Thursday, April 19, 2012

Metropolitan William and Renewal


     At his recent enthronement Metropolitan William addressed an important question that he was asked. He was asked what is the most serious problem that his church faces. His response was the following:"We need to present Jesus Christ in a way that touches the lives of our people..in the same way our beautiful liturgy has been translated in the many languages of the people of many different countries we need a new method for teaching the faith that opens the mind to a deeper understanding of the spiritual life... God has not changed but..the world has radically changed....the cool things that we have received from technology have chilled and dulled our ability to see God" he then speaks about the his plans for renewal and states "the work begins today".
          The question we need ask ourselves now is how can we contribute to the work the Metropolitan spoke of. It is obvious that what might have worked in the past in our churches might not work in our modern time or in our current circumstances. Metropolitan William suggested looking for new ways to discover Christ and finding new methods in which to present him to others. Even though the gospel never changes our God is always presenting new ways for us to encounter him. It's up to us to look for these moments in which God makes himself known or even be open to him letting others discover him by our actions. The spirituality of our Byzantine tradition must be open and ready to speak to the experiences of the everyday man.
     Do to various circumstances and sin we tend to forget what our tradition is all about. This is why our new chief shepherd Metropolitan William has called for renewal. In his words you can hear what many other shepherds have been saying, which is a call to a New Evangelization of the Church. As Metropolitan William said "God has not changed " but pointed out that the world has. This why our shepherds refer to a "NEW" evangelization. It not new in content but its new its approach and application or methods. In this regard I have a few suggestions, which are based in Blessed John Paul the Great's teachings from Novo Millenno Ineunte.
     Before any Evangelization or Renewal takes place it's important that we first become honest with ourselves.Our Byzantine tradition teaches us that we are called to become everything that God is by grace and make this grace available to others. In many ways we often fall short of this call and even at times we have failed to make this call known to others. After an honest estimation of our spirituality we can then ask God for the help to change. In a prayer such as this you will find that God is more than eager to forgive us and give us not only the power to change but also the power to change the world.
      Even though we might take that first step of honesty we must expect that God wants actions. Desire and a simple prayer is not enough to change ourselves let alone our churches. God will respond to your desire but in turn he gives you power to facilitate an ongoing encounter with himself. In response, it's important that we set special times of each day aside, while learning to pray continuously, where we invoke God in more focused way. For some this daily experience is known as a prayer time or holy hour. Its during this time with God that a person develops in intimacy in a similar way that we do by spending individual time with a friend or a loved one.
     In addition to having a time in prayer each day its important to become acquainted with the mind of Christ. Many fathers of our Church have expressed in great detail that the only way to really known God's identity is by the Sacred Scriptures. As our Pope has been known for saying on many occasions echoing many other saints, "ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ". You don't have to be a bible scholar to understand some of the fundamental concepts of Holy Scripture. There are many translations and even bible studies that make knowing the fundamentals of Holy Scripture easy to grasp. Also, it's even possible to read with ease the scriptures that are used with our liturgical cycles that often have a special theme for each day. In studying the bible you will begin to see the identity of God and of his plans that he might have for you personally.
     Also, its important that if we really want to see changes that we learn to "reconnect with the mystical tradition of the Church". Blessed John Paul the Great shared this idea with the Church but when he first did this he only had the Latin tradition in mind naming a few saints of the West for sources. As someone knowledgeable with the Byzantine tradition I suggest the following four saints who I believe will facilitate the spiritual renewal that we are looking for. They are St. Seraphim or Sarov, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, and Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov).It is through these holy men of God that we will discover new ways to develop our spirituality and also the spirituality of our churches.
     Next, in utilizing all the wonderful resources that we have it's important to remember that submission to Jesus Christ is a continual action. In gospel the Lord teaches us the following "You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate.". There will never be a time when we can say that we finished. It takes continual effort to bring about change in our lives. It's in this effort that we establish a testimony for others to see God working in us. Holiness is a gift of God but it is a gift that shapes all our actions. It is this type of holiness that many are seeking for themselves. Those around us need to see that there is more to life than the daily grind. They need to see that they can have purpose and meaning and you might be the only one that can show it to them.
     Furthermore, we must realize that in establishing a testimony that the gift of holiness is not something just for ourselves. Its important that we become involved in our communities, workplaces, schools, and especially our parishes. Whatever circumstances that we find ourselves in we need to realize that we have a mission and this involves being open to personal relationships with others. Most often this fact is neglected at the level of the local church. The local church is place where Christian love needs to witness to the world.If this does not happen we miss out on a vital aspect of our spirituality. As the heathens used to say in the past, "look how they love each other". This love that we were known for in the past can only be recovered by learning to see the value of those in our churches.
     Finally, the most important aspect of any change that we wish to see is in our effort to proclaim the gospel. The proclamation of the gospel is not for a select few in the Church but is in essence the focal point of our identity as Christians. In the time of the foundation of the Church the apostles looked for every opportunity to share their faith with others. If they didn't' our churches would not exist. Likewise, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit giving us the same opportunity. This can be as simple as saying Jesus loves you or that you will be praying for that person. We don't have to go around quoting the bible or the priest's homily. We need to be real to the people that we encounter sharing with them our own experience of Jesus Christ. Likewise, we need to remember that those people who visit our parishes might be looking for a deeper experience with Christ. We need to learn to see this need and be ready to lead them deeper into Jesus Christ.God is looking to meet people and he wants to meet them through you.
     To conclude, I would like to express my gratitude in our new Metropolitan's vision. Under his leadership I hope to see a new spring time of the Byzantine Catholic church. As he said, "the work begins today". As for the future God is not waiting to work. Rather, he is waiting for each one of us to respond to his call for renewal. We need to work and we are each responsible for the direction of our churches and the future of them depends on our actions now.

8 comments:

  1. I belong to a Russian Catholic church whose membership has dwindled to around 20 parishioners. Sometimes there are less than 10 people at the Sunday liturgy if you don't count the priest and servers. On Great Friday, hardly anyone came to the evening service. It breaks my heart to see this. The services are conducted in a mix of Slavonic and English, due to the fact that most people who come to the parish are not Russian. Sometimes there are no Russians at the liturgy or only 1 or 2. Most of the Russians who used to attend this church have either died or now attend an Orthodox church (or maybe they just don't practise anymore). But the church is still called RUSSIAN Catholic. I think this is a problem, and presents an obstacle to evangelisation. People who walk past the church are confronted with the word 'Russian' and most would assume that the church only caters for Russians, which is not true. Our church has a great priest and really lovely parishioners - people who are kind and generous and love one another. But many people would be stopped from entering this church simply by what it calls itself. Therefore it is very difficult for the parish to witness to the world the depth of love we all feel for each other. It is a difficult situation. I know that I am making a very prosaic point here, but simply changing the title of our church to 'Byzantine' or 'Eastern-rite' Catholic for example, may have the effect of bringing more people through the door, including those Catholics who have lapsed in the practice of their faith but still hunger for God and a spiritual life. I suspect that many Byzantine Catholic churches may have the same problem. We need to move away from this image of being an 'immigrant church' to one that can embrace everyone, not just those belonging to a particular ethnic group. And by saying this, I don't mean that the rich traditions and customs of different migrant parishes need to be thrown out the door.

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  2. Good post Ric. God the Word, Jesus Christ, is the founder of Christianity. To be good disciples we have to follow God's will. In the new Testament God teaches us what we should do, how we should act, and what our mindset should be. By reading and meditating upon His words, sentence by sentence, we will develop a living relationship with the Holy Spirit which we have within us.
    If we are dependent upon a weekly reading of the Gospel we miss so much and this 5 minutes a week won't build a lasting means to grow and become good evangelists. We have to find a way to bring the Gospel into the homes and families of our parishioners.

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  3. Thanks for your post! We were at Metropolitan William's enthronement and I also was struck by his call for, (without using the words), a "new evangelization" within our Byzantine Church. God bless you for your work and your insights!

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  4. I'm a RC who took a little detour through the Protestant churches before coming back to RC church. I echo the sentiments of the first comment, I am fortunate to have an EC parish only 20 miles from my house, however less than 1/2 the liturgy is in English and in the fellowship after DL only other visitor would talk with me... most everyone else was speaking another language. As I understand the history of the parish this one split off from another on 20 years ago precisely for this reason of keeping their immigrant language alive over here. Good for them in the short term, but a turn off to those honestly interested in Eastern Catholicism.
    Now about 45 minutes away is another EC church that is 100% in English -- if only this was the closer one. I was surprised that the people weren't really all that interested in newcomers though -- no one would talk to us even when we tried to approach them. In both cases though the Priests were very talkative and warm. I get the feeling that it's the congregations that aren't interested.
    I'm visiting a RC parish now that does a decent liturgy and has pretty good preaching and outreach. Parishoners after Mass spoke to us more when walking out to our car than those at the EC Churches did during their fellowship hour.
    There was a time when Ordinary Form Mass RC Churches were on the decline but there's a renewel in many churches -- new Roman Missal -- new radio stations -- revival of sacred music -- interest in Eastern Catholic spirituality. The EC churches may go through a severe down-sizing over the next decade. Let's not forget too that Orthodox churches are having some success in planting new parishes too -- some understand evangelization well -- others though I fear will die off too.

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  5. This is in response to Dave in Dallas; I'm commenter # 1. I would not necessarily compare RC churches favorably in terms of fellowship. I attended RC churches for over twenty years and NOT ONCE did anyone stop to welcome me or talk to me. In contrast, the Russian Catholic church I attend now is very welcoming and I got to know everyone there very quickly. This might be aided by the fact that the parish is quite small. My comment was more about the way the church presents itself to outsiders. If you can't even get people through the front door, it doesn't matter how friendly the parish is.

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  6. Commenter #1... I whole heartedly agree that RC parishes are typically bastions of triumphalism and unfriendliness. My wife and I have searched far & wide to find a parish that practices what it preaches so to speak. We have been hurt and damaged by a few. The RC parish I mentioned above is our last hope so to speak for now. My wife who is a cradle Protestant was surprised by the diversity of the 5 or 6 RC parishes within a 20 minute drive of our house. When compared to majority of protestant churches they RC churches may be full of people but feel very cold and just going through the motions and trying to get in and out as fast as possible.
    I'm not saying that Protestant churches are all that by any means or necessarily a model to be followed when it comes to fellowship. For that matter Protestants are losing membership as well.
    I do think the EC have the best chance of really doing something special in the US. Many understand the fine line they walk between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. They have the spirituality that so many here in America crave and also the universality of the Christian faith.

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  7. Hello Dave in Dallas again,
    Well I would not call RC parishes bastions of triumphalism. Wow that's pretty harsh! I'm not in the US though so maybe things are a bit different here.
    I too have experienced the fellowship of Protestant churches. I think Protestants emphasize the individual (at the expense of the communal) and therefore make it their business to make sure each person who walks through the door of a Protestant church connects with the parish so that "their personal walk with Jesus" is not marred by that particular church. It's all about each individual being saved, at the end of the day. Whereas Catholics view the purpose of going to Church differently. It's all about participating in the worship of God as a body, and receiving the life-giving sacraments. Which is really what it's all about. I love the feeling of fellowship at Protestant churches, but disagree with their theology, which is why I am not one! But yes, many Catholics do just go through the motions, and that includes me sometimes.
    Eastern Christianity is a treasure which needs to be revealed to more people. I think the Western soul craves beauty and mystery but many Westerners turn to Buddhism and Hinduism to find this without even considering the Eastern churches. The challenge is to work out how to do this and it is something I struggle with. I suppose that we just have to learn how to be vessels in the hands of God, to be used how He wills.

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  8. Sorry didn't mean for all and every RC... but it is rampant to an extent.. especially on several of the shows on Catholic radio...

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