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Wayne’s Way - Tuning In & Turning On

(From Commonweal, April 24, 1992)

I spend about an hour or two each week during lunchtime listening to a syndicated radio call-in program called “Let’s Talk About Jesus.” The program is hosted by a nondenominational evangelical minister named Wayne Monbleau.

Wayne, as everyone calls him, is very Jesus-centered. In the advice he gives to the troubled people who call in, he always stresses the love of God for the caller and the new life her or she has in Jesus Christ.

Well-read in the literature of Catholic spirituality as well as that of other religions, Wayne is no stereotypical evangelical. He has no toleration for denominational sniping or doctrinal hairsplitting of any kind. In fact, he is not too enamored of organized religion in general. The love of God for the individual and the world as expressed in the Incarnation is Wayne’s watchword, if not his obsession.

Frequent callers to “Let’s Talk About Jesus” begin their conversation with Wayne with the words, “I was raised as a Catholic, but....” When I hear this my hand instinctively reaches to turn the dial because I know I’m in for a dose of Catholic bashing.

However, these people may have something important to tell those of us who remain in the church. Many times they say they left because they weren’t told about Jesus; they weren’t told about the love of God. This is especially ironic because these same ex-Catholic callers to “Let’s Talk About Jesus,” as well as others, often question Wayne with attitudes and problems Catholic tradition dealt with centuries ago.

For instance, one woman called in recently who had been dropped from a ministry team at her church because she smokes cigarettes; some people are taught by their churches that if they name and claim what they want with enough faith they will get it — if they don’t get it, they didn’t have enough faith; others call in with screwball, do-it-yourself Scripture interpretations.

By and large, Wayne seems to bring light, love, and consolation to his callers; listening to him in the middle of a hectic day usually points me back toward Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Still, I can’t help but wish sometimes for a similar ministry that wouldn’t be as dismissive of intellectual questioning, a ministry that could draw comfortably upon the whole two-thousand-year spiritual and intellectual history of Christianity. Moreover, Wayne obviously loves Jesus so much that I often wish he and his listeners had the opportunity to hear more about his presence in the Eucharist. To my knowledge, however, the U.S. Catholic church runs no similar gospel-oriented radio ministry, nor have I heard of plans to start one. This inactivity continues despite calls from Vatican II, Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II for the increased use of mass media for evangelization. Why aren’t we talking to the world about out faith?

In a recent essay on evangelization in America magazine (February 1, 1992), Avery Dulles, S.J., cites an “excessive preoccupation with inner-church issues” among Catholics today. A look at the Catholic publications I receive in the mail each weeks indicates that this preoccupation exists.

Judging by many of these magazines and newspapers, the most pressing problems facing the American Catholic church and world today include academic freedom at Catholic universities, the ordination of women and married men, contraception, and abuses (real and imagined) by the Vatican. Many Catholic liberal elites in the U.S. seem obsessed by institutional political power in the church; many conservatives seem obsessed with the purity of doctrine on what are essentially peripheral matters compared to the Good News.

In many Catholic circles, the struggle for institutional power or winning debating points seems to have eclipsed such quaint tasks as loving God with one’s whole heart, mind, and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself. Meanwhile, one in five children in the United States grows up in poverty; abortion is rampant; consumerism rules while the sick, elderly, and mentally ill languish unvisited in dreary and inadequate institutions; a recent poll indicates that a majority of American Catholics don’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount.

The Catholics who call “Let’s Talk About Jesus” don’t complain about misused authority in the church on the Left or Right; they usually call because they are hurting from one or more of the following: sin, addiction, death, depression, divorce, disease, or unemployment. What they most often need and what Wayne tries to give them is the simple knowledge that God loves them with an everlasting love, that life has meaning, that physical death is not the end, that grace is there to help them through.

We believe that, don’t we? And to that the Catholic church can add two-thousand years of accumulated wisdom, countless examples of sanctity, and the sacraments. Let’s talk about Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. Let’s start acting like we have an amazing piece of good news to share with the poor, the oppressed, the depressed, the sick, and the lost.

Mark Rondeau is a newspaper reporter in Monmouth County, N.J.

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