Deacons’ challenge: Changing a culture ‘bored with Christ,’ says Weigel

| May 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
George Weigel speaks before an audience at the National Association of Diaconate Directors’ 2015 convention April 23. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

George Weigel speaks before an audience at the National Association of Diaconate Directors’ 2015 convention April 23. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Western Christians are facing a culture “bored with Christ,” author George Weigel said April 23 before an audience including hundreds of permanent deacons and their wives in Minneapolis.

He was quoting Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit’s April 2 chrism Mass homily, in which the archbishop called the world “asleep about the Gospel.”

“Are we not bored with Christ? Is that not the condition that the Holy Spirit needs to heal in our time?” the archbishop asked. “Have we not come to a time where hearts no longer seem restless, but rather more drugged, befuddled?”

Deacons have a particular role in combating this poverty, Weigel said, as “radically converted disciples” and ministers of God’s mercy.

Weigel spoke at the National Association of Diaconate Directors annual convention at the invitation of Deacon Joseph Michalak, the director of diaconate formation for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Eight months after the 2013 publication of Weigel’s most recent book “Evangelical Catholicism” — which analyzed the church’s current transition and the reforms necessary to embrace the next era — Deacon Michalak cornered Weigel at the Rediscover: Catholic Celebration in St. Paul.

He told Weigel that he missed an important stakeholder: the permanent deacon, and he invited the author to fill the gap of his “missing chapter” with a presentation at the convention.

Weigel told his audience that it was their role to “outline the chapter” with their work, but emphasized that they must define themselves by who they are, not just what they do.

During his hour-long talk, he put the Church’s current situation in the context of the ages preceding it: early Christianity, the patristic era, medieval Christendom and the counter-reformation. For many Catholics, he said, counter-reformation Catholicism seemed to be the church as she always was and as she always would be.

“Yet we can now see,” he said, “that in our younger days, we were living at the end of the epoch of Counter-Reformation Catholicism, and in the first phases of the mode of being Catholic that is being born today in the fifth seismic shift: the Church of the new evangelization.”

Weigel called this mode of being Catholic “evangelical Catholicism.” According to his analysis, it took root with Pope Leo XIII, who envisioned a Church engaging the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools. The Second Vatican Council focused that Leonine energy, and evangelical Catholicism emerged during the papacies of St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

“By the time Benedict XVI laid down the burden of the papacy,” he said, “the liveliest parts of the world church were those that had followed the lead of John Paul II and his successor in thinking of the Church as a community of disciples in mission — a Church in which friendship with Jesus Christ, and incorporation into his mystical body, impelled all of the friends of the Lord Jesus into mission.”

It is a church that leaves behind “institutional maintenance” and reconceives its institutions as “launch pads” for evangelization, Weigel added — what Pope Benedict called “a Church permanently in mission.”

The Church’s embrace of evangelical Catholicism came “just in time,” he said.

“We are now in a challenging situation in which the ambient public culture does not help transmit the faith, nor is it neutral to the faith,” he said.

“The cultural air we breathe is toxic to the faith,” he added, unlike “the cultural air” of two generations ago.

“The only future is an evangelically vibrant Catholicism,” he said, which he called “a Catholicism that is prepared to be countercultural” in an irreligious world uninterested in God.

“What has been lost among too many of our contemporaries is a sense of awe or wonder at the very mystery of being itself. Our horizons have been flattened, irony and skepticism dominate our culture, nothing in the human condition is simply given, all is susceptible to manipulation by acts of our will, we are bored, dulled, uninterested,” he said. “The pleasure-principle pursued as the supreme goal of life has turned out to deprive us of joy.”

Weigel mentioned a litany of groups and institutions living out evangelical Catholicism, including ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver, Focolare and Texas A&M University campus ministry.

In an interview following his talk, Weigel also praised the Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He called the students, alumni and faculty “something that you cannot help but be heartened and impressed by.”

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