NOT THAT there are no bad things, but that there are plenty of good things, too. More and more all the time it seems.

A great many of them are layinspired or lay-guided. Lay people are realizing they don't have to accept things as they are. If there is no trustworthy Catholic school around for me to send my kids to, I can teach them myself or, better yet, start my own school and evangelize, not just protect.

The “institutional” side of our Church is also full of good news these days. The steady increase of religious and priestly vocations among orders and seminaries that look to Rome for guidance. The deep spirituality and solid theology of so many of our younger priests. There may be fewer being ordained, but those coming out of good seminaries are as dedicated as can be and more than make up for their reduced numbers. One holy priest does more good than 50 mediocre.

The bishops of the Church, for their part, seem to be freeing themselves of bureaucratic functions and resuming their roles as pastoral leaders. Economic and strictly political concerns are giving way to passionate discourses on the sanctity of life, the evils of racism, the true priorities of Catholic education, and a genuine reaching out to youth, keeping them in the Church or bringing them back if necessary.

Though it continues to be belittled by the media, Catholic morality (where it is taught clearly and with the appropriate pedagogy) is experiencing a rebirth among Catholic youth. Chastity is in. Drugs are out. Volunteering for service projects is cool. Worrying about me and only me is lame.

Catholic morality, moreover, is getting a second look from the medical field. Medical reports praising the unsuspected wisdom of natural family planning are starting to multiply. The benefits of abstinence are being openly admitted. As medical professionals (influenced, perhaps, by the successes of natural medicine) concentrate more and more on preventive medicine, the scales tend to fall off their eyes.

The Catholic media continues its own renaissance. New publications focused on intelligent evangelization and clear teaching are springing up. There are new publishing houses for the seekers of solid doctrine and proven spirituality. New periodicals for scholars. New magazines and new videos for families. New TVand radio shows.

In effect, a new Catholic culture is taking root in our country. And it's not a mere return to a supposedly-glorious past. It's a Holy Spirit-inspired mix of the best of yesterday and the best of today, preparing the ground for a better-than-ever tomorrow.

So many good things happening, yet so often unknown.

Last fall, producers, distributors, and retailers of Catholic goods and services met in Chicago in an effort to rectify the situation. The feeling was unanimous. There was need for an organization to bring Catholic producers and retailers together so as to more effectively get the tools for evangelization into the hands of Catholics everywhere. The Catholic Marketing Network (CMN) was born.

Amission statement was articulated, by-laws were drawn up, and a board of directors elected. The board began meeting monthly to discuss possible courses of action. A national trade show was finally decided on as a groundbreaking event for the CMN.

Apprehensiveness set in. How is an unknown organization to sell all the booths and attract all the retailers necessary to run a successful national trade show, and do it without any money? It was going to be a risk, through and through. Adate was nervously set and a hotel/convention center even more nervously booked.

The fears proved to be unfounded. All 115 booths sold out in a matter of weeks. Some 250 retailers registered for the show. Successful producers and retailers offered to give seminars for free. People from around the country, sent in money to join the CMN and attend the trade show. Even some who said they wouldn't be able to attend sent in money. The CMN, they said, was desperately needed and they wanted to support it and be a part of it.

The CMN is one example among countless, worthy of special mention here only because its first trade show is this weekend (June 28-30) in Somerset, N.J. The CMN is in on its way to becoming a major, albeit behind-the-scenes, force in the Catholic Church in this country. And it all began with an idea and the courage to take that idea and make it a reality. But isn't that the story behind everything Christ does through and for His Church?

The Church is limited in what it can do as an institution. In and of itself, it does not change society. Rather, it transforms the hearts and minds of its members and then sends them out to transform society. This is true at every level of the Church's life.

The Church does not, for example, run parishes. It merely preserves intact the structure for running parishes. Priests, individual men, run parishes. Where there is a saintly priest, there is a flourishing parish. The Church, on its own, does not produce saintly priests (if it did, they would all be saintly). The Church merely makes saintly priests possible.

Taking another example, the Church does not normally found religious orders (there have been exceptions). It simply approves the foundation of new orders. The orders themselves are founded by individual men and women, men and women who see an unmet need and decide to do something about it. Few of them begin with the idea of starting an order. They see a need, get an idea for how to begin answering it, and end up founding an order.

Lay Catholics today need to look to the founders of the past (and the present) for inspiration and guidance. Lay Catholics today are called to be founders in their own way. Founders, not of religious orders, but of works of apostolate. So many of the good things alluded to here exist because of lay people who have lived their baptismal promises seriously and have felt compelled to act on an idea.

And just like for the founders of old, doing so has meant hardship, misunderstanding, and even rejection at times. But for those who open themselves up to the gift of serving Christ with all their energy through, with, and in the Church, the bitter-sweet struggle leads to ineffable joy and indescribable peace.

The next time you get a good idea, act on it.