Future of Christianity lies in drawing near to Christ, says speaker

St. Mary to host speakers for weekend feast celebration

In today’s anti-Christian culture, Catholics no longer have the option to be idle and indecisive about living their faith, said author and speaker Dan Burke.

During his talk Aug. 14 at St. Mary Parish in Aspen on “The Future of Christianity?”, Burke said he told faithful it’s time to act.

“Cultural Catholicism isn’t going to cut it anymore,” said Burke, who is president and founder of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, which offers online spiritual education classes. “Those sitting on the edges are going to have to make a decision.”

Drawing closer to Christ, especially through Scripture, is how Christianity will endure a secular culture, he shared with the Denver Catholic during an interview.

“We better draw near to Christ, because if we don’t we’re going to find ourselves enveloped by the darkness. Instead of advancing to the kingdom, we’ll (advance) through the gates of hell,” he said.

Burke, who is also the executive director of and blogger for the National Catholic Register, gave a talk at the parish during a weekend celebration of its feast, the Assumption of Mary.

Avila’s academic dean and co-founder Anthony Lilles—former professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver—also gave a talk over the weekend. Father Nathan Cromly of the Community of St. John celebrated weekend Masses at the parish.

Through a partnership with Avila, the parish plans to host engaging talks, courses and training for faithful who live in the affluent and highly-cultural town of Aspen.

The area needs a strong Catholic presence, said pastor Father John Hilton, who recently completed a cross country bike ride to help support the parish’s initiative.

“I think Aspen is one of those places where culture is formed,” Father Hilton told the Denver Catholic in May. “The challenge for us at St. Mary’s is to be relevant to the life of the people here. It would really be a tragedy for the Church to not be engaged in the culture.”

St Mary Aspen map

St. Mary Parish in Aspen

Father Hilton’s bike ride was part of a parish campaign to fund a renovation of the church and build a new pavilion where the Avila Institute would host its courses.

With a $4 million renovation to the church built in 1892 and a new pavilion, Father Hilton hopes the faith will grow in relevance to the community.

“Father Hilton wants to draw in some of the community here who maybe don’t attend church or are Catholics who have drifted away,” Burke said.

The new pavilion would also provide the Avila Institute with its first physical campus for spiritual formation classes, personal enrichment courses and a masters-level spiritual theology program.

If faithful cling to the Gospel and grow in their faith, the Church will survive through difficult times, Burke said.

“The darker our culture gets and the more hostile it gets toward people of faith, the brighter the lights will shine within those who have a living relationship with Christ,” he said.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.