themselves to be challenged by the leadership of the Church at the present time? I think the moral authority of the Church’s leadership today has never been weaker. It is, therefore, important in my view that Church leadership, instead of giving an impression of its power, privilege and prestige, should rather be experienced as a humble, searching ministry together with its people in order to discern the most appropriate or viable responses which can be made to complex ethical and moral questions – a leadership, therefore, which does not presume to have all the answers all the time….
Amen! While the church and the elements of mystery that many traditionalists hold dear (and who often co-opt young people into their factionalism) at mass, can be comforting, that is not all that Catholicism is and should be. We need ritual that inspires people to go and become that same Jesus, that same Eucharist, that same thanksgiving that indeed can save the world.
What does that mean and more importantly what does it look like?
A simple question: Does mass inspire you? And if it does, than what does it inspire you to become?
Notice I didn’t ask what does it inspire you to DO!
Mass is supposed to be about transformation. Where bread and wine is changed into Christ himself and where in the giving of that flesh and blood we too, are transformed. The self-gift of God in giving His son to the world and then the Son giving His life on the cross and followed by the gift of the spirit’s continual presence in our life should indeed move us.
Just as God doesn’t give up on us, we should not give up on one another.
And with that in mind, Bishop Dowling asks “Where have all the Oscar Romero’s gone?” And perhaps we should think about those figures who have inspired the world to change. Mother Teresa and John Paul II also would be on that list along with Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day. But I just had to reach back 30 years to grab someone who began that inspiring way of life.
Who is doing something inspiring for young people in the church today? What’s the inspiring change that Catholics are being in the world? We can’t even get mothers to stop killing their babies because most of the time people simply vilify them. We can’t get the rich to care enough about the poor that they might sacrifice themselves even a bit, to go without so that others might have something to eat and a place to live.
We are all too self-involved and that goes along with our self-involvement with the church’s internal structure. What if we spent more money on the poor than on a papal mass during the same week the Pope was here and then letting the Pope see that and moving him to talk about those efforts to mobilize others? What if World Youth Day surrounded several giant social justice projects that all participants could take part in –as we often see with Alternative Spring Breaks, Shelters and Education programs for single moms and Extreme Home Makeovers?
What if we actually practiced what we preached?
Now in fairness, because as you know, I am King of Fairness….
The old priests in the hierarchy aren’t exactly able to go out and start rebuilding homes for the poor. And liturgy isn’t unimportant, to be sure and tradition is a high value as well–which is something that they certainly do contribute to the continued dialogue (some might say monologue). But what if for every liturgical initiative a bishop makes he also fronts a social justice initiative? And we have no better example to think of here than John Paul II who insisted that for every hour of Eucharistic Adoration that we do we also give one hour of service to the poor.
What would that look like?
How would WE be transformed? And how would the church transform the world?
More of Bishop Dowling’s comments are here.