All posts filed under: Essays

Forming Lifelong Disciples through Developmentally-Responsive Catechesis

A pressing question in the area of faith formation today is whether or not we are indeed forming people for a lifelong practice of the faith and celebration of the sacraments. A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center indicates that 42% of adults in the United States have left the faith of their childhood. In the book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell points out that the lack of attachment to one’s childhood faith is particularly significant among Catholics.[1] She cites an earlier Pew study that showed only 30% of Americans who were raised Catholic are still attending Mass at least once a month. A number of parish catechetical leaders also report declining enrollment in their parish religious education classes for age levels that are not sacramental years, suggesting that perhaps parents are perceiving less value in the curriculum offered by the parish program in non-sacramental years. In addition, parish leaders continue to be frustrated that even the families who are involved in the parish religious education program often seem to treat it as one …

Christian Education and Residence Life

I woke up one Friday morning to shouts and pounding at my door. It was just before 6am, and I leapt out of bed and stumbled across my apartment, opening the door to find two frantic women from Building Services. They informed me that a resident had gotten sick and clogged his sink, accidentally leaving the water running for hours: it had flooded his room and the entire hallway outside of it. “I’m not even on duty!” I remember thinking. Welcome to Spring Break 2016. We Christians have been living in community since the very beginning. The Acts of the Apostles describes the first community of Christian believers, telling us that they “were of one heart and soul, and no one said any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Various forms of monasticism arose in the first four centuries, with St. Benedict of Nursia laying down his Rule around 530 AD. Today, we find scattered throughout the globe not only monasteries but parishes, schools, Small Christian Communities …

“That All May Be One”: Cultural Unity in Shared Parishes

The Catholic Church of the United States has always been diverse. Ever since the conception of this country people from many different lands and cultures have come here to begin a new life. America became known as the breeding ground for an encounter of cultures because never before in human history had so many different people come into contact with each other in one country. Certainly, this diversity spread into the Catholic Church. The Church, too, became the grounds of cultural encounter, and it was the work of the Church that helped these encounters take place. We find ourselves in no different of a situation today in our country. With the influx of Latinos all throughout the U.S., parishes once again are the places of interaction between two cultures and the Church will have to wrestle with how to allow this interaction to happen. The following is my attempt to offer some suggestions to help think about how Latinos and Anglos can better interact together and form a better unity in the U.S. Church, a …

Actualizing Baptism: The Font of Lay Authority

It seems the common experience of most lay people today in the United States Catholic Church that they are disengaged from the liturgical celebration unless made a part of an active ministry (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Lector, Greeter, etc.). Yet, the documents of the Second Vatican Council point to the essential activity of the laity, whether part of an active ministry or not. The laity seem to have lost a rightful sense of authority when celebrating the liturgy. They see themselves as passive participants instead of active members of a Church communio. The decline in Mass attendance or engagement may be connected to this shallow self-understanding of lay identity that has seeped its way into the consciousness of so many Catholics. The rich rights and obligations of the laity articulated in the Code of Canon Law (CC 208ff.) spurred this essay, which seeks to flesh out a rightful authority of the baptized at liturgical celebration as baptismal priest and suggest a catechetical method for actualizing this authority. Baptismal Theology In Lumen Gentium, The Constitution …

Cruciform Beauty: Icon and Pattern of Self-Giving Love

Of the many images that have found artistic expression in Christianity, the Crucifixion of Jesus is perhaps the most powerful. Representations of the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Madonna and Child have the capacity to inspire awe-filled contemplation of the Incarnation; however, few images in these categories can utterly arrest the gaze of the viewer in the same manner as the image of Jesus on the Cross. The image of the Crucifixion in all its awful glory invites and even demands the viewer to pause for a moment to consider the weight of human sin and the depths of divine love that fastened the God-man to the Cross. It is the paradox of the Cross—the mystery that the Son of God dies so that we might have life and remains glorious as God even in his horrific death as man—that has inspired artists for centuries, and each artist in his or her own way must grapple with how they will portray this pivotal moment in human history: does one emphasize the unimaginable physical sufferings of …

Holy Fools and Clowns: Artistic Re-imaginings of the Humbled-Exalted Christ

God descended into the world to overcome what it had become by the fall of human beings; by this descent into creation, the Son—all powerful God, all knowing Divine—humbled himself so to be made empty according to the human condition he assumed. The biblical source of early Christian reflection on the kenoticism of Christ, likely in the medium of a creedal hymn, is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The apostle instructs the Christian community at Philippi to imitate Jesus Christ by remaining ever in the very same mind (φρονεῖτε) as that of “Christ Jesus. . . . . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that …

Jesus in the Movies: Challenges of Cinematizing the Gospels

If, therefore, the Son of God became man, taking the form of a servant, and appearing in man’s nature, a perfect man, why should His image not be made?[1] Gregory of Nyssa’s question has provoked myriad artists in the successive centuries since the advent of the God-man into answering. The Incarnation proffers an invitation to the artist; the invisible Godhead has deigned to become drawable: come and draw. With new advances in artistic technology, artists have sought to represent Jesus in each nascent medium. As photography developed, artists shot tableaux of actors in costume, recreating Gospel scenes with their static bodies.[2] When photographs began to move, religious movies were some of the first subjects: The Horitz Passion Play (1897) and Passion Play of Oberammergau (1898).[3] When talkies exploded onto the scene with The Jazz Singer in 1927, a whole new dimension of the movie-going element appeared. With all new technology comes new challenges, and the challenge presented to movies remained: how could an artist turn moving photographs of the natural world into images of incarnate …

Marriage as Mission: The Implications of the Charism of Marriage

The role of the Holy Spirit in the nuptial union of a couple can be understood in light of the charism given to the couple by the Spirit. It is this gift that the couple is called to give back to the Church through participation in her mission. Grounded in the baptismal identity of all Christians, the charism of marriage implies that the baptismal vocation will be taken up in the nuptial and familial life of the couple. Practicing this form of participation in the mission of the Church includes the call to evangelize in real ways, concretely through the social doctrines of the Church. Thus, the charism of marriage should be considered in marriage formation as couples learn to foster their charism and discern its implications in their own lives. We can then consider: If marriage formation was approached as a fostering of charism, how might the identity and role of married persons and their families in the Church evolve? As the charism of marriage implies a mission in marriage, how might this new …

Sacramentality of Time and Pastoral Asceticism of Presence

“Time is precious.” “My time is valuable.” “Time is money.” “Do you have any free time?” We have commodified time. We “spend time,” “save time,” “make time,” “waste time,” “kill time.” Time is the water we swim in, the air we breathe, and so we take it for granted. We forget that it is granted, that it is entrusted to us as a gift that we are to steward and return to our Giver. We have forgotten that the economy of time is woven tightly together with the economy of salvation, “as if,” in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “you could kill time without injuring eternity.”[1] Pastoral ministers of the Church, of all people, should know that we are made for eternity—that, though in time, we are not ruled by time. Yet we, too, live under what Charles Hummel calls “the tyranny of the urgent.”[2] Robert J. Wicks, author of Availability: The Challenge and the Gift of Being Present, writes: Some of us are ‘too available.’ Thus, true availability becomes watered down. We become …

The New Evangelization in Suburban Detroit: A Sociological Case Study

In response to Pope John Paul II’s call for Catholics to implement a New Evangelization (NE) in order to revitalize the Church, parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit have been attempting to implement the NE through the day-to-day efforts of parishioners, lay leaders, and pastors. In particular, beginning around 1992 and gaining momentum from around 2005 to at least 2012, evangelization committees increasingly have been formed in Detroit parishes as part of the broad push of the Catholic Church’s efforts at the NE. Among church leaders, professionals, and academics, it is often taken as common sense that if new ideas or policies need to be implemented, then they should set about the task of informing people through educational efforts. Yet field observations and the theorists I draw upon point in another direction. Rather than educational or implementation efforts guided primarily by rational communication and bureaucratic procedures, I observed affective/emotional communication and practices as more accessible, more widely shared, and as a more effective means of evangelization. In the case study that follows, participant observational methods …