On a couple of occasions, I have mentioned to you the Lutheran theologian Andrew Root, whose work I really appreciate. Over the past few years, Root has published six books on different aspects of ministry in today’s culture. The basis for much of his work is the thought of a contemporary Catholic philosopher named Charles Taylor. In 2007, Taylor, who is now 92 years old, published a very insightful book entitled A Secular Age. In that book, which is over 700 pages, Taylor discusses cultural, sociological, political, economic, and technological developments over the past 500 years to try to answer one question: “why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” (A Secular Age, p. 25)
Taylor’s question is an important one for us to consider, and Root spends several books precisely doing that. In the second volume that he wrote based on the work of Taylor, The Pastor in a Secular Age: Ministry to People Who No Longer Need a God, Root examines what it means to pastor people in a time when disbelief in God seems “inescapable.” Root’s analysis is very insightful, and I have found it very helpful in my own ministry over the past few years.
While I cannot discuss Root’s lines of thought in detail with you in this short article, I would like to share one of his main conclusions. He writes:
A pastor reminds his people to await the coming of God, to prepare them in the waiting for the possibility of God’s arriving. In the impatience of our secular age, where any waiting quickly turns into disbelief, the pastor in a secular age holds a space to wait for God’s becoming. The pastor’s primary focus, then, isn’t to build a church of size and reputation but to attend to revelation. The pastor focuses on how, even in this secular age, God arrives to reveal himself in the lives and stories of the community that the pastor leads. One of the pastor’s primary dispositions, then, is to lead in a stance of discernment. (The Pastor in a Secular Age, p. 185)
I find Root’s words particularly resonant as we begin our Advent journey to Christmas. This Sunday’s readings, especially the Gospel, invite and challenge us to await with hope the coming of God into our lives and world. During the early days of Advent, the liturgy invites us to await the great and glorious day when God will establish his kingdom of life and love among us. In a couple of weeks, as we approach Christmas, the liturgy will invite us to ponder what it meant for our ancestors in faith to await God’s first coming into our world as a vulnerable child.
I also find encouragement from Root’s words as we continue our parish time of renewal over the coming months. As Root notes, “God arrives to reveal himself in the lives and stories of the community that the pastor leads.” I witnessed the truth of this in October, during the first round of listening to parishioners’ stories about St. Maria Goretti’s past. As was shared with the whole parish in November, those stories helped to name ways in which God has revealed himself to so many of you through your experiences at St. Maria Goretti.
In the new year, we will once again invite parishioners to share stories, this time about our parish’s present reality, so that we can continue to discern who God is calling us to be and what he is calling us to do at this moment in the history of our parish and of our world. I hope you will consider sharing your story with us. I don’t know what God will reveal to us through the journey of story-sharing and discernment, but I await with hope the next great things that God will do for us, in us, and with us.
My hope is based on our shared experience, Sunday after Sunday, of awaiting and receiving the arrival of God in our midst when he gathers us to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. In the face of the doubts that each of us faces amid the disappointments of our lives and the suffering of in world, the Lord comes to us through the gift of his Word that he speaks to us and his Eucharist that he shares with us, so that we can know him, more and more, as the God who comes to us in love.