Catholic in America: Making the Gospel real in our lives
The Michigan Catholic
June 2, 2014
“I never knew these things really happened.” That statement of shock first dropped from my lips 40 years ago. Since then it has formed the scaffolding around the project commonly called “living out my life.” God acts in the history of the human race and in our own biographies. He leaves his footprints in the sands of time. His past dealings with us are down payments, promissory notes, powerful evidence that he will never abandon us.
The Scriptures record stories of God’s mighty deeds and preserve them to encourage us during those times our faith grows dim. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; / the Lord answered me and set me free” (Ps 118:5). In misery, the Psalmist prays “Deliver my life from the sword … Rescue me … Save me…” How is the Psalmist able to turn back that oppressive tide of suffering? He shouts into the roiling dark waters: “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” In his present suffering, the Psalmist’s spirituality directs him to look back to past promises and deliverances.
Equipped with these remembrances, he turns to face the future. “The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought” (Ps 22). Why trust God? Because God has acted in the past, the Psalmist expects relief now and reminds us that future generations can count on it, too. This wrapping of the past, present and future together in tissues of hope is the core of biblical spirituality. But, sadly, for many Catholics, these things just don’t happen, now or then.
Have you ever heard the complaint that “Catholics aren’t saved”? The theology behind that assessment reeks of misunderstanding. But serious Catholics themselves can’t deny that a huge number of American Catholics don’t seem all that interested in spiritual things. They don’t care. They are not much concerned with Scripture or spiritual reading, the corporal works of mercy, faithful citizenship, integrating their faith with their business or professional activities, prayer, contemplation, Eucharistic adoration, attending men’s or women’s conferences, imitating Christ or even transmitting the faith to their children. Why? Is it doubt, unbelief, timidity, indifference? Whatever it is, it is preventing them from experiencing the flourishing for which they were created!
For these Catholics, the “good news” of the Gospel hasn’t intersected their personal circumstances. For whatever reason, they haven’t encountered the love and mercy of God actually lifting them out of distress or liberating them from the bondage of sin. The story hasn’t touched their heart. It isn’t personally real. Never having experienced a “God-moment,” they doubt that God has ever intervened in human affairs. In the ancient world, a god who didn’t act was a god who didn’t exist. That would make these Catholics practical atheists.
It needn’t be this way. The New Evangelization is the moment when engaged Catholics can serve, love, encourage and exhort disengaged Catholics. Learn to share your personal God-moments and learn why we are justified in trusting the Scriptural accounts of God’s mighty acts. Catholic truth isn’t grounded in my subjective experience. The Faith isn’t true simply because I feel consolation in it. In contrast to almost all the world’s religions, Christianity depends on public evidence. The biblical writers tell their own personal story, but they also give us public reassurance that “these things really happened.”
For instance, Moses rebukes the Israelites for not believing the evidence of their senses: “You saw, you heard” the divine thunder and trumpet blasts at the base of Mount Sinai. Paul corrects the Corinthians who wrongly thought the resurrection was purely spiritual and invisible. Absolutely not. The resurrected Jesus was seen by more than 500 persons, most of whom were still alive. Paul’s implication? Ask and verify.
Biblical spirituality deals with reality, material as well as spiritual. When Luke begins his Gospel, he reassures us that he is relying on the eyewitnesses to these events. John’s first letter presents what he and the other apostles “have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the word of life … We saw it and testify to it.” The Gospel is Good News, not merely good views. Empirical reality — not fantasy or wish fulfillment — undergirds Christian conviction. It is virtuous to soften one’s heart, but not so one’s head.
The New Evangelization packs a one-two punch. One is confident presentation of what God has done in history to redeem us. Two is how he has personally saved, delivered, healed, lifted up, liberated, forgiven, enlightened and/or loved me. Invite others to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8) and you will see that these things really happen … still.
Al Kresta is president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor. His radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” can be heard from 4-6 p.m. daily on 990 AM-WDEO.