All posts filed under: Church Formation

Unfulfilled Promise: The Synod on Young People

Almost right from the start, there were many people determined to impugn whatever came from the recent Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment. I am not one of these people. I wrote a book for the occasion, wrote numerous articles, and worked with my colleagues to host a major preparatory conference. I was in. For this reason, I was disappointed with the final document of the Synod. Like many documents assembled by committees, it lacks a consistent narrative. Yes, it is overly long, meandering with a persistent “oh-and-another-thing” quality to it. But, its length is not its sole vice. The lack of a guiding vision is apparent throughout the text. By seeing this firstfruit of the synodal process, I have come to recognize that the failure of the Synod was in its roots. In place of a vision, this document offers an affirmation of the Synod’s own process. The Synod, it says, has been an exercise in “walking with young people,” “listening to them,” and making them “co-protagonists” in the Church. The proposal …

The Addictions of the Catholic Samizdat

Imagine a film so entertaining, so captivating that it is impossible to tear one’s eyes away from the movie. The viewer is paralyzed by the act of watching, losing all control of the will. The rest of life fades away as the viewer escapes from the workaday world into the phantasms that appear on the television screen. The creation of this seductive entertainment is central to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The film (also called “the Entertainment” or “samizdat”) anesthetizes each person who views it. The person is emptied of everything except an insatiable desire to watch the film. The film is but one form of addiction that Wallace highlights throughout the novel. But the movie is the key that unlocks Wallace’s diagnosis of a U.S.A. hooked on the pleasurable phantasms created by alcohol and drugs, by elite sports, by consumerism and the entertainment industry. “The Entertainment” is a parabolic literary device expressing our love of pleasure and self. As Rémy Marathe, a member of the Wheelchair Assassins, says about the samizdat: These facts of …

Catechesis as a Way of Life

What are the catechetical developmental tasks that can be identified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? In the foregoing these tasks will be reviewed within the context of a family’s daily practice of their everyday lives. Developmental tasks have their origin from the staff associated with Daniel A. Prescott’s Child Study Program at the University of Chicago from 1935 to 1950.[1] They concluded that throughout our lives we are under the influence of an agenda of life goals. It was Robert Havighurst who defined this agenda of life goals as developmental tasks. He noted that each task “arises at or about a certain period in the life of the individual, successful achievement of which leads to . . . happiness and to success with later tasks, while failure leads to unhappiness in the individual, disapproval by the society, and difficulties with later tasks.”[2] The tasks were recognized as related to physical and biological development, social-cultural influences and a person’s values and aspirations.[3] The meaningfulness of this concept is supported in its application in a …

A Garden Lurking Beneath the Floorboards

In 1912, Sergei Bulgakov published The Philosophy of Economy, a sociological, philosophical, and religious examination of economic materialism. This was his way of settling an intellectual debt which he owed from his period as a respected Marxist intellectual. After writing two well-received works of Marxist economics, he drifted from political economy to explore the entire gamut of Idealist thought, particularly Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. This drift ended in one final major transition from Idealism to Christianity through reading the Russian sage and mystic Vladimir Solovyov. Like Solovyov, Bulgakov was drawn to a richly speculative understanding of the figure of Sophia from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament—relating it in different ways to the order of Creation, the historical person of Mary, and the Church considered as the Bride of Christ. The Philosophy of Economy was Bulgakov’s first work to explicitly appeal to Sophiology in order to illuminate what are usually considered concerns of the practical order. With it, he hoped to move beyond the opposition of life and thought toward a more holistic, liturgical, …

Chief Obstacles to Good Spiritual Direction

I recently had a conversation with a group of friends about the state of parishes. During the conversation, one of them said something like, “What people really need is spiritual direction. That’s what people want, and what they need. That’s what parishes need to provide for us. Imagine how things could be different.” This corresponds to my experience working with parishes all around the country. When conversion begins to awaken a desire for intimacy with God, one of the first things people begin to desire is “spiritual direction.” Somewhere along the line they are introduced to the practice, perhaps through a friend, a book, or a speaker. More than any other kind of involvement in Church life, they desire and need guidance. I would like to propose that individual spiritual guidance be a primary ministry, in addition to the sacraments, that parishes provide. But there are some definite obstacles to this being the reality. I would like to identify just three of them: Catholics tend to have an overly mystical conception of spiritual direction. There are …

The Political Pawning of Saints

It is fitting that Pope Francis canonized Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Óscar Romero together. Although through the eyes of United States politics Romero is often labeled a “liberal” and Paul VI pegged as a “conservative,” Francis’s canonization of these significant figures at the same Mass is no cheap compromise, no attempt at constructing a “big tent” Church. Francis has no delusions of tossing each saint to “conservatives” and “liberals” in the hopes that this will magically resolve tensions and divisions in the Church. Instead, Pope Francis is letting the Communion of Saints powerfully reveal the unity of the Catholic Church. The genuine holiness of Paul VI and of Romero demonstrates that the Church is, as the Nicene Creed proclaims, “one.” Long before Giovanni Montini became pope and Óscar Romero became archbishop, their lives intertwined. Montini served as a professor and mentor to Romero while the latter completed seminary studies in Rome. After Montini became Paul VI, he appointed Romero as archbishop of San Salvador and encouraged him in his work. Romero frequently cited Paul …

Does the Mass Say Christmas Is About Justice?

Is Christmas about justice? B. D. McClay’s recent column in Commonweal, “Christmas is a Time for Justice” seems to suggest that Christmas is about justice, divine justice. She argues in an “admittedly lighthearted way” that the movie In Bruges is a Christmas movie because in some sense it is about justice and “accounts beginning to come in.” The movie is about an Irish hit man, Ray, who accidentally kills a child. For this mistake his boss Harry insists he must die to settle the account—justice demands it; Harry sends Ray to Bruges along with Ken whom Harry has ordered to kill Ray. It is in fact a wonderful though violent movie with a twist at the end very much worth watching. The movie’s theme functions as a metaphor for Christmas. So if the theme of the movie is about justice and accounts coming due, it seems that Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation and birth of Christ, is ultimately about justice because our accounts have come due. I cannot help but think that McClay is …

Conscience and the Christ Child

Parenthood is central to the Nativity story. Birth and infancy cast Christ the King most of all in dependence. God so humbled himself not only to become man, but also to be dependent upon man, particularly upon two parents, Mary and Joseph. God did not only come to mankind to be sacrificed, but also to be nurtured, to be loved and cared for by woman and man, to communicate his needs and to make requests to his parents as they bring him to adulthood. As we enter into the Christmas season, Christians would benefit from reflecting upon our own experiences of parenthood. What might we learn about the nourishment of the Christ Child and attentiveness to him? Christian teaching can never be an impersonal dictate, but is rather a wellspring of life integrating into man’s experience. Likewise, experience should always be an opening into the life of Christ and his Church. So let us consider the experiences of parents and what we might learn as we observe those experiences in light of the Christ Child. …

Love Is Always Conditional

 We want to say that love is unconditional. It seems right. It is equal parts comforting and challenging. It is comforting because if I am loved, then there is nothing I can do to lose that. It is challenging because in order to love, I have to will to be untroubled by obstacles. We do not want to say love is conditional because we fear submitting love to the twisted logic of relationship terrorism: if you do not meet my demands, I deprive you of what is good for you, or vice versa. We think of conditions as qualifications and we do not want to attach qualifications to love. So we say love is unconditional. But that is wrong. Love is always conditional. The conditions of love are not a list of demands but the ways in which love is demanding. If, as Aquinas teaches, “to love is to will the good of another,”[1] then what makes love demanding are those conditions in which I have to figure out how exactly to will your good, …

The Four Waves of the U.S. Catholic Abuse Crisis

  Where We Are  For many of us, the Catholic Church is our extended family and the center of our daily lives: the community within which we celebrate the sacraments, worship God, teach our children, serve the poor, cheer our kids’ CYO teams, build lifelong friendships, and so much more. Given that context, it is no surprise that over these past months American Catholics have been devastated and angered by revelations regarding sexual abuse and abuse of power in our Church. As we think about how to move forward, I would like to give an overview of our current moment; a brief review of how we got here; and finally, a description of what might lie ahead. This latest iteration of the clerical abuse crisis began with revelations regarding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of children and predation on seminarians as he was protected by a culture of clericalism that looked the other way at every turn. It soon moved on to the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and its horrific accounting of decades …