It is undeniable that Catholicism has weathered centuries of scandals which are often followed by a renewal of purpose and redefinition of focus. From the outset, sharing belief in the Jesus of scripture has brought the conflict inevitable to the interaction of humans. There was the Council of Nicea and the response to the Reformation. In addition, all the stress of organization and re-defining the message for each succeeding generation has presented the tension between tradition and change. The Catholic Church is still here after the repeated sexual scandals, charges of corruption, and financial crises. Remarkably, there are the signs of grass roots vitality.
For today’s pessimistic, doubtful and cynical Catholics, the sight of those tender hopeful shoots of change can be obscured by layers of justified anger, intellectual frustration and moral outrage. Dismissing Catholicism as a viable lifestyle choice is beyond tempting and simply entirely possible. That choice ignores the height and depth, the breadth and scope of what Catholicism offers and the possibilities offered by what is new in Catholicism. There are young college grads entering missionary ministry on college campuses; young mothers in prayer groups and elderly parishioners embracing new ministries. There are lay contemplatives and parish communities nurturing traditions like the rosary and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
These are not formatted in traditional patterns of previous generations or organizations. There is lay leadership, and there are new groups emerging to accommodate and nurture this movement of the spirit. There is a tenderness to it, and a sense of purpose and conviction, a fidelity in individual lives to an age-old message which is still relevant in this millennium. Just as Francis and Clare developed a movement which had relevance in their time and re-birthed the wealth of the Christian message, there are individual persons attentive to the same purpose in this time.
The uniqueness of each person’s experience belongs in the realm of Catholicism just as the richness and the challenges of community living hone personal habits and behaviors. Catholicism is as provocative now as it was in the age of Francis and the desert fathers. It calls something from a person; those responses are fraught with meaning for self and others. It points out that life is intrinsically difficult, but there are ways to navigate it that produce good for self and for others, that touches the best of what is human and multiplies the strength and courage that humans are so capable of. The signs are here; the possibilities are endless.