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Editorial: Power of presence

By 
  • September 22, 2022

The commonplace complaint that the Church exists in a post-Christian society tends to misplace the common sense fact that the Church emerged from, and transformed, pre-Christian society.

As the late sociologist of religion, Rodney Stark, demonstrated in his 1996 book The Rise of Christianity, the “obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the Western World in a few centuries” at least partly because Christians were such a stark contrast to pre-Christians.

As Christians, we know the astonishing speed of the Faith’s spread was because God sent His only Son to save the world. The Big Fellow Upstairs, as He is known in the vernacular, brings things down to earth rapido-rapido.

At a purely secular level, Stark showed, it was also because Christians did such unheard of things as remaining with, and accompanying, the sick during times of plague when all about them non-Christians headed for the hills. Let he who has survived near-death hear the Gospel message from she who stayed and ministered to both soul and body. The message from history is one of hope. Additionally it is one of the active power of presence. By being Christians (being, not claiming to be) we move the Gospel’s attraction through society, pre-this, post-that, or otherwise.

There’s no question Christian hearts need hope. Yet the light of our history pinpoints a vibrant source of it in ourselves just as we Christians are. Recognizing that lets us jettison the worry beads that are often an accoutrement of trying to be all things (including all the things we are not), all the time.

For example, in a Sept. 14 article in First Things, the leading Catholic intellectual and eminent biographer of St. John Paul II, George Weigel, wrote a compelling column on reforming how Catholic bishops are chosen. It offered the attractively practical recommendation of democratizing the process by including laity who can identify “apostolic zeal” in prospective prelates. Worth exploring without question, though surely with the caveat that Catholic laity must understand their foundational obligation is to be Christians, meaning to be respectful of, and mindfully obedient to, the Catholic Church’s hierarchical nature.

For it’s worth considering how much Christians, particularly Catholics, have contributed to emergence of a post-Christian society by responding with the ferocity of wolverines in leghold traps to every utterance of the local ordinary. We are not called to be mutes or (church) mice, of course. The Gospels themselves are early currents in the Church’s 2,000-year history of critique. Editorials in The Catholic Register can be a much more recent manifestation. It’s part of our role and, indeed, our “who we are” as Christians.

Yet in this post-Christian age, the role of all Christians is to be known as Christians by our love, particularly by the love of Christ that propelled His Church throughout, and out of, the pre-Christian world.

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