Challenge, culture, and “evangelical Catholicism”

George Weigel discusses each in a short essay on the First Things site about his new book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church:

The challenge can be defined simply: Throughout the Western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church.

No, in our new situation, Catholicism has to be proposed, and Catholicism has to be lived in radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel. Recreational Catholicism—Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps ninety minutes of one’s time on a weekend—is over. Full-time Catholicism—a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission—is the only possible Catholicism in the twenty-first century.

The Evangelical Catholicism of the future is a Catholicism of radical conversion, deep fidelity, joyful discipleship, and courageous evangelism. Evangelical Catholics put friendship with the Lord Jesus at the center of everything: personal identity, relationships, activity. Evangelical Catholics strive for fidelity despite the wounds of sin, and do so through a daily encounter with the Word of God in the Bible and a regular embrace of Christ through a frequent reception of the sacraments. Evangelical Catholics experience dry seasons and dark nights, like everyone else; but they live through those experiences by finding their meaning in a deeper conformity to the Cross of Christ—on the far side of which is the unmatchable joy of Easter, the experience of which gives the people of the Church the courage to be Catholic. And evangelical Catholics measure the quality of their discipleship by whether, and to what extent, they give to others what they have been given: by the degree to which they deepen others’ friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, or bring others to meet the unique savior of the world. 

I’ve not yet read Weigel’s book (I plan to), but I have been reading another book that touches on similar themes: Rebuilding Catholic Culture: How the Catechism Can Shape Our Common Life (Sophia, 2012), by Dr. Ryan N. S. Topping, and have been quite impressed. Some have likened his exceptional writing to Chesterton, but I see more of Dorothy Sayer’s compact wit and literary wile. Topping writes with an admirable mixture of elegance, steel, wit, and deep understanding. Here is a bit from his Introduction:

Where modernity pretends to offer a creed more universal than the Church’s, whether this is through the language of rights, of tolerance, or of inevitable progress, those pretentions need to be exposed; they need to be ridiculed for the idolatry they are. The Church has a bridegroom who is a jealous lover. … No other institution has been thinking about thinking as long as the Church has. Intellectual humility is a great good, but self-imposed humiliation before our miedical, moral, and political masters is unbecoming.

CWR is working to interview both Weigel and Topping, so you’ll see more about their work in the weeks to come here on the CWR site.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.