Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Religion is Dead

     In a friendly talk with a Baptist Christian who came to my door I was asked if my church was a soul winning church. Not thinking of any other reason to have a church I went on to tell him that all Catholics have the obligation to win souls. This response of course was based on what I knew of the Vatican II council. As it says in Lumen Gentium [The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church] , “The obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his state (17).” However, after thinking about the conversation I went on to think about how often those in our Byzantine churches take seriously the words of Vatican II about evangelization. Even though I believe the people in my church have great potential it would appear that there is a huge lack of a commitment to evangelization on. I went on to think again if the question about my church being a soul winning church was in some sense legitimate. For here was this guy doing something unheard of among Byzantine Catholics just to get some one to make commitment to Jesus Christ. Also, it made we wonder if there were any of us who were willing to be as radical as this Baptist or if in some way we have become wrapped up in forms of religiosity.
    Religiosity was a term I first came across when reading Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi [On Evangelization in the Modern World]. It is described in the following way: "The term describes the forms of expressions deriving from the search for God that have developed in the Church through the ages. These expressions if well oriented and grounded in a real experience of Christ have the ability to enhance Christian life. On the other hand, without a true experience of Christ these expressions become distortions (EN 48)". Based on what it says here, its entirely possible for our churches to be in some ways not ,as the Baptist described, "soul winning". In fact, I think is was pretty bold for Pope Paul VI to say that our religious expressions can "become distortions". Based on this and how Vatican II would describe a church, if its not a place where we are going forth and "winning souls" a distortion in fact is taking place.
     The great atheistic philosopher Nietzsche in his teachings brought forth the idea that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” Could this be an actual the distortion that we sometimes see taking place in our churches? Have some of our Byzantine churches become no more than social organizations or ethnic clubs instead of places that empower people to share their faith with the world? If so we really have killed God and have made him no more than a puppet for social amusement. In contrast, I believe it’s not God that is dead but rather how we fail to truly practice our religion. In some sense it’s easy to never miss a liturgy, hang an icon of the wall, or fire up our incense. It’s another thing to be fully committed to loving Jesus Christ while doing these things. In this case, such love always leads to some form of evangelization or "soul winning".
     Thankfully, I am not alone in my observations on this topic. Saint John Paul II also once understood this lack of commitment to evangelization being preset throughout  all our Catholic churches. In fact, he had a vision where our churches could return to their purpose and called it the “New Evangelization”. In the following from Novo Millenno Ineunte, the saint leaves us five steps to help those in our churches discover the desire to evangelize:
     The first step begins with us. As parishioners we are sometimes guilty for not doing our part in bringing God’s kingdom to others. We know that we are not always striving to be saints, let alone helping others to do the same. This realization only leads us to the first place to begin: which is to ask God for his mercy to change and also that our parishes would change. In recognizing where we have failed we can truly begin the journey into true discipleship and be effective evangelists. The saint teaches us that this kind of humility will only cause us to be more vigilant toward accepting what God wants (NMI 6).
     The second step is connected to the first. The desire for change must continue to be rooted and grounded in prayer. Desire is never enough to lead ourselves or others into an authentic relationship with Christ; it must be an action flowing from grace. Saint John Paul II teaches us that all our actions must rooted in contemplation and prayer if they are to be successful (NMI 15).
     The third step is the most difficult. The only way Jesus Christ can be authentically seen is through a Holy life, but one that goes beyond definition. The people in our churches are familiar with good deeds so it really is of no effect to have a good reputation. The holiness that is needed to reach these people must go beyond their senses in order to touch them within. This of course is gift to be sought after and must proceed from an unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things. It is only then that our presence and actions among them will have a deeper impact. The saint understood this when he spoke of this gift of holiness becoming a task that would shape our whole lives (NMI 30).
     The fourth step is the most practical. The best thing for us to do to win people over to Christ in our churches is to be available to them. This means not only getting involved in the different areas of parish life, but also reaching out and developing relationships among the parishioners. Sometimes it is hard being available due to the many activities of life. However, while under the Lordship of Jesus Christ our small part in the parish can still be of great value. The saint spoke of this value when he taught that in establishing communion with others the Church moves toward the reality that it is (NMI 42).
     The final step is the true test of faith. All the steps before lead to this point where we can be used by God to reawaken others with a sense of mission. If the type of "New Evangelization" that has been going on so far has been successful then the people we are trying to reach will have seen the Holy Spirit alive in us through the supernatural testimony that has been established. However, this is the point where we must move beyond this testimony.  As it says in the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem [Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity], “A true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ (6)”. It is through this new opportunity that we now have and only by verbally expressing our relationship with (Jesus Christ) that our effort will bring forth fruit. With such fruit it was the hope of the saint that, “those who have come into a genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves; they must proclaim him (NMI 40).”

To read Novo Millenno Ineunte click (HERE)


  1. Amazing article Ballard, very well done! May we be attentive in hearing and listening to these words of the Holy Father and with God's help, put them into practice. Thank you for posting this!

  2. Most Byz. catholic parishes started with 100% ethnic identity. Waves of immigrants kept the ethnic factor alive. Of course, by a couple of generations the youngsters are generally lost and so it becomes "Grandma's Church," i.e., a place to go for pierogies or baba ghannouj. Among the Middle Eastern folks (my parish), often the parish becomes a location to stage one's wedding or have one's children baptized.
    The assumption is that "our people" have ALWAYS been Christians.
    Ethnicity itself is not necessarily a drawback but, if it is the primary reason why persons are attached to the Church, it eventually will either became a nationalistic enclave or (preferably) will die.
    Evagelization of the faithful is a major hurdle. As Pope John Paul II expressed it, one must start with oneself, which requires rigorous humility and a commitment to Our Lord and His Church, as you've so well stated.

  3. This was the topic for Fr. Thomas J. Loya's video for the Parma Eparchial General Assembly follow-up discussions. He certainly nailed it, and I'm sure that this, what you have written, certainly relates very much to that.