Growth – the opposite of stagnation
There are 121 Marist priests in New Zealand and 85 of them are over 65. This was the news from the Marist Provincial to the Manawatu this week (July 2015). Things are changing in the Church! Traditionally, the abundant numbers of clergy have been the educated ones in Scripture and Theology and so forth. But since Vatican II, we have a new ‘spin’ on how laity are involved in the Church. There is a responsibility we each have for full and active participation in our Church community.
Our participation in the life of the Church starts with having a good grounding in the symbolism, action and meaning of how we worship in our Catholic Christian tradition. This is not to be confused, as it often is, with how entertained one feels at Mass. Fortunately, there are many who dare to embrace the very counter-cultural call to follow the Gospel, the summation of the our collective formation is not held solely in the First Reconciliation and First Communion sessions we had as 7- and 8-year-olds in our local Catholic schools!
This, more accurately, can be denoted as the starting point as which we as children, have a cognitive recognition of the grace inherently held in the sacramental life of the Church. And this is just the beginning! Not even Pope Francis himself can say he has arrived at a place of full knowing of God; and that is why as an 80-year-old man he still lives his life as journey – passionately convicted of the power of the Cross.
Many say Pope Francis is an inspiration. But these sentiments could evaporate into nothingness if we are not then inspired to seek God and live the Gospel in ways that uphold justice, alleviate suffering and promote love ourselves. Are we individually and as a faith community fully informed and growing our knowledge in how to do this in a Catholic way?
Once, in a Catholic boarding house, I invited the Mormons into our home. The residents grumbled, ‘What are they doing here? We’re Catholic!’ I asked them to discuss their faith with these chaps – who were obviously well schooled as missionaries of the Mormon Church – and the residents fell silent.
It is one thing to identify as Catholic, but I contend it is quite another to be Catholic. ‘Information, Formation and Transformation’ is the The Catholic Institute (TCI) mission – to grow the understanding of faith of the Catholic faithful. Mandated by the New Zealand Bishops Conference, the sole mission of TCI is to teach the different disciplines within our faith so we can grow in knowledge and understanding of the lives we are living.
And how many of us have an indepth understanding of the normative process of the RCIA? ‘Introduced in 1972 and presented in final form in 1986, the Church’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is now the norm for all who desire to become Catholic’ (4, National Policy for RICA).
To ignore opportunities for growing and deepening an understanding of faith is to essentially remain as an infant in faith development. God desires more from us than that! Things are altering in the Church – as they always have over its 2000-year history. Today, we have access to life transforming stuff.
What barriers keep us from learning more? What similarities might we have like the rich young man who in theory wants everything but can’t decide to truly follow Jesus? What holds us back from Jesus’ invitation ‘to come follow me and have life to the full?’ Things are changing rapidly in the Church in New Zealand.
Therefore we need bold, courageous and learned men and women to step up in our ecclesial communities to continue the mission of the Church and we can only do this when we confidently know about it.
Nick Wilson is the TCI and Adult Education Coordinator Diocese of Palmerston North.