A Catholic springtime in France


What is a Catholic, from a contemporary perspective?

The stereotype is that he or she is a sort of reactionary simpleton, a bit mean, a bit senile, obsessing over abstruse texts, preferring Mass to sleeping in on Sundays, and insisting on obeying an antiquated sect whose main activity is covering up sexual abuse.

This pious person has only three obsessions: to forbid women from doing as they please with their bodies, to prevent LGBT individuals from living their lives, and to force the sick to suffer for as long as possible.

This kind of Catholic is logically the last of its kind, with a perspective that’s outdated and irrelevant.

To top it all off, this clueless person has yet to realise that Jesus never existed, as people like the prolific French philosopher Michel Onfray assert.

If this kind of figure does not appeal to you, it doesn’t for me, either.

And it certainly isn’t what motivated 7,000 adults to officially become Catholics this past Easter here in France.

This large number of adults who were baptized during the Easter Vigil is an unprecedented leap for the Church in this country.

For several months now, Catholic observers have sensed that something is happening, which escapes the official discourse of French society. In some dioceses, such as Montpellier in the south, the catechumens were twice as numerous this year compared to last year.

Conversion is possible for anyone

It’s shocking! How could we have foreseen it?

How can these people want to jump into holy water when everything in modern society attempts to dissuade them, and when they don’t even know what a holy water font is anymore?

Do these new Catholics that have emerged from nowhere ignore the image of the Church that is conveyed by the media and social networks?

Did they ask for permission from the rulers of secularized society? Are they misinformed? Manipulated? After all the efforts made to repel them, how can they show up in good faith?

No one knows if this springtime of faith will last.

Sometimes there can be late frosts that ruin a beautiful bloom, and then – poof! – there goes the harvest we were dreaming of.

But meanwhile, God laughs at our shock, as it is written in the second Psalm:

“Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain?

Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one:

“Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!

“The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them.”

The mischievous Creator probably makes fun of our pastoral plans that aim for quantifiable results.

God finds Catholics in myriad ways, even in places where we don’t go.

Le Pèlerin, one of La Croix’s sister publications, once recounted the humble testimony of a young parliamentary assistant whom the Messiah came to fetch when he was 12-years-old.

The young man secretly bought a Bible with his pocket money, and the damage was done.

Reading it, he became a Christian.

He is not the only one to whom such a mishap has occurred, and conversion is possible for anyone, whether they be on the political left or political right.

God finds a way to draw people to himself

With all this in mind, however, the Gospel tells us that the disciples scatter when the situation turns dark. 1

In the Passion narrative according to St. Mark, only two outsiders confess, by their action or by words, the messianic status of Christ.

A woman breaks a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus’ head, and when everything is finished in the most astounding of apparent failures, a Roman centurion – not even a lifelong Catholic — proclaims the crucified one as the “Son of God”.

Even if they weren’t the greatest theologians, these new Christians who knew nothing at all grasped an important truth – it’s at the lowest point that the Most High lets himself be touched.

When the Church is flat on the ground and we lukewarm disciples wander around dazed in the messiness of our modern culture, God finds a way to draw people to himself.

This springtime of faith might indeed be a new beginning.

  • First published in La Croix. Republished with permission
  • Jean-Pierre Denis, a veteran journalist and editor, is the publisher of La Croix
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