Msgr. Michael K. Magee

Recently one of the most popular commentators on contemporary issues in the Catholic Church, John L. Allen, published a book titled “The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church,” citing among these such major trends as the shift in the Church’s geographical center of gravity to the global south, the rise of Islam, expanding lay roles, etc. Similarly last week here in Philadelphia, there was a forum discussing a similar theme, titled “The Future of the Church.” {{more}}

I had the pleasure of coming to know John Allen while I was working in Rome, and I have read some of his books with interest. However, I have not had the opportunity to read the above-mentioned one yet, nor was I able to attend the forum discussing the theme here in Philadelphia. Thus nothing that I say here can be regarded as a critique of anything said in either of these venues.

Even so, I feel prompted by these discussions to state what I personally consider to be the single most important factor in determining the future of the Catholic Church. It is simply the degree to which Catholics place the highest value on their adherence to the Lord and to the unchanging truth of the faith.

If some Catholics place a higher priority on other values – however noble such values may be held to be – then the vitality of the Church’s mission will be endangered. On the other hand, if this fidelity is placed above every other consideration, then the future of the Church will be healthy, even if we may not know – and really do not need to know – exactly what the future may look like in concrete terms.

All too often in the media and even among Catholics, fidelity to the ancient faith is branded as “conservative.” Meanwhile the deceptively positive-sounding term “progressive” is used to designate the wish of some to transform the Church on the basis of values currently prized in popular culture but having little to do with the Lord’s teaching, such as democratization, changing gender roles, shifting moral values, or new-age forms of spirituality that may not even focus on the person of Jesus Christ.

The hierarchical structure of the Church instituted by Christ is envisioned as if it were a political organ whose guiding principles and structure might change with each new generation of leaders, as a political party might alter its platform at a convention with the election of new leaders.

The paradoxical truth, however, is that the Church has always attracted the greatest fascination of the world and the greatest number of converts not by changing her basic beliefs but by reinvigorating her adherence to the Gospel as she first received it from her Lord.

If Catholics place the message of Christ above every other value while also loving their neighbors as themselves, then their proclamation of the Lord’s message will be fresh and up to date not because they tried to refashion it in some new form but because their greatest desire will be to proclaim it in ways that will reach people here and now.

They will be inclusive not by accommodating themselves to the sins and errors of this world but by sharing the undiluted and saving truth of the faith with people of every race and walk of life, out of unbounded love. Their most fervent prayer will be for the transformation not of the Church, but of themselves.

Msgr. Michael K. Magee is a faculty member at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood.