Ripe for the Harvest
Julianne Stanz, Director of Discipleship and Leadership Development
Diocese of Green Bay
In his seminal work, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), Charles Taylor acknowledges that we have moved from a time when it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for a believer, is considered one possibility among many others. Our world, Taylor argues, is being configured not by the absence of belief or religion (although religious practice has declined), but rather by the multiplicity of new options available by which people give shape to their spiritual aspirations. As ministers, we have seen, in a relatively short period of time, the challenges presented with the rapid rise of those who profess no religious identity, those who are formal members of communities but do not practice their faith, and those who have some connection to their faith but one that is tenuous.
Hope, healing and hospitality are the hinge-points of a door to our ministries where people can experience the healing light and merciful love of Jesus.
N.O.N.E- Not Open to the New Evangelization?
A group which much ink has been spilled has been labeled the “nones”. Technically, this term refers to those who indicate “none” when asked to identify their religious affiliation. According to Pew Research from 2015 this group presently accounts for 1 in 5 of the general population and are a growing demographic, particularly amongst youth and young adults. However, I wish to make an important distinction with regard to this group. We mistakenly assume that these individuals have made a fixed and final decision about faith, but nothing could be further from the truth. “None” is not akin to “non belief,” if the Pew Forum Research of 2012 is any indication. For example, 94 percent of the unaffiliated believe in God, and 49 percent of those believe in a personal God. Not only that, but 30 percent are formal members of religious communities! This demographic is not a homogenous group but have disparate beliefs and practices regarding religion and religious affiliation. This may mean that those who describe themselves as “nones” likely have some connection to a faith community, believe in God and may even attend Mass, albeit rarely. This is also true of many Catholics today. When someone says they are Catholic, it may mean that they attend Mass daily or once a month or attend only at Christmas or Easter. For others, it might mean they no longer go to Mass at all but still want to be married in the Church or have their child baptized. This distinction is critical especially when it comes to our youth. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown and Saint Mary’s Press seventy-four percent of young people said they stopped identifying as Catholic between ages 10 and 20, with a median age of 13. While they may have stopped identifying with their Catholic faith, they may still in attendance at religious education or attending Catholic schools. As such they represent a ripe and captive audience for us. Clearly, “N.O.N.E” does not mean “Not Open to the New Evangelization”!
Building Bridges of Trust
The postmodern journey of conversion usually begins when there is a bridge of trust with a fellow Christian, a positive connection to a community of faith or something identifiably Christian. Building bridges of trust with post-modern youth and young adults is becoming more difficult for all institutions including the Catholic Church. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. When we as Catholics, seek to enter into relationship with others, it will only progress and grow if we trust each other. In this regard, Jesus has much to teach us. As disciples or students of the Master Jesus Christ we can look at how Jesus builds a bond of trust with the Samaritan Woman, clearly a marginalized person in society. His warmth and very presence, draws her to him as he offers her a compelling vision for her life and inspires hope. Not only does Jesus quench her thirst for water but he quenches her thirst for “living water” (John 4:10-11). She then runs to share the Good News that she is loved with others because she has encountered the source of this love, understands that others too can share in the love of Jesus Christ. Her compelling testimony is now offered to those who have not met Jesus and yet can still encounter Him in and through her story. With the story of the Samaritan woman in mind, I offer three bridges of trust for ministers to build upon:
Saved in Hope:
In a world, rich in material wealth but often impoverished in spiritual health, youth and young adults are being ravaged and broken by the rampant pace of secularism. In my work with young adults, I see a yearning and a hunger, not just for the message of the Gospel, but for the one from whom all Good News flows, the person of Jesus Christ, who offers hope. Despite all that the world faces, St. Pope John Paul II reminds us that “humanity is able to hope. Indeed it must hope: the living and personal Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, is the "good news" and the bearer of joy that the Church announces each day, and to whom the Church bears testimony before all people” (Christifideles laici, 7). The Church grows by the energy of Christ’s love and not by the power of ideologies, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI remarked during the inauguration of the 5th General Conference of Latin American Bishops at the Marian shrine of Aparecida, Brazil on May 13th 2007. Sharing our own authentic witness to how Jesus has worked in our lives is a powerful tool for evangelization. Leading with the “yes” of who we are and offering a sign of hope is always more powerful than telling people what we say “no” to.
Healing The Wounds
Jesus, the Divine Physician is the ultimate healer and it is by his wounds that we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). In the Gospels, we read that Jesus constantly spent time healing the blind, the lame, the paralyzed, the hard hearted, the angry, and the despairing. He never turned away anyone that needed healing and neither should we. Our parishes should be spaces to experience healing love and mercy. During a Mass at Casa Santa Marta on February 5, 2015, Pope Francis described the Church as a “field hospital” that requires, “healing the wounded hearts, opening doors, freeing [people], and saying that God is good, forgives all, is our Father, is tender, and is always waiting for us…” In fact, the first thing that Jesus did after the Resurrection was to reveal his wounds to the disciples. Being a sanctuary of mercy and healing is a very real need today that parishes can provide. Parishes that walk with those through divorce, remarriage, grief, and all forms of suffering will find that this work of accompaniment bears lasting fruit. Simple means of being a fountain of healing include offering words of encouragement and prayer with those in need. As parish leaders we should not be afraid of entering “the tomb” of suffering of another and help them to reconcile this suffering to the Cross so that we can see the glory of the Resurrection.
Hospitality as a Sanctuary
The desire to be loved and welcomed cuts to the deepest heart of each one of us. Hospitality flows from charity and is about welcoming Christ who is deepest within every person we encounter. Hospitality, unfortunately, has become synonymous with coffee and donuts or relegated to a select group of people or committee. Not only has this mindset absolved us all of the need to go out of their comfort zone to welcome others, but it reinforces the mindset that hospitality is something that a particular group of people do, rather than who we are as a people of Christ. The parish is a “sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink” reminds Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium #28). If we teach our parishioners to be hospitable, we must help them to see Christ in everyone and to welcome all to God’s house, in His name. Our parishes ought to be places where we can drink in the person of Christ in the other so that all experience “living water”. A place where the least of all can drink through their year of grief, joy, losses, sorrows, and wounds and quench their thirst. A sanctuary that is capable of warming hearts and bodies in love.
Ripe for the Harvest:
St. Pope John Paul II reminds us in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio that “God is opening up before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel” (Redemptoris Missio #3). While we can look to the lessons of the past, Pope Francis reminds us that we live at a time when we, as a community of faith must prioritize a more missionary option as we are witnessing not simply an “era of change but a change of era”. Adopting a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity and praying with expectant hope ought to be a part of our ministerial disposition.
Hope, healing and hospitality are the hinge-points of a door to our ministries where people can experience the healing light and merciful love of Jesus. Just as Jesus exhorts his disciples to see the spiritual harvest in front of them, he urges us as missionary disciples with these words “Do you now say, ‘There are yet four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.” Do we really believe that our world is a field ripe for an abundant harvest?
Julianne Stanz is the Director of Discipleship and Leadership Development for the Diocese of Green Bay. She is the author of the book "Developing Disciples of Christ" published by Loyola Press and married with three children.