“Intelligent, Courageous, and Full of Love”: The Conversation around Catholic Marriage and Family Life Continues

Pope and Cardinal SodanoMany of you may recall the buzz on both The Catholic Conversation and other media over the past few months regarding Pope Francis’ call for global input in preparation for the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod on “the pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization.” Brian Starks discussed the practical issues surrounding the use of scientific vs. non-scientific survey methods to gather responses. Linda Kawental followed the lively discussion in both secular and Catholic media outlets “over what exactly the Vatican questionnaire means and how Catholics are to interpret it.”

Then earlier this month, two countries, Germany and Switzerland, published summaries of responses to the Vatican’s 38 survey questions regarding how the Church’s teachings on marriage and family are understood in their dioceses and how pastoral care regarding key marriage and family issues takes shape there. Their summaries are quite fascinating and worth reading in the original before looking to the manifold media interpretations of these summaries, such as a Catholic News Service (CNS) article after the German and Swiss summaries and Reuter’s interpretation of Germany’s findings.

And now, just this past week (February 20-21), roughly 150 cardinals gathered with Pope Francis in Rome for two days to preliminarily discuss pastoral challenges around marriage and family, focused particularly on three themes: the Christian vision of people and family life; essential pastoral programs to support families; and ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. An overview of their discussions was been made available to reporters by Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson, and are summarized here. It is unclear how much the German and Swiss survey summaries influenced these discussions, but the Pope’s call that the Church’s pastoral approach to Christian marriage and family be “intelligent, courageous, and full of love,” his selection of retired German cardinal Walter Kasper to give the opening talk, and the Pope’s simple gesture of arriving before cardinals and greeting each one warmly at the door to the synod hall (video footage available here) may offer clues.

The Social Dimension of Evangelization (Part 3-Conclusion)

Previous posts in this series can be found here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Pope Francis and Evangelii Gaudium

If the “new evangelization” has become the definitive terminology and vision of the Catholic Church’s mission today, how is the papacy of Pope Francis shaping this ongoing conversation about the relationship between evangelization and works of charity and social justice? Evangelii Gaudium offers a clue. The fourth chapter is given over to a reflection on the social dimension of evangelization. Interestingly, Pope Francis quickly connects the terms “evangelization” and “liberation” in this discussion:


“Evangelization is meant to cooperate with this liberating work of the Spirit. The very mystery of the Trinity reminds us that we have been created in the image of that divine communion, and so we cannot achieve fulfilment or salvation purely by our own efforts. From the heart of the Gospel we see the profound connection between evangelization and human advancement, which must necessarily find expression and develop in every work of evangelization” (178; emphasis mine).

The relationship between evangelization and charity is a theme dear to Pope Francis. Pope Francis suggests a fundamental link between the preaching of the Gospel and the promotion of human life in all of its expressions: “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centred on charity.” (177).

Moreover, he points to work for social justice as a key test of a “faith which is authentic,” since genuine faith “always implies a profound desire to change the world” (183). Interestingly, on this point he again does not steer away from connecting evangelization and liberation as concepts: “Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (187). Continue reading

The Social Dimension of Evangelization (Part 2)

From the Latin American Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) installment, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

From the Latin American Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) installment by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel

Latin America and the New Evangelization

In my previous post, I considered the historical precedent in magisterial and some bishops’ writings on the New Evangelization (NE) to underscore the necessary social dimensions of sharing the Good News, that is, of evangelization. But I also highlighted a certain ambivalence about the terms and ideas of “liberation” and “social justice” in their comments about the precise relationship between evangelization and work for societal change.

It is illuminating to explore the position of Latin American bishops and liberation theologians on the topic of the NE, since a stress on the intimate connection between the Christian faith and work for social justice and “preferential option for the poor” has become a hallmark of Latin American theology and pastoral practice. What is the contribution of Latin American bishops to the conversation about the socioeconomic aspects of evangelization?  Responding to John Paul II’s call for the NE in 1992, the Latin American bishops embraced the mission of the NE and, with John Paul II, suggest that “human development” concerns can be understood as a dimension of the wider task of the NE. Yet importantly, they note the violations of human dignity associated with Christian evangelization in the Americas, for example: “With John Paul II,” they write, “we want to ask God’s pardon for this ‘unknown holocaust’ in which ‘baptized people who did not live their faith were involved.’”[1] The bishops elaborate on evangelization’s social justice dimensions and urge that the “new evangelization” not become exploitive, but rather champion the poor’s socioeconomic liberation.[2] For them, this is key if evangelization today is to be “new in its ardor, in its methods, and in its expression,” as John Paul had remarked.[3] Continue reading

The Social Dimension of Evangelization (Part 1)

New Evangelization synod, October 2012

New Evangelization Synod, October 2012

Few Catholic commentators would deny that the New Evangelization has become one of the–if not the–most important ecclesial policies of the  Catholic Church today. Influential Catholic reporter John Allen suggests that the term itself has “become the buzzword par excellence in Catholic circles. Books are being published, lectures given, conferences organized, diocesan offices created, and whole courses of study put together, all devoted to the ways and means of the New Evangelization.”[1] Many have also noted Pope Francis’ deep concern for the poor and the social implications of the Gospel and questioned how his papacy will shape the meaning of and conversation about the New Evangelization (NE).

This is the question I’d like to explore in a series of posts.Building upon the important sociological research of two of our contributors, Mike McCallion and Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter, on this topic, I’d like to ask the following: What is the place of Catholic social teaching and liberation theology in the ongoing conversation about and vision of the NE in the U.S. and beyond?  Pope Francis’s brand new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, will be a suitable place to end this discussion. But first… Continue reading

“To Seek and Find God in All Things”: Interpreting Reactions to Pope Francis’ Recent Interview

A football tailgate, a Sunday homily, over breakfast with an Evangelical friend, between band sets at an Irish pub with a middle-aged lawyer—in the past couple of weeks, it’s been near impossible for me (and for many, I suspect) to avoid conversations marked by delight, disturbance or debate about Pope Francis’s recent interview. This 12,000-word conversation with Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro on behalf of 16 Jesuit publications, which one columnist has called an “extemporaneous encyclical,” continues to reverberate throughout both the Church and media.[1]Pope Francis

Francis’ interview covers a wide range of topics, including his identity as an Argentinian Jesuit, religious faith (and doubt), women in the Church, classical music and film, the Curia, Ignatian spirituality, and the Church’s stance on particular moral issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception. Having had a week to observe reactions from inside and outside the Church, it is helpful to step back and consider: Which aspects of Francis’ interview have been emphasized, and by who? Continue reading

New Research- “Specialized, Ecclesial Ideography: The ‘New Evangelization’ in the Catholic Church”

“Specialized, Ecclesial Ideography: the “New Evangelization” in the Catholic Church” appeared this month in the Michigan Academician. Authored by one of our contributors, Mike McCallion, and Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter, the paper considers the “new evangelization” movement called for by recent Catholic papal authorities in light of recent sociological and rhetorical theory. A topic that has continued to spark lively discussion and debate on our blog, the “new evangelization” refers to efforts to revive religious belief among baptized Christians and non-Christians alike, particularly in Europe and North America, who have become alienated from religious faith. research-in-dictionary

Principally, Bennett-Carpenter and McCallion’s paper argue that the “new evangelization” operates as a kind of specialized, ecclesial “ideograph” specific to internal Catholic relations. But its analysis invites continued and extensive application for analyzing other ideographs in culture, they suggest.[1] After providing some context for the ideograph as a concept, which Michael McGee defines as a summarizing term that galvanizes people in their discourse about certain courses of action, even when they have diverse or conflicting agendas,[2] the authors consider international, national and diocesan sources of the “new evangelization.” Therein, they convincingly point to the term’s plasticity and ability to unify diverse clerical and lay leaders in the Catholic church, which they present as a “heterogeneous organization that responds in both progressive and conservative manners to various socio-political contexts.” In this way, the authors convince one that their ideographic analysis bears implications beyond Catholic, intra-ecclesial relations, and that “further work on ideographs could elaborate on differences within [specialized] contexts, perhaps drawing on ethnographic studies not only of ecclesial or other cultural contexts but also within professional and scientific contexts.” Continue reading

Lumen Fidei: Questions of Interpretation and Insights

Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), Pope Francis’ first encyclical, was written by “four hands,” as he has said. It represents the intellectual and pastoral collaboration of what some might call an unlikely duo: Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The current Pope notes at the outset that “[Pope Benedict] himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith… As his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own” (7). This collaborative drafting process, combined with the fact that the encyclical was published on the same day as Pope Francis approved recommendations for the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, bolsters for some, as one news source has suggested, the perception that its publication is “less the act of a particular pope and more the faithful exercise of… apostolic succession.” Pope Francis meets Benedict XVI

But in contrast to this interpretive stance, other interpreters have considered the document less as a unified whole, instead seeking to identify which Pope crafted which sections of Lumen Fidei, not unlike redaction criticism in biblical interpretation. Drew Christiansen, S.J., for example, argues that the thinking of Pope Benedict is apparent in the document’s “concern for (unitary) truth as the object of faith, defense of the integrity of the deposit of faith, [and] the ecclesial context of faith and the responsibility of the magisterium to guard the wholeness of faith against attrition over time.” Conversely, he suggests that “chapter 4, on the church’s service to the world, hints of the present pope’s pastoral touch, especially the closing section (56-57) on the consoling role of faith in suffering and dying.”

So how should Lumen Fidei be read? As a unified whole, or even “the faithful exercise of apostolic succession,” or rather, as a multi-authored encyclical with editorial layers that must be detangled? Continue reading

Young Catholic, ‘Bad’ Catholic?: Blogging and the Changing Face of Religious Debate

It seems a new undergraduate blogger is sweeping the American Catholic millenial imagination (and computer screen). If I’ve been asked, “Have you heard of this ‘Bad Catholic’ blog?” once in the past month, I’ve been asked six or seven times. Authored at Patheos.com by blogger Marc Barnes, ‘Bad Catholic’ has more than 10,000 likes on its Facebook page, with undoubtedly thousands more blog followers. Focusing on issues in the contemporary Church, as well as bringing Catholicism and secular culture into conversation, Barnes’ blog has not only taken young Catholics by storm, but has sparked inter-religious debate and even been noticed by the likes of Jonathan Fitzgerald in the Wall Street Journal.Blog Image

A college student, Barnes’ shares his views on topics as far ranging as politicization in the Church, virtue ethics, the theology of pop music, the philosophy of modesty, and religious pilgrimages, all from the perspective of a young Catholic in the modern world and frequently through the lens of natural law. But from the title of the blog, “Bad Catholic,” one can deduce some of Barnes’ self-understanding as a curious, young Catholic (though not “traditional” or “conservative,” per his piece, “Catholic, Nuff Said”), negotiating the Church and modern world by mingling the Catechism with Top 40s song lyrics, the Church Fathers with contemporary feminist theory. Continue reading

Peace Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Commemorating ‘Pacem in Terris’

“We are called to establish with truth, justice, charity, and liberty new methods of relationships in human society.” So states Pope John XXIII’s seminal encyclical Pacem in terris (PT), which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. A variety of Catholic media outlets have capitalized on the anniversary to highlight some of the encyclical’s enduring hallmarks. Likewise, universities and peace-building organizations have hosted international conferences on the topics of war and peace. Notre Dame’s recent “Peace Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” conference was one such gathering, which I was fortunate to attend. The conference aimed at facilitating an international, interfaith exploration of thematic peace and justice issues, especially those emerging in PT. I share a few reflections on the conference here.John XXIII

The call to “establish truth, justice, charity and liberty” aptly captures a core conviction shared by the conference’s diverse presenters and attendees. Laity, clergy, Muslims, Christians, Westerners, Easterners, academics and practitioners, all brought experience working at a particular level of global society to promote peace, reconciliation efforts and conflict resolution. Those I encountered certainly merited the moniker a fellow attendee used for them: “artisans of peace.” Rather than a strict reading of PT in light of its historical context, speakers impressed me with their astute applications of its content to 2013 “signs of the times.” Worthy of particular mention were Fr. Paul Kollman’s insights about the tremendous power for today’s technologies, even as they accelerate human works, to displace human dignity. They can also result in our “ethical deskilling,” he argued, evidenced in the operation of drones in the Middle East from remote U.S. operating centers. With such technologies, “our ethics muscles become atrophied,” even as drone-operators sit at a computer in the comfort of an Arizona office building. Continue reading

Prayer, the Pope Emeritus and the New Evangelization

cath-europe-1One of the central legacies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s papacy has been his proactive response to global secularization, especially to decades of decline in religious observance among Europeans.  Taking up John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI called for a fresh sharing of the Gospel in “those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”  But unlike some philosophies of evangelization, a central tenet of his teaching has been that the centrality of prayer in this mission.  Benedict XVI understands prayer as holding a two-fold significance in evangelization.  First, those sharing the faith must first be re-evangelized themselves, growing in habits of prayer and contemplation amidst life’s busyness; and likewise, among those with whom they share the faith, prayer constitutes a deeply personal and essential means by which one encounters God.  Benedict XVI writes, “Praying actualizes and deepens our communion with God.  Our prayer can and should arise above all from our heart, from our needs, our hopes, our joys, our sufferings, from our shame over sin, from our gratitude from the good. It can and should be a wholly personal prayer.

The Pew Forum recently highlighted research on the status of today’s European Catholics, including their opinion of the Catholic Church and of religion in general, their Mass attendance, etc.  An interesting area of their research included the role of prayer in the life of European Catholics.  Notably, the research showed that few European Catholics said they engaged in prayer at least once a day.  Results differed significantly among Western European

cath-europe-2countries.  German and Spanish Catholics pray more than French Catholics, for example, who are least likely among the countries polled to engage in daily prayer (between 11% and 17% reported daily prayer). Yet among German and Spanish Catholics, only four-in-ten said they engage in daily prayer.  Slightly less, about three-in-ten, Italian Catholics said they pray daily in recent polls.

The role of prayer in the New Evangelization (NE) is clearly central for the Pope Emeritus.  Perhaps future, more in-depth research on the prayer lives of European Catholics would be a useful means of measuring the effectiveness of its there.  But with daily prayer so little a part of the lives of today’s European Catholics, the NE has a long road ahead…