In an increasingly antagonistic culture, American Catholics must realize that they are not called to comfort, but to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel, said speakers at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.
“We need to find new ways of bringing the Gospel to the contemporary world, of proclaiming Christ anew and of implanting the faith,” said Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston.
Pointing to “the United States or other Western Europe where secularization and dechristianization are gaining ground,” he said that “these are the new mission territories for the Church.”
Cardinal O’Malley delivered the keynote address at the 2014 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, held May 13 in Washington, D.C.
He was joined by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who gave the invocation prayer and Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, who gave the closing blessing.
Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, also gave a special address to the group.
“My message is a somber one,” George said, warning that “the days of acceptable Christianity are over, the days of comfortable Catholicism are past” as society finds it increasingly objectionable for people of faith to profess the Church’s teachings on human dignity, life, marriage and the family.
While a Catholic “can be safe” by remaining “completely silent” about the teachings of the faith, George warned, “a Catholic who makes it clear that he or she is not afraid of the Gospel is in for a rough go.”
Contemporary society places pressure on Catholics “to be ashamed of the Gospels,” he continued. Catholics today are therefore faced with the question: “am I willing or am I in the end simply unwilling to take up my cross and follow Christ?”
While secular society may threaten those who proclaim Church teaching on dignity, marriage and family as being “on the wrong side of history,” George reminded the crowd that “history has no sides” but instead that judgments are made by people and, ultimately, by God.
“History is not God; God is God. History is not our judge; God is our judge.”
At the end of all things, he said, “one thing and one thing alone will matter: was I a faithful witness to the Gospel.”
Cardinal O’Malley stated that Catholics today must ask “what does it does it mean to live in a culture without belief.”
“Business as usual is not enough: we must move from a maintenance role to missionary one,” he said.
For American Catholics today, he explained, “our task is to turn consumers into disciples and disciple makers,” adding that “every Catholic can be a minister of welcome, reconciliation and understanding to those who have stopped practicing the faith.”
Cardinal O’Malley also emphasized the importance “of the culture of encounter and the art of accompaniment” that Pope Francis often references, saying that Christian disciples are called to nurture a culture that focuses on following Christ and passing that example of the faith on to those around them.
This is precisely what the Church has been doing “for 2,000 years,” he observed, pointing to how the first Christians shared all they had with one another, responded to a variety of challenges in their community and passed on the faith through mentorship and example.
In contrast, the cardinal noted, “the privatization of religion in today’s climate of new age of individualism is poison to the Gospel message of community and connectedness in the Body of Christ.”
The hostile culture makes it all the more important to form true disciples, he said.
The Church’s duty to proclaim the truth about the human person leads Catholics to share teaching that may be unpopular, he explained, whether that may be the sanctity of marriage and human life or the need for public ethics and virtue to prevent “unjust structures and oppressive political and economic systems.”
The cardinal particularly stressed the plight of immigrants and need to reform “a system that is broken and woefully inadequate.”
“Our striving for the common good in society is simply a logical corollary of our love of neighbor,” he said.
Looking forward, Cardinal O’Malley said, Catholics need to know the truths of the faith “and need to know how to live those truths.”
“We all need to discover more deeply our vocation to live the Gospel teaching.”
He urged those present to focus on the saints as their models and to remember the critical importance of the sacraments.
“Love and justice must motivate us to work for a transformation of our own heart so that we can transform the world around us,” he said.