The press is full of news about “radical Islam”, fundamentalists and wild eyed religious fanatics. Some secular types view anyone with religious convictions as a dangerous, possibly insane individual, and truth be told, there are too many religious people (including some Catholics) who have gone off the deep end. As a friend of mine remarked, “For them it’s not theology. It’s pathology.”
Radical fundamentalism can be dangerous, but if the opposite of radical religion is lukewarm religion the choice could be even worse. In his book Evangelical Catholicism
George Weigel says, “There is no future for lukewarm Catholicism.” There is not only no future for lukewarm Catholicism, but there was no past or present for it either. Let’s face it, the gospel is only good news when it is subversive.
Weigel’s “Evangelical Catholicism” might also be called “Radical Radiant Catholicism”. At Our Lady of the Rosary I speak repeatedly of carrying the cross of Christ, and that cross consists of two beams–the vertical beam and the horizontal. The vertical beam is the upright and represents our love of God, our devotions, our prayers, our worship—our heart-to-heart relationship with the Almighty. This is the first commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
The second is like, namely this: to love your neighbor as yourself. This second commandment comprises the horizontal beam of the cross. On one side where Christ’s hand is nailed is our proclamation of the gospel through witness and teaching, through RCIA and CCD and our Catholic schools. Through blogging and broadcasting and preaching and teaching.
That old saw, “preach the gospel at all times and use words when you have to…”? Well, in my opinion it’s a hackneyed phrase to let people have a cop-out from speaking about their faith and sharing their faith openly, intelligently and positively.
The second side of the horizontal beam is caring for the poor, the needy, the sick, the dying, the prisoners, the hungry, the bereaved, the lonely and lost and elderly. This caring is what marks us as Christians and this concern preaches the gospel with works as well as words. When these four points of the cross are both lived out in a vibrant and committed way, then the Church comes alive and provides a radiant and radical witness.
Radical because it presents a gospel which is joyfully subversive and radiant because through it our light shines and the gospel in all its fullness is lived out. This Catholicism is radical because it undermines by its words and its actions, all the false values of the world. It declares to the worldlings—caught up in lust and greed and status and money and power—that we live for other values.
We live for eternal verities and the grounding of the gospel. It is radical because the word “radical” comes from the word “root”. It goes to the core—to the basics—to what really matters about the gospel. It is radical because it goes to the root of humanity’s need and cures the sin-sick soul at the very heart of its being.
It is radiant because the light shines from a Catholic life lived like this. It is radiant like a child’s joyful smile is radiant. It is radiant with the reflected glory of God in the face of the saints. It is radiant because it reveals humanity living at a different and higher dimension of existence–the level of existence called sanctity—the level of human existence which transcends all human ambitions and attempts at glory. This radiance is no less than the radiance of Christ himself—shining through our lives of joy and power–a radiance that the world will see and believe in.
It is this radical radiant Catholicism which must be the heart of the new evangelization. All the other projects and programs and plans—all the other gimmicks and good ideas will fail unless they are filled with this same radical and radiant spirit. If that Spirit of sacrifice and service is present, then all else will follow in it’s wake, and the Church—that sleeping beauty will at last be awake, alive, alert, dynamic and free.