All posts filed under: Essays

Formed in Wonder, Love, and Praise

If you were to survey members of a Roman Catholic congregation as they exited the church after Sunday Mass by asking what facet of the celebration made the greatest impact on them that day for good or for ill, odds are high that many of those surveyed (if not most) would name the liturgical music in their response. More than any other element (with perhaps the exception of preaching and the architecture of the church itself), liturgical music has the greatest capacity to shape how we celebrate the Sunday Mass week in and week out, season after season, year after year. Ask those same congregation members if they can remember the readings or a central point from the homily and it’s likely you won’t get an answer; ask them if they can remember one of the hymns and it’s likely you’ll get a serenade. Many parish communities view the music of its liturgies as a hallmark of their identity; many people seeking parish communities often site music as one of the reasons for or against …

A Process of Evangelization in San Miguel of Guatemala

This essay makes a contribution to the sociology of evangelism or evangelization by first clarifying the basic concepts of proselytism, church growth, conversion, and spiritual transformation. The essay will use the example of a Guatemalan parish, which uses the SINE program (Sistema Integral de Nueva Evangelización). SINE was created by Fr. Alfonso Navarro of Mexico in the early 1980s.[1] The SINE program is followed by more than a thousand parishes in Central America, Mexico, and the South of the United States. Let me begin with a question of terminology. Evangelism is understood as the desire to evangelize, while evangelization is taken as the process, strategy, and structure of evangelizing. This distinction was formulated by the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974.[2] In practice, many Protestants use the term evangelism as both the desire to evangelize and as the process of evangelizing, while Catholics often use evangelization for both. For the purpose of clarification and scholarly ecumenism, I will use evangelism as the desire to evangelize and evangelization as a structure, in …

Editorial Musings: Sacramental Formation in a Secular Age

In early 1950s Rome, two women—a biblical scholar and a Montessori-trained educator—began the great catechetical experiment known as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In a way, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi’s partnership is a kind of model for the mission of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, where we strive to nourish the Catholic imagination for the renewal of the Church. As a scholar of biblical languages steeped in ressourcement theology, Sofia Cavalletti never intended to tend souls in the garden of religious formation. Yet, through her unlikely collaboration with Gianna Gobbi, which spanned over half a century, she developed a method of catechesis rooted in the retrieval of the tradition that takes seriously the exigencies and dignity of children. They shared a commitment to the education of the whole person and an unwavering faith in the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ, which is unleashed in Scripture and Sacrament. Indeed, the catechetical method Cavalletti and Montessori developed serves as an icon of the kind of sacramental catechesis needed to nourish the imagination and …

Editorial Musings: Nourishing the Imagination, Renewing the Church

As I write this week’s editorial musings, the McGrath Institute for Church Life is engaged in final preparations for our annual summer programming. We will welcome to the University of Notre Dame liturgical and sacramental catechists, facilitators of our online theological education program, youth and campus ministers, high school students, young adults, teachers of science and religion, priests from around the country, and master’s students preparing to work in ministry in the Church. Our summer programming functions as a kind of sacramental sign of the Institute’s mission in the Church. Through nourishing the Catholic imagination of those ministers with whom we partner, we seek to renew the life of the Church. The language of imagination and renewal has been chosen with great care. The imagination is not a matter of mere fancy, engaging in a “make-believe” world. The imagination is that capacity that we have as human beings to see the world anew through the images and narratives that nourish us. As James K.A. Smith writes about the formation of the imagination: . . . we …

Building the Theandric City: Liturgy and the Consummation of Humanity

In the beginning, God placed human beings in the world and commanded them to build a city. Before the Fall, that city had already been born. The city is the mode of humankind’s communal, liturgical, and economic life in the world, and its essence was contained in the telos given by God to humanity—to rule and to use the world justly, to tend the garden, to name the world, and to fill it with images of God. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28)—these are God’s first words to humanity, the exordium of the blessing that gave to them the entire world.[1] All the just elements of the village, the town, and the city are simply an unfolding of this primordial mission. God made human beings a political animal, ruling and using the world in community. As creatures of both body and soul, they were also the mediators between God and matter. This was to be a priestly polis. By craft, speech, and relationship, humankind would integrate all people …

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 …