Editorial: Missing in action?

In OSV Newsweekly’s reporting on the Church in the South (Pages 9-12, online May 22), the phrase “intentional Catholicism” was used to denote the path many Catholics find themselves forging — sometimes unexpectedly — in that religious, yet not inherently Catholic, part of the country.

Catholicism in the South must be “something that one deliberately chooses because it’s what one believes,” said one pastor from South Carolina. “Here, nobody is Catholic because one’s grandmother was from Ireland, Sicily or Poland, but because it’s what they believe to be true.”

While one may debate the absolute nature of such a statement, the point it raises is critical not only for Catholicism in the South but for the Church in the United States as a whole.

As the cultural Catholicism of the mid-20th century quickly evaporates in the wake of rapid modern societal changes — particularly as relates to family life and faith as a whole — Catholics increasingly are finding themselves faced with either truly owning their faith or potentially drifting from it. The decision to own their faith, they are finding, means not only being familiar with Church teaching and tradition, but knowing it well enough to be able to share it with others. It means becoming evangelizers.

The significance of such a crossroads faced by Catholics in this country today cannot be downplayed. As Sherry Weddell, author of “Forming Intentional Disciples,” wrote last summer in response to Pew’s Religious Landscape Study, “American Catholics [in the 21st century] will either be intentional Catholics or missing in action.”

While this is a challenging statement, it’s also one chock-full of hope and possibility because it is a reminder that the choice is ours.

The road to intentional Catholicism begins by living the truth of the Faith at its simplest level by following the two basic commandments given by Jesus himself: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31). As Christ said, “There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Each of us is called to love the Lord and to imitate him by living lives of service, self-sacrifice and love. It is when we lose sight of these fundamental truths that we find ourselves in “missing in action” territory. It is up to us to respond.

To do so, we first are challenged to answer the question: What does intentional Catholicism mean to me? For engaged Catholics, the more focused question may be: What can I be doing to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ? For those attending Mass, but feeling disengaged from the Faith, it may be: How can I reconnect with the Church by loving my neighbor (especially apropos in this Year of Mercy)? For Catholics who may have stopped attending Mass altogether, the question may be: What are the roadblocks standing between me and my faith, and who can help me surmount them?

We live in challenging times, but Catholics can take comfort in a great gift of the Church: that we do not have to navigate them alone. As members of a community of Body of Christ, we are able to rely on one another for strength, inspiration and accountability. Like the first community of apostles, we, too, can be filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth to make disciples. We simply have to make the intentional decision to do so.

Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief