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January 14, 2009
Faith conference calls Catholics to personal conversion and mission
When the late Christopher Lasch wrote his landmark book “The Culture of Narcissism” 30 years ago, many people misunderstood it. A quick reading gave the impression that Lasch was criticizing modern egotism and self-indulgence.
But his real point was a lot more troubling. Lasch believed that modern consumer culture is a shell game. The mass media create the illusion that we’re each of us sovereign individuals; that we create our own values and lifestyles; that our opinions really matter; and that products and corporations exist to benefit our lives because we “deserve” it. The truth is very different. For Lasch, modern society deliberately breeds weak and dependent personalities. Why? Because in its neediness, a weak person’s character can more easily be manipulated by advertising and the phony appetites it creates. The narcissist may seem to be radically selfish, and he is—but it’s a selfishness driven by anxiety and doubt, not confidence.
What’s this got to do with our Catholic faith? Quite a lot. A mature Christian is exactly the opposite of the creature I just described.
Real faith demands courage; it creates a holy restlessness about our own sins and the suffering and needs of others. The real Christian knows that baptism is a mandate to act, not consume; that our lives have a purpose larger than ourselves; that our choices do matter immensely, but not because we create their meaning; that we actually “deserve” very little on our own merits and that God’s love is a free, unearned gift we have a duty to share. The defining qualities of every mature Catholic life are gratitude, not greed; and confidence in Jesus Christ, not cowardice or false compromise with an unbelieving world. Love, as Scripture tells us, casts out fear; but it does much more than that: It replaces fear with strength because—to quote St. Paul—“the love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14; emphasis added).
If we really believe in Jesus Christ—as Paul did—we already have the most important thing we need. In fact, Paul’s epistles, his missionary zeal and his extraordinary passion for God are testimony to what one person, living with conviction, can accomplish. Jesus Christ redeemed us on the cross. But God used Paul to take that good news to the world—as we now must.
How do we do that? We don’t need to work in the foreign missions to follow in the footsteps of Paul. We can be missionaries right here, in the mundane circumstances God places us. We need to be people of daily prayer and regular worship. We need to show God’s patience and love to the persons we meet on an everyday basis—our families, our coworkers and strangers on the street. But we also need to constantly deepen our knowledge of the faith by reading, study and adult formation. Personal conversion and personal mission are a Catholic’s lifetime tasks. And this is why our annual archdiocesan “Living the Catholic Faith” (LTCF) conference is so vital to the life our Church and her people.
In this Year of St. Paul, it’s especially fitting that our LTCF gathering has taken the theme “Live with conviction!” As usual, the list of conference speakers is impressive, with a particular emphasis on practical application of the Gospel: Bishop James Conley, Colleen Carroll Campbell, Jonathan Reyes, Edward Sri, Mary Cohen, Dominican Father Jay Harrington, Tim Gray, Marcus Grodi; Father Alvaro Montero, D.C.J.M., Mother Mary of the Angels, S.R., Sister Esther Mary Nickel, R.S.M., and many others.
If you attend only one conference this year, this is the one for your calendar. Mark it down: Feb. 27; and I’ll see you there.
Full information on speakers, sessions and registration for the Living the Catholic Faith conference can be found at archden.org.
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