The COVID-19 pandemic shook us into some new patterns of action. But even in the midst of the fear I was amazed and grateful to see the creativity with which priests, parishes, and Catholic organizations, both here and around the country, found new ways to reach out to people.
That experience can help us dismantle a false dichotomy — between fidelity and creativity — that needs to be overcome.
We’re called to be faithful to the Gospel, and creative in how we present it to the world. There have been times in Catholic history when we’ve lost the balance between the two. Some people have acted as if fidelity to what the Church teaches requires sameness in how it’s presented, as if there was no room for creativity. Others have acted as if the need for creativity in how things are presented permits creativity in what is presented, as if fidelity to Church teaching were optional.
Both mistakes are natural enough. But let’s call them what they are: mistakes. Recent times have shown that we can do better: we can exercise creativity and fidelity in bringing Jesus to the world.
Consider some of the local examples we experienced during the pandemic: flying benediction, roadside evangelization, drive through confessions, fireside chats with the pastor by livestream, and so on.
Step back and consider some broader examples stretching back further in time: Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Institute; Jeff Cavins’ Great Adventure Bible Timeline; National Evangelization Team (NET) ministries, and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS); Sofia Cavalletti’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd; Anna Carter and Shannon Ochoa’s Eden Invitation ministry. These are all examples of Catholic evangelization that combine fidelity to Church teaching with creativity in how the Gospel is presented.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly where the great religious orders came from: Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Carmelites, Christian Brothers, Religious of the Sacred Heart and so on. They’re all rooted in a combination of fidelity and creativity that was suited to the time in which they were born, and has withstood the test of time.
Pope Francis has spent his pontificate encouraging us — by word and example — to be creative in presenting the Gospel to the world. A recent Church document (“Iuvenescit Ecclesia”) highlights how the unity that comes from hierarchical gifts and the creativity that comes from charismatic gifts both come from the Holy Spirit. Both are needed if we’re going to present the Gospel persuasively.
Creativity and fidelity are both marks of the Holy Spirit. And I think Jesus has been inviting us to discover a new creativity in our faithfulness for many years. In the past few months, in the midst of scary and sad things, we’ve experienced a new outburst of creativity. While I hope a lot of things return to normal, there are some things in our parishes and our lives that I hope don’t revert to the status quo. There’s life in the creativity we’re discovering in our efforts to bring the Gospel to the world. I hope we let that combination of creativity and fidelity continue to grow.