Think about the word, "Catholic". What comes to mind? Most people will think in one of two ways. The outside world thinks of Catholics as people who are politically active for socially conservative causes such as opposing abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. They also may see Catholics as wound too tight with all their religious rituals and rules. Conservative Christians who are not Catholic tend to see Catholics as compromising because their lives often differ very little from the rest of the world around them who are living in sin. I think most of us can see how these two descriptions often fit most Catholics that we know today. But I want to propose a different model.
This model is not different in that no one has ever done it. Many have. We call them Saints. In fact, there are many who are living this way today. But they are often unknown and unnoticed, in part, because they are holding close to the Faith and live humble lives. The model I propose is that which I call the Radical Catholic.
The word "radical" probably conjures up images that many do not readily associate with how one should live out the Faith. Let me define my term. I mean by radical that we are not afraid to live out the Faith in its entirety the way our Lord taught and modeled it, and the way it was given to us by the apostles and their earliest successors. In the early Church, while we see evidence of human failing, we see a lot more of this radical lifestyle the Lord has given us. So what does this look like?
Such a lifestyle begins, lives, and ends in prayer. By prayer I do not mean the mere recitation of words, even if they be those of our most cherished prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or others. Rather I mean that we internalize the words of such prayer in such manner as to be truly transformed by them and conformed to the image of our Lord. Prayer is the lifting up of the heart to God. It is the sigh after heaven. It is the panting for the presence of God like the deer yearns for the running streams (Ps. 42:1). Only such prayer underlies the radical life. This prayer reaches out in faith to grasp God and insist on His ways being accomplished here on earth as surely as they are in heaven. It does not cower before God, but reverently, yet boldly, comes before Him to make our requests known.
Prayer produces a holy life. Prayer that does not do so is not really prayer. We may be saying the words and going through the motions, but it's not piercing our own hearts. Prayer is not merely talking to God but also hearing Him talk to us. This results in a more holy life. Holiness means to be set apart for the Lord's own purposes. It is to be separated from this world and separated unto God. Most of us only pay lip service to this. The radical Catholic lives it out.
The first steps of holiness require a withdrawal from the world. Just as our Lord began His public ministry by withdrawing to the desert, so we must leave the things of this world in order to hear more clearly the voice of our God directing us to what is most pleasing to Him. Separation of this sort begins right where we live. What are my habits? Are they godly? Are they contributing to eternal life or are they hindering my journey? Most of us will discover that we have a calendar filled with meaningless activity from an eternal perspective. There are things that need to go. We must confront our own vanity. What about the things we have, the clothes we wear, the ways in which we entertain ourselves? All of this must come under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. "Search me, O God," (Ps. 139:23,24). Going on from there we will need to learn the practice of what the saints of old call mortification. It means to limit food, rest, pleasure, and comfort for the sake of bringing our flesh in submission so as to make us most fruitful in the Spirit.
Once these things have been addressed, then the Radical Catholic finds his life is to be given up for the Lord (2 Co. 5:14, 15). I know many Catholics who are faithfully serving to help the poor and oppressed. That's good. But the radical Catholic will take it one step further and not only do such good works in Christ, but be ready always to give an answer for the reason why (1 Pet. 3:15). Furthermore, this one will make it a primary goal of life to bear witness of the Lord by telling others this good news (Mk. 16:15). While such witness is certainly more than words, it can seldom be less than words. If people do not hear the gospel from our lips they will merely think we are nice people and their own lives will remain unchanged. We live in time, but we labor for eternity. Let us not allow another opportunity to escape us of telling all people of our Savior and His infinite love and Grace.
This certainly is not an exhaustive rendering of what it means to live as a radical Catholic, but it's a start. The Church and the world are in need of such. I know of many Christians, outside of the Catholic Church, who are living this way. But to you who are Catholics, will you dare to live the life of the radical Catholic? May an army within our Church rise up and answer, "YES!"