When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus replied that it is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Mt: 22) and that the second greatest is to love our neighbor as our self. Many of us who call ourselves Christians too easily forget that the principal purpose of what we rather broadly refer to as ‘our faith’ is the first of these, the adoration of the Triune God. As we minimize the mandate of this first command we tend to give primacy of purpose to the second, not realizing that without the first the second becomes a call to stultified morality.
In giving obeisance to morality and ignoring divinity we run a risk. Instead of being liberated by the life enriching grace of a God-centered life we allow ourselves to be controlled by the dull dictates of ethical convention. Beyond offending our Creator the jeopardy here is that moral systems increasingly disconnected with relationship with God eventually lead to a hollow and purposeless existence.
We are many, aren’t we? We are the products of a post-cultural society whose vestiges of a Judeo-Christian past occasionally appear and intimate that at one time life seemed fuller. Then there were more than just making a living, satisfying our needs, and following rules, more than the yawning insipidity of instant gratification. There was a time when our vocabulary boasted now antique words like ‘worship,’ ‘virtue,’ ‘dignity,’ ‘sacrifice’ and ‘purity.’
Still, how refreshing – even startling – it is when we aimless wanderers in the desert encounter someone who has discerned a purposeful life, someone with an understanding of how we might find the same, a person eager to share the joy of his conviction. Upon meeting such a soul we are suddenly aware of how hungry we have been for the knowledge he possesses or, more likely, possesses him, a knowledge which might replace the hollowness in our hearts with the joy of discovery.
This is to evangelize, isn’t it? One oasis of hope in the desert surrounding us is in Haddon Heights, New Jersey in the Diocese of Camden. Founded by Father Tim Byerley several years ago and recently relocated to a most inviting venue, the Collegium Center for Faith and Culture is run by volunteers who strive to live out their faith in an authentic and evangelizing manner by reaching out to the local Catholic (and other) population with programs that invigorate their ambivalent faith. The programs include lectures, discussion, workshops, coffee houses, pilgrimages, liturgical events and more. On a regular basis knowledgeable speakers come to discourse on a wide range of faith related topics (see the enticing subjects on the website) and these sessions are attended by scores of participants who freely enter into the give and take of the discussions. It is an intellectual, social and spiritual intercourse that deepens their understanding of and appreciation for the faith.
Other than Providential grace which surely supports its very effective outreach the impressive success of the Collegium Center derives significantly from the charming milieu of the converted office building in which it is housed. With no ecclesial trappings or intrusive sacred art that might intimidate seekers wary of “the institutional Church” the Center resonates with the virtues of warm hospitality and open fraternity. Visiting there, as I have done, one comes to believe that the Center’s aspiration to “make disciples of all people” is, again with God’s grace, possible.
Perhaps Providence will see to it that other oases of evangelization will spring up around our country presaging the ‘new springtime’ prophesied by St. John Paul II. Perhaps our national desert will begin to bloom (Isaiah 35) and God will transform the weariness of our vagabondage into the zeal of our discipleship. If you doubt this possibility, the Collegium Center in the Diocese of Camden will make you a believer.
Dana Robinson is the chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.