Summary: From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age by Msgr. James Shea

1: The Place of a Ruling Imaginative Vision in Human Cultures

Our response to “How are things? How is life going?” is based upon some assumed narrative embedded in an overall vision of life, one that spells out what personal success and failure mean and how they are to be assessed (14-15).

  • How do you answer the question, “How are things? How is life going?” What does this reveal to you about your “imaginative vision” or “narrative”?
  • If you polled your parish/school/family about “how are things going?” what do you think are the subconscious criteria that people would use to answer that question? Finances? Physical health? Relationships? Spiritual vitality? Other? Which would be most important?

2: Christendom & Apostolic Modes: Advantages & Disadvantages

There are 2 basic modes by which Christianity interacts with human societies:

1. Christendom Mode:

  • Advantages: The culture (eg. laws, morality, etc) is more aligned to Christian truths, great cultural achievements naturally emerge (eg. hospitals, cathedrals, universities). Goal = maintenance – constant renewal, strengthen, correction (still hard in our fallen world).
  • Disadvantages: Lose supernatural character & become worldly. Lukewarm to evangelize. Laity feel left behind to religious. Hypocrites: Counterfeits to genuine Christianity emerge – few intentional disciples.

2. Apostolic Mode:

  • Advantages: Christians can stand out. Purity of intention for priesthood. Urgency for evangelization. Laity more important. Martyrdom prevalent.
  • Disadvantages: Hard to persevere & keep spiritually healthy. Hostility. Fewer resources. High cost of discipleship leads to cowardice. Flee from engaging with the culture.

3: The Current Climate

Our culture culture is the “first culture in history that was once deeply Christian but that by a slow and thorough process has been consciously ridding itself of its Christian basis” (8).

Our culture is transitioning from a place in which Christianity is the dominant cultural influence (“Christendom”) to one in which it is merely one influence among others (“Apostolic age”).

Our current climate is a 17th Century Enlightenment fuelled humanistic/materialistic vision.

4: Devising a Pastoral Strategy for this Transitional Time

Since we no longer live in a Christendom age but rather an Apostolic age, our pastoral strategies must change.

“It is the difference between floating a canoe downriver with the occasional guiding push (in Christendom mode) or steering it upriver against the current with energetic strokes (in apostolic mode). What happens when the rowing stops is quite different in the two cases. Those who think the current is going their way — when in fact it is against them — will be surprised to find themselves rushing along in a direction they did not intend” (41).

Our problem is rather that much of the Church is still in a Christendom mode, either seriously compromised by the ruling vision of the wider culture or using outmoded strategies that were devised for a different context, and so it is unable to cope with the current culture” (32).

  • An essential “working principle: institutional and ecclesiastical strategies that are suited to Christendom do not work well in an apostolic setting” (31).

Remember. We are not trying to convert pagans but rather bringing back to the Church those who knowingly or unknowingly have apostasized (image of not trying to woo a young maiden but rather a cynical divorcee back to previous marriage).

Principles and Attitudes:

  1. Gaining an apostolic attitude: we must be totally convinced of both the bad news & the Good News, to preach & live the Gospel with clarity & conviction.
  2. Refusing to be trapped by social analysis: Sociological surveys & numerical analyzes are helpful in understanding the current state & in devising an appropriate strategy but are utterly incapable of capturing the divine quality of the Church throughout history.
  3. Maintaining & using institutions differently: “Properly founding and caring for institutions in which the ideals of a culture are incarnated is the heart of all civilized life” (40).
  4. Establishing and strengthening practices that incarnate the Christian vision: In this apostolic age, Christians must find new ways to incarnate what is now a counter-cultural Christian vision of the world (ordering our schedules around liturgical calendar, using images in our homes, etc).
  5. Rethinking priestly life and education in light of the current cultural context: Seminarians need to a certain time (like a spirituality year) for “personal healing, intellectual conversion, and cultural “detox” (49). Priests also can no longer go about as lone rangers in this enemy-held culture. They need brothers in arms & “a whole structure of life within which a priest can exercise his calling for the sake of others” (50).
  6. Allocating resources with apostolicity in mind: Significant resources must be given for apostolic initiatives that produce conversions, especially among the young. Since we are at war, we might have to go into fallback mode, give up certain territories to gather strength for a renewed attack at a later time (cf. 52).
  7. Being ready to put up with a certain apostolic “messiness”: Welcome the problems that arise with energetic disciples (from the “sons of thunder” – eg. unenlightened zeal, rigoristic attitudes, idiosyncratic stances, rivalries).
  8. Expecting cultural influence to be exercised primarily by impressive witness: Courageous martyrs, caring for the outcast (eg. Missionaries of Charity), moral purity. All of this is necessary today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Has your parish/school/family been operating out of a Christendom or Apostolic approach?
  2. What would it look like for your institution to (more deeply) embrace an Apostolic approach?
  3. How might you gain an apostolic attitude yourself, and help others to do the same?
  4. What are some practices that you might undertake to incarnate the Christian vision?

5: The Key Task: Conversion of the Mind to a New Way of Seeing

“THE MAIN evangelistic task in an apostolic age, a task that also needs to be directed at many within the Church, is the presentation of the Gospel in such a way that the minds of its hearers can be given the opportunity to be transformed, converted from one way of looking at the world to a different way” (59).

  • “Preaching in an apostolic age needs to begin with the appeal to a completely different way of seeing things; it needs to offer a different narrative concerning the great human drama; it needs to aim to put into place the key elements of the integrated Christian vision of the world within which the moral and spiritual disciplines the Church imposes find their place” (60).

“The great apostolic task of our time is to gain a genuine conversion of mind and vision” (62). We must present Christianity “as a way of seeing the whole of things” (66).

The Christian Way of Seeing

“To be apostolic in vision (to repeat an earlier point) is to recognize that Christians don’t see some things differently than others: they see everything differently in the light of the extraordinary drama they have come to understand” (67).

  • “In the Christian vision, to be a human is to be involved in an extraordinary adventure” (63). Born into a world that is both visible & invisible, there is a cosmic battle is taking place and we must take a side.
  • We have an essential and unique role to play in this great drama of human life, the mission of God bringing humans from slavery to divinity.
  • Because we are blind to the invisible world, we are largely ignorant of how the most important events of human history are largely hidden from sight.
  • There are only two destinations for each human life: heaven or hell. Both are real possibilities.

The Modern / Progressive Way of Seeing Things

A chaos of confusing bits & pieces. A blurred and often myopic way of seeing. Modern progressives (which to some degree means nearly all of us) like to pride ourselves on our rational and scientific way of seeing things – not for its scientific accuracy but for its romantic utopianism, trying to find evidence to fit our own views.

1. Faith in progress – modernists took the supernatural, heavenly belief that history is “going somewhere” (to perfection) and made it into a natural, earthly belief of finding the perfect here and now – that humanity was ascending on an upward course not only technologically (made sense) but also socially & morally (does not make sense). Led to great impatience with any imperfection in this world (think Covid now). Love for the poor, sick, aged has changed into a hatred for poverty, sickness, and the ravages of age. This has led to eradicating the poor, eliminating the diseased, and euthanizing the aged. Pride, rather than love, is the root motivation. But the gospel of progress has enormously failed (expect for technological power leading to wealth & comfort).

2. Denial of the Fall – the progressive vision finds the source of evil to be bad fruit of ignorance (due to physical laws, social structures, psychological principles, etc). Gaining & applying proper knowledge will fix it. Instead of the devil, progressives look at a specific group of people as the problem – thus demonizing some portion of fellow humans & hating them with the perfect hatred that was meant to be reserved for the devil alone.

3. Marginalization of God – Practical atheism is prevalent. God doesn’t really matter. And so religion must be a very private matter (“whatever works for you”). Religion is not an account of reality but rather something to enhance our experience & help us to deal with the stress of existence. God is a therapist, not Lord. God is an actor, not the Actor. But sadly this leads to boredom!

4. Intoxication with the world of space and time – de-sacramentalized vision leads to obsession. “The only meaningful criteria for judging success or failure are those that can be seen: popularity, power, wealth, comfort, and personal enrichment” (75). Immediate satisfaction has great appeal in constant distraction by what is seen.

5. Freedom to choose as the essence of human dignity and the source of human happiness – “freedom” is no longer something Christ can give us (from death, from devilish tyranny, from destructive passions, from ignorance, brought to the status of sons & daughters of God as free men & women) but rather a human endeavour to have choice for whatever my individual will desires at whatever time. Autonomy is seen as the greatest good.

6. Consumer contentment the default experience – “We exercise freedom by buying what we want; we find meaning by keeping abreast of the “next big thing”; we make the world a better place by carefully constructing a personal statement of existence whose brand is produced out of the consumer choices we make” (78).

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has your family/school/parish been influenced by the modern way of seeing things?
  2. How has your family/school/parish be more influenced by the Christian way of seeing things?

Conclusion: Readiness to Embrace the Times We are Given

Despite its influence, the prevailing vision is unsatisfying, precisely because it is inaccurate. We must have confidence in the Holy Spirit and His power to help ourselves and those around us embrace the true, Christian vision of reality. Let us understand the age we have been given, trace out how the Holy Spirit is working within it, and seize the adventure of cooperating with Him.

Discussion Questions:

  • Who are the saints we must look towards for inspiration in this time? What lessons can they teach us?
  • What concrete actions will you take to help those in your parish/school/family discern the movement of the Spirit in our time?

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