Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In recent weeks, I’ve come across a fascinating idea in the world of environmental and ecological conservation called “rewilding.” This is the practice of reintroducing plant or animal species to an ecosystem and allowing nature to run its course. Two examples have stood out to me as especially instructive. In the mid-1990s, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park where they had a rapid, positive impact on the ecosystem (more on this here: https://bit.ly/2JHVVMg). Another example is the Knepp Castle Estate in England, a large tract of land that had been intensively farmed for many years, exhausting the soil and resulting in virtually no profits. They stopped cultivating crops and grazing dairy cows and instead allowed nature to run its course, while also introducing certain animals whose behaviors would be similar to those animals who once inhabited the land but are now extinct or rare. The result was a flourishing biodiversity, healthy free-range cattle, and an aid to scientific understanding of various plant and animal life.
Rewilding is, in some ways, artificial. The results do not magically take us back in time to the way things once were, but rather are new examples of how things can be. Reintroducing species previously lost or similar to lost species allows for a renewed understanding of how creation works and an honest assessment of how our past behavior has impacted the world. In some ways, rewilding is counterintuitive. Wolves are major predators, so why would introducing them into an ecosystem be a good idea? Wouldn’t they kill everything? The answer, of course, is no. The reintroduction of wolves brought balance and allowed everything to flourish in ways that were unexpected. Allowing farmland to become overgrown at first seems irresponsible. But the land was not bearing fruit, was over-grazed, and had become unhealthy. Steps needed to be taken to fix the problem.
I believe that rewilding can be an instructive metaphor for interpreting our own present culture. Think, for example, of the move to organic foods and the improved health many people experience by pursuing a more natural diet. Think of the hipster trend and the growing popularity of handmade crafts, foods, and other products. Think of the renewed interest many young people have in understanding their ethnic culture and history, and even of the sometimes-exaggerated objections to cultural appropriation. These are all expressions of rewilding: a desire to reintroduce, recover, or understand something that was lost, resulting in the creation of something similar to what once was that is positive in its newness and beauty.
In the Church, we have an opportunity to apply the metaphor of rewilding, as well. In many places it is already happening as, for example, with the growing devotion, especially among young people, to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the old Latin Mass. For many young Catholics, there is a feeling that a part of their heritage was shelved, and they desire to reintroduce it, not for the purpose of going back in time, but for the sake of bringing history into the present day.
The metaphor of rewilding can be applied to religious formation. For years and years, we cultivated the same fields in the same way (i.e. religious education/CCD programs) and over time the soil was exhausted and bore less fruit (e.g. declining practice of the Catholic faith with each passing generation). We have an opportunity to reintroduce the most essential elements of our Catholic faith and to recover something lost. There was a time in the life of the Church when people young and old together sought out catechesis in a voluntary way. With the passage of time, that practice became somewhat rigidly confined to school-age children going through a set program. It now seems counterintuitive to approach catechesis any other way, but the truth is that we have reached a critical point. We can no longer farm the way we did. It is time to try something new. This is why the invitation to a reimagined Faith Formation at St. Pius X is so important to me and to our staff. Rewilding can be a challenging and even scary process. But when we take down the barriers and stop fearing the worst, our hearts can be open to the wildness of God who loves without limit and who desires always to reconcile our history with our present, that we might face the future standing on the rock of Christ, remaining in His love, walking in the full power of the Holy Spirit.