We as Catholics have an incredible, relevant, deep Faith. And, thankfully, there are many resources available to us to learn about it: Bible studies, men's and women's groups, retreats, conferences, seminars, blogs, podcasts, videos, books and much more. And yet Father Dwight Longenecker, a popular author, blogger and Anglican convert, questioned recently how many adult Catholics actually seek out these resources.
Instead of a vibrant laity, he points to the growing "lukewarmness" and "complacency" among lay Catholics — a scenario that, unfortunately, often is true.
"The typical Catholic in the pew has been sacramentalized but not evangelized," writes Longenecker. "They have even been catechized (and often not too badly) but not evangelized. They have yet to be converted.
Excuse this former Evangelical from lapsing back into Prot-talk, but many Catholics have yet to 'meet Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.'"
We have a Catholic Faith that is centered on that real, personal and life-changing encounter with Jesus — on building a personal relationship with Christ. Everything the Church does is about that encounter, says Longenecker, from canon law to liturgy and from disciplines to different types of spirituality: "all of it is a structure or a method or a framework for the soul to encounter Christ, and to walk in the way with our hearts burning within us."
Building that relationship requires commitment, vulnerability, trust, surrender, sacrifice and complete self-gift. So how do we get there? And how do we stop the growing trend of complacency?
While education plays an important role in learning the Faith, so does personal experience. As Longenecker points out, "I'm a Catholic Christian because of the example of my parents and because of a few radiantly alive Catholics. People who lived the faith and loved Christ and his people. They were not especially pious or holier than thou. They were simply alive in Christ, and what they had is what I wanted."
I know this has been my experience. My parents were the inspiration for my faith. It is exactly what Longenecker says: They lived the Faith, and they were alive in Christ. It really is that simple.
The Catholic Faith — rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ — was a living, engaging experience in my daily life growing up. It was beautiful and inviting — something I could not and would not pass up.
Longenecker points to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who called this simple phenomenon "attraction." We are naturally drawn to Christ in the souls of other people. While catechesis is very important, our relationship with Christ, the core of the Faith, "is not something which can be taught, but is something that can be caught."
The family really is the most natural place to ignite that fire for Christ
, as parents are the primary authority and influence in a child's life. Revitalizing the Church starts in the home, with parents who are both actively living and passing on the Faith. Parents who are alive in Christ and his Church can introduce their children to the beauty of the Catholic Faith. They can help cultivate that "attraction," that desire for a deeper relationship with Christ.
We can be those parents. Just live the Faith. It'll catch on.
Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.