The key to the renovation of the Church (which is also to say the future and the re-Christianisation of our society, a process which could quite conceivably take anywhere from 50 to 150 years) is to be found far less in formal programs of evangelisation or diocesan committee meetings and initiatives than it is within the intimate confines of the family and of marriage where the vast majority of the Church resides.
In this sense, the renovation of the Church will come from the laity, which means that until lay Catholics seek to live out their vocations seriously as family members, particularly as spouses and parents, and as contributing members of society, the Church will very likely be going nowhere.
This single development – the serious pursuit of living out the Christian baptismal vocation as believing disciples of the Lord – is what might be described as the long-awaited Copernican revolution in the life of the Church, and it is yet to happen.
To invite reflection on this point is not to seek to be obtuse or irrelevant. Modern believing Catholics living in so-called developed societies face a situation which now appears to be increasingly hostile and Christophobic by the day – and this picture is global.
The confrontation between what might broadly be described as faith in the God of the Bible and belief in objective moral rules which broadly derive from our Judeo-Christian heritage, on the one hand, and the anti-faith of modernity which seeks to root out and marginalise Christians everywhere they can be identified appears to be not only crystallising but accelerating. Yet this confrontation also invites reflection on what our faith really means – and what we who call ourselves Christians are meant to be.
Some Christians want God to step in and make everything good again, but the God who made us free in his image and likeness doesn’t usually work like that. One can never, of course, predict Providence or seek to limit God’s actions but, just as clearly, God expects the members of the Church to carry out the work that is their baptismal responsibility rather than wait for Him to part the clouds and do it for us.
For too long, the basket case that has become Catholic marriage in Australia has relied on others, such as schools, to do its job for it. To raise strong, free and independent children who will not be seduced by the anti-kultur of ignorance and glittering fashion that is the essence of so much of the highly influential internet and social media, Catholic parents must treat their marriage as if how they live it is the most important part of their lives.
The good news is that as a greater understanding of the reasons for the departure of the young from Catholic family life and from the Church has developed, so have the resources for dealing with these.
The first antidote to a post-Christian society’s attempt to seduce our children, our families and our Church, is serious religious commitment from both mother and father by the living witness of their example, the demonstration that parents really do believe in prayer, the constantly demonstrated lesson that to these parents the Church is not an obligation but the happiest part of their lives and that following Christ, as US Archbishop Charles Chaput once put it so eloquently, is not “a private idiosyncrasy that must be prevented from becoming a public nuisance”.
When Catholic marriages start taking their baptismal and marriage vows seriously, they will unleash the greatest force for good ever seen in Australia. It’s that simple.