Peter Rosengren: This is the Age of the Laity

Catholics are the salt of the earth, the leaven our world needs and building Christian families is one of the most magnificent works that can be achieved. PHOTO: Pixabay

We might describe the current era as an epochal rejection of God – at least in so-called developed nations.

Man seeks to create a Utopia with almost no moral guidelines but as he does something increasingly akin to a new hell on earth of the kind spectacularly displayed in the rise of the Twentieth Century ideologies begins to take shape instead. What masks the Scouring of the Shire to man’s own eyes, however, is his conviction that his technological prowess will deliver him all the answers he requires to fashion his own salvation.

Once, man accepted – even if only generally – his relationship with the divine order. Today, his technical supremacy blinds him to his very nature and frees him from the old rules (a freedom which necessitates, paradoxically, a whole new class of rules based on nothing more than whichever passing ideology happens to be influential).

The change within a few short years from a society which was predicated for one and a half millennia (roughly) on Christian assumptions to do with such things as the sanctity of life, the inviolability of the child, the importance of marriage and the family, the common good and so on, to one which is increasingly hostile to Christianity has been an astonishingly rapid development.

Now, believing (as opposed to nominal) Christians are increasingly the target of the new intolerant and authoritarian ideological society which still does not realise that once it believes it has eradicated Christianity as a serious reality, it will inevitably turn upon itself.

This state of affairs presents the Baptised faithful for whom the Gospel and lordship of Jesus are of ultimate primacy with increasingly real and immediate challenges of the deepest importance. Not the least of these is how to transmit the faith to the young in a society toxic to faith? Yet despite what might be described as the gloominess of the above, the challenges created by a global rejection of Christianity (but only in affluent nations) remain for the Baptised only that: challenges. And all can be overcome.

The rejection of Christ, the christophobia so characteristic of the early 21st Century, may be epochal, but it is also reversible and is susceptible to being neutralised by way of evangelisation based on true conviction rather than the institutional inertia of administrative Catholicism.

To achieve this, however, requires an utterly new and different Church – and one which probably does not look much like the current Church in Australia or throughout western societies.

Catholic families, in other words, must begin to take matters into their own hands and live out their faith in increasingly radical ways, quietly and unobtrusively, but against the current of their societies. What is needed, in other words, is the spreading realisation throughout the Church that the Age of the Laity is now.

This would probably terrify numerous Church bureaucrats, not to mention the Church’s so-often tepid managerial class, so-often paralysed by false irenicism. But the decision by Catholic laymen and women to live out their Baptism as committed Christians, especially as parents, would be a fissionable moment, a development of critical mass that would signal the true beginning of the new evangelisation.

How important the current crisis within the Church is can be gauged from the following fact: Catholic married couples who seriously identify themselves as desiring discipleship of the Lord must, for example, accept that it is now almost impossible, sociologically, to raise one’s children in the faith of the Church alone. The only way forward, therefore, is to do what the first Christians did and did so well: form communities.

How is this to happen? In practical terms this could include, among other things, gathering committed  Christian couples to form small groupings of families who share a certain prayer, social and liturgical life in common. If this necessitates actively agreeing to live at close quarters (without living in each other’s pockets) then it should be done. The anti-spirit of modernity is a spirit of isolation. One by one, families can be picked off by the overwhelmingly antithetical nature of the society they live in. Together, they bolster each other. Together they are … communion.

To argue for this is not to argue for ghettoes at all. The Christian vocation is to go out into the world, not retreat from it (except, of course, for the temporary purposes of recharging our spiritual batteries or the great purpose of the eremitical life). Yet the forming of communities is now essential to the Christian future so that children can experience Christianity as normality. Where parishes live a strong and vibrant communal life these should be taken advantage of by families as far as possible.

Where they have receded into mere weekly gathering points for school milestones and not much else, families must be prepared to go it alone – or relatively alone. Essential to this approach of forming authentic communities of friendship, simplicity, solidarity and prayer must go the deepening process of personal formation aimed at achieving an adult faith. Such a development would be revolutionary because almost no Catholics currently understand that they are the salt of the earth, the leaven our world needs and that building Christian families is one of the most magnificent works that can be achieved.

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