The other night I re-watched Witness to Hope, the inspiring DVD based on George Weigel’s magisterial biography of John Paul II. I was struck again by Weigel’s true claim that throughout his life Wojtyla understood the personal encounter with God to be the basis and center of our faith. This conviction is organically related to his personalist anthropology. It is a key to understanding his life, his priesthood, his intellectual work, and his papacy. Man finds himself in relation to God and others.
Today friend Mark sent me a link to a blog where a discussion about Pentecostalism (inspired by a section of John Allen’s book The Future of the Church) is underway.
The author of the post, Greg Sisk, was a Pentecostalist for several years before becoming Catholic. Having been profoundly influenced during my adolescence by Protestant evangelicals and later by the Catholic charismatic renewal, my own sense and experience echoes his. He writes:
As do other former Pentecostals (and I think many former Evangelicals as well) who have converted to the Catholic Church, I sometimes find the emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus to be missing in Catholic parish life. While knowing Jesus as a personal Savior is integral to Catholic doctrine and manifested in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the one-on-one relationship with our Lord is not always well conveyed in the Catholic Church. I know that many of us from Pentecostal or Evangelical backgrounds worry that the deep and individual spiritual connection ― the personal sense of walking with Jesus ― may not be fully experienced by our children, at least those who find themselves in the sometimes stale or routine style of worship found in too many Catholic parishes.
If our faith is no more than an assent to a set of doctrines combined with conformity to ecclesial and moral law, it is not a living faith. And it will not serve in the emergencies surely ahead.
Sisk’s penultimate point also resonates with me:
As another point of vital importance to the future of any people of faith, Allen emphasizes that “[o]ne of the great strengths of Pentecostalism is its capacity to form a sense of community” (407). With the decline of ethnic neighborhoods and geographically-centered parishes, the Catholic Church must foster stronger communities of deeply shared Catholic meaning and spiritual experience, such as sub-groups within a parish that come together for Bible study and to share one another’s burdens. We must find ways, both within and outside the parish, in which to build community and demonstrate our concern for the welfare of each brother and sister in Christ.
I agree. I long for it constantly. But having seen experiments in community living go very badly awry, I am wary. Getting it right is not easy.