EDMONTON (CCN) — Jesuit Father Richard Leonard says we can’t sit at home, in the parish or in the chancery office and wait for the world to come to us.
“I can’t find any evidence for it in the New Testament that the Lord intended that we would wait for the world to come to us,” he said at a recent lecture.
“It’s exactly the opposite. Today is about Matthew 28: ‘Go out to the world and proclaim the Good News.’ ”
Leonard, an Australian preacher and author, said if we want to talk to the world, we’ve got to know it and we have to answer its questions.
He gave stats, including the fact that 67.3 per cent of Canadians belong to a religion and 23.9 have no religion. About 11 per cent of Canadian Catholics go to mass weekly and 55 per cent of the goers are foreign-born. If we haven’t done something to accommodate this reality we have to ask why not, he said.
Leonard, an author, educator and critic of modern culture, spoke to teachers and Catholic Pastoral Centre staff at Newman Theological College in early March.
He based his lecture mostly on his latest book, What Are We Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake? The book invites Christians to revisit their faith amidst the challenges of the contemporary world.
In his lecture, the Jesuit said the greatest evangelical moments where Catholics touch unbelievers are baptisms, weddings and funerals. “Where do most agnostics, atheists and searchers turn up on our terms: at a baptism, at a wedding and at a funeral.”
Therefore, we have to be “ridiculously hospitable” at those events rather than saying, “Those who are Catholic come to holy communion.”
“I have been at so many moments in the Catholic Church in the past 25 years where the first thing said at a Catholic liturgical event is who is excluded,” he said.
“I’ve gone to funerals, baptisms and weddings where we have gotten rather worked up about who is coming to holy communion. It seems we are not interested in welcoming people.”
Leonard said if we are going to be serious about evangelization we must strive to be “the best baptizers, the best marriers and the best buriers that we can possibly be because when we do it well nobody does it better than us.”
The first thing to recognize is that believers and unbelievers have a lot in common, the Jesuit continued. “We all want justice, peace and love. Most decent people I know want that.”
The idea that one needs God to be moral is obviously nonsense, he said.
“First, the sexual abuse scandal has put into the public what (moral) force we are ourselves: deeply immoral people who stood for decades preaching morality to the congregation (while covering up the sexual abuse). Look at us now. You can be admirably moral and not believe in anything.”
Leonard said the issue of sexual abuse has been front and centre in most of the serious conversations about religion he has had in the last 25 years. “You can tell people all the good we do every day in the Catholic community, the very next thing they say is ‘What about the sexual abuse of children?’ ”
His usual responses have been shame, grief and anger. Now he is demanding change. He wants every single brother, priest and bishop who has ever being convicted of child sexual abuse, to leave the ordained ministry for good.
“I’m not saying God can’t forgive you, but priesthood is still a position of leadership in the community and you can’t be a leader in the community.”
The Jesuit said the church, for its part, must protect the right of minorities, including the right of transgendered students and staff in Catholic schools.
“We have transsexual students in our schools (in Australia). What are we going to do about that? We are going to be ridiculously hospitable; that’s what we are going to do,” he said.
Leonard said he recently learned the Catholic community in Canada is the biggest provider of health care, welfare, education, pastoral care and development aid outside government.
It is good to know that fact, he said, “because people want to tell you the only story about us is a bad news story. We are actually practising what we preach but we don’t tell one another.”