Or has it been reduced by a culture of individualism?
What does Christian maturity look like? And is it the same as holiness? And why does it sometimes seem that, while holiness is often talked about and consciously sought in church, maturity is not?
The reason I ask is because it’s becoming increasingly clear that to fulfill the dream of a “missionary option capable of transforming everything” (Evangelii Gaudium #27) requires a level of Christian maturity that is rarely found - or even valued - amongst Catholics.
I remember once hearing in my college days at Franciscan University that the sign of a mature Christian church is that it produces missionaries. While I can say I know many people in church whom I would consider very holy, I know very few who are mature missionary disciples. And I’m trying to figure out: why is that? Because if we can figure it out, maybe we can change.
Holiness is a given, and just about every Catholic I know acknowledges the mandate to pursue it. For most, holiness includes prayer, detachment from sin and growth in virtue, robust sacramental life, intellectual formation, and general love of neighbor.
Which is great. But…if holiness literally means being “like God,” what about missionary discipleship? God is missional by nature: the Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit; the disciples are sent by the sending God to continue the saving mission on earth. If holiness means the perfection of charity and being more and more like God, won’t this naturally include mission?
"If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: 'Give them something to eat.'
(Evangelii Gaudium #49)
'Holiness' has been affected by cultural reductions of individualism, and has become separated from mission. Perhaps it’s another symptom of the “ecclesial introversion” (Evangelii Gaudium #27) that makes us too inward-focused, but I don’t know if I have ever once heard a Catholic sacramentally confess that they have neglected the Great Commission, or have no heart for the lost. It just isn’t part of the general Catholic conscience. Perhaps this is why so many Catholics I know scratch their heads, neglect, or just plain ignore the constant insistence of Pope Francis that to be a serious Catholic means becoming a missionary disciple.
I could go through a whole list of Scriptures and official church teachings to demonstrate there is no true holiness without maturity, and that maturity means missionary discipleship. Heck, I could just quote the entire first chapter of “The Joy of the Gospel.”
But what I would rather do is suggest, or perhaps even insist, that we revisit our categories to make sure that when we talk about holiness, we do not fool ourselves into thinking it can truly exist without maturity, and that means mission…which leads us into the discussion of growing in missional competencies. But that is a whole other subject...