There’s a little secret out there in Catholicism, and we had a link to it recently: how, while mainstream religions are losing members in North America and Europe, the Faith in Africa, India, and the Philippines is growing quickly, in some cases exploding.
The secret is not the decline of religious affiliation (and among young, it is steep).
The secret is that those areas where the Faith is rapidly expanding are regions that embrace supernaturalism.
Let’s just call it what it is: Catholicism has gone overboard with philosophy and theology — the dry intellectual side. Dry things wither.
In many cases, a seminarian faces three years of philosophy, two of theology, and just one dedicated to teaching devotions, prayers, how to hear Confession, the celebration of Mass, and administration of other sacraments.
That last year — the spiritual side — should be the majority of a seminarian’s experience.
We need to reinsert Mystical Theology into the process of formation. Until the recent tsunami of scientism, it was as much as or more a part of seminary than philosophy.
And with all due respect, seminaries should shorten the time it takes to get through; remember, these seminary years are in some cases after a college degree.
Our greatest need is holy priests, not intellects.
In fact, the intellectual side is what turns so many young away: dry, academic sermons, with little pertinent to personal spiritual development nor affirming the miraculous.
Think about it: Jesus’ entire ministry was dominated by miracles of healing, deliverance, and other inexplicable phenomena, but in the current Church, such wonders are all but disallowed — in some cases, scorned.
Incredibly enough, the clergy — not the secular media — is often quickest to discount alleged miracles.
Caution? Very important; no doubt; there are bogus claims of the miraculous. But negation of anything supernormal?
How can we do that and believe in either the Old or New Testaments?
Have we forgotten that Jesus was believed — shown to be Son of God — because of His miracles (he didn’t travel about with a blackboard).
Yet even when the Gospel reading is on a miracle — perhaps healing or the casting out demons (lame? blind?) — the homily that follows usually avoids that aspect.
How can this be?
Why have we strayed so very far from the supernormality of Jesus?
Did not Jesus say (Mark 16) we would recognize His followers by those who lay on hands and cast out devils?
Did He not say that after His Ascension, He would send the Holy Spirit (not Kierkegaard)?
Do folks really believe miracles stopped when Jesus went to the Right Hand of the Father?
When will we get this?
Pray tell: how often does philosophy lead to Christian conversion?
Did not the paragon of Church intellectuals, Saint Thomas Aquinas, state at the end of his life, after a vision of eternity, that all his musings, all his writings, were “straw” in light of what he now had seen?
Keep some philosophy, yes. But three years? Is this what has deadened homilies?
Clearly, people hunger for contact with the supernatural. And why not? We are spiritual beings.
Proof of that point: the tomb of Saint Padre Pio — mystic extraordinaire — now receives more visitors each year, at least by one count, than the Vatican museums.
Those in the pews, and those who have left the pews, want preaching that comes from the heart, from afflatus, not mechanistic cerebration.
Did Saint Francis evangelize mechanically — or through an array of wonders? (Take a look here.)
What is more prone to affirm: a Eucharistic miracle (as alleged just yesterday in India) or a theological dissertation on the True Presence?
In all the look-down-the-nose approach to miracles is lost the fact that God does not send frivolous occurrences.
Even “silly” little miracles like a weeping statue are sent, when they are legitimate (and often they are), for a Divine reason.
God does not play with dice and He doesn’t play with phenomena that is inexplicable.
He sends it as a sign. Yet, it is often treated as an annoyance, or relegated to study designed to reach no conclusion.
We will always remain obedient to what the Church rules. It has a collective wisdom far beyond our own.
Priests and bishops are to be completely respected.
But tweaking is in order; there are questions.
How long would a commission by modern standards take to investigate, say, the healing of the lame man, or the multiplication? What would the reaction of many clerics be to a woman who claimed a visit by the angel Gabriel, or a man like Joseph who said he was having extraordinary dreams?
Actually, the great majority of miracles in Scripture still occur: are today manifest in some way.
One bishop who is sympathetic to such — Most Reverend Robert Barron, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles — recently wrote how “African Christianity puts a powerful stress on the miraculous, on eternal life, on the active providence of God, on healing grace, and on the divinity of Jesus… The reason a supernaturally oriented Christianity grows is that it is congruent with the purposes of the Holy Spirit, and also that it presents something that the world cannot…When Christianity collapses into purely this-worldly preoccupations…it rapidly dries up.”
Continued the L.A. prelate: “Something of crucial importance has happened in the years since the Council. The churches that once supported and gave rise to those intellectual leaders have largely fallen into desuetude. Catholicism is withering on the vine in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, and Austria.
Meanwhile, the center of gravity for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular has shifted dramatically to the south, especially to the African continent. In 1900, there were about 9 million Christians in all of Africa, but today there are upwards of 500 million, accounting for roughly 45% of the total population of the continent.
“And these numbers and percentages are likely to grow, since Africa also has one of the fastest rates of population growth in the world. So though it is perhaps still a German instinct to seize the intellectual high-ground and cast a somewhat patronizing gaze at the churches of the developing world, it is easy to understand how the leaders of those churches might remain politely—or not so politely—unwilling to accept criticism from their European colleagues.
“I would argue that the German editor has, in point of fact, misdiagnosed the situation rather dramatically. The Church is growing in Africa, not because the people are poorly educated, but because the version of Christianity on offer there is robustly supernatural.”
Every cardinal, bishop, Vatican bureaucrat, priest, and deacon who dismisses the miraculous should be sent that quote.
For the supernatural builds up faith. It builds hope. And besides all that, it’s real.
Are we to accept the lecture of a philosopher about the afterlife instead of considering (for discernment) thousands of near-death testimonies (some Lazarus-like)?
Caution, yes; but openness.
Currently, the Western Church, but for Latin America, is largely hostile to the supernatural. The fruit?
Notes a recent survey: “Today, nearly four in ten (39%) young adults (ages 18-29) are religiously unaffiliated—three times the unaffiliated rate (13%) among seniors (ages 65 and older). While previous generations were also more likely to be religiously unaffiliated in their twenties, young adults today are nearly four times as likely as young adults a generation ago to identify as religiously unaffiliated. In 1986, for example, only 10% of young adults claimed no religious affiliation.”
Much of that is due simply to secularization. Much is due to divorce. Much is due to scientism.
But when the Church offers the miraculous, it counterbalances the negative; it become a lodestone; it attracts.
And offer it our Church, based on the miracles of Christ, can and must do, with a degree of urgency.
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