“Not Called to Do Everything, but Called to Do Something”: A March for Life Reflection

I had never participated in the annual March for Life before January 25, and I have to admit, I’d been a bit nervous about attending for the first time.  Don’t get me wrong, the Catholic Church’s consistent prolife ethic, “from conception to natural death,” is one of her teachings which I find at once fully coherent, tremendously countercultural, undeniably Scriptural and personally challenging.  And I have seen many examples of the commitment of so many Catholics to a vision of human life as a “seamless garment,” a phrase from John 19:23 taken up by pacifist Eileen Egan to describe a holistic reverence for life’s sacredness and the consistent application of an ethic of life on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, and social and economic injustice. Continue reading

Monthly “Compendium:” June-August 2012

We’re continuing to summarize Catholic Conversation posts in “compendium” announcements to help readers more easily navigate to earlier topics. This compendium covers posts from June-August, 2012.

Several contributors continued recurring themes in contemporary U.S. parish life.  Lucas Sharma highlighted his study of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Chicago to consider  homosexuality and parish life.  Michael Cieslak looked at recent research done in the Diocese of Rockford to highlight the role of complex parish dynamics in promoting stewardship.  Moving from parish to national Catholic life, Michael continued considering the merits of competing methods for estimating the U.S. Catholic population, particularly the use of parish baptismal and funeral logs, the Official Catholic Directory and telephone surveys.

Social justice was another key theme during these months.  As Gary Adler proposed reclaiming a sense of responsibility in individual consumer behavior and discussed its role in local and global social (in)justice.  Brian Starks reflected on a talk that emphasized how one of the fruits of Eucharistic celebration is commitment to the poor.

Linda Kawental and Brian considered several topics surrounding contemporary women religious, including the media popularity of women religious (especially in the wake of the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious), the lack of lay support for women’s religious vocations, and debates on the success of  LCWR vs. CMSWR vocation recruitment.

A Spending Showdown: American Consumerism vs. Charitable Giving

Black Friday doesn’t seem to be going anywhere as an American cultural phenomenon.  In fact, what used to be a one-day kickoff to the Christmas shopping season on the Friday after Thanksgiving has become a frenzied four-day shopping weekend culminating in what’s recently been dubbed Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year.  This past weekend, many retailers even offered enticing discounts on Thanksgiving evening itself, so that while some families enjoyed pumpkin pie and conversation, retailers like Walmart were processing “nearly 10 million register transactions” and rang up “almost 5,000 items per second.”  With spending estimated at $59.1 billion, up 12.8 percent from last year, its hard not to be unsettled by American materialism. Continue reading

The Theological Virtues Reunited: Benedict XVI’s Forthcoming Encyclical on Faith

In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul offers an oft-cited message about the relation between what are commonly referred to as the theological virtues: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  Of the three encyclicals Pope Benedict XVI has written since the beginning of his papacy, two have dealt with theological virtues.  As is evident from their titles, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) in 2006 and Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope) in 2007 explored the virtues of love and hope, respectively, while the Pope’s 2009 “social” encyclical, Caritas in Veritae (Charity in Truth), is deeply informed by his previous reflections on these two theological virtues. Continue reading

New Evangelization vs. Vatican II Rhetoric: A Response to New Research

Many thanks to Mike McCallion, Benjamin Bennet-Carpenter, and David Maines for their relevant research on the New Evangelization (NE).  The NE is a topic of special interest to me, having received much of my faith formation and education in the Archdiocese of Denver, an archdiocese that closely aligns itself with the NE mission.  This close alignment of missions is tangible throughout the diocese, most explicitly by the renaming of the center which houses the Archdiocese of Denver’s two seminaries and the majority of its offices to The John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization after the visit of the Pope John Paul II to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.  The diocese’s website describes this center as being “on the frontlines of the Church’s modern ‘crusade’ for the ‘New Evangelization.”

In Denver, I interacted with several influential NE organizations, both formally, as an employee of one, and informally, through various archdiocesan events.  These organizations include the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and the Augustine Institute, both founded and based in the archdiocese, as well as active communities representing many of the lay ecclesial movements which McCallion et al. describe as key NE agents, including the Neo-Catechumenal Way, Opus Dei, and Communion and Liberation.  To a large extent, my experience of the NE in Denver resonates with McCallion et al’s description that the “NE is a thoroughgoing effort to reconstitute the primary social dynamics both inside and outside the Catholic Church within global society.”  Yet when the authors present the conflicting rhetorics of NE and Vatican II ministry professionals in the Archdiocese of Detroit, much of my experience of NE professionals’ rhetoric differs. Continue reading

April-May Compendium

We’re continuing to (retroactively) summarize posts to The Catholic Conversation in “compendium” announcements to help readers navigate to earlier topics. As Brian has mentioned previously, the best way to track posts is to subscribe to The Catholic Conversation’s free RSS feed or to receive e-mail updates (click “E-mail Updates” in the right side bar).  This compendium begins where the last one left off, covering posts from April-May, 2012.

Discourse on human sexuality remained a strong focus, with Lucas Sharma describing his ethnographic research on two Chicago parishes. While one parish focused on inclusivity and social justice and the other on respect life initiatives, both revealed an unexpected common objective: “redefining the discourse of the parish around human sexuality.” Gary Adler considered how ongoing social change in the perception of homosexuality, connected with complex magisterial teaching on the issue, invites controversy in addressing issues of homosexuality in local Catholic parishes.

Following the doctrinal assessment of the largest leadership organization of women religious in the United States, Linda Kawentel authored the Catholic Conversation’s most viewed post to-date:  The Power of Image.  Beginning a thread that continued in the following months, Linda examined the sociological dynamics at play in media coverage of this controversy, especially highlighting both the irony implicit in the media’s use of images of habited sisters from CMSWR congregations in lieu of images of (typically non-habited) LCWR sisters but also what this says sociologically about the power of images to shape discourse. Continue reading

New Scholarship: Contested Rhetorics in the New Evangelization Movement

“Individualism and Community as Contested Rhetorics in the Catholic New Evangelization Movement” appeared this month in the Review of Religious Research.  Authored by one of our contributors, Mike McCallion, and Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter and David Maines, the paper explores growing tensions between “New Evangelization Catholics” and “Vatican II Catholics” in ministry leadership in the Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD). Below is my brief summary of the article:

McCallion et al. undertook a two-year project in the AOD to investigate the New Evangelization (NE), an intra-ecclesial movement that “seeks to bring about renewed commitment among Catholics toward their faith as well as encourage non-members to join the church.”  Field data was collected over two years at NE meetings, workshops, and classes at three AOD sites: the archdiocesan central services, the archdiocesan seminary, and two parishes (considered as one site).  The authors attended various functions at each of the three sites, such as NE workshops hosted by the archdiocesan central services, courses at Sacred Heart Seminary in their Licentiate in Sacred Theology program in the New Evangelization (NE STL degree), and activities with parish NE committees. Continue reading

The Catholic Parish at Ground Zero

St. Peter Catholic Church and its mission chapel, St. Joseph’s, somehow survived when the World Trade Center towers collapsed around them on September 11, 2001. That these humble structures should escape with minimal damage (landing gear from one of the aircraft struck St. Peter’s roof) is itself remarkable.

Yet this community has nothing shy of a remarkable history.  St. Peter’s is New York’s oldest parish and home to the state’s first Catholic school.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was received into the Catholic Church there in 1805. Venerable Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian-born slave who became a prominent New York businessman and humanitarian, attended daily Mass at St. Peter’s for 66 years, from 1787-1853.  As a Notre Dame graduate student, I was also delighted to discover that when Fr. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C and six Holy Cross brothers arrived to New York from France in 1841, they recouped and celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s before proceeding to Indiana to found the University of Notre Dame.

But perhaps what is most remarkable about St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s, and timely on this the eleventh anniversary of September 11, is the parish’s witness during the weeks and months after the 2001 tragedies, captured in the dedication of the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero offered by their parish community:

“On September 11, a cloud of dust and ash from the imploding World Trade Center towers engulfed the Chapel.  In the wake of the disaster, government relief agencies used the chapel as their command station.  The pulpit and pews were moved ouside and destroyed in a rainstorm a few days later.  A tent erected where the priests of St. Joseph’s celebrated Mass for rescue and recovery workers.  For the next several months, the Chapel was used as a sanctuary for construction workers, police officers and firefighters who came to eat, talk with spiritual counselors from a range of religious traditions and simply rest from the physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting recovery efforts at Ground Zero…” 

What can we make of this striking image of a Catholic parish turned staging ground for rescue and recovery efforts?  Surely not every parish is given the opportunity to display such radical hospitality in its local community, to exhibit the kind of heroism of Fr. Mychal Judge, an NYFD chaplain whose body was carried by firefighters to St. Peter’s when he was mortally wounded in the North Tower.  And few parishes will see their sanctuaries turned into what pastor Fr. Kevin Madigan described of St. Peter’s: “Stuff was piled six feet high all over the pews—bandages, gas masks, boots, hoses and cans of food for the workers and the volunteers, many of whom were sleeping in the church on bedrolls.”

Nonetheless, in addition to the ongoing evangelization of its members through worship, formation and pastoral care, today’s parish is called to a bold evangelization of its community, beginning with extensions of hospitality.  As a pastoral statement of the U.S. Bishops described: “In urban neighborhoods, in suburban communities, and in rural areas, parishes serve as anchors of hope and communities of caring, help families meet their own needs and reach out to others, and serve as centers of community life and networks of assistance.”
 We will probably never see our sanctuaries become centers of emergency rescue efforts.  But how can they become staging grounds for responding to the Gospel calls and command centers for extending justice, peace and charity to our neighbors?

Who (or What) is influencing young, engaged Catholics religiously?

What do American youth want from their Catholic faith? How do Catholic youth describe its impact on their daily living? What factors strongly influence this faith? Recent posts to The Catholic Conversation have pointed to a need for up-to-date, quantitative research on these questions, especially as they are reflected in youth group attendance rates, average age of participants, and the correlation between liturgies designated for youth and youth group participation.  These questions press Catholic parents, parish ministers, Church leaders, and all of our readers, in their efforts, as one youth culture analyst describes, to “effectively lead youth through adolescence and into a healthy, God-honoring adulthood.” Continue reading