Most of my friends that leave the Catholic Church do so because, in their words, “they’re not being fed.” They lack community and support, and when they find it outside of Catholicism, they are quick to run to it. Many of us young Catholics are faced with this decision. We can either run towards what seems to be the ever diminishing and unattractive Church we have grown up in like a first responder to a natural disaster, or run away from it and hide in our bubble of comfort and community. As a Catholic missionary, I’m faced with this decision almost every day, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the latter option is pretty tempting.
I was upgrading my phone one day when the sales rep started telling me about the non-denominational church he attends. He told me about how they modeled themselves after the first Christians, and about his thriving small group that hung out together frequently and was constantly growing. He told me about the church’s outreach to the poorer parts of the city and their missionary mindset in seeking to plant more churches. He also told me about their pastor’s dynamic sermons that challenged him to grow spiritually.
My response? Two thoughts popped into my head. One was a burning desire to be a part of this church and to learn more about how they had convinced all of these people to be a part of what seemed to be an incredible movement. This sounded like the dream, like everything I’ve ever wanted out of a Church community.
The second was this — why isn’t my Church like this? Why isn’t the Catholic Church, a 2,000 year old tradition whose spiritual bloodline links us back to Jesus Christ Himself, thriving in the ways these non-denominational churches seem to be? Buzzwords like small groups, discipleship, and evangelization are only now starting to trickle through the vocabulary of young Catholics, and most of us are only using these words because the non-denominational group we were a part of during undergrad introduced us to them.
Let Desire Drive Action
Right now, we’re faced with a decision. We can run, or we can stay. We can go be a part of some church that seems new and fresh, or we can stay and be a part of the New Evangelization, the reclaiming of what has been and making it ours once again. The New Evangelization seeks to re-introduce Catholics to the person of Jesus Christ and then send them out to share this message with the world. We can be a part of the movement that is reminding Catholics of the man who founded our Church on rock and the relationship He wants to have with us, and thus with every human soul. We can run towards the comfort of already established community or we can run towards what is broken and help the healing to begin.
It’s easy to chase after something new when we encounter certain aspects of our churches that we don’t like. I don’t like this priest, so I’m going to go over there to that church and see what that priest is like. I don’t get enough out of these homilies, so I’m going to go to a place where I like the message, “where I’m fed.” I don’t have community in this church, so I’m going to go to this other one that already has great small groups. We run around looking for a place where we can be comfortable instead of running towards our Church’s lack of community and attempting to mend it.
If you’re thinking, “What’s the right solution to this problem?” my response is, “What did Christ do?” He ran towards what was broken and then He redeemed it. He ran after death and turned it into life. He ran towards His Cross, and then He picked it up and carried it. Even He couldn’t do it alone and even He had fear (I mean, he literally sweat blood.) But the bottom line is that, when staring into the eyes of the world’s brokenness, Jesus trusted in the promise of His Father and said yes to the power of redemption, even at the cost of His own life.
How do we do this?
Mending our Church’s lack of community starts with something small, a Bible study or a men’s/women’s group, or even something as simple as going to get coffee with that person you always see at mass but might not have talked to before. It doesn’t stop at Bible Study, though. Invite people into your home and make them dinner, go to a concert together, take a road trip! By bringing others into these friendships rooted in Christ and making time to invest in them, a small Bible study can slowly turn into a movement that changes the dynamic of a church community. True and virtuous friendships rooted in Christ have the power to heal even the deepest wounds, and by being courageous enough to start this change, we have the power to bring about an even greater change in our church communities.
But ultimately, this change won’t come about unless we first fall in love with Jesus Christ and His Church. We can start as many small groups as we want, but if greater community doesn’t stem from a deep desire for intimacy with Christ and the willingness to invite others to participate in this intimacy, we will fail. Before asking yourself how you can change your church’s community, ask yourself, “How can I fall more deeply in love with Jesus?” Frequent reception of the sacraments, daily and consistent time in prayer, diving deep into Scripture — all of these will fuel the fire of our hearts and give us the courage and strength to let this love expand into meaningful relationships.
1 John 4:12
We’re asked to be like Christ in all things, and in this way we’re asked to not run from discomfort but confront it and love it till it hurts. Through Christ’s redemptive power, we can revitalize and re-energize this Church that has seemed to collect dust. We can be a part of this dynamic era of Church history that is making Catholicism’s truth, beauty, and goodness known and desirable. We can be a part of the new springtime that is not only reminding many in the Church of the person of Jesus Christ, but is also transforming the world with its witness to redemption. Be brave, Church! The Lord will not leave you alone. He promised He would be with us and He charged us to go! Who are we to refuse this command from our Lord?
For more on the New Evangelization, visit here.