What things come to mind when you think what the church needs for a renewal? Your response to this question can can quickly get you put into quite a narrow box: liberal, conservative, traditionalist, modernist, orthodox, progressive, lapse, evangelical...
With such a wide array of views and opinions about such an imperative issue we need something to unite us all. well how about this for a way forward.
“Renewal begins not in vilifying others, but in examining ourselves honestly, repenting of our own sins, and changing ourselves,”“We are all in need of God's mercy. When we really understand that, we can speak to each other with both honesty and love, and restoring the mission of the Church can begin"
These are the wise words of the new archbishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput, speaking at a convention last week. It can be so easy - and I know this because I am often guilty of it my self - to become very tribalistic within the Catholic Church, and yet, these words offer the whole church hope with respect to the direction we all desperately need to take. Nobody could deny that renewal of the church depends on renewal of ourselves because our Lord himself instructed us to have 'faith in God' (Mark 11:22) as a prerequisite to our ability to move mountains.
With our church's emptying and closing at an alarming rate, with low numbers of candidates to the priesthood and religious life, with an increase in the secular mentality in society at large, and perhaps worst of all with so many of those people who do go to church being at best lukewarm who could deny that the church is in need of renewal. Without a personal and deep faith no attempts at lasting change in any direction will be realised, such changes will be like seed scattered on the stony ground which cannot take root and so soon die. Our concern in the church should be holiness, and holiness alone, we need once more to learn that it is God who created and guides the church and that as +Chaput said "men and women didn't found the Church, they don't own her, and they have no license to reinvent her.” It is not our job to change and to reinvent the church according to our own designs because they will never match up to those of God, instead, when we look at our own hearts and our own lives and seek change there, in the place we do own and control, then we will see renewal and growth in the church. We must entrust the rest to God.
The Archbishop Cited the example of St Peter who walked on water towards Jesus, and those who went to mass today will know that this was today's Gospel. He said that “as long as Peter keeps his eyes and his heart fixed on Jesus Christ, he can do the impossible.” For us too then, so long as our eyes are on Jesus, we will be able to move what seems like the insurmountable mountain of apathy and lukewarmness from our church.When we move then, we will find ourselves like Peter sinking in fear.
St John Marie Vianny whose feast day it was last week, can inspire us here too. When he first went to his parish in the village of Ars, France in the post revolution era he found a spiritual desert. Within a few years he turned the village into an national, and even international, site of pilgrimage, not through control, power and manipulation but through his hours of prayer and his bodily mortifications.
And so as a united church we can all aspire to renew ourselves, there is no doubt that if we do this that our lives will help to renew the church.