Our archdiocese, in fact the Catholic Church of the United States, was gifted with an excellent snapshot and call to action by Archdiocese of Chicago priest Father Lou Cameli in a book called, “Church, Faith and Future: What We Face and What We Can Do.”
The timely release by Liturgical Press underscores the reality of our American church, especially as our archdiocese embraces the movement called Renew My Church, an archdiocesan effort to make disciples, build communities and inspire witness (see related column by Cardinal Cupich on page 3). With an afterword by our own Cardinal Cupich, this book sets the stage for the evangelizing action of Renew My Church.
Cameli, a gifted theologian and spiritual director, shares a twofold desire in his latest book. His first desire is that we learn the lay of the land regarding where our church is today. After reading this book, “the reader will walk away with an understanding of why we are in this situation in the first place.”
By using not only sociological data, but also historical and philosophical underpinnings, Cameli shares how secularization has been in process for over 500 years. Secularization is not new and it is not necessarily a bad thing. However, left unchecked, there becomes no place for God, no place for faith.
It is at this point that secularization is no longer serving humanity well. All we are left with are the trappings of this world and ourselves, realities contrary to our life as believers, which invites us to put our faith and trust in Jesus. The evidence of our secularized world can be seen in the unstable values of today and faith life that is pushed to the margins.
Once grounded in understanding of our current situation, the author’s second desire is that we might have “a sense of hope that we can take some directions and make some moves that advance faith in the world today,” Cameli said. The invitation to hope and action come after the reader wrestles with three possibilities.
The first possibility that Cameli suggests is that we do nothing different. We keep going in the direction we are going without taking up any new effort, any new evangelization or any new outreach. This option obviously won’t do. The second option is that we plan for shrinkage and we plan for a smaller church. Both the first and second options here do not take into account the Gospel invitation and imperative in Chapter 16 of Mark’s Gospel, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
This leads us to the third option, namely an option of evangelization and taking seriously the Gospel imperative to share Jesus with our sisters and brothers. The third path is an invitation to do something. What began with Pope Paul VI and is picked up in a new way by Pope Francis is the invitation to reengage the Gospel and share it with witness and courage.
Unique to this invitation is the reminder that each of us is called to be simultaneously and continuously evangelized and to be evangelizers. We are called to let the joy of the Gospel continuously wash over us and transform us as we simultaneously share and witness Christ in the world. It is this path that is picked up in the ecclesial movement Renew My Church.
This call to action is urgent as we see the statistics of faith practice in our country. The church struggles to retain people, young and old alike. The statistics don’t look good.
Option three demands that we reclaim the center of our faith, namely a relationship with and witness to Jesus. No longer can this be left to the church workers, but must involve every Catholic, every Christian.
In the parish, it will mean that the liturgy, preaching, sacramental instructions, in fact every encounter, be grounded in the core of our faith and trust in Jesus. In everyday conversations with family members, it will mean each of us witnessing to our faith by sharing personal reflections, such as telling our children why we decided to baptize them many years ago.
This book is a point of departure and meant to spark imagination. The Catholic culture of the past can no longer assume the passing on of faith. That doesn’t work anymore. “Church, Faith and Future” gives us a snapshot for a path forward.
To learn more, visit www.archchicago.org/renew.
About the Author
Father Jason Malave is Cardinal Cupich’s delegate for Renew My Church.
July 1 ushered in big changes to wave 3 of the Renew My Church process, with unifications and other structural changes happening across the Archdiocese of Chicago.
As a result of the financial implications of the pandemic, the archdiocese is accelerating the Renew My Church process. It is adding more parishes to the wave 4 discernment process and will finish the process a year earlier than planned.
Deborah Kanter, who grew up in Oak Park and is a history professor at Albion College in Michigan, wrote “Chicago Católico: Making Catholic Parishes Mexican” (University of Illinois Press, 2020) after spending time in Mexico doing research for her doctorate, and then returning to Chicago and finding the same style of devotion in some of its parishes.