David Brooks, with whom I seldom agree, suggests a pastoral strategy for the Church: following the example of St. Augustine, the model is to open the doors and get people in, rather than consciously aiming at a subculture position:
The problem with the Donatists, Augustine argued, is that they are too static. They try to seal off an ark to ride out the storm, but they end up sealing themselves in. They cut themselves off from new circumstances and growth.
Augustine, as his magisterial biographer Peter Brown puts it, “was deeply preoccupied by the idea of the basic unity of the human race.” He reacted against any effort to divide people between those within the church and those permanently outside.
He wanted the church to go on offense and swallow the world. This would involve swallowing impurities as well as purities. It would mean putting to use those who are imperfect. This was the price to be paid if you wanted an active church coexisting with sinners, disciplining and rebuking them.
Perhaps this is why Cdl. Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) has been advocating a generous approach to baptism for years:
Some priests In Buenos Aires are taking steps to facilitate the celebration of new baptisms and encourage them in every way. What is driving them?
JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: The Conference of Latin American Bishops held in 2007 in Aparecida reminded us to proclaim the Gospel by going out to find people, not sitting in the Curia or the presbytery waiting for people to come to us. . .
Evangelii nuntiandi itself repeated that “if the Son came, it was precisely to reveal, by His words and His life, the ordinary paths of salvation”. It’s the ordinary that one can achieve in missionary fashion. And baptism is paradigmatic in that. I think the parish priests of Buenos Aires are acting in that spirit. . . .
In your opinion, are the cases where baptism is denied to children because the parents are not in a canonically regular marital situation justified in some way?
BERGOGLIO: To us here that would be like closing the doors of the Church. The child has no responsibility for the marital state of its parents. And then, the baptism of children often becomes a new beginning for parents. Usually there is a little catechesis before baptism, about an hour, then a mystagogic catechesis during liturgy. Then, the priests and laity go to visit these families to continue with their post-baptismal pastoral. And it often happens that parents, who were not married in church, maybe ask to come before the altar to celebrate the sacrament of marriage.
It all brings to mind the words of Pope John Paul II, who urged the world to “open wide the doors” to Christ. But now perhaps Francis’ strategy is for the Church to open the doors and disregard the obstacles that would otherwise keep prodigal sons and daughters on the outside. It involves some risk.
(Hat tip: Thanks to Gordon Zaft for sending me the Brooks piece.)