By Stephanie Mahoney, OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation
Originally published on www.osvinstitute.com on February 1, 2022
Describing the Catholic Church today, in this post-modern world of 2022, is to tell the story of the body of Christ being fully alive and under incredible adversity all at the same time.
We talk about the life of the Church in terms of what it is going through, but rarely through the lens of how we are responding to it in an intentional way.
Terms like never settle, ideate or iterate aren’t commonly used in ministry strategy conversations and on a smaller scale, we don’t even embrace every day opportunities to talk about Jesus with friends who we know aren’t religious. And perhaps it’s time we should.
Catholics are staggering out of a pandemic that closed churches on the cusp of Pew Research numbers that told us young people are leaving in droves faster than we can count. At the same time, it seems like there still is no shortage of programs, ministries and promotional posters for events on the bulletin board within parish life.
Across the country, statues of saints are being spray-painted and torn down and churches are experiencing increased incidents of arson and destruction. Yet, numbers of participants in the March for Life and World Youth Day pilgrimages continue to soar in the millions and some dioceses even share the news of vocations to the priesthood increasing.
Mainstream media would tell the story of a divided conference of bishops, while at the same time, many of those shepherds are working towards more transparency in dealing with abuse cases and a willingness to help advocate for victims.
Talking about the Church today can no longer be a generalizing conversation of the larger picture. We reach hearts by sharing our heart – one at a time. But even when we do this, it doesn’t feel like enough. We know, judging by our numbers, what we are doing as a Church and as individual people is not working. We do lots of things, but are they effective?
New Evangelization Isn’t a New Brochure
Pope St. John Paul II called for the New Evangelization. He asked us to think about sharing the faith in a brand-new way: new in ardor, new in expression and new in method. He meant rethinking our prototype, completely turning the table over and starting fresh. It’s a bold proposition and sometimes change can be scary. But when souls are stake, a new font choice is safe, but isn’t going to be the answer.
Changing the way that we think about evangelization is not a call to ‘modern-ize’ the dogma or adapt the catechism. But we no longer live in a Christendom world: we are living in an apostolic age and the ways that we share our faith and live them must adapt so that the secular world around us can actually hear what we are trying to say when we proclaim the love of Christ.
It’s not easy. To see the world around us while living our faith boldly, lovingly and courageously takes creativity and innovation in the face of “we’ve always done it that way.” To be creative is to participate in the divine. To innovate is to join in God’s plan, imitating the first five words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created.” All creativity, all innovation, has God at its source.
So, How Do We Do This?
How do we think about evangelization in a new way? Easy: New Evangelization means that we pick up the mantle of creativity and innovation as our own and we NEVER SETTLE.
God has given each one of us gifts and talents to use for the glory of the kingdom. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be employed at a parish in order to use them. We can take the best from the worlds of ministry and entrepreneurship. We, as a Church need to learn how to try, fail, iterate and try again. But we do this together, as the body of Christ.
Our Catholic family tree is bursting with the fruit of those innovators who created the very institutions that we take for granted in our daily lives. Hospitals, music notation, great art, university systems, and caring for the poor (just to name a few) started with those who stepped out of the status quo and answered God’s plan for their life by creating something new.
Those souls chose to not settle with what already existed. Souls were at stake and eternity was waiting.
So, What Are We Waiting For?
This is still true for us today and the time for us to act is now. We need creativity and new ways of thinking not only to solve the problems right in front of us, but to build relationships with the people who are right next to us. Innovation can bring us together as a Church. More than “invention,” innovation has a sense of “execution” which requires collaboration.
Sharing our faith and evangelizing requires our messaging and approaches to reach audiences not currently listening. To do that, we must be creative and never stop searching for a way to reach our brothers and sisters.
The option to maintain the status quo is no longer on the table. Our only choice is to innovate for the love of the world.
God, our source and summit, the founder and finisher of our creativity, we abide in you and come to you for inspiration. Break our hearts for the wounds of the world, and give us a heavenly vision for how it could be.
As we co-create with you, we praise You and come to You for our confidence. You are our firm foundation, and we are your sons and daughters. Nothing can change that truth. Give us a freedom to face ridicule, failure, and victory all with confidence and humility.
Guard us from settling for anything less than sainthood. Let us dare to learn, to investigate, to understand, and to step into the unknown.
There is freedom in the truth. Help us to be hungry for truth. Give us courage to face the truth about ourselves, the truth of who you are, the truth about our businesses and our plans. Make us truth-speakers and truth-hearers, without ego or offense.
In our wins and our losses, we trust your loving process. We know that you love us, not just for what we can produce, but for who we are and who we can become.
We praise you and we thank you for this world. Heal any fear we may have of the world so that we can create out of love. Bless our work, that it would be part of the legacy of inspired pioneers and saints who have come before us, who have brought the touch of Christ to a world that desperately needs it.
We pray that today, and every day, in all our work, we would offer Christ’s love, wonder, and empathy to those with dead eyes so that all may be part of your Kingdom.