Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is Faith missing from Evangelisation?

We, a few clergy, had a discussion on evangelisation recently, we often do, and I always come away feeling uneasy, as if something is wrong, something is missing.

The thing is we were not talking about evangelisation but increasing or retaining Church membership, even for Catholics there is a difference. Yes, the Church is the Body of Christ, coming to Mass, receiving the Body of Christ, being the Body of Christ is important but all of that comes about because of faith, which is deep trust in the person of Jesus Christ.

"When the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on earth?" Jesus asks, and the disciples in turn ask Him to increase their faith. One gets the impression in St John's Gospel especially that Jesus works miracles so that the disciple might increase in faith. It is easier to talk about schools or programmes, social functions, deepening knowledge, participation, lay involvement, or even  theology, devotions or prayer, anything but Jesus Christ himself.

Catholics are often a bit perplexed when Protestants talk about 'a personal relationship with Jesus Christ', some Catholics are much happier with a personal relationship with the Church and they can recite documents and Popes, Councils and Catechisms but seem to be dead as far as faith is concerned. I suspect this is why the current Sovereign Pontiff, as a Jesuit has a bit of a downer especially on young seminarians, younger priests and 'traddies' in general, as well as leprous courtiers, curial officials, old maids etc., the list is quite long.

North-American-Martyrs1St Ignatius of Loyola was very much into the spirituality of a personal encounter with the person of Jesus, not just in 'The Exercises', but in the entire formation of his novices, for example the pilgrimage to Manresa, were they were sent out like the first disciples and taught to rely on Providence. The early Jesuits were outstanding men of faith, no religious order seems to have had so many canonised saints at its foundation, nor such a variety of different kinds of men, from St. Francis Xavier to St. Peter Favre or St. Francis Borgia to St. Aloysius Gonzaga. What they all have in common is a personal 'humanistic faith', in that Renaissance sense of Catholic of spirituality, in the person of Jesus Christ.

I think this is what our beloved Holy Father is prodding and kicking us, at time even painfully beating us into accepting. I know many clergy find this a deeply painful time and unsettling, I admit I do myself, old certainties vanish like smoke, many of us feel a real impoverishment. It is like those nobly born Iberian novices sent out on the road with nothing, to rub shoulders with the not necessarily friendly poor and to learn to trust in the Providence of the Good God. Francis' oft repeated "poorer Church for the poor", is incomprehensible apart from what 'poverty' has always really meant in Catholic Tradition: possessing nothing but Christ.

Evangelisation is surely about teaching us to live by faith, to trust the promises of Christ to 'set out into the deep', as St John Paul used to teach, rather like St Francis Xavier going to the East or those evangelist of the New World going to lands and cultures they did not know where everything was unknown and uncertain, with Christ the only thing that was sure and certain. Pope Benedict gives the example of living by faith, as being cast adrift in a turbulent sea with nothing to cling to but the rough wood of the Cross.

The great problem is that of course in the cold wet misery of the turbulent sea it is easy to become so numb that one looses grip of the rough wood. Amongst the third or fourth generation of Jesuit novice masters, it was not unusual for their better formation and to teach deeper detachment, for them to persuade bands of peasants to rough up young novices just a little. In such situations either one looses what passed for faith or it grows, fortunately God holds onto us even if we feel we are loosing grip of Him.

Evangelisation is not about external structures but interior transformation, not trusting in princes, even of the Church, but in Jesus. For many Catholics the last fifty years have been about stripping faith away and replacing it with human reasoning. The movement towards October's Synod is prime example, it is in today's world very reasonable to admit the divorced and remarried or those in homosexual relationships to Holy Communion but faith, and maybe faith alone, compels us to hold fast to the words of Jesus Christ that divorce and remarriage are adultery and homosexual acts are gravely sinful. Faith, and perhaps faith alone, that demands us to warn those who approach Holy Communion in an objective state of sin that they in the words of St Paul are likely to die and 'eat and drink their condemnation'.


Just another mad Catholic said...

I understand what you are trying to say Father but the reality is that the Holy Father lacks the Nuance of his immediate predecessors and therefore ends up alienating a significant proportion of what should be his natural constituency I.E Faithful Catholics

Whilst he certainly never lifted a finger to aid traditional Catholics JP2 had the good grace to never insult them publicly and to demean them with terms such as "Rosary Counters" He and BXVI always tried (if not always successfully) to direct an understanding of V2 through tradition (hence the clarifying documents such as "Domunus Jesus") and both talked very much about having a personal relationship with Jesus, even if this got lost a lot of the time at the parish level.

Ditto with the Curia, if you want people to actually implement the reforms (many of which are quite sensible) you want, then publicly insulting them is practically the worst thing you can do.

Now this isn't to say that every Curial official is a Saint, I'm sure that the curia is stuffed with clerics who spend most of the time engaged in courtly intrigue rather than serving Christ but tarring them all with one brush is terrible.

Likewise I'm sure that there are many trads who can spot a liturgical mistake at 500 yards but don't actually pray at Mass, who can debate the finer points of theology but in which one finds little charity..... I used to be one of them, for me as a convert having no one tell me otherwise the Faith was quite legalistic (I still suffer from occasional bouts of this), this all changed when I started to pray the Rosary.

The long and short of it is that whilst small t traditions may not be essential, they are meant to be signposts to Charity e.g. in two and a half weeks we will relax our Lenten observances for Latare Sunday, whilst for some it might be an opportunity to indulge, it is an opportunity to remind us that our Faith should ultimately be joyful.

To conclude if Francis wants to jetterson the traditions of the Church in some mania for looking poor, then he will upset those who hold to those traditions as something to be cherished and leave the Church not as joyful Bride resplendent in the Glory of her Spouse but as a filthy, downcast, dirt covered beggar clothed in nought but rags, he will in-fact make the Church even less attractive and effective than she was before.

Fr Dickson said...

"Some Catholics are much happier with a personal relationship with the Church and can recite documents and Popes, Councils and Catechisms but seem to be dead as far as faith is concerned.” Possibly, but progressives do not always have a personal relationship with Christ either: they often have an idea of the Church as a sort of religious social survives, and simply recite different ecclesial texts than do traditionalists -such as those with a focus on those on justice and peace? No matter what ‘side’ of the Church we fall into (and it’s a scandal that there are ‘sides’, I think) we all need to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. I think you are right to say that evangelisation is not about structures so much about interior transformation in Christ.

Murray said...

...some Catholics are much happier with a personal relationship with the Church...

And the Church is the Body of ... who, again?

...and they can recite documents and Popes, Councils and Catechisms but seem to be dead as far as faith is concerned.

That's really harsh. Perhaps you have someone particular in mind, Father? Many would say that Councils and Catechisms are a lifeboat in a turbulent world, a way to hold fast to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Once we start to regard these things as burdens or optional extras, we begin to draw away from his Church.

...old certainties vanish like smoke...

And what, precisely, was wrong with the old certainties? How did they fail to meet our needs? Is the Church stronger for having (apparently) abandoned them?

Francis' oft repeated "poorer Church for the poor", is incomprehensible apart from what 'poverty' has always really meant in Catholic Tradition: possessing nothing but Christ.

No, I'm pretty sure he just means "poverty" in the colloquial sense. He gives no indication of intending it in the sense you prefer.

For many Catholics the last fifty years have been about stripping faith away and replacing it with human reasoning. The movement towards October's Synod is prime example..

And who, again, called the synod? Who appointed Kasperites to run it? Who changed things up mid-course to favor the heretics? Who approved the midterm relatio? Who insisted on the retention of the voted-down sections?

Jacobi said...

The Catholic Church is the means of Salvation for all, rich, poor and those in between. But it is is useful to know what those means are.

Were I a young Catholic today, considering marriage, I wouldn't know. Such is the confusion. My intuition would be to turn to the bishops but in following the deliberations of the first, and then those running up to the second session on the Family, I would frankly be confused. They seem to be at odds. The next thing instinctively would be to look to the Pope, but he it seems is either not sure, or hasn't made up his mind yet, or perhaps is trying to work out how to change two millennia of Church teaching on this subject. It's not clear.

All sorts of theories abound. I think the pope means this. No what he actually means is that. No surely he means this new idea. Well if they can't make up their minds, why bother?

Lets face it, girlfriend and I would be off to whatever young people go to these days. An obligation to attend Mass set out by those priests and bishops, and yes, the pope, who just can't agree among themselves, wouldn't carry much weight.

And as for older Catholics who thought they knew what it was all about,..............

Highland Cathedral said...

“For some who attended the workshop, the suggestion that it was possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was novel and provoked concerns such as: ‘This sounds too Protestant!’ ‘Can a Catholic have a personal relationship with Christ?’” (Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples, edited by Sherry Weddell, page 88.) Also see her book, “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus”.

Anonymous said...

I understand the point, that it is possible to go through the motions of practicing the Catholic faith without a very deep or developed spirituality, but I think we must be careful not to "protestantize" the way conversion happens and the idea of "encounter". For some indeed there may be a single moment, or several moments of deeper encounter with our Lord in their lives, but those moments, if authentic all derive from and point towards a deeper recognition of Jesus who is present to us in and through the Church and the sacraments. For many it is a gradual process of getting to know and love Jesus precisely through devotions, catechesis and practice of the faith.

Of course, without personal prayer we can never have a truly personal relationship with Our Lord. But surely anyone who spends time adoring Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, by definition has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Surely anyone who goes to confession on anything like a regular basis has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Surely anyone who says the Rosary, even once, with just a modicum of meditative attention, has begun a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone make the Stations of the Cross during Lent with sincerity, it cannot help but engender a personal relationship with the Lord they think about and confess their sorrow to at every station. Most importantly, doesn't anyone who receives Holy Communion with a true understanding of Catholic teaching (an important point that!) and speaks quietly in their heart to Jesus whom they receive at Mass - even briefly - have some level of personal relationship with Him?

If someone reads The Imitation of Christ or The Confessions of St. Augustine or any of the other writings of the saints, how could they not understand that to be a Catholic is to enter deeply into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If I ask Our Lord for strength and help in some temptation, or plead for grace for some relative or friend, does this not presume some degree of personal relationship with the One I am praying to?

It is in the Church and through the Church's teaching and ministry that we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ. God gives us the grace of conversion in many ways and at many times. We may indeed stumble along for years at a low level of personal discipleship before 'taking off' into the deep, as it were. So please do keep encouraging us all to try to live a serious spiritual life, but this should not be portrayed something that is separate from or bypasses all those ordinary means of grace Jesus has given us and through which we do actually encounter Him and grow to know and love him.

John Fisher said...

The question I ask is Evangelisation to what? Cults like the Neocats? When my family converted from the C of E to the Catholic Church in the 1930's- 1950's they did it because as my still living Grandmother said "the Catholic Church is the ancient Church. The Real Church before Henry VIII'. The changes after Vatican II (not just the docs) the implementation has caused a breach and discontinuity. We were told the Mass could be in English but it was not the old Mass but a new creation. (rupture) All the Sacraments were revised. (rupture). Authority has been used to obliterate, distort and mitigate. I personally think the papal prerogatives have not been used to protect but to destroy. How can authority be used to attack continuity in this way? So I find I am anti evangelisation because I see that those that covert are being given a falsified and inauthentic package. If they smell a rat, or stay they perpetuate the prevailing norm of stitching together a new idiosyncratic version of the Faith. They cohabit, contracept, take Communion in a state of Mortal sin, what is mortal sin?, don't go to Confessions and on and on because that is what they like.

John Fisher said...

This is for you Fr. Blake. What do you think?

Gregkanga said...

The life of the soul is the life of Christ, which is the life of the Church. I don't think it is helpful to create a dichotomy between a relationship with the Church and with Jesus Christ, when one is trying to understand why the Church is failing in her evangelizing Mission and subsequently collapsing in the West. That's like separating the head from the body. The crisis of faith is a crisis in the reality of the living presence of Christ in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. When last did you hear a sermon or catechesis on the doctrine of the real presence of Christ, as the head of the Body, the Church? Many bishops and priests, especially the spirit of Vatican II mob have jettisoned devotion to Eucharist Adoration as a relic of the Church of the past. Some of them wouldn't know how to do Benediction. The Church's leaders relate to Christ as a figure of the past who is deaf, dumb and blind. The Mass is the primary source of the Church's Mission. Everything flows from it and all is directed to it.

JARay said...

A very interesting post. Thank you Fr. Blake.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Excellent post from Father and inspiring comment from Thomas.

Of course there should be no dichotomy between having a relationship with the Church and Christ. However the Church does have its human aspects and those are rather different and one's relationship with them can be difficult. I am reading Ronald Knox's "Off the Record" at the moment. It is a series of letters to inquirers and there is a particularly brilliant one on page 79 written to someone who was thinking of leaving the Church because it had established diplomatic relations with Japan during WWII. He says of converts like himself: "We greet it [the Church] not as the Mystical Body of Christ but as a huge club whose members all agree with us and are all fine fellows like ourselves". He says that is a mistake and soon one finds that one is falling out with many things and one falls out of love with the Church. His remedy is to "withdraw more into yourself, and learn to be less dependent on human atmospheres; to deepen your religious life instead of deracinating it" and he goes on to recommend a mysticism of God Alone. For me this is the remedy for those who are having difficulties with certain aspects of the Church at this moment.

Colonel Mustard said...

A thought provoking and perceptive article. I agree that we seem to have lost something our passion for Jesus, our personal relationship with him. I admit that these past couple of years have been unsettling for me, but I have realised that I needed to be shaken, and reminded of what is essential: to be reminded that ours is not a religion of codes, but the religion of love. After all, we don't worship a book, we worship a wounded heart that bleeds.

George said...

Mad Catholic states, "I understand what you are trying to say Father but the reality is that the Holy Father lacks the Nuance of his immediate predecessors and therefore ends up alienating a significant proportion of what should be his natural constituency I.E Faithful Catholics"

Like way too many Traditional Catholic, you fail to realize you are as thoroughly infected with Liberalism as anyone inside or outside the Church. Your langauage is one of a Liberal, not a Catholic. "alienating" "his constituency"

Silly girl.

B flat said...

As a student in the 1960's, I felt considerable natural envy of the evangelical protestants, when they spoke of their personal relationship with Jesus. At that time I had never encountered the scorn of atheists referring to God as an "imaginary friend."
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom also spoke several times of his conversion experience of Christ. He lived resolutely afterwards, serving Christ in the Church under difficult circumstances, but upheld always by the Church's Divine Life in Christ.

However, how many adults who consider themselves Christians, have any objective experience of Christ outside what the Church has always given us in the Scriptures, the Sacraments and the teachings given by the Councils, the Fathers, and the Saints? Is any experience apart from these immune from attack as a delusion?
The personal relationship with Christ grows with experience of the Christian life in the Church. Nowhere have I read or heard that anyone has a right to expect Christ to respond to our prayer by reactions we would expect from a normal human relationship. This relationship is built on supernatural Faith, which we receive from God to be nourished by the Church. Personal knowledge of Christ grows through internalising the Gospel to be the Law of one's life, again within the understanding of the Gospel held by the Church.
Within the Church, in the mind of the Church as it has been understood for many centuries, this was a sure way of life, and offered to all. In those circumstances it made perfect sense to Mgr Knox or anyone else to depend on God alone. That was true for children disappointed in their parents, monastics suffering personal trials, or married people intensely lonely through disagreement with their lifelong spouse. The Church's life, while they were living it in Grace, guarded, nurtured, and cared for each individual member of the flock until they passed into Christ's direct care and judgment.

Where the ages old liturgical life of the Church in the modern world is so radically changed; where the focus of appointed shepherds is on the thinking and practices of the World which we renounced before being baptized, is it even possible?
The shepherds must confess that the Truth that was lived and taught by the Church until the 1960's actually was the Christian life of the Gospels. This produced the Saints we venerate, who are examples to us!
By cutting off that ancient source of life and teaching, they have nothing authentic to offer, and no good news for anyone. They propose only a counterfeit of their own invention, and become themselves the blind leading the blind.

Just another mad Catholic said...


How am I infected with liberalism ?

Perhaps you misunderstood me, I was seeking to convey that the actions and words of the current Holy Father has resulted in a significant number of Catholics; whose filial love and affection a Pope could normally take for granted, worrying about the direction in which he is taking the Church, scared that rather than a Father who loves and cares for them, they one (to take today's N.O Gospel reading) hand them a stone when they ask for bread.

I was not in any way comparing the Church directly to a political entity.

thenewevangelisation said...

It is interesting that in the Catholic Herald (23rd January, 2015) Fr. Tim Finegan writes about 'a personal relationship with Jesus' and says that "The straightforward call to personal discipleship with Christ, shared in the communion of the Church, has a great deal to commend it".

In fact Bishop Egan also promotes a personal relationship with Jesus and baseing his whole parish renewal on the work of Sherry Weddell. Beyond this Pope Benedict made a number of comments about this concept. However, Pope Benedict sums the whole idea up very
succinctly in an authentically Catholic manner (an explains it perfectly) when he says...

"A direct knowledge of the Teacher began for the disciples. They saw where he lived and began to know him. They would not have to be heralds of an idea, but witnesses of a person. Before being sent to evangelize, they would have to "be" with Jesus (cf. Mark 3:14), establishing a personal relationship with him. With this foundation, evangelisation is..... a proclamation of what has been experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ
(cf. 1 John 13).”

Pope Benedict XVI, March 22, 2006

As long as we make the concept of a Personal Relationship with Jesus FULLY Catholic in the way we express this then it seems that this idea could bare great fruit. It is interesting that traditionalist priests (rather than the mainstream priests) are picking up and running with this idea.

Fr. Larry Richard is also very adept at talking about this subject.

Father Spike said...

I think we should not assume that Catholics in ages past were unaware of the need to be both "evangelical" and "sacramental", priestly and prophetic. The Oxford Movement can be seen as a spiritual revival that sought to restore and harmonize these elements in true Catholicity. I object to the notion that the Church or our great theologians ever taught otherwise. The problem is not fostering a more personal faith in Christ but rather that there are those who think that such interior conversion is fostered by stripping everything bare in the name of renewal or of getting back to Christ. That is a Puritan impulse, not a Catholic one, and self-defeating in the end.
I recently read a book entitle "From Faith to Faith," by William E. Orchard, a famous twentieth-century Catholic convert. He was for years the minister at King's Weigh Congregational Church in Mayfair. He became a Catholic in 1932 and led most of his congregation into the Catholic Church and, being a widower, was himself ordained a Catholic priest. In his conversion story, he had this to say:
"any genuine evangelical experience is ultimately derived from the Catholic Church, and is rationally explicable only on the basis of the doctrines that it so jealously guards and rigidly demands as necessary to be believed if full salvation is to be attained; while it will be argued that the acceptance of the claim that the Roman Church represents the one historically continuous Church founded by Christ, is the only sure means of guaranteeing that the evangelical experience will continue to be made accessible to all mankind... Evangelicalism had placed too much reliance upon emotional influences and sudden conversions, about which subsequent reactions and psychological research have both something to reveal... Those who called themselves Christians, but who could not see the need for sacramental or sacerdotal religion, should use the ways of prayer and interior devotion; while if some preferred the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, then they must live as strictly as priests, and order their lives and their worship on exemplary and intercessory lines... All evangelical bodies now realize that, if converts are to be retained, they must be introduced to a fostering fellowship, while there must be further instruction, if knowledge is to be added to faith, and zeal is not to run into wrong channels.”

Annie said...

I think you're losing it.

George said...

Mad Catholic,

You were not comparing the Church to a political entity, you were describing it as such!

By the way, "Faithful Catholics" waning in their "natural constituency" toward the Holy Father are not truly faithful Catholics, are they?

Gregkanga said...

The faith is not missing from evangelization as such, but from the mystery and reality of the holy sacrifice of the Mass as the source, centre and summit of all the Church's spiritual and evangelizing activity. The Church's traditional spirituality centered on Christ's real presence has been emptied of its faith and meaning by the policies and 'pastoral' programmes of her leaders. I wrote an article on this, giving concrete examples, in Into the Deep, issue 145 page 7. It is titled, Declining Mass Attendances - The Real Reason. All issue can be found at

Jacobi said...

A personal encounter with Christ is to be had through belief in the Real Presence and the Sacrifice of the Mass. All starts from there. The Sacrifice of the Mass must permeate our thinking.

The rest follows.

The New Mass in it variations is a barrier to this encounter. So let's get back to liturgy in Continuity and then we can go and evangelise.

Just another mad Catholic said...


Semantics, I was using an analogy to describe the situation as I see it, if I offended your prissy sensibilities them to be honest I can't be bothered.

As for your 2nd point being worried about the direction the Holy Father seems to be taking the Church doesn't make you a less than Faithful Catholic, these same Catholics still pray for the Pope by name when they say their Rosaries, the Priests still pray for him by name during the Cannon of the Mass (EVEN SSPX Catholics), I was merely trying to describe how many of them feel abandoned by the Pope at this time, again if you choose to get your trousers in a twist about such distinctions then I'm not going to loose any sleep over it, I have enough problems of my own.

Unknown said...

"Catholics are often a bit perplexed when Protestants talk about 'a personal relationship with Jesus Christ', some Catholics are much happier with a personal relationship with the Church..."

They are the same thing? Only the Church is more objective...

"A reply of St. Joan of Arc to her judges sums up the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer: "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter."233 CCC

Blogger said...

I have just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...