Grappling with a response

wrestlingYou can find an excellent reflection on an article I wrote about parish-level evangelization at Practical.Catholic.Evangelization.  Colleen’s key insight is that intra-church politics serve to distract us from what is most important about Church.  Here is how she puts it,

“Though Starks’ article might seem like just a sociologist’s study. It’s not. He provides a powerful, essential reminder of what we must guard against in parish life–resisting the distracting temptation to become just another charitable organization or social club, and instead seeking authentic relationship with Jesus and others in all we do.”

Here is how one of my informants/interviewees put it in recognizing this problem:

I want to help people develop a relationship with God. I want people to have a relationship with God, I want them to be able to read the bible, and understand it in terms of catholic interpretation, and I want them to be able to celebrate the sacraments in a way that nourishes them. Those are things that are important to me as a minister. I think one of the challenges here, because of this parish and because of the style of preaching and because of the people who are drawn here; we can get sidetracked from those three things. We get sidetracked, like should women be ordained, and should gay marriage be sanctioned, and why is the bishop telling us what to do and we get really distracted by intra-church politics. That became really clear to me, not this confirmation but the year before, when at the end of year I had them write letters to the bishop asking to confirm them. And what they wrote about was that they didn’t believe everything the church teaches but live with it. They didn’t write anything about prayer, or God, or a relationship with Jesus, or a call to serve the poor, I said that most of the time what we talked about was what the church teaches about this issue and agree or do not agree, its ok if you don’t agree, and the same thing happens with RCIA, the people are so aware of the stuff the Catholic church preaches that they don’t agree [with], so we say that the catholic church is bigger than that and we don’t spend enough time talking about your personal relationship with God and scriptural liturgy…In terms of how I prepare my program, those are things I want, a personal relationship with God, being able to open up the bible and be able to worship with our staff members.  (bold emphasis mine)

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Joy! Sr. Cristina and Evangelii Gaudium

Below is another awesome guest post from Rachel Chow, Master’s student in Theology at Notre Dame (and CSPRI research assistant).


This semester, the CSPRI Catholic Social Teaching reading group (join us if you’re in the South Bend area!) has been discussing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), and at times it left me wondering what the joy of the evangelization would actually look like.  Then the video of Sr. Cristina Scuccia, a 25-year-old Ursuline nun performing Alicia Keys’ “No One” on Italy’s The Voice, fell into my lap last month.



Here is how I think Sr. Cristina captures exactly what Pope Francis is talking about in Evangelii Gaudium (EG): Continue reading

Pondering the Catholic Church’s Response to Mental Illness

This is a guest post by Rachel Chow.  Rachel is a Notre Dame graduate theology student, currently working on her Master of Theological Studies and working with CSPRI.


Last month, the New York State Catholic bishops issued a statement entitled, “’For IAm Lonely and Afflicted’: Toward a Just Response to the Needs of Mentally Ill Persons.”  The statement was a combination of facts about mental illness, policy proposals to the New York state legislature, and, most importantly, exhortations “to  every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal, and all others in positions of Church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the Church to the fullest extent possible.”  I say that this last aspect, the call to compassion among Catholic leaders, the most significant facet of this document because it highlights the Church’s unique role in care for those with mental illnesses in our communities and our parishes.  It is both an acknowledgement of what the Church can and does do, and a recognition that the Church is called to do more.     Continue reading

The Politics of Modesty

I usually really appreciate posts at Vox Nova, which is why I put the site on the Catholic Conversation’s blog roll.  So, when I feel they’ve gotten something wrong, even if it is only in tone and style rather than in substance, I feel the need to call them out on it.  And that is what this post does!

In highlighting recurring gender double-standards associated with the virtue of modesty, Kyle Cupp conducts a detailed interpretive analysis of a you-tube video entitled “Virtue makes you Beautiful” that has recently gone viral.

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“I Love to Teach”

Feature ImageBob Butz passed away Feb. 5, 2014 at the age of 92.

“I love to teach.”  That was Bob Butz’s simple response to a question from a reporter, asking why he was still teaching in his late 70s, long after others had retired.  And it was the title given to the article written about him that I posted outside my door as an Assistant Professor at Florida State University.

Or was Mr. Butz in his 80s at the time of the article?  I guess I need to go back and find that article in my memory box, because in reading various tributes to Mr. Butz recently, I saw that he finally retired from teaching at age 88.  I still remember taking Etymology with him in high school and partaking of his joy in uncovering the hidden roots of a word. Continue reading

Happy New Year to Linda Kawentel and Mike McCallion: Co-Winners of the 2013 “Convo” Award

Happy 2014!

As was the case last year, the blog has been silent over the break, but with the new semester gearing up, we will begin posting again soon.  Again, similar to last year, I thought that we would start with a brief review of The Catholic Conversation in 2013.  A big thank you to all of our contributors this past year:  Sarah Moran, Mike McCallion, Linda Kawentel, Mike Cieslak, Michael Altenburger, Laura Taylor, Gary Adler, and Carol Ann MacGregor.  I also appreciated the guest remembrances of Fr. Andrew Greeley’s life and legacy by Larry Cunningham, Melissa Wilde, and Mike Hout.  And thank you to all of our readers this past year as well!

By the Numbers:

In 2013, we had 42 posts, 8,707 visitors, and 14,990 page views.  The average time viewers spent on a page was 2 minutes 28 seconds.

I am pleased to announce that the second annual “Convo” award for the most popular contribution to the Catholic Conversation is being shared by two worthy contributors this year–Mike McCallion and Linda Kawental.  The single most-viewed post was Linda Kawental’s “NFP and Divorce Rates:  More Research Needed”  This post received 1,963 pageviews in 2013 and the average viewer spent 4 minutes and 41 seconds viewing it. It’s largest single day viewing was on July 24th, which just happened to be during NFP awareness week.  However, Linda actually wrote this post in 2012.  Plus, since Linda won the “Convo” outright last year (and as I’m not restricted by any official rules for this decidedly unofficial award), I decided it was fitting to also award Mike McCallion a “Convo” for his post entitled “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”  This insightful post linking the work of Durkheim with that of Mark Massa illustrates the importance of liturgy and practice for understanding religion sociologically and received 705 pageviews in 2013.

Congratulations Linda and Mike!

Who will win the prestigious “Convo” in 2014?  We shall find out over the next three hundred and some days.  By the way, let us know how we’ve done and what you’d like to see more of in 2014.

photo by Michael Holden via Flickr

Does Pope Francis *heart* Survey Research?

Too rarely do I read something that not only makes me take a second look, but also rub my eyes, and then smile in surprise.  Recent news regarding the upcoming Synod of Bishops did just that.  Not that the synod is being held, which is good news, to be sure.  Nor that its theme will be “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization,” though that is surely an important and timely topic.  No, what really shocked me was this:

“The Vatican has asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll of Catholics asking for their opinions on church teachings on contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce.” Continue reading

Response to Laura and Mike (by David Yamane)

Yamane_RealStoriesIt is always flattering when someone takes the time not only to read one’s work, but to respond thoughtfully to it. In this case, I am especially pleased to have two graduate students in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame respond to my work on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). I began this project while an assistant professor of sociology at Notre Dame and very much had in mind the idea that the Catholic university in general, and Notre Dame in particular, is a place “where the church does her thinking.” From the outset, I wanted to bring a sociological perspective and methodology to bear on questions of central importance to the church. I targeted the work not only to professional sociologists inside the ivory tower but to Catholic intellectuals outside of sociology and practitioners in the trenches. To the extent that these two young Catholic intellectuals were able to engage my 2012 article in the Review of Religious Research, “Initiation Rites in the Contemporary Catholic Church: What Difference Do They Make?” (54:401-20), I consider my efforts a success. Continue reading

Response to Sarah Moran (by Ben Bennett-Carpenter)

Among other insights, Sarah Moran asks the question, “[Can] ideographs such as ‘new evangelization’ serve to sharply differentiate and even heighten polarization among some ideologically divergent groups ([e.g.] of ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’ Catholics) even as it unites”?  This is an excellent question that deserves more sustained attention.  For now, I would say we should keep in mind that we have been discussing the “new evangelization” (NE) as a “specialized and “second-order” ideograph rather than first-order, if you will.  With specialized ideographs we can expect that there will be an effect of differentiation and polarization as she has suggested. Continue reading

Remembering Andrew Greeley (by Mike Hout)

StTeresaI was awestruck when I met Andrew Greeley in my second year as an assistant professor at the University of Arizona. My mom was devoted to Father Greeley’s columns in the Catholic press. Through my high school years, my father (a convert) was struggling with the reforms of Vatican II. To every query or qualm my mother intoned “Father Greeley says ….” and then paraphrased the latest column. My wife’s father read the columns aloud to her mother as she cooked after church. The tableau repeated in millions of Catholic homes.

Andy became my sociological godfather. He taught me that the quantitative sociologist’s work is not done when the statistics are correct; the work is not done until we figure out what they mean and communicate that meaning to our readers. I am sure my other mentors gave me that message, too, but Andy persisted until I got it. Our collaboration evolved as I got up to speed. Continue reading