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Posted November 16, 2004

Reviving the Catholic Imagination

Eugene Hemrick

“The Catholic Church thrives on the imagination and creativity of its members. What two issues do you think are most in need of ‘The Catholic Imagination’ -- and what imaginative changes would you envision?”

This question is the latest to be posted for discussion on the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood [website www.jknirp.com.]

What do we mean by Catholic Imagination? Has the church lost it?

Imagination is the ability to visualize: the ability to form images and ideas in the mind, especially of things never seen or never experienced directly.

When we envision imaginative people, we visualize them thinking out of the box and having an entrepreneur spirit.

When we add the attribute Catholic to imagination, it conjures up images of saints founding new orders and taking to the streets in order to respond to the need for greater religious fervor and reaching out to the destitute. It pictures philosophers and theologians generating fresh insights into life and religion. It reminds us of church movements in which the scriptures, the liturgy, and social justice experienced revitalization.

Catholic Imagination is an energizing spirit that says: there is no such thing as living neutrally, either we experiment and go forward, or we go backwards.

If we compare the past to the present, Catholic Imagination has definitely diminished. It is true there are more imaginative books being written than in the past, and that we have outstanding imaginative clergy and lay leaders. It is likewise true that the local church contains many new programs never imagined before. What is missing is the deep seeded feeling that we embrace experimentation. Furthermore, we are restless with the status quo, but won’t march against it. We have enthusiasm, but we won’t venture into the unknown. Individually we have imagination, but as a whole we don’t spark each other with it to create new movements.

At one time it was common to hear priests and the laity say: don’t ask for permission, just do it. You can always beg for forgiveness after. At present, this spirit is rare.

Catholic Imagination is needed like never before. The growing number of parishes without a priest is calling for imaginative thinking about the lifestyle of priests, the new responsibilities of lay leaders, and ways of operating parishes. The influx in immigrants needs a whole new missionary approach if the church is not to lose them. The church’s efforts in research are far too inadequate. We have few to no new, exciting experiments. Data bases that need constant updating are antiquated. With the new age of technology, we have no philosophers addressing the impact that the Internet is having on the human spirit, and what our information age is doing to our thinking, especially about God, and our church. In the area of bio-ethics, we could use quadruple the number moral theologians we have.

The number of imaginative projects facing the church is mind-boggling, but even more so, exciting. Now is the time to join the discussion on the Catholic Imagination and help the church get a new life.