by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
The March 11 issue of the international Catholic weekly The Tablet ran an opening editorial that included the following:
“The chronic disunity in the Catholic Church in the U.S. … calls for the re-evangelization of that community in the light of the Gospel as interpreted by Vatican II. The U.S. itself urgently needs a united and enlightened Catholic agency of moral reform. Its leaders must address the individualism and narcissism at the heart of contemporary America culture, in the name of a common good that places mutual responsibility and solidarity at its heart … [T]he Church in the United States has been allowed to pursue ‘business as usual’ – a toxic mix of free-market capitalism and is clericalism.”
This searing and all-too-accurate analysis of the Catholic Church in the United States describes our civil society as well. If ever there was a need for a serious “agency of moral reform” for the U.S. it is at this moment when the “mantle” of our outstanding spiritual leader, Pope Francis, will soon have to be picked up.
For the need of an “united and enlightened Catholic agency” cited above, insert “Pax Christi USA.” We have the ecclesiology, spirituality, and, above all, the vision to address and as far as humanly possible, remedy this terminal illness in our U.S. Catholic community. What is needed is an ongoing communal analysis of the present moment in the Church as related to its place in our national life, the willingness to accept the prophetic role which this analysis points to and, it might be said, creativity in carrying it out.
This is a Kairos moment which practically shouts at us to take on this challenge as we mark our 50th anniversary and “begin again” (as St. Francis urged his early followers.) It is a Kairos moment for many reasons beginning with the inevitable end of Pope Francis’ papacy. He will leave a legacy of synodality, of confidence in the sensus fidelium, willingness to learn from consultations with the people of God and all others of good will and the conviction that the Lord is best encountered at the peripheries of the world. In addition, he will leave us his desire to hold out the hope that the COVID pandemic has paved the way for a view of humanity as family, bound together as sisters and brothers, responsible for each other’s well-being. Such moments tend not to last long. They are fleeting historic opportunities.
These are insights and values so well exemplified by Pope Francis that have identified Pax Christi USA for half a century. We are a synodal movement, loyal to but independent of institutionalized ecclesial boundaries. We are definitely not in any sense clerical. In addition, providentially we are experiencing a younger generation taking leadership and bringing their own insights and energies to the table.
The task before us is daunting. The “individualism, and narcissism” and the “toxic mix of free-market capitalism and clericalism” at the heart of the contemporary United States, including the Catholic Church, demand a sea change both in society and in our faith communities. We will need to cultivate the practice of ongoing social analyses of these sicknesses to inform our responses.
Finally, these thoughts reflections will hopefully open new horizons as we go forward. We will be called to nurture the consciousness that we are a national organization. We will have to hold firmly in mind that our vocation is a call to publicly critique the priorities and values of U.S. American life, which theologian Jon Sobrino calls examples of the “anti-kingdom of God”: the insane reliance of the United States on military power and our hateful attitudes toward the “strangers among us.”
Pax Christi USA has fulfilled this national vocation for its five decades of existence. What is called for now is a heightened consciousness of our standing as the official peace movement of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
A warning from Thomas Merton seems the best way to conclude this reflection: Asked what are the options for Christians in the United States today, he said, “Is it simply to fold our hands and resign ourselves for the worst … or accept the most diabolical of illusions, the great and not even subtle temptation of a Christian that has grown rich and comfortable, and is satisfied …?”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.