Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Review of Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose

By Bill Hunt

Rediscover Catholicism comes with great promise. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the book have been distributed free of charge to Catholics throughout the United States. It forms the centerpiece of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ yearlong “Rediscover” program that invites Catholics to re-evaluate the meaning of their faith.

Matthew Kelly brings his skills as a business management consultant and motivational speaker to writing “a spiritual guide to living with passion and purpose.” He contends that the fundamental principle of Catholicism is that God wants us to be happy and holy by becoming “the best-version-of-ourselves” – a phrase he emphasizes throughout his book with mind-numbing repetition.

In the main section of his book Kelly recommends a number of “spiritual exercises” as aids in the quest for individual holiness. He calls these practices “the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality.” They include 1) monthly confession of one’s sins to a priest, 2) daily personal prayer, 3) weekly attentive participation in Sunday Mass, 4) daily Bible reading, 5) regular fasting, 6) daily spiritual reading, and 7) daily recitation of the Rosary. Just as regular physical exercise is necessary to develop a healthy body, so also regular spiritual exercises are necessary to develop “the-best-version-of-oneself.”

The last section of Rediscover Catholicism is a call to action. Faithful Catholics should focus on Catholic education and evangelization. “Teaching young people to recognize and celebrate the-best-version-of-themselves is also the best way to teach them to participate in society, to find work that is uniquely suited to them, and to engage their social responsibilities.” (p. 292) For evangelization, Kelly suggests “a simple four-point plan” based on cultivating friendship, prayer, personal sharing, and invitation.

Kelly is fond of sports metaphors, and Rediscover Catholicism is very much like an extended pep talk. It’s all very simple. The key is discipline. Catholics need to get back to basics, keep the goal of holiness in mind, take inspiration from their Church’s past achievements, study their heroes (the saints), and practice vigorously so that they may become what God wants them to be.

However, for all its promise Rediscover Catholicism is fundamentally flawed.

From the theological point of view, Kelly pays more attention to Michael Jordan than to Jesus; to self-development than to self-giving love. The reader searches in vain for something as insightful as the line from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Kelly is somehow able to write an entire chapter on prayer without mentioning the Lord’s Prayer and to deal with virtue while almost completely ignoring the Sermon on the Mount. With regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he consistently refers to it as “Confession” and emphasizes its instrumental role in individual spiritual growth rather than its main purpose of reconciling the penitent with the Church and God. His take on fasting as the soul’s weapon in its constant war against the body has an eerily Manichaean tone.

Oddly, this book could have been written fifty years ago. Kelly rarely uses inclusive language and consistently refers to God as “he.” He reminds me of the Catholic Truth Society speakers that I listened to in London’s Hyde Park back in 1958. The CTS speakers defended the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church against the attacks of Protestants and atheists. They adopted an approach that exaggerated both the strengths of the Catholic Church and the weaknesses of the Protestants. For them the road to Christian unity was conversion to the Catholic faith.

Adopting a similar siege mentality, Kelly begins each chapter with a list of threats to Catholicism from secular society. With surprising hostility he accuses “Protestant-Evangelical churches” of kidnapping the word evangelization; of using argumentative and intimidating methods; of being “self-promoting and self-serving;” and of not even considering Catholics to be Christians. (p. 293)

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) adopted a much more open stance based on dialog and a search for common ground. Kelly gives lip service to the importance of the Council, but he hastens to add: “Vatican II was grossly misunderstood by Catholics at large and misrepresented by a great many theologians.” (pp. 75-76.) In the rest of his book he shows little, if any, interest in seriously engaging with the Council’s fundamental teachings.

Kelly seems to adopt the approach of many Catholic traditionalists who consider the Council to have been a mistake. Instead of taking issue with the Council directly, they simply ignore it.

The most positive thing I can say about Rediscover Catholicism is that it forces the reader to re-examine her or his own approach to Catholicism. However, as the rationale for a program to attract people to the Catholic Church it promotes a spirituality that owes more to the principles of the human potential movement than to Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us.

Bill Hunt is a witness of the Second Vatican Council, having attended the sessions of the second period (1963) as a peritus (theological advisor). He holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America and taught Catholic theology at the graduate level for fifteen years.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Humble Pope in An August Office

By John Lloyd

Note: This commentary was first published June 25, 2023 by Reuters.

The most potent symbol to date of Pope Francis' five-month papacy is an empty chair. The chair — a large white throne — was to seat His Holiness in the Vatican this past Saturday.

The pope was scheduled to hear a performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony, a long-planned event. But minutes before the performance Archbishop Rino Fisichella told the audience that "the Holy Father cannot be present because of an urgent piece of work which cannot be postponed."

Later, it was reported that Francis had privately dismissed the event with a brusque, "I'm not a Renaissance Prince who listens to music instead of working." Regardless of whether the quote is apocryphal, the comment expresses well the man's style.

He has declared an end to the Papal Gentlemen, an office which, reformed under Pope Paul VI (1963-78), became an institution whose often aristocratic members officiated at public ceremonies, with their main duty being to meet and greet distinguished visitors. Reports quote the pope's belief that they were "archaic, useless, even damaging."

That last may refer to a sex scandal allegedly involving Angelo Balducci, a "Gentleman" who is claimed to have been soliciting male lovers through connections in the Vatican. This, in turn, may be part of the reason why Francis — again, in private — lamented the presence of a "gay mafia" in high places.

He recently prevailed on the French ambassador to Rome, Alain LeRoy, to greatly simplify a dinner for the Italian members of the Legion d'Honneur. Each guest had a papal note by his plate warning that "food wasted is food stolen from the poor." He has told his bishops not to act like princes; lives in the Vatican hotel, not in the magnificent papal suite; and has repeatedly spoken of living life "as a gift, not as a treasure to be kept to ourselves."

There's substance as well as style here — substance based on a calculation. In the early years of last century, Europe's Catholics — living in a relatively wealthy part of the world, even if many were poor — accounted for 65 percent of the world's 300 million. Today, Europe has 24 percent of the 1.1 billion worldwide Catholics — with Latin America, the Asia Pacific region and especially sub-Saharan Africa showing rapid growth. Poverty is an often tangible part of everyday Catholic life; a fact that Francis believes contradicts the luxury of cardinals' and archbishops' palaces and the concentrated magnificence of the Vatican.

He has been a harsher critic than his immediate predecessors of the sins of capitalism. Commenting on the collapse of the Bangladeshi sweatshop in May, where some 400 workers died, he said that "not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!" Receiving new ambassadors to the Holy See in May, he warned against "a return to the golden calf" and "the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."

It's a world away from the scholarly, introverted style of Benedict XVI for whom the scandals and pressures of the Vatican finally became too much to bear. It's closer to the expressive, even crowd-pleasing style of Pope John Paul II, but it's much more militantly humble.

There is some risk in Francis' strategy. There's an argument that a display of power and wealth are needed especially for poor men and women, who wish to belong to a powerful institution led by great men wearing gorgeous garments.

But the pope's efforts are also shrewd. His warnings against the "dictatorship of an economy… lacking any truly humane goal" align with the feeling of many across the world.

In Italy, Francis has found a stroke of luck. A humbled Silvio Berlusconi. His predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, had a hedonistic Italian prime minister to deal with. In Benedict's papacy (2005-2012), Berlusconi was beset with sex and other scandals, about which the papacy largely stayed silent because Berlusconi was a lesser evil than a pro-secular left.

But that silence came at the cost of distress on the part of many Catholics. Berlusconi isn't gone, but earlier this week he was convicted of paying for sex with a minor, and abusing his office and given a seven-year sentence. Lengthy appeals make it all but certain he won't go to jail. But, already appealing other convictions, he won't be back as prime minister either. The Vatican's moral/immoral dance of the past years will no longer need to be danced by Francis, who seems to be further from Berlusconi's personality than any man in Italy.

Yet, if kicking out the Papal Gentlemen and ducking the concert are large gestures, delivering on the substance of his humility agenda will be much harder for Francis. The papacy is not a government of any more than the few hundred souls within the Holy See. While Catholic social teaching is long on ideas, it has no better idea of how to cope with present crises than political parties of the left or right.

Francis has to inspire his priests with the zeal to re-convert their often semi-detached flocks into activists for radical social change. He must avoid the excesses of leftism, yet not collapse into mere populism. He must identify the Church with programs of poverty alleviation. He must develop practical answers to the unemployment of the young (maybe as pastoral assistants, aids to aged parishioners or menders of crumbling churches). He must be present at policy discussions on the economy and he must give social teaching some realist underpinning. The Catholic Church has a great many men (it's chosen to marginalize women, for the most part) of high intelligence, of whom Francis, a Jesuit, is one. Let them bend their minds to address poverty's constant companion — unemployment.

The choral part of Beethoven's Ninth, the symphony Francis missed, proclaims that "All men will be brothers!" Easier sung than done. Perhaps it was better for the pope to stay at his desk than be discouraged by the height of the hill he has decided to climb.

John Lloyd is co-foundeder of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, where he is Director of Journalism. Lloyd has written several books, including What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics (2004). He is also a contributing editor at the Financial Times and the founder of FT Magazine.

Related Off-site Links:
Pope Francis and a Holy, Humble Break from Tradition — Jena McGregor (The Washington Post, March 29, 2013).
The Servant PopeThe Wild Reed (March 28, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Waiting for Francis to Reform the Curia? He Already Has
Francis Criticized Vatican at Conclave; Warned Bishops of the "Dangers of Stagnation"
Reflections on a New Face
Francis the 'Slum Pope': Jorge Mario Bergoglio Remembered for Ministering to Buenos Aires' Poorest
Questions from a 'Dirty War'

Monday, June 24, 2013

Three Female Priests Ordained in St. Cloud

By Ben Grove

Note: This article was first published June 24, 2013 by

Three women were ordained as priests at a Mass by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests of the Midwest Region on Sunday in St. Cloud, although they risk being excommunicated by the Catholic Church, the Associated Press reports.

The three were Bernadyne “Bernie” Sykora of St. Cloud, Corene Besetzny of Red Wing and Martha Sherman of Salem, S.D., the AP reports.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has clearly stated that the ordination of women as priests is “not valid.” But a female-priests movement persists.

“The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is necessary because if we wait, nothing is going to happen for a very, very, very long time — if ever,” one movement leader, Mary Frances Smith, ordained a Roman Catholic Womanpriest in 2009, told the St. Cloud Times.

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that more than 120 women worldwide have become priests, at a time when the Vatican faces a shortage of priests.

The Los Angeles Times profiles soft-spoken 72-year-old Maria Eitz, who took the controversial step of becoming a priest because “it is right and just.”

“It needs to happen. Not so much for myself … but for the people who will come after,” she told the Times. “For the girls. For the other women.”

See also the previous PCV posts:

Minnesota's Seven Catholic Womenpriests Are Here to Stay
Female Priests Push Catholic Boundaries
Roman Catholic Womenpriests: Differing Perspectives

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Twin Cities Archdiocese Seeks Bigger Cut of Collections

By Rose French

Note: This article was first published June 22, 2013 by the Star Tribune.

The Twin Cities archdiocese wants Catholics to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to support schools and other church ministries.

About one-fourth of the nearly 190 parishes will see their assessments on the collection plate and other income rise from 8 to up to 9 percent; parishes with schools will catch a break on what they have to pay.

At the same time, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is considering a $165 million capital campaign shared with parishes and other partners to pump money into Catholic schools, charities, seminarian education and preservation of the St. Paul Cathedral and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

The moves come at a time when many Catholics are still upset with church leaders for contributing nearly $650,000 to the campaign for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, which failed Nov. 6.

Archdiocesan officials say they’ve been considering the new assessment and capital campaign for years. Critics contend the efforts indicate the church’s political activism has hurt its bottom line.

“The motivation for the archdiocese to do this is that . . . an independent campaign, they’re fearful it wouldn’t produce the $165 million . . . By piggybacking on the parishes they could hope to be more productive,” said Robert Beutel, a St. Paul attorney and co-chair of the board of Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, a frequent critic of the archdiocese.

Revenue from the new assessment formula is to be collected beginning in fiscal year 2015-16, based on parish collections starting fiscal year 2013-14, which begins July 1. The last time the assessment changed was 1999, according to an archdiocesan spokesman.

For parishes that operate schools, the archdiocese will keep the assessment at 8 percent and eliminate assessments on school tuition and income. Next school year, the archdiocese will have 91 schools, most operated by parishes.

More support for schools

“From a financial position, we’re trying to assist those parishes that are contributing to the Catholic schools,” said Tom Mertens, chief financial officer of the archdiocese. “The whole idea behind the assessment change was to simplify, to clarify and then to support Catholic education.”

Income from assessments — which help support the archdiocese — totaled about $14 million last fiscal year. Mertens said he can’t project how much the new formula would raise.

The Rev. Paul Jarvis says the revised formula is a move in “the right direction.” He leads St. Joseph’s in Rosemount, which operates a K-8 school with close to 220 students.

“I know I might be biased as a pastor of a parish with a school, but it benefits all parishes,” he said. “Many of the graduates of our parochial schools will be going on to be worshipers at other parishes, many of which will not have schools.”

By contrast, the St. Joan of Arc parish in Minneapolis fears the assessment may impinge on parish priorities.

In April, the church sent a letter to supporters seeking $500,000 for upgrades to the gym, hospitality hall and other projects before the new assessment takes effect July 1.

“The challenge is that we have a limited time to raise contributions for these improvements so that the dollars will not be subject to the archdiocesan assessment of 9 percent,” according to the letter from St. Joan’s pastor, the Rev. Jim DeBruycker.

Mertens said all parish contributions are subject to assessment, but the new formula will make that more clear.

Needs reaching ‘critical point’

Annual financial reports for the archdiocese show total revenue has been relatively flat, rising from $38.4 million in 2007 to $40.2 million in 2012.

“It has been a decade since the last major fundraising effort,” according to an archdiocesan document detailing the proposed capital campaign. “The long-term funding needs of our parishes and Catholic ministries have been put off and are now reaching a critical point.”

The last major fundraising effort in 2000-03 raised approximately $89 million, reports said. It went toward supporting parishes, education, care for retired priests, charities and renovation of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The joint campaign being considered would allow parishes to keep 50 percent of their assigned goal and 100 percent of any money raised over that.

The Steier Group, a national fundraising and development firm based in Omaha, is conducting a feasibility study on the campaign, and is expected to present its recommendations this month.

After that, the archdiocese is expected to announce whether it will proceed with the campaign.

Pros and cons of campaign

One of the potential beneficiaries of the campaign is the Aim Higher Foundation, which works to increase enrollment and funds for Catholic schools.

“I’m very happy this is happening,” said Samuel Salas, a foundation board member and former headmaster at Breck School. “I think the purpose of the campaign is really to help the many good things the archdiocese can contribute to.”

Marsha Brintnall, a parishioner at St. Joan’s, says she contributed toward her church’s $500,000 goal.

She did not approve of the archbishop’s role in supporting the marriage amendment and says it wouldn’t surprise her if a number of local Catholics feel less compelled to give to the church.

“It’s very hard for a thinking, intelligent person out there to see [nearly $650,000] go toward a political amendment and then hear, ‘But we need your money. You’ve got to support us. We have a capital campaign going.’ How do you rationalize that? How does that seem like a good use of their funding?”

The archdiocese said funds for the marriage campaign came from “investment income and special donations.”

For the proposed capital campaign, the archdiocese said in a document, “Funds raised from this campaign will be overseen by an independent board comprised of clergy, lay leaders and donors. Campaign funds will go directly to parishes, schools and ministries in the archdiocese.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Letter to the Roman Catholic Church in the United States

Note: The following "modern epistle" by Eric Fought was first published June 18, 2013 at, an online forum that seeks to facilitate "a respectful dialogue about religion, politics, social justice and life."


Minneapolis, June 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –

I send greetings from Minneapolis, my home, where spring has been late to arrive and summer seems far off. It is a time of great anticipation and yet a time of frustration and angst. So, too, is the time and place we find ourselves as the Body of Christ.

Friends, I do not need to outline for you the significant concerns that face us as the Church in the United States. Each of us in some way has experienced the scandal, the division, the controversies and the ideological movements—all of which have moved us further and further away from living and preaching the Good News of the Risen One. There have been days when we have hesitated to open the newspaper, afraid that we might find yet another story telling of another sex scandal or cover-up by those we’ve entrusted with our spiritual lives and the health and safety of our children. We have watched as our brothers and sisters, our friends and grandchildren, our aunts and uncles, our nephews and nieces have been turned away from our common table because of their sexual orientation and have painfully remained silent, believing that clergy and bishops know best, while our hearts tell us otherwise. And we have witnessed a creeping backwards led by some of those same bishops and clergy—a neoconservative movement—that has sought to divide our Church and turn back years of progress. In doing so, these leaders have foolishly squandered resources entrusted to their care, resources meant to take care of the least among us and the betterment of all. They have turned chanceries into campaign war rooms and pulpits into beacons of division and distrust all while ridiculously claiming that “religious liberty” is at stake.

My brothers and sisters, I write today to the entire Church throughout our great land. However, most importantly, I seek to reach those of us in the pews, the laity who make up the Body of Christ. In the end, it is our Church and we have a shared responsibility—the responsibility found in our baptism—to be a part of the work necessary to move it in the right direction once again. We can no longer sit idly by while more and more Catholics leave to seek church homes that are more inclusive and closer to the mission set forth by Christ himself. We do not have the luxury of waiting for the hierarchy to bring about the reform necessary to save our beloved faith tradition. They have had more than enough opportunity to do so. Real reform is only possible through us.

What is at Stake?

If we do not act at this pivotal moment, we are very likely to lose an entire generation of Catholics and quite possibly render our Church completely irrelevant in the spiritual life of our society. To be frank, these three main concerns outlined above: the clergy sex abuse scandal; the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics by the Church; and the neoconservative politicization of the Church have us on a path to destruction. Young Americans becoming adults today have a very low tolerance for any sort of discrimination and highly value equality, especially for their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. They expect no less from the institutions in their lives, including their Church. Further, while many of these young people are engaged politically, they do not believe that the Church should be a political organization itself. Finally, they are more skeptical of the men who lead the Church, after knowing about (or directly experiencing) the unresolved clergy sex abuse scandal most of their lives.

Thus, it should be no surprise to any of us that these young men and women would leave us. Years of trying to sway this decision with pizza parties, rock concerts and pool tables will not keep them in our midst. Only true reform will.

Treatment of Gays and Lesbians by Clergy and the Hierarchy

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ”Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, ” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).

Much of the rhetoric coming from the Church as of late regarding gay and lesbian Americans has centered around the fight for marriage equality in the United States. This is partly the result of those within the gay rights movement—including Catholics engaged in the movement—focusing on marriage. While a majority of American Catholics support marriage equality, none of the American bishops have as of yet and this has led to a great polarization of the dialogue regarding the treatment of gays and lesbians within the Church. We must change the narrative, noting that at least for now, marriage within the Roman Catholic Church is a no-go.

The focus on marriage has allowed the hierarchy to remain focused on what is believed to be the untouchable Church teaching that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman in order to foster procreation. Yet, as Jesus commanded in the passage from Matthew above, we should be focused on love, not laws.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, either all of God’s creation is good or it is not. How many gays and lesbians does God need to create in order for us to uphold without distinction their humanity? If we are to respond faithfully to our baptismal call to preach the Gospel without ceasing, how can we stand by and allow the continued persecution of our neighbors, friends and family? All of us have come to know gays and lesbians in the living of our lives—these relationships have nourished us in many ways. Our love for these men and women must be known and must be shared, especially with the leadership of our Church. For centuries upon centuries, gay men have served faithfully in our Church as priests, bishops, lay leaders and likely even popes. They have done so in silence and fear. Yet, through their service, countless Christians have come to know Christ through our Church. We must stop denying that this is true. We must demand a conversation about these issues and we cannot stop asking until it happens.

The Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal: A Deepening Wound

It has been more than 10 years since the allegations in Boston and other parts of our country rocked our Church and tested our faith. Since that time, the clergy sex abuse crisis has broadened in scope and geography. While many clergy who were found to have engaged in criminal misconduct have been separated from the Church, we continue to learn of others that have been protected and have become aware of bishops who have contributed directly to the cover-up. The grave reality is that there is no more assurance today that children will be protected as there was in 2001.

Brothers and sisters, these are our children and we have a responsibility to protect them. For too long, we have sought to protect instead clergy and bishops, believing that they are somehow more trustworthy, good or even more holy than the non-ordained. This false belief and our actions resulting from that belief has literally ruined the lives of countless men and women who have suffered abuse at the hands of these men. The cover-up of their crimes by bishops and the Vatican has allowed heinous criminal activity to continue.

The only way that our Church can move on from these realities is for the laity to stand up and demand a complete overhaul of the policies and procedures regarding these matters. Those that have committed crimes must face criminal prosecution by civil authorities; and independent authorities completely outside of the governance of the Church must conduct investigations of these matters. Finally, we must call for an open and honest dialogue between victims, their families and ordained leadership. In that dialogue, we must all conclude that we are all victims.

Children held a special place in the heart of our Lord. He loved children so much that he noted repeatedly that they shall be the inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot cease holding the leadership of our Church accountable until we know for certain that the safety of our children is assured. Further, we must realize that we are the leadership of the Church and stop skirting our shared responsibility. Each day that this crisis continues, we should be increasingly ashamed of ourselves. Healing will only be possible when we stop the bleeding.

Returning to the Common Good

The third concern that must be addressed is a growing desire — and implementation of that desire — to return our Church to an idealized time and place before the Second Vatican Council. This neoconservative movement not only seeks to bring back the Latin rite, which on its face seems harmless, but also seeks to further stifle the role of the laity in the daily life of the Church. We stand here 50 years after that historic council having not seen its full implementation. Indeed, many among us are not even aware of the basic tenets agreed upon by those gathered. We must work towards educating our brothers and sisters of the reforms outlined, especially concerning the role of the laity and the care and concern for the least among us.

My brothers and sisters, we can certainly argue about the details and have rigorous disagreements about the governance and care of our Church. Indeed, I believe such a discussion would be good for us all. However, at the end of the day, we must work toward a common understanding of the role of our Church in a world that is hurting. Issues of economic, racial and social justice have long been viewed as the best work of our Church and we have been as Christ to many. If we do nothing else outlined in this letter, let us return our Church to one that proclaims the social gospel without ceasing. After all, there is no “regular” gospel and “social” gospel. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ radically calls us to care for the poor, elderly, sick and outcast among us. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not call us to pious ashen-faced devotion in the comfort of an empty pew. Christ Jesus requires much more of us. Our Christian life demands that we cease awaiting an invitation, for the invitation has already been sent and received. That invitation—received at our baptism and confirmed on our own in adulthood—is an invitation to work to return our Church to a body of believers seeking the common good always.


Please know, my friends, that I believe that great hope awaits us in the future. There is no doubt, we have seen some dark days and there are likely more ahead. Nevertheless, we are a hardy lot and we have been tested before. The most important reality for us is that the Church will not change without our insistence that it do so. We must lead from the pews, speaking up and taking action to secure that the reforms outlined above become reality. Unless we do so, we sincerely risk the loss of an entire generation of sowers for the field. If we do what is right, good things will come and our Lord Jesus Christ will walk with us as we seek healing, reform and justice.

May you be strengthened in the work that we are about to do together and may you find companions along the way. May the Lord bless you and your loved ones and grant you peace.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lasting Achievements of the Second Vatican Council

By Bill Hunt

Recent observances of the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council (like the October 11, 2012 special edition of the National Catholic Reporter) have had a muted tone – a fear that the gains of the Council are in danger of being reversed by current Vatican authorities. I understand that feeling, but I think that there are many reasons to celebrate the Council’s achievements. So I have listed a few things that the Council has done that are not likely to be overturned any time soon. I hope that this will stimulate readers of the Progressive Catholic Voice to recall still other accomplishments of the Council and to make these fiftieth anniversary years a full-throated celebration.

1. The People of God as a primary image of the Church

This is illustrated by the debate during the Second Period (1963) about the order of chapters in the decree on the Church. The vote was in favor of putting the chapter “People of God” before the chapter “The Hierarchical Structure of the Church, with Special Reference to the Episcopate.”

2. Liturgy and sacraments in the vernacular throughout the Latin Rite

Antiquarians can promote a return to the Latin Mass, but 99% of Catholics throughout the world now worship in their own language and have at least the possibility of participating actively in the prayer of the people.

3. The lectionary initiated in Advent 1969

This amazing "restauratio" of the ancient Church's three-year cycle provides Catholics with a vastly wider selection of readings than were available in the pre-Vatican II lectionary, which had no Old Testament readings and a one year cycle of gospel readings, mainly from Matthew.

4. New methods of scripture interpretation, especially historical criticism

Since the early part of the twentieth century Vatican offices, particularly the Biblical Commission and the Holy Office, were obsessed with “Modernism” and opposed modern methods of biblical criticism. One decree demanded that Catholic scholars hold that the first five books of the Bible were actually written by Moses himself. Although some relief came from Bishop Pacelli’s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), scripture scholars labored under many doctrinal restrictions. The decree on Revelation reversed many, if not all, of the pre-conciliar anti-modernist fulminations and gave renewed impetus to the blossoming of Catholic biblical scholarship.

5. Collegiality

Although the majority position was compromised at the Council (See, e.g., the infamous "nota praevia explicativa."), the cat is out of the bag. The hitherto unmentionable word has been mentioned and even embodied in the (till now ineffective) Synod of Bishops.

6. Episcopal conferences

Suspect before the Council and attenuated by recent legislation from the Vatican, they still are an institution. It is important to remember that prior to the Council there was no Italian bishops' conference. The American Catholic bishops’ National Catholic War Council (1917), later the National Catholic Welfare Conference (1922), was a real pioneer along with the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM). Now the structure is universal.

7. Restoration of the Permanent Diaconate

This is another restoration of a practice of the ancient Church that has changed the face of the Latin Rite since the Council. Today the number of ordained deacons in many dioceses rivals or even exceeds the number of priests. Deacons play an essential role in parishes, large and small. They preach, baptize, preside at marriages, bring Viaticum to the dying, officiate at funerals, direct works of charity, and perform a wide variety of administrative functions. While the number of ordained priests in the US is declining, the number of ordained deacons is increasing. Given their training and experience, deacons are logical candidates for ordination to the priesthood.

8. Ecumenism

Ecumenical dialog, cooperation, and witness: Even though the Vatican has been cautious about multilateral cooperation on the interdenominational level (e.g. the World Council of Churches), following from the Council it has approved unilateral dialogs with various Christian denominations, e.g. the Lutheran Catholic dialog. On the local level, however, organizations like the Minnesota Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, founded in 1971, join the State Catholic Conference, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Council of Churches, and the Islamic Center in common legislative initiatives.

Other examples of ecumenical dialog cooperation and witness include Catholic marriages in Protestant churches, intercommunion in Orthodox churches, and ecumenical publishing. An example of the latter is The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (New Revised Standard Edition). A Catholic priest, Roland E Murphy co-edited it with Bruce M. Metzger, a Presbyterian.

9. Inter-religious Dialog

The Council was a stimulus for active dialog, not only with Jews, but also with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others. This is especially true for Catholics in Asia. See for example the works of Bede Griffith, Thomas Merton, Hans Kung, Jacques Dupuis, David Steindl-Rast, etc. The Council also sparked Jewish-Christian initiatives such as the program at the University of St Thomas in St Paul, MN.

10. Lay ministries

Lay ministries have exploded since the Second Vatican Council – teachers, religious education coordinators, parish administrators, Eucharistic ministers, readers, pastoral associates, chaplains, etc.

11. Lay theologians

Another factoid illustrates this point. Notre Dame's graduate theology program dates from around 1966. Now almost every Catholic University in the world is training lay people to be theologians. Back in the 1960s meetings of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) were a sea of Roman collars with an occasional nun or layperson. As far back as the 1997 convention in Minneapolis, clerics were a small minority, and about half of the participants were women. Today, I suspect, women constitute a majority of the attendees.

12. Renewal in religious orders

There are still a few orders, mostly contemplative, that wear “traditional” garb. However, the vast majority of religious have made significant changes not only to their manner of dress but also to their life, practices, and mission since the Council. They have reviewed their foundational documents and embraced new ministries in the spirit of their founders adapted to the needs of the time. They have pioneered new structures and new methods of consultative decision-making and consensus building. Most of all, they are working to transform dying religious orders into new structures of Christian life and ministry.

13. Globalization

Prior to the Council the Roman Catholic Church was truly Eurocentric, even Italocentric. Today, with the demise of colonialism and the spread of communications technology, we are much more connected. Some of this comes from the Council and the actions that followed it, e.g. the internationalization of the Curia and the College of Cardinals (although this had the unintended consequence of electing Wojtyla!). Still, we are much more of a universal church than before Vatican II.

14. Inculturation

The whole approach to missions and non-Christian religions has changed from what it was before the Council. Rather than see indigenous religions as the work of the devil, “missionaries” spend years studying the language and religious customs of native peoples before attempting to evangelize them. Inculturation also includes things like translations that reflect the rhythm and usage of the various language groups (dynamic equivalence).

William Coughlin Hunt is a witness of the Second Vatican Council, having attended the sessions of the second period (1963) as a peritus (theological expert). He holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America. For ten years he taught a graduate theology course entitled “Christian Perspectives on Biomedical and Sexual Ethics.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

Aggiornamento : Contemporary Belief, Contemporary Language

By John A. Dick

Note: This commentary was first published June 3, 2013 at Another Voice, a blogsite of "reflections about contemporary Catholic belief and practice."

Pope John XXIII died fifty years ago today. I think his greatest gift to us was the spirit of aggiornamento: probing our tradition and our contemporary faith experiences and then UPDATING our language, symbols, and rituals to better convey what we experience.

Some contemporary reflections about aggiornamento:

(1) We all possess great capacities to sense, understand and respond to real events of transcendence in our everyday existence. A sense of the transcendent, or what we can call an instinct for the Divine, responds to real disclosures within the natural and historical: in all of our daily life realities. Very often we simply have to take time to reflect.

(2) And then we need to speak about these disclosures in our own language: a language that is readily understood, easily communicated, and a language that inspires and motivates people rather than annoying them, condemning them, or putting them to sleep.

(3) “God” names the who and the what actually present in the people, the power, depth, and scope of daily life. Right before our eyes. But they are often closed. We need a language that opens us to disclosures of divinity within the natural world and the historical realities of human life.

(4) Critical thinking – careful and care-filled reflection – is a necessary moment in the interpretation of Divine disclosures. A vigilant faith, a resolute hope, and abundant love open doors to the Divine. We need a Christian humanism that promotes attitudes and feelings of heartfelt gratitude, steadfast humility, and demanding compassion. Such deeply established attitudes and feelings can disclose and reinforce our shared humanity and bring the always-near Divine into our awareness and experience.

(5) Such a Christian humanism discloses and affirms that in spite of sorrow, pain, and agony, human life is nevertheless grounded in the Good. Responsible human action draws together that goodness into a complete life with others and for oneself. At the heart of our Christian humanism is a deep affirmation for life: a yes to existence, despite its loss and occasional terror. Christianity must still proclaim Good News.

Let us thank Pope John for reminding us about aggiornamento and let us renew our commitment to put it into practice.

For last year’s words
belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words
await another voice.

– T.S. Eliot
"Little Gidding"

John A. Dick (Jack) is an historical theologian who grew up in Michigan and has studied in Detroit, Louvain and Nijmegen. He completed his doctorates at the Catholic University of Leuven. He posts new reflections each week at his blog, Another Voice

Image: Bernard Safran.