All posts tagged: Catholic education

Confronting a Sinful Church

“For our good and the good of all his holy Church.”[1] Even seven years after the new translation of the Roman Missal, I will occasionally stumble over this response if I am not concentrating. However, over the past months as the disturbing reports about now-laicized Cardinal McCarrick and the horrific details from the Pennsylvania grand jury report have come to light, the word “holy” has sometimes stuck in my throat at Mass—not because I am lacking sufficient attention but for precisely the opposite reason. In the wake of this ongoing scandal, I heard from longtime Catholic friends who feel misled, angry, and/or betrayed. One friend, so disturbed by the sordid tales of systematic abuse and cover-up by Pennsylvania clergy released last August, as well as her by own parish’s inability to respond, quietly left her pew in the middle of Mass for the door. As Catholics struggle to move forward by supporting victims, pressing for meaningful reforms, and trying to hold together a faith under siege by corruption, our liturgy functions as a double-edged sword. …

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 Catholic Resistance to Corporatized College

In 1986, Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay with the long title, “How Christian Universities Contribute to the Corruption of Youth: Church and University in a Confused Age,”[1] reminiscent of the accusation against Socrates, but ultimately siding with the Athens of our day. This came to mind as I was recently teaching Marx’s Manifesto and reflected upon our academic penchant for turning Marx outward rather than towards our own sacred cows, so to speak. What should we find were we to turn his critique against the realm of higher education as many of us experience it today? We need not be Marxists of the orthodox persuasion, of course, but at least use him as a jumping off point. Some thin description of the college experience is necessary first. Somewhere in the United States, let us say Idaho, a young person receives to great joy their college acceptance letter and, close on its heels, a letter regarding either discounts to tuition or loans which will sum to a rather large number by the end of their college …

Discipleship Isn’t as Exciting as Youth Ministry Makes It Seem

At first glance, ministry to young people in the United States is flourishing. In high school youth ministry, American Catholics attend national programs including the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), the Steubenville and Lifeteen conferences, and mission trips. Young adult ministry, although underfunded, is active in many American dioceses. Over the course of a year, young adults can attend frequent theologies on tap, go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or walk the Camino, attend weekly Mass with one’s peers, and go to World Youth Day. To a disinterested observer, the path toward renewing youth and young adult ministry is nothing more radical than investing even more in such programming. The success of such ministry, at the same time, carries the seeds of its own destruction. Ministry to young people in the United States relies almost entirely on the transformative power of events. The individual is personally moved through an encounter with a colossal number of young people actively practicing faith such as at NCYC; a walk on the Camino, which produces a religious …

The Catholic Imaginings of Jimmy Buffett

This little song sort of combines a hangover cure and fourteen years of Catholic education into a song; it’s a little bit weird, but it sort of works out.[1] Jimmy Buffett, the king of “drunk Caribbean rock and roll music,” may seem like an unlikely person to be an example of the Catholic imagination. In his music, merchandise, restaurants, and resorts, Buffett revels in escapism and pleasure, giving license to hedonsim and letting it run amok. He has accrued a tremendous amount of wealth through these endeavors and cultivated a devoted following, known as Parrotheads. Indeed, he would seem to be the Evangelist for just the kind of leisure recently criticized by Paul Griffiths. Buffett peddles the side of leisure (otium) decried by St. Augustine too in his City of God as delight in “lazy inactivity” (iners vacatio).[2] Buffett’s incredible success, however, bespeaks in his fans an instinctual dissatisfaction with the demands of modern work and a desire to get away, to escape and have a good time, to have fun. Jimmy Buffett has been …

Catholic Education and the Market’s Technocratic Paradigm

  I was recently in Scotland for a meeting of the Association of Catholic Institutes of Education (ACISE). As an organization, ACISE focuses on the interrelationship between religion and education primarily within European society. As a body, it exists to respond to the so-called “technocratic paradigm” that seems to have attached itself to educational institutions throughout the world. Such a technocratic paradigm reduces the act of education to learning outcomes and goals provided by the state, forgetting to form students in the dispositions of wonder, hope, critical inquiry, and a religious humanism that has marked the Western educational patrimony for generations. As an American interloper in the conversation, I experienced a bit of cultural disorientation. The American system of education has so radically separated religion and the state that it was nearly inconceivable for me to imagine a world in which the state determined the religious curriculum of the school. Yet, throughout Europe, as secularization continues particularly among the social elite, there is a sense that religious education is under attack by the state itself. …

MacIntyre on What’s Sinking Catholic Education

There is a university chapel in Washington State that always makes me think it could be easily converted into a low-key Starbucks café. It would not be the most architecturally interesting Starbucks, but it would do. It would make money. The university that houses the chapel is well-known for stressing its identity as formed by a brand name religious order, rather than being “Catholic.” I used to think this distinction was hyperbole, rather than actual practice. But then a friend told me that an acquaintance of his who is a recruiter for that very university tells its recruits that the university “is x, and not Catholic.”[1] I’ve withheld names because there is no reason to single out an institution when this pattern is all too familiar in Catholic universities.[2] I mention this because Tim O’Malley briefly proposed in “Letting the Imagination Out to Play” that the rejuvenation of the Catholic liturgical imagination will take place through Catholic institutions of higher education: Yes, of course, the Church needs to put aside money to this process. To …

Catholic Culture in the Classroom

Last summer I took a course on Catechesis and how to approach the work of sharing the Gospel through education. At some point during the course I was confronted with the question, “What is the culture of my classroom?” I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Initially, I thought about the experience my students have in my class, the generally positive student evaluations I receive, the comfortable relationships I have with the vast majority of my students. Then I thought about what my classroom actually looks like and how that informs the cultural milieu of the class: plenty of crucifixes, icons, and religious art, some Notre Dame swag (pennants and such), and half the Ignatius Press catalog on my bookshelf. Then I realized I have a rather shallow understanding of culture. In Truth and Tolerance, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that culture “has to do with perceptions and values. It is an attempt to understand the world and the existence of man with it . . . guided by the fundamental interest of our existence.”[1] …

Telling the Story in Teaching Religion

My constant beef with middle school religion textbooks: There is no story. They just contain a hodge-podge of information strung together. Even when a particular grade level’s book has a theme, the chapters still follow each other like a gaudy striped scarf instead of a tapestry that weaves a picture. In one unit of seventh grade, the chapters cover giving alms and St. Francis, the Eucharist, the two great commandments, and then the raising of Lazarus. Now, these are all areas ripe for discussion, which I would love to share with my seventh grade students. However, a random bunch of topics is not memorable. It is not relevant. It leads to students asking questions like, “Am I ever going to need to know any of this?” and “Why are we learning this?” and “How do we even know any of this is true, anyway?” At the beginning of Unit 3 (not ideal, but better late than never) I finally attempted to give all three grades some context. I talked about the story of salvation: God’s …

The Catholic Imagination in the Classroom

My students have grown accustomed to their senses being bombarded with stimulation. They find it difficult, as do I, to cut off from the noise of the fast-paced world swirling around them. Too often, the media that falls in their lap, or rather pops up on their screen, is less than hopeful. It portrays a cold world where nothing is certain, only hard facts and “science” can be trusted, and faith must be kept at arm’s length, as all superstitions should. This worldview, in my opinion, is causing an existential crisis among our students before they even enter high school. This environment does nothing to help me as a teacher of theology to nourish the Catholic imagination of my students, a task I feel is at the center of my work as a catechist. In this world, a sacramental view is seen as foolish at best and willful ignorance at worst. This hermeneutic of skepticism makes it nearly impossible for conventional approaches to catechesis to break through the noise and open their eyes and ears …