Tag: laity

Future for the US Church? Stop Evangelizing Through the Courts and the Legislature.

Like many, I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic grade school, CCD, youth group, Mass, etc. I even got confirmed a year earlier than I should have. No,…


Like many, I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic grade school, CCD, youth group, Mass, etc. I even got confirmed a year earlier than I should have. No, I wasn’t pious. I just wanted to be confirmed with all my friends and they happened to be older than I. (To this day, I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit used this to my good.) But I didn’t believe in most of it because I didn’t even know what there was to believe.

It wasn’t until I attended a dynamic Catholic college, that I actually began to learn what my faith was all about. In fact, I distinctly recall calling each of my parents and yelling at them because I felt so strongly that something I deserved, namely a knowledge of the faith, had been unfairly withheld from me. (Obviously, knowledge of the faith does not equate necessarily with virtue.)

Since that time, I have been gifted with many unique environments which have helped me to grow in faith and – I hope – in virtue. Sadly, not one of those experiences has taken place within the context of a parish.

Now, I am well aware that many parishes feed not only those hungry in body, but also those hungry in spirit. It’s just that my life hasn’t been shaped directly by those parishes.

Nevertheless, parishes frequently invite me to speak about the difficult teachings of the Catholic Church, particularly when there’s an election or proposed legislation that contradicts a core teaching of the Church.

Here’s the thing. It doesn’t work very well. The problem lies in the fact that, by and large, we are evangelizing through the legislature, the ballots, and the courts. An issue comes up and a small, convicted group will support local Church leadership. Maybe the initiative gets stopped, but it’s only for a while. If we are to have a vibrant future, to be more than a cultural relic, we have to find a way to evangelize that is not issue driven, but Christ centered. Someone who has been evangelized likely will take appropriate civic action. Instead, we often wait until the political issue comes up and then we try to teach what the Church proposes.

It’s backwards. The catechesis and evangelization needed to happen a long time before the ballot initiative, or whatever current catalyst. We can continue in the Church as we have and we’ll be a lovely cultural remnant. NPR will continue to air our sacred music on Sundays, some of us will go to church on occasion, and we’ll probably want the Church for those milestones moments – baptisms, First Communion, marriages, funerals, etc. Or, we can “cast out into the deep,” as St. John Paul II repeatedly encouraged us.

While all of our popes have reiterated the Church’s core teachings, our most recent popes, including Francis, have made clear that the Church is not about issues. She’s about people, their salvation, and their eternal happiness. Recently, I began a new role as Associate Dean of the Augustine Institute’s Orange County campus. This work speaks to my heart because I know that our efforts will change hearts and minds, and therefore the culture. In our Master’s program, we form future leaders and teachers. At the same time we create general faith formation programs, like Symbolon and Beloved. And while I’m partial to our programs, there are certainly other organizations offering good content.

Whatever the program, there are resources to begin faith formation outside of the context of an “issue.” Many, if not all, of these programs can be used in parishes or individually.

So instead of waiting for our hardworking clergy to do all the teaching and heavy lifting, the laity can (and should!) take the initiative, both in the formation of others and in one’s own lifelong school of faith and love in Christ. Cultural relic or dynamic reality. Take your pick. The future is yours.

::Editorial Note:: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on the Future of Catholicism in America. Read other perspectives here.

Image is “Chartres Saint-Aignan3800” by Reinhardhauke – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here is a more complete rendition –  508px-Chartres_Saint-Aignan3800

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Is Francis a Liberal or a Conservative?

Ideologues of all kinds have been trying to figure out Pope Francis for over a year now. Many, if not most, are still trying to fit him into their own…

Ideologues of all kinds have been trying to figure out Pope Francis for over a year now. Many, if not most, are still trying to fit him into their own boxes. But try as they might, he can’t be stuffed into a box.

Archbishop Chaput gave a recent talk for the Napa Institute in which he explains quite clearly how Pope Francis is simply Catholic. He’s not a liberal. He’s not a conservative. And if you consider him only through the lens of one of these categories (which are not two, but a vast multitude, depending on a variety of social and cultural factors), you won’t understand him.

In order to understand Pope Francis, it helps to first understand the saint whose name he took. Contrary to some popular beliefs, St. Francis was not a 13th century hippie. Archbishop Chaput begins his talk with this clarification:

I’m a Capuchin Franciscan, and I’ve often found that people think of Francis of Assisi as a kind of 13th-century flower child. St. Francis was certainly “countercultural,” but only in his radical obedience to the Church and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully — including poverty and all of its other uncomfortable demands. Jesus, speaking to him from the cross of San Damiano, said, “Repair my house.”  I think Pope Francis believes God has called him to do that as pope, as God calls every pope.  And he plans to do it in the way St. Francis did it.

Pope Francis took the name of the saint of Christian simplicity and poverty. As he has said, he wants “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he grounded this goal in Jesus Christ, “who became poor and was always close to the poor and the outcast” (186). That’s a very Franciscan idea.

Just to clarify, the Church may in fact handle large sums of money. But it’s not for the purpose of growing her coffers. It pours the money into services for people of all backgrounds and situations. It’s sort of a pouring out of the Church herself.
The Archbishop notes:

What concretely does Francis believe about economic justice? He has never offered his systematic thoughts about it or the policies that promote it.  And, frankly, we can sense some ambiguity in his thinking. When he calls for a better distribution of wealth among social classes, he doesn’t say how this should be done and what a proper distribution would look like or who will decide who gets what. But he’d probably say that he’s giving us the principles of a rightly ordered social and economic life as the Catholic Church understands them, and that the Church gives to laypeople, and especially those called to public service, the job of best applying those principles in each nation. [Emphasis mine.]

Did you read that carefully? It’s not the job of Church leadership to come up with economic policies. That’s the role of the laity. Because of our various roles in the world, we are better suited to that work.

It’s one thing if we as individual lay Catholics subscribe to specific political, social, and economic theories. In fact, we probably should have some ideas about our beliefs in these areas. But simply because we as individuals happen to believe in something doesn’t mean that it is necessarily Catholic or that it fits with the Pope’s thinking. He may have even left it us, as Catholic lay people to come up with the answers.

To that end, I refer you to my fellow blogger Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s interesting post on whether Catholic social doctrine is a set of guidelines.

And do be sure to read the entirety of Archbishop Chaput’s talk as I haven’t come close to doing it justice in this short post.





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