The Church and ourselves: Changes for a more effective mission
The year of Our Lord 2019 promises to be momentous for the Catholic Church. My goal is to make it also the most effective year yet for CatholicCulture.org’s mission of fostering authentic Catholic renewal. What do I mean by both of these statements?
1. The Church
I am under no illusions that the Pope’s meeting with the heads of the world’s episcopal conferences this week will result in momentous immediate changes, but it is one more sign that pressure for reform and renewal is growing within the Church. Late last year, for perhaps the first time, we saw the American hierarchy eclipse the Vatican in its concern about authentic renewal—a circumstance brought about both by Vatican decline and episcopal improvement. The head of the US episcopal conference had to be reminded by Pope Francis that the American bishops were expected to follow the lead of the universal Church. But in fact the Americans gave the universal Church a big shove.
I don’t say this with any particular American pride; our bishops are mainly struggling to solve their own problems. But in doing so, they are beginning to recognize the deeper causes of the problems, and so they have put Rome in the position of being obstructive. This is one symptom of a fascinating new process. In 2019, I predict, Pope Francis and the Vatican bureaucracy as a whole will be constantly pressed to attend to problems they do not on their own have the will to address. We are witnessing a form of leadership from behind. We have seen this sort of leadership emerging in other countries as well—for example in Africa and, within a Europe exhausted by secularism, at least in Poland.
We must presume it to be Providential that this local improvement—made possible in part by better episcopal appointments under the previous two popes—is finally becoming visible just when Vatican leadership is unlikely to welcome it. In addition to chronic confusion, there is much about the Francis papacy that will not bear scrutiny, as proven by the continued favor shown to those who are, at a minimum, far too close to abuse and fiscal “mismanagement”. The worldwide episcopate is growing increasingly tired of Pope Francis’ inability, for whatever reasons, to focus on key issues in a consistently intelligible manner.
Moreover, a growing number of commentators are connecting the dots between sexual abuse, shady finances, decadent moral theology, doctrinal dissent, failed religious education, liturgical collapse, ignorance of the gospel, and long-time cowardice among huge numbers of Catholic spiritual and intellectual leaders—bishops, priests, religious, and academics. Those who have participated in the quest for authentic renewal have recognized these links for decades. But I think far more people began talking and writing about them in 2018 than in the past five decades combined.
In other words, there are many signs that God has brought together a combination of circumstances to generate the heat necessary to bring things to a boil—or perhaps I should say to a simmer. The Church is an enormous worldwide institution which, taken as a whole, must almost inevitably move rather slowly. But there is really no such thing as a “simmer beneath the surface”. This year I expect both the internal and external pressures to grow. I predict that the number of opportunities will increase for authentic renewal, not just for you and for me, but at the institutional level.
By “ourselves” here, I mean the entire CatholicCulture.org community. Again, we can expect to have increasing opportunities to foster authentic Catholic renewal. It is important to put ourselves in a position to inform, form, encourage and inspire Catholics to undertake the only kind of renewal that does any good—an interior Catholic renewal rooted in the Gospel of Christ which manifests itself in faith-filled spiritual, moral, social and ecclesiastical behavior.
To position ourselves to be more effective under these surprisingly encouraging circumstances, I would like to emphasize four specific areas of development for CatholicCulture.org:
- Website design changes and social media management to call attention to our most important resources more effectively and present them more attractively.
- Increased use of audio and visual media without diminishing our emphasis on good writing.
- Greater emphasis on engaging our audience to make Catholic renewal a growing priority in their lives.
CatholicCulture.org is overdue for design changes which—without weakening what I call our “cognitive core”—can increase the “affective” power of what we are trying to do. Better use of social media is also long overdue; we need to add someone to our staff who understands how the various forms of social media can be used to call attention to and engage others in the central features of our message. These our skills which, frankly, our present staff lacks.
If we consider our effectiveness in terms of the three transcendentals of truth, goodness and beauty, I think readers will agree that we are reasonably good at articulating the truth. That includes explaining the good, but the good also requires a more personal dimension to be truly infectious. Considering our distance from those who use the website, one way to increase the personal dimension (besides trying to write really, really well) is to use media which provide richer indicators of personality, such as audio and video. Finally, we forget beauty at our peril, for the “way of beauty” is also one of the three main approaches to God.
Now, clearly, the greatest strength of CatholicCulture.org is always going to be “cognitive”, with a strong focus on the truth about the most important things in our lives. But this year I believe we have an opportunity to become more effective by improving our engagement with Catholics around the world along the ways of goodness and beauty. All of this will require funding beyond our normal operational budget. But I hope you will agree that this is vital, and I hope you will join in providing the resources we need to take these important steps.
Think of it as Catholic renewal for the third millennium and beyond. That is how I think of it, for Catholic renewal is not just a task for an hour or a day or a year or a decade. This is a work I hope with all my heart to continue even when I am no longer worried about the ways and means, that is, when I am no longer on this earth. You and I could not have been involved in this work before we reached a certain age of awareness and ability. But we can be involved now, and we need not stop—we should not stop—until the consummation of all things in Christ.
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