Seekers and Dwellers - A reflection, by Br. Mark O’Connor
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Seekers and Dwellers - A reflection, by Br. Mark O’Connor

August 2015
Seekers and Dwellers

Dear Friends,

Someone with great spiritual gifts and passion said to me recently that they can’t wait to evangelise Melbourne!

Today, we desperately need such people with ‘fire in their bellies’, to proclaim the Good News. Such ‘evangelists’ can be seen as “pearl merchants”. They have found something – no... someone! – a 'precious pearl ' i.e. ‘Jesus’ and understandably they want to share and spread this good news to others. And so their urgent message: “Let’s get on with it….” is an important reminder to the lukewarm and cynical.

However, this missionary approach also needs to be balanced by another image. For, after all, do we ever really ‘bring Jesus’ to other people? Jesus is already here! Jesus always gets 'there' well before us! He loves from eternity each and every person enough to die on the Cross for them!

Our service, perhaps, is more often to simply help people discover and celebrate ‘the Christ’ hidden and mysteriously already present in their ordinary lives. Such evangelists then might be imaged as “treasure hunters.” They do not just come to a culture with something to give out. They do have something very precious – the good news (gospel) of God’s incredible love and mercy. But in order to find the divine treasure that is hidden there, they have to dig deep into the 'soil 'of the new culture that they are encountering. And since these evangelists cannot really do the digging alone, they have to enlist the help of the people of that culture and trust them to do most of the digging.

That is why I find very helpful the core ideas of the eminent Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, set out in A Secular Age and elsewhere. He helps us understand the 'soil' (culture) within which our faith might flourish.

Charles Taylor sees that there are among us both `seekers’ and `dwellers’. The seekers – baptised Christians or not – continue to question. The dwellers have found a home in a church and may have a tendency to nest there so thoroughly that they seldom reach out to others and only accept those who believe exactly as they do.

Hence the challenge of Pope Francis. Just the other day (August 5th) at his latest Wednesday General Audience, the Holy Father described the church as a welcoming house of God the Father where there is a place for everyone. “No closed doors! No closed doors!” he repeated, looking up from his text.

Yes, Francis is calling us to go beyond our 'comfort zones' – to become a more welcoming church, an open church, a church able to communicate with spiritual seekers. Hence the tensions in our church with the ‘dwellers’ who look back to a seemingly secure past, but struggle in coming to terms with the present.

The truly orthodox Catholic imagination, however, always avoids the ‘black and white’, binary and narrow-minded approach of the fearful. Any debate in the church where factions decide there are ‘winners and losers’ means something has gone horribly wrong.

We need instead to ask the bigger question with Pope Francis: how can we as Church credibly be both ‘pearl merchants’ and ‘treasure hunters’ and likewise both ‘seekers’ and ‘dwellers’?

As Paul Elie points out there is no place where this is more obvious than in Rome – which, as seat of the church and site of pilgrimage, is held in common by the seekers and the dwellers. That is precisely why we rejoice in being Roman Catholics. We are not members of a gnostic ‘cult’ or some elite 'club' but a community that welcomes everybody.

That’s an infallible truth about Jesus – our Founder, Risen Lord and friend. He loves and welcomes every one! And so should we his family of disciples...

- Mark O'Connor fms
Mark O'Connor is the Director of the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation 
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