Our Renew 2000 group met yesterday. The seven of us talked about the Eucharist: its implication in our daily lives, as well as its liturgical meaning and beauty. Then we went to work at the parish food pantry. We are between seasons of Renew, which is a small-group, faith-sharing program in which many parishes in our diocese have participated for two years. Our group meets between seasons as well, because we enjoy getting together so much. We are of many ages, of both genders, of differing political persuasions and varied professional and vocational callings. Yet we have in common the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.
So imagine my dismay when in today’s mail there came a solicitation from the Catholic magazine Crisis that, on the outside of the envelope, trashes Renew 2000. The envelope warns me, before I even open it, to pray hard that the nightmare called Renew 2000 does not assault my parish. Apparently Renew is the modern-day equivalent of Eldad and Medadthe fellows in the Book of Numbers who dared to prophesy without the proper blessing from Mosesbecause the Renew meetings are conducted without the presence of a priest. (As I recall, Moses denied the entreaties of the people to stop Eldad and Medad and instead encouraged them to continue their good work.)
After opening the envelope, I am told that this magazine is orthodox Catholic. Indeed, the salutation of the pitch letter reads, Dear Fellow Orthodox Catholic.
The letter takes on the sacrilegious Paulist fathers who publish the Renew 2000 materials and reveals that this magazine can’t be found on just any newsstand, because its readers are above average. Their readers are educated, articulate and zealous Catholics. Just like me, right?
Actually I am offended by the Renew-bashing this magazine is using to sell itself. Renew has been only beneficial to my faith life, and I know the rest of my group would agree. In fact, if Satan wanted to infiltrate our parish, getting folks to meet together in one another’s living rooms to share their Catholic faith and to encourage one another to put that faith into action would be a mighty poor plan.
In my parish we have a small but vocal group who, in fact, opposed our parish’s implementation of Renew 2000. In the five years I’ve been a parish employee (as director of religious education), I haven’t quite known how to handle them. These are devout and fervent worshipers, family oriented, well intentioned and principled. They would be an asset to any religious education programif only they weren’t opposed to religious education on the parish level. They oppose most education that does not happen in the home. They homeschool their younger children and have formed a private academy for their high school children.
I respect their right to homeschool their children. If only every family had such demonstrable faith in the home. But I am angered when I hear third-hand of members of this group casting aspersions on the churchgoing habits and/or qualifications of the volunteer catechists in our program. Of course there is room for improvement in our parish religious education programstarting with me. I am no theological scholar. Five years ago I was a volunteer catechist with a B.A. in theater who was asked to give running the religious ed program a try. The enrollment had grown to the point where it was too much work to ask of a volunteer. I have read voraciously and attended conferences and sucked up all the information I could, but in truth I am not a traditionally qualified D.R.E. But I would defend the faith, integrity, knowledge and intentions of our catechists to anyone. I resent any gossip about them.
Until now I have seethed quietly, or I have unloaded on my pastor. I do not envy our pastor, into whose lap the rest of us deposit our squirming issues. Somehow he manages to keep us all working, if not together, at least side by side.
No one in this group communicates directly with me. But they make their positions known, and I try to accommodate their wishes in the interest of preserving parish unity. I have often thought their behavior exclusive and cultish, that they were just an odd bunch who had landed in our parish, of all places. But this mailing has opened my eyes. Our group has a name: orthodox Catholics, who apparently are much more prevalent than I thought, who have their own magazine like a mother ship and are on a mission to bring the rest of us back to fundamental catechesis.
I am not a belligerent person, but here is where I will fight. Renew 2000 has brought people who might otherwise drift from Sunday Mass to Sunday Mass into communion with one another. People have discovered or rediscovered the traditions and teachings of the church and have examined their lives in the light of Christ’s example. Catholics who have been at best non-participatory have come into the life of the church. Catholics have shared and prayed aloud together, and it’s not Sunday. If small faith communities are good enough to be commended by Pope John Paul II, then I will defend mine.
God bless the Paulists. In giving voice to my beliefs, I understand that avoiding confrontation is not the same as forging peacewhich all sounds pretty orthodox to me.
Eldad and I are looking forward to the next season of Renew.