When I was living in England I was traveling across London one day with a work colleague named Gerry who was a lapsed Catholic. We spotted a couple of Hare Krishnas scuttling along in their orange robes, shaved heads and begging bowls. My colleague said, “Look at them. We Catholics need more people like them.”
I replied, “We’ve got plenty like that.”
Two stops later on the tube train the doors opened and two Missionaries of Charity stepped on board. I gave Gerry a nudge in the ribs and whispered, “Look. There’s two of ours!”
Later that day as we were traveling home the underground train stopped and one of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal stepped in. He was six foot tall, shaved head, long beard, full Franciscan habit….I said, “Look Gerry. There’s another one of ours. We’re ahead three to two!”
Later that year Gerry started going back to church.
One of the highlights of my time as a high school chaplain was having two of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal come to the school for a mission. When I was chaplain I was passionate about introducing the high school kids to vibrant, dynamic and cutting edge Catholicism.
The biggest turn off for our young people, in fact the biggest turn off to Catholics of every generation is lukewarm Catholicism, or what C.S. Lewis called “Christianity with water.” Give me the full-blooded stuff! Christianity with water is the weak hearted compromising pablum that actually does more harm than good. What I’m talking about is a kind of complacent, sentimentalized, religion that doesn’t do much good except if you’re suffering from insomnia.
This is what the Catholic Church most needs in this age: we need to stop all the internecine quarrels about this form of liturgy or that form of church music. We need to grit our teeth and put up with one another and open our hearts and minds and learn from one another. Mostly we need to all draw closer and closer to Christ, soaking up his Spirit and each in our own way (according to our own vocation and charism) live out cutting-edge Catholicism.
The question then arises, “What is ‘cutting-edge Catholicism’?” It is nothing less than being transformed into the image of Christ, and what I have found in my journey is that no particular group or religious community or personality type has the monopoly. It should go without saying, but I’ve found saintly, joyful, simple Catholics who are traddies and trendies. I’ve met sour, legalistic, self righteous and angry traddies and trendies. I’ve met the real thing amongst charismatic Catholics, liberal Catholics, conservative Catholics and just plain bread and butter Catholics. Likewise I’ve met phonies, frauds and pharisees in all of the above groups.
What I want for me and what our Church and our world needs most is that indefinable air of authenticity. It is hard to pin down, but it always has a sense youthful curiosity mixed with the wisdom of age. It always has a sense of seriousness mixed with zest for life and a joyful sense of humor.
This person takes others seriously, but does not take himself seriously. He is patient with fools, but not with tomfoolery. He is modest but not prudish. He loves to pray but is bored with mere piety.
The Franciscan Friars of the renewal had this gift. Mother Angelica had this gift. All the saints had this gift…
…and I want some.