Fr. Franco's Letters
The Flame: September/October 2022
Dear Readers of the Flame,
The phrase sea change comes from Shakespeare’s play The
It actually refers to the change that happened to
Fernando’s body when he drowned. However, over time this phrase
has taken on a different meaning.
Today sea change refers to a complete change of environment.
Perhaps this meaning of the phrase was inspired by the places in
the world where the sea change
s in a radical way. The difference
between high and low tide in Canada’s Bay of Fundy can be over 50
feet. That’s quite a change in the sea!
In many ways our culture has experienced a sea change. For much
of the second millennium of Christianity our culture was called
This means that the accepted world view was
influenced by Christ. For the most part people believed in God,
heaven, hell, Jesus (Lord, Savior, Judge) and a way of life that was
framed by the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. For sure, people
were not always fervent in their faith. Many people sought to do
the minimum. Their faith was more like fire insurance. They would
do what we need to do to avoid the fires of hell.
Last Christmas, Bishop Malesic gave the priests of the Diocese of
Cleveland the book From Christendom to Apostolic Mission.
book Msgr. James Shea describes this sea change
Christendom to Apostolic Mission. He makes clear what many have
sensed in their heart. The assumptions upon which Christendom
was built are no longer the assumptions of our culture. Belief in
God has been replaced by atheism, agnosticism or, what Pope
Benedict XVI called, practical atheism - affirming faith in God but
acting like there is no God. Without God, people do not think they
have a destiny. Without God people do not have a defined way of
If Christendom is no longer the basis for society and culture, how
does the Church fit in?
In Christendom, the Church supported
institutions that perpetuated the Christian way of life. It maintained
the schools, hospitals, parishes and other institutions that formed
culture so that people lived in the framework of a Christian
worldview. In parts of Europe, the Church had great political clout.
If the Church no longer has that kind of influence for the Lord, what
is the Church to be about?
As the title of Msgr. Shea’s book indicates, the Church must shift
into an Apostolic Mission mode
. Since faith is no longer the cultural
air we breathe, the Church must proclaim Jesus Christ in new and
fresh ways. Obviously, this new proclamation of Christ takes
boldness and divine inspiration. If the great temptation during
Christendom was becoming lukewarm with regard to faith, the great
temptation in an era of Apostolic Mission is cowardice. People find
it easy, convenient and even advantageous to adopt the current
To resist compromising our faith, to resist adopting the
values and morals of the worldview of our current culture, we need
courage and commitment.
And perhaps this was the whole reason for the modern charismatic
Think about the works of the Holy Spirit from apostolic
times until now. It was the Holy Spirit who gave the apostles the
holy boldness to leave the Upper Room and proclaim Jesus as Lord
to the nations gathered to celebrate Pentecost. It was the Holy Spirit
who gave the early Church the charisms it needed to witness to the
gospel with signs and wonders and thus confirm its truth. It was
the Holy Spirit who united Jew and Gentile, barbarian, Scythian,
slave and free in Christ.
And the Holy Spirit is about doing these same things in our day!
Without the Christendom framework, the Church needs a new
toolbox to communicate the truth of the faith. When St. Paul
addressed the intellectuals in Athens (Acts 17), he sought common
He spoke of a shrine to an Unknown God. Beginning there,
and quoting Greek poets twice, he proclaimed the resurrection of
Jesus Christ. Many scoffed. Some wanted to invite him back. A few
St. Paul went on to Corinth and then Ephesus. (Acts 18 & 19) In
those places he adopted a different approach. His ministry was
characterized by a radical reliance on the power and gifts of the
People listened to the gospel because they saw and
experienced the power of God. This led St. Paul to say to the
…my message and my proclamation were not with
persuasive [words of] wisdom, but with a demonstration
of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on
human wisdom but on the power of God. (I COR 2:4-5)
As Christendom wanes and God is squeezed out of public life, we
need to reach into the toolbox of the Holy Spirit and give witness
to the gospel by charisms of power, as well as by deed and word.
An apostolic mission needs to rely on the same power that the
apostles relied on for the initial proclamation of the gospel. For
sure, there is an inherent power in the basic gospel message.
However, many people lack the framework to understand it. In a
sense they lack ears for hearing (Matthew 13:14-15). Signs, wonders
and miracles jump start faith in the unbeliever. We need to be open
to exercising these charisms.
We also need to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Genuine love of
people, joy that goes beyond the comforts of the world, peace
that surpasses understanding is attractive to people
. Again, when
God is squeezed out of culture, people’s existence becomes joyless.
And as our efforts to evangelize are effective, we will need the fruit
of patience. As we know, people who come to Christ often bring
some baggage. Our patient and prayerful encouragement will move
people from encountering Christ into being genuinely established
In this time of sea change, the tide of Christendom has receded.
world that does not acknowledge God has come rushing in. It will be
the Holy Spirit who will help us navigate those treacherous waters. In
fact, there will be times when, by the Spirit, we will do what Jesus did.
We will walk on water (Matthew 14:24-33) and even speak to the storms
that batter us and say, Quiet! Be still! (Mark 4:39) and calm will ensue, if
not in our external circumstances, at least in our souls. Though much
has been lost with the collapse of Christendom, opportunity
abounds as we move into this apostolic mission mode
. Let us pray
for the holy boldness and wisdom that the Spirit gives. By the Spirit
we will bear great fruit for the glory of God.
Fr. Bob Franco
Bishop’s Delegate to Catholic Renewal Ministries