Most (not all) readers of this site when they are upset with the “the Church” tend to be agitated by the actions of individuals within her rather than with the Church per se. That is, they love the faith and are disheartened and/or discouraged by the way those who claim to believe practice it. As Avery Cardinal Dulles (who, before he became a cardinal spilled coffee me – an interesting story) said, “In a secular society such as our own, consistently orthodox Catholics will constitute a minority, not only in the society at large but even, I would say, within their religious community. The majority are carried along by the tide of public opinion, which they receive daily in large doses through the popular media of communication.”
So what are the frustrated, faithful orthodox to do? Report every liturgical abuse to the bishop? Call every Christian who does not hold every tenant of the Church on the carpet? Become the “Catholic Police?” There are times and circumstances in which one of these actions might be appropriate, but over all they do not work. Neither do committees, clubs, programs, initiatives, task forces, or banners, at least not in the long run. They might help, but they in and of themselves have never, do not, and will not in the future bring true, lasting, positive change in the Church. Father Benedict Groeschel in his book “Reform of Renewal” points in the only direction that has ever been effective and lasting in the Church; personal renewal.
When one sets out to make the Church more orthodox by fixing others, the effect is rarely great. The peak moments in the renewal of the faith has always been when individual men and women have taken faith seriously, reformed their lives and conformed themselves to Christ. Through study they knew about Christ and His Church, through deep prayer they come to know Christ, and through JOY they made that truth attractive.
It is so much easier to fix others than ourselves because of our ability to observe. (Again the benefit of having a spiritual director.) But a helpful exercise is to imagine yourself as a Church. C. T. says, “If you want to know about a business or institution, don’t look at their mission statement, look at their budget.” We each have a budget of time, talent, and resources. How are they spent? Would someone looking at our budget think we were Catholic? That we were serious about it? That we are striving to become a saint? Where do our resources go? (Being lent and tax preparation season, it is an advantageous time to contemplate this.) How is our time proportioned? How are our talents focused? Are our lives attracting others to Christ? Do we resemble the thankfulness and joy of the saints and martyrs?
Saint Francis was given the mandate to “Save my Church,” not to establish a religious order. So how exactly did he save the Church? By radically following Christ which in turn attracted others to him, and through him to Christ. Look at his budget line compared to his return. No programs, no banners, no pep rallies; and no immediate results, it took time, but the results that he garnered were great and last to this day.