US Catholic Faith in Real Life

My greatest hope

In 2008 U.S. Catholic asked 17 prominent Catholics to reflect on their hopes for the church.

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Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. on the church in the world

People all over this globe, with all their racial and cultural differences, have to learn to live together in peace and work for the common good of all. My hope would be that the church would show by example how people of different cultures and races can respect one another’s legitimate differences and live as a creative global organism.

Since globalization is here to stay, some group has to model what a positive future would look like when people of diverse races and cultures live together in peace and support each other in their common aspirations.

We must ask how we will act as a truly “catholic” or “universal” church. If we can show how that should be done, we will help the whole of the future of this globe and life on it in the next century.

To do this we, as a church, have to witness unity in diversity. Such a witness will be effective and influential on other bodies in the world only if we as a church learn how to respect local identity by an increase in subsidiarity while maintaining a strong center that brings all the divergent groups together, acts as a source of healing and bonding, and stimulates creative solutions to the multiple problems that globalization brings, especially to the poorer nations and disadvantaged people among us.

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland is the archbishop of Milwaukee.

Sister Mary Luke Tobin, S.L. on spirituality

Two current experiences inspire my hope for future spirituality.

For the past nine years, I have participated in a small group that reflects on the gospel reading for the following Sunday, searching together for what Jesus calls us to do, for ways to carry out the gospel’s challenge both as individuals and as a community. The shared insights from this evening remain with me for the week, enriching my prayer, motivating my attitudes, inspiring me to actions for justice and peace. And so I cherish the dream that our spirituality will be ever more deeply grounded in the words and deeds of Jesus.

Second, along with many others, I have adopted the habit of reflecting on the saint of each day as portrayed in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints (Crossroad, 1997). That volume, along with others, such as Susan Bergman’s Martyrs: Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith (Orbis Books, 1998), invites us to follow the long line of God’s holy ones not only through past centuries but also during the modern period and forward into the start of a new millennium. I cherish the dream that pondering these lives will energize our hearts to a courageous and hope-filled spirituality.

Finally, I trust that Catholic spirituality of the future will always be characterized by openness—to appreciation for all of creation, to ecumenical influences, to Eastern thought, to feminist insights, to the call of the poor, to the mysticism in our tradition. I cherish the dream of a faithful openness to the Spirit in our spirituality.

Sister Mary Luke Tobin, S.L. is a noted spiritual leader, feminist, and peace activist in Nerinx, Kentucky.

Father Joseph A. Brown, S.J. on sacraments

When I dream about the role of sacraments in our church, my heart and mind go back to the vision of Jesus concerning the “right sort” of guests to be included in the banquet.

A community must be called into existence for any of the sacraments to be grounded in our lives. Initiation into what? Sharing the meal with whom? Reconciliation in order to be restored where? Anointing for stewardship and service for whom? And becoming a spirit-legacy for whose children and descendants?

When the family who has been gathered from the “streets, alleys, and hedgerows” asks for dedicated stewards of our gifts, when we ask for those who will undertake the witnessing and the giving of testimony to the present and the future, we have made the church into a feasting place.

And my hope? I want the sacraments to matter. I want the church—the haphazard, stumbling, foolish, and determined collection of children, sinners, saints, and servants—to be engaged in making room at the welcome table for everyone God sends to us. It’s a meal to which we are all worthy, simply because we have been invited. Sacraments should help us learn and teach that lesson, always and everywhere, every day.

Father Joseph A. Brown, S.J. is the director of Black American studies at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Father Robert Barron on scripture

In the next millennium, we must resist the tyranny of historical criticism! When I was moving through the seminary and graduate school, biblical study basically meant historical-critical analysis. We read the revealed texts from a literary standpoint (discerning genre and style), from a historical standpoint (determining what “really” happened), and from the angle of redactor (teasing out the theological aims of the author). All of this is important, but it becomes distorting and problematic when it is imposed as the only valid lens of interpretation.

Hans Urs von Balthasar observed that two opposing theories of science battled in the 18th century, the first associated with Newton and the second with Goethe. Newtonian science was strictly rational, analytical, and aggressively experimental. It compelled nature to respond to the questions that the researcher thought important. Goethean science, on the other hand, was poetic, intuitive, and, above all, contemplative.

The historical-critical approach to the Bible is Newtonian. It must be balanced by a Goethean contemplation of the Bible in its natural setting of prayer, worship, and soul transformation. After raising our own questions, we should let the Bible question us.

Father Robert Barron is assistant professor of systematic theology at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

Sharon Daly on social ministry

My greatest hope for the church’s social ministry is for our legislative advocacy to become as effective as our charity.

Cardinal John O’Connor’s motto, “There can be no charity without justice,” points out that we cannot say we love the poor while we tolerate injustice. Imagine a Catholic community that fully embraced that ideal!

Catholics understand the scriptural injunction to “open your hands,” but the verse from Proverbs to “open your mouths on behalf of the voiceless ... defend the needy and the poor!” is less accepted. Giving to the poor is charity, while speaking out for the poor is “politics.” How can we share the idea that charity is what we give over and above what the poor are owed in justice?

Through the Incarnation we learn to see Christ in the suffering poor: the homeless man, the battered woman, the abandoned child. The church mobilizes donations and volunteers to provide bags of groceries and cots for the night for millions of people working every day at low wages; we should organize as effectively to get them an adequate and fair minimum wage. We recruit volunteer physicians and nurses for the uninsured; we must work as hard to get them real health insurance.

Sharon Daly is vice president for social policy at Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, Virginia.

Father John J. Wall on priestly ministry

When I was studying to be a priest, I took an extra year before ordination to make sure that priesthood was what I was called to do with my life. This was in the 1960s, when Catholics were beginning to embrace the theology of the Second Vatican Council. Catholics were learning that the primary way to live the Christian life is to invest yourself in the domestic, social, public, and cultural issues of the day. All around us people were saying that we had to take the secular seriously.

I had several conversations with Msgr. Dan Cantwell, a remarkable priest in Chicago, about whether I should continue on the path to priesthood when it was now so exciting to be a layperson in the church.

Finally one day he told me, “Jack, I can't tell you what to do in terms of following your vocation. But the one thing I can tell you is: Don’t become a priest unless you are totally dedicated to the vocation of the layperson, to Christian women and men and their responsibility to transform human life.”

Ordained priesthood makes sense only to the extent that it’s in and with and for the priesthood of the laity. The danger of any moment in the history of ordained ministry is clericalism—focusing the meaning of priesthood back onto itself.

My hope for the future is that there will be people who will believe in that vision. Priesthood is there to do all it can to connect lay women and men with the God-rootedness in each of their lives. That's why we gather as church—not to separate ourselves from the world, but to be energized and inspired to live in life-transforming ways.

Father John J. Wall is pastor of Old St. Patricks Church in Chicago.

Father Thomas P. Sweetser, S.J. on parish life

Priesthood will be the first issue facing Catholic parishes in the next century.

I hope that the criteria for ordination change soon, because if they don’t, many parish communities may be destroyed and Catholics will have their rights to the Eucharist denied.

But opening up the requirement for priesthood is not the only change that will be necessary for parishes. How can the image of the local church become more inviting to the youth, the inactive, and those on the fringe of parish life? It will mean bringing the parish to the people and not the people to the parish.

My hope is that parish staff will concentrate more on marginal Catholics. Those who do attend church regularly will have to be challenged to become the connectors to alienated and inactive parishioners. Parishes will need a more fluid structure that is responsive to a variety of needs and desires. The alternative is to become a religion for the “saved” that is closed to the very people who can provide new life and direction to the parish. It is the people on the fringe who will tell us how to become a new church in the 21st century.

Father Thomas P. Sweetser, S.J. is the director of the Parish Evaluation Project in Milwaukee.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. on theology

Before Vatican II, American Catholic theology had a Roman character. Immediately after Vatican II, inspiration switched from Rome to Germany as U.S. scholars discovered the riches of Rahner, Barth, Bultmann, Balthasar, Tillich, and many others.

Now another development is unexpectedly changing the face of theology. The majority of theological students in advanced degrees are laypeople, not clergy; many are women; some belong to minority groups. The locations where they are learning theology also has shifted from seminaries to universities, both Catholic and secular.

The outcome of these changes is not totally clear. But they make my hopes for a future American theology soar. It will be a vital theology spoken by many new voices: by lay as well as ordained, by married as well as celibate, by women as well as men, and by Hispanic American, African American, and Asian American as well as European American citizens.

These theologians will live in active engagement with the daily life of the church, so that grassroots experience fertilizes their thinking. Consequently, it will be theology done in a genuine American idiom, allowing a pluralistic church’s various experiences of God to nourish the interpretation of the great Catholic heritage.

Finally, my dearest hope is that this coming theology will serve the world church by its emphasis on American themes of equality and justice for all, so that the least among us can benefit.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J. is distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University in New York.

Father Richard N. Fragomeni on the Eucharist

The celebration of the Eucharist will open hearts to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that will transform the community into a new being: the image and likeness of God.

The eucharistic assembly will know no division. All members will live in communion. From this depth, mercy will flow and the world will be made fresh in love.

The disciples of Christ will know that to be a eucharistic people means more than ritual observance. They will know that it means to give thanks and praise, always and everywhere. In doing this, they themselves will become the point of God’s entry into history: an exchange place of humanity and divinity.

Then, on that day, the community of faith will be fully, actively, and consciously receptive to the gift that can never be reciprocated, only received and passed on.

Father Richard N. Fragomeni is associate professor of liturgy and homiletics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, C.M.F. on the church and the poor

I dream of a church that will give up its power, status, privilege, and exclusivity, a church that will consider the reign of God the essence of its being and mission, the criterion for all its lines of action, the passion for its pastoral work, and the mystical core of its spirituality.

I dream of a church that will truly opt for the poor—through its actions, persons, structures, programs, and life. This church will understand this option as the essence of the gospel and the trademark of the true church. A constant prophetic attitude will energize its social ministry, the commitment of Christians, citizenship, politics, popular movements, solidarity, the effort to overcome the rift between faith and life and between private morality and socioeconomic amorality.

I dream of a church, then, that will be in the world as one that serves, one that adopts the great causes of humanity as its own: peace, migrations, international human rights, land reform, ecology, health, education, youth . . . and life itself.

Let it be, let us be—laity, clergy, religious, and hierarchy—a church of radical fidelity engaged in the dialogue of prophecy and mercy, witness, and hospitality. May we always offer these gifts freely and be open to the pains, problems, and hopes of the people and stand with them at the margin.

Let us experience the mystery of the God-with-us, our being children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, C.M.F. is the bishop of São Félix do Araguaia in Brazil.

William Droel on the role of the laity

We laity must, as the Second Vatican Council insisted, shoulder our baptismal responsibility to be the church in service to the modern world. We must come to appreciate the religious significance of participation in public life; of work in offices, shops, and factories; and of marriage and parenting. We must excise from our thinking and our behavior any notion of parallel lives, that is, a so-called spiritual life and a so-called secular life.

In particular, tomorrow’s laity must resist the temptation to despise culture. Evil in the world is no reason to take shelter in what is called a “pure Catholicism.”

Indeed, evil is all the more reason to get involved in the messy details of professional associations, of union locals, of community organizations, of certification and review committees, of precinct politics, of management teams, and more.

Young adults must come to see Catholicism not as a marginal, mostly private matter but as a meaning system that supports and challenges them as they plunge headlong into the worlds of commerce, politics, art, science, and education.

William Droel is a board member of the National Center for the Laity and an instructor and campus minister at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois.

Msgr. John J. Egan on interfaith action

After I “went it alone” in fighting the University of Chicago on their urban-renewal project in 1958, I resolved that never again would I attempt any work or program without it being an interfaith project. And so we established the Interreligious Council on Urban Affairs, where I worked together with the Chicago Church Federation and the Board of Rabbis on urban problems. It was a successful venture.

In all my years of working as a priest, I often dreamed of the opportunities for interfaith work. It was, therefore, with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction that I attended the 1997 gathering of 10,000 people that launched the community-organizing network United Power for Action and Justice.

There were large delegations of Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews—whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians. Some of the most important religious leaders in the city, including Cardinal Francis George, were present, giving their support, affirmation, and resources to this new venture.

Because the 21st century will certainly be the time when the laity in the church will have more and engaging work to do in and for the church, it is crucial that they learn to work as church people in the world.

That is one reason why their efforts in an organization like United Power are so very important. They learn to cooperate with people of various religious faiths, cultures, and backgrounds. They will also learn the value of Catholic social teaching and be able through example to put it into practice.

In the Chicago area today, just as in every city in the United States, if the social-justice agenda is to be successful, it must be done on an ecumenical and interfaith basis. This is true now and will be absolutely essential in the 21st century.

Msgr. John J. Egan, a longtime Catholic activist, is the director of the Office for Community Affairs at DePaul University in Chicago.

Dolores Curran on family life

My greatest hope for Catholic family life in the new millennium:

Seeing God in every face and committing ourselves to:
A livable income for every family
Love for every child
An end to racism
A healthy and safe environment
Making all schools good schools
Equality and justice for all
Peace and forgiveness to all
A deep trust in a loving God
that together we can do it.

Dolores Curran lectures and writes on family life and parenting from Littleton, Colorado.

Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb on church renewal

I have a habit of referring to the church, whether local or universal, as “our family of faith.” The specific aspects of renewal within the church are not unlike what happens when a family renews itself.

If, somehow, as a result of celebrating the new millennium, we can recognize the gift of God’s love in our life as an essential element that defines us, such common ground could change us, in fact, into the one body that Christ promised. God’s love through Christ would touch us to ease tensions and erase debilitating divisions.

The truly important thing that unites us would emerge as so operative in our lives that it would ease our insecurity about the “otherness” of those family members who are not in lockstep with all our views and actions. The perspective of belonging to each other because we belong to God first would lead us to new levels of acceptance and trust.

The recognition of our essential happiness, then, because of who we are, independent of what we might have or might achieve, would moderate an inordinate need to possess things and accumulate power. This would free us up to give more unselfish attention to those things that are always necessary for the good of family.

And the family of faith, the church, deeply convinced and empowered by the universal fatherhood of God, will be touched by a new fervor for those members of the family to pray and work that “all may be one” in keeping with the Father’s promise and the gift of unity in Christ.

Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb is the archbishop of Mobile, Alabama. He also chairs the Catholic Common Ground Initiative.

Alex García-Rivera on devotion

The antidote to the information age is not to give us more information but to allow us to respond to the presence of God through acts of praise and devotion.

My hope for the future is that theologians, liturgists, bishops, parish priests, and other leaders will articulate God, the church, and the sacraments with a greater appreciation of art, beauty, and aesthetics.

This includes putting less emphasis on speaking, hearing, and reading and more on seeing and doing. Today when you walk into a church, one of the first things you get is a missalette and a bunch of printed music or directions on how to do the liturgy for the day. The other dimension of the liturgy—the motion of getting up, kneeling, crossing yourself, processing—is subordinated to all that paper stuff.

I believe that songs and responses should be kept to a minimum so people have a chance to learn the words and thus be able to concentrate on the action of the liturgy. The less we are able to concentrate on the action of the liturgy the less we are able to find the intellectual and emotional response to the presence of God there with us.

At the Good Friday liturgy in my parish we concentrate on the movements of the liturgy—beginning with the Seven Words, which we sing in various languages, and flowing through the drama of the crucifixion, the burial of Jesus, and ending with the pésame. In the pésame, the grieving Mother Mary sits with the body of her dead son while people go to the altar to place a flower on the body of Christ and commiserate with his mother. Three hundred people have tears in their eyes, and it is the action of the liturgy that moved their hearts, not the words.

Alex García-Rivera is associate professor of systematic theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

Father Richard A. McCormick, S.J. on moral theology

My greatest hope for moral theology is that it will respond to the needs of the times. It will be:

1) Open. The church is a world church. “Open” does not mean unstructured, unsystematic, or dispassionate. In the American church, openness means a willingness to listen to what all Catholics have to say.

2) Ecumenical. It must take seriously the activity of the Spirit in other Christian and non-Christian churches

3) Insight-oriented. We should aim for an approach that views deeper understanding—not conclusions or rules of conduct—as the primary challenge of moral theology.

4) Collegial. Moral theology must be informed by the experience and reflection of all those with a true competence.

5) Honest. A “theology” rigged to justify given authoritative positions merits the quotation marks I have used.

6) Scientifically informed.

7) Adult. The moral theology of the future must take personal responsibility seriously, both in developing moral convictions and in applying them. The older paternalism is dead.

8) Realistic. Past experience has taught us to beware of systems and authors that claim to have all the answers. A realistic theology will readily admit the limits of human concepts and verbal tolls and not be upset with zones of ambiguity and uncertainty.

9) Catholic and catholic. The moral theology of the future must be proud enough of and loyal enough to its heritage to be critical of it in ways that make it more challenging to and meaningful for the non-Catholic world and prevent it from becoming comfortably or defensively sectarian.

10) Centered on Christ. A Catholic moral theology that is not centered on Christ had better change its name.

Father Richard A. McCormick, S.J. is the John A. OBrien professor emeritus of Christian ethics at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Father Leonard J. Brown, C.M.F. on religious life

The first Pentecost was experienced by just a small band of believers who were set on fire with God’s love. Although we may be experiencing diminishing numbers and advancing age, religious communities are now on the brink of a new Pentecost, a moment when we can be once again set afire with abundant love.

The hallmark of our life must be our relationship with God and our relationships with God’s people. Most religious communities were founded to serve a very immediate and specific need of the poor, for example, in hospitals, schools, missions, and direct service. When we embrace anew the vision of our various founders, our lives will be purposeful and compelling.

My hope, then, is that we may sustain ourselves for mission and remain faithful to our religious commitments. To do so we will need to be open to new forms of religious life, new styles of ministry, and new arenas for serving the poor. I am confident that the Spirit will lead as we approach this century.

Father Leonard J. Brown, C.M.F. is the provincial of the Eastern Province USA of the Claretian Missionaries.