ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

Reflecting on how members of the church are engaging the world

The last section of Joe Paprocki’s book “A Church On the Move” focuses on how the emerging church engages the world.

As I read it, this is the most inspiring, and therefore the most challenging, section of the book. There are plenty of practical suggestions, which Joe is famous for, but this section is in some ways more about attitude, or what we call in our initiation experiences a “world-view” or “world-stance.”

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“For too long and with too many groups perceived as ‘outside’ the usual parameters of the church,” Paprocki writes, “we have been lobbing grenades—talking at the world instead of engaging it and proclaiming the word of God from within that reality.”

Echoing some of the comments which we discussed in the last column, Paprocki says the Incarnation is the ultimate example of genuine engagement: “God did not settle for sending messages to humanity from up above, hoping that we might repent. Rather, he became one of us. He ‘pitched his tent’ among us.”

Not long ago, I presented to a group of faith formation leaders a model of this kind of engagement – a model which suggested that the church was being called to move out beyond the comfortable boundaries of church-as-we-know-it into the world beyond us–to the margins or peri­pheries, as Pope Francis says. The idea made some people very uncomfortable, and for very good reasons.

One of the reasons, I think, is that we are still very used to thinking in “us-vs-them” terms, “good-guys-vs-bad-guys,” “Catholics-vs-well, everybody-else.”

We still regularly hear messages about us-vs-the-culture, which is a good way of maintaining strong identity and loyalty among the “in” group, but not a very effective way of doing mission.

This us-vs-them attitude first of all overlooks the fact that none of us is perfect. Secondly, it overlooks the fact that we are them—most of “us” live in the culture around us, and most of us do not have the luxury of withdrawing from the culture anymore than a fish has the luxury of living outside of water. Thirdly, it overlooks the fact God may be present in “them” too.

Which does not mean that distinctions should not be made, but I think it does means we need to be a little more careful about making distinctions in a simplistic, us-vs-them way.

For those of us responsible for the faith formation of the young, I think it means teaching children and youth the art of spiritual discernment – the ability to discern where there is grace and where grace is lacking, not so much what is good and what is bad, but what has been touched by God’s redeeming grace and what remains to be transformed.

We might start, for instance, by teaching ourselves and our young how to use the Ignatian “Examen.”

What do you think?

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 Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group dis­cus­­sion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how often you find yourself thinking in us-vs-them terms? How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Where and when do you find religious people — Catholics — thinking and talking in us-vs-them terms? Where and when are you tempted to think and talk in those terms? Why is it hard not to? In what ways do we encourage our children, grandchildren and students to think in us-vs-them terms?
  • I think that thinking and acting in us-vs-them terms …

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Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.