Sunday, August 26, 2012


   Unhappily, the vision of the 21st century Catholic on the, "A 21st CENTURY VISION" page of this blog, shows us more what should be than what will soon be.  The way forward will be hard and long.  To begin with, we have to be clear away three important negatives.

   We can call our vision, "Love One Another." (Jn. 13:34).  Our Catholic faith is our way of living in Christ, who is our Way, our Truth and our Life. (Jn. 14:6).  Vatican II's Constitution on the Church begins with the Latin words,  Lumen gentium.  The council purposely proclaims that Christ (not the church) is the light of the world.  The difference is very important.  We belong first and foremost to God in the Spirit of Christ; secondly to the church.

   Therefore, in obedience to God in the Spirit of Christ, we will not relate to the church on the following terms:

1.  Organizational Corruption
   We will not relate to the church's corrupt, power structure.  Further, as we see in the case of Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia, who is in prison for obeying the corrupt power system, the corrupt power structure is now also criminal.

2.  Theological Stagnation 
    We will not give blind obedience to church leaders, or to anyone. 
    We refuse to accept the medieval, exclusively abstract way of understanding the truth, along with the stubborn refusal to respect contemporary ways to uncover ever-evolving facets of the truth, including the spiritually valid, everyday experiences and discernment of the laity.  
   We reject the moral/spiritual prison into which church leaders have locked themselves by refusing to admit that they were ever wrong in the past or could be wrong now and in the future.

3.  Spiritual Anemia
   We will not relate to any church leader who does not respect our equal baptismal dignity, e.g., as expressed in our personal vocations and in our valid sense of the faith.  
   We decry the absence of effective, adult spiritual formation and prophetic inspiration.  
   We reject the attacks on serious theologians.
   We reject a liturgy that does not inspire us to pray and worship in the full beauty and meaning of our own language.

   We will give assent of our intellect and will to the teachings of church leaders when these teachings are clearly shown to be the teachings of the whole church.  For this to be true, these teachings will have to include the ever-evolving sense of the faith of the entire church, e.g., they will have to include respect for the laity's valid spiritual experiences and discernment, the contributions of leading theologians, and a humble, listening dialogue with today's world.  
   Finally, these teachings will then have to be explained to us in terms that make sense in the conditions of today's world.
   Realistically then, being a 21st century Catholic means living, discerning, prophetic lives, for the most part, alone or in small groups.  In further posts, we will discuss ways to move forward toward realizing the vision.     

   Further Readings:  Click RESPONSIBLE FAITH in the right hand column of this blog.  Then scroll down to the bottom of that page and click, "Blog."  You will find Dr. Don Fausel's excellent article, "Obedience to Authority and Loyal Dissent."  

   Click the SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES page on this blog and go to No. 9, "Obedience."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


   Today, I start a new page, A 21st Century Vision, in which I present a vision of the 21st century Catholic.   

    I invite you to read the vision, meditate on it, and comment on it.  In future posts I will discuss how to move the vision toward realization.  

   And as we pass 12,000 views, now from 44 countries!, thank you for your interest!



Friday, August 10, 2012


   "Think lay."  That's the advice that David J. O'Brien gives us in this week's issue of "America" magazine.  I agree.  The primary mission of the church is to work to save the world in the grace of Christ.  Our Catholic mission starts and ends in our everyday lives in today's society and culture.  We take our everyday lives to the church building to learn about our faith and to offer ourselves and the world to God along with the bread and wine.  And we take Christ from the church building into our society and culture, to uplift and correct them in Christ's grace.  So, as O'Brien says, "Think about the church as it is on a Wednesday morning at 10 rather than on a Sunday morning at 9."

   Today, thinking lay sadly includes not having credible spiritual leadership from the hierarchy in many important moral matters.  But that doesn't have to stop us.  We still have sufficient spiritual knowledge and empowerment to fullfil God's intentions.

   By the power of our baptism and confirmation, and for many, by the sacrament of marriage, we have the ability to discern, to "see" who God wants us and the world to be and become.  We do this first by prayerfully, in fact, contemplatively, looking at our age, sex, culture, personality, talents and opportunities.  These are the factors that make up our personal vocations.  In these ways, we live out our Catholic faith.

   For example, an extrovert will help make the world more luminously human in the grace of Christ, differently from an introvert.  A young person will show Christ's saving grace to the world differently from an old person; a man from a woman; a Latino from an African-American; a German from a Brazilian from a Russian or Japanese or Chinese.  

   Our job is to make God visible and plausible in a society that is generally letting us down in three important ways:  many of our schools are generally failing to teach us how to be truly human; many of our governments are failing to lead us to true social justice; and many of our churches are failing to show us the way to spiritual maturity in today's terms.  So, let's review our spiritual challenge by beginning with the basics.

   The basics start with the fact that we are the image of the One-Triune God.

   As the image of the One God, we are on a journey to complete oneness, e.g., in physical health, educational, social and civic health--in general: toward fulfilling our integrity as humans made luminous by Christ's grace.  Our oneness includes others, the earth and God.

   As the image of God our Creator, we are creative.  We are empowered to creatively put the various "pieces" of our life together, e.g., in school, we put our education together into a living, evolving whole that shows the best human values of knowledge and understanding.  Likewise, we creatively built our marriages, families, communities and nations.  Look, for example, at how much creativity and collaboration NASA put into its new probe on Mars.  We are called to use such creativity and collaboration in the everyday world.

   As the image of God, our Savior, we are healers and peacemakers.  Our American culture tends to be a "crisis" culture."  When things go bad, e.g., an auto accident, a tragedy like 9/11, a random mass killing, we pause from our fast-moving lives to take care of one another.  Our spiritual responsibility is to be healers and peacemakers on a daily basis--to make healing and peacemaking an integral part of our everyday lives.

   As the image of God, the Holy Spirit, we are empowered and responsible to transform the world in the power of the Spirit.  We are not called simply to lament the disorder in our daily lives and world; we are called to actively work to correct them, here and now, and an essential part of the work of saving the world.  
   It is not sufficient merely to ask God to transform the world.  God has already given us the spiritual power to do it ourselves in his grace.  So God's answer to such prayers is, "I have placed the job in your hands.  Use the grace and strength I have given you and will keep giving you!"  As Fr. Daniel Berrigan prays, "Dear God, give us mystics with hands!"

   So, "think lay!"  We already know how to creatively work to bring healing, peace and transformation to ourselves and the everyday world of our personal, social and civic contact and influence.  And we have the power from God to do so.  Certainly, we can and must always learn more--from one another, from professional and spiritual guides, from our faith, and even from the hierarchy, when they speak of these things in a way we can accept as part of our sense of the faith.  

   As I say at the top of this blog, "People are suffering.  Waiting is not an option."  


Thursday, August 2, 2012


   For the past half century, bishops and popes have been struggling with the question of how to interpret Vatican II.  One basic question is, "Did the council represent continuity or did it change the church?"  The answer is, both.  Vatican II retained the church's full, living, evolving continuity and identity, while necessarily changing the way the church sees itself, operates and presents itself to the world outside its borders.

   A major stumbling block to many bishops and the pope and Curia is that to them, any change at all means a change of identity.  And they are obliged to protect and maintain the church's identity.  Yet, simply think of a person looking at photos of him/herself over many years.  The same person is always present, while that person has changed in looks, understanding, maturity and activity. Without these changes, the person's life would have been stagnant and regressive.

   Vatican II did not simply offer suggestions.  It started an historic, Spirit-led movement toward a relevant, spiritually effective church, and it represents the highest level of church teaching, fully meant to be implemented.  Many bishops who went home from the council understood the church's Spirit-led evolution and began the new movement.  Cf. the American bishops' 1980's, openly collaborative documents on the Economy and on Peace, the modernizing of religious life, and Liberation Theology.  If the bishops and religious had been able to continue their work, with the corrections that were necessary and without the Vatican's heavy impediments, the church today could very well be a true People of God, with laity, theologians, priests, religious, bishops and pope openly working together to discern the dynamic presence and intentions of God in and for today's society and culture.  The whole church would be prayerfully and confidently testing the Spirit (1 Jn. 4:1)  in today's terms, and prophetically working to uplift and correct today's world in the Spirit of Christ, without imposing our religion on anyone.

   But Pope Paul VI stumbled badly in 1968 when he refused to accept the overwhelming majority report of the birth control commission, which could persuasively be argued to represent the whole church's sense of the faith in this important matter.  John Paul II often spoke eloquently about Vatican II but in reality pulled the church back to its old, regressive ways, influenced by Cardinal Ratzinger.  Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, held and still holds a negative view of the world, which is causing him to hold back on any respectful, positive dialogue with today's world.  The world that Jesus said hates him is not the everyday world of everyday people, that God loved and loves enough to send Jesus to save it, but the corrosive influence that lives within the everyday world and everyday people.

   Benedict is also disregarding his duty to call the hierarchy to true accountability for their cover-up of the priests' sexual abuse and rape of children.  And many bishops, partly in gratitude for the pope's cover up of their cover up, and partly because they enjoy the power of clericalism, are sheepishly cooperating in the church's regression.  In sum, much of the hierarchy, together with the pope, are operating in some important ways as dissident Catholics.  As a result, people are suffering.

   Twenty-first century Catholics, nevertheless, still enjoy the leadership of the Spirit of Christ, who is dwelling within them and the whole world.  (Cf. Vat. II:  The Church in the Modern World, No. 11).  We should be working closely and openly together with the spiritual leadership of our bishops, effectively helping save the world in the grace of Christ.  But in today's church. that's not possible.  Yet, the Spirit compels us to act.  In the posts that follow, I will discuss some ways we can live under the leadership of the Spirit in today's world, even despite our bishops.