In the early 70s I read Eugene Cuskelly's, No Cowards in the Kingdom. It was a call for courage in living the faith. I found it inspiring. But at the time there were only intimations of the problems to come. We were still young and energised by Vatican II. There were plenty of priests and sisters. Superiors were in their forties and the Church scandals of those days were minor compared to today.
Now priests are ageing and critically short in number. I find it difficult to imagine the Columbans and many congregations in 10 years time they will have to be lay run. Most dioceses are also struggling to care for their people. What is worse in a post-modern secular society like Australia religion is increasingly marginalised and we are struggling to learn how to communicate with youth who seem to want to believe but not belong to any of our institutions. Religion is greeted by many with apathy rather than anger. God is missing but not missed.
There are pockets of success and the Church is taking initiatives such as World Youth Day but I still believe we need Cuskelly's courage, persistence and faith-filled hearts.
I am reminded of another book, David Bosch's Transforming Mission. He tells us that while mission may be in crisis that is healthy. It is normal for Christians to live in a situation of crisis but we are only occasionally aware of this. We are blinded by our successes and consequently depressed by failure when it comes. The Church needs apparent failure and suffering to realise that mission requires profound faith. We have to allow God the freedom to save the world in his way. At times our challenge is to be faithful without success. We have to learn to love and live through all our questions patiently and hopefully.
I think we often misunderstand the purpose of religion. For most of us the purpose of religion is to give us easy, comfortable certainties [a fundamentalist approach]. Actually religion should provoke in us deeper and greater questions but also give us the faith and hope to live courageously through them into a deeper and more joyful life.
Fr Noel Connolly