5 Things to Read for Thinking Catholics

“It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we have begun to understand it better … the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity to look far ahead.”Pope John XXIII

On Oct. 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII (“Good Pope John”) opened the Second Vatican Council. As American Catholics look at where we’ve been and where we want Vatican II to take us in the future, I offer this reading list below.

We are at a time ripe with conversion and energy around new ways to be Catholic that are vital for our world today. While current Vatican leadership is practicing “Curial conservatism,” fleeing backwards into the dimming halls of time, the laity continue to lean forward into “aggiornamento,” as Pope John XXIII put it, updating the modes of our faith to match the desperate needs in our world. We are taking up the Resurrection banner and carrying it forward into a world in need of the sacramental life Catholicism has to offer.

Here are 5 articles and books that are important reading for today’s Vatican II Catholics:

1. Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics by Tom Reese, SJ
Not all Catholics agree with the Church all the time, and Tom Reese, S.J., will tell you there is no point in denying it. Questioning is not, however, something most Catholics undertake lightly. These disagreements are often born out of conscience, of genuinely believing in the faith while believing equally something that is at odds with the accepted teachings of the Church. Reese, the former editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, delivered this lecture in 2006 at Santa Clara University, outlining his strategies for Catholics who think, question, doubt, debate, and disagree. I hear he’s working on turning it into a book.

2. The final interview with Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who died in August 2012. Corriere della Sera published the original interview on Sept. 1 and Commonweal offered this translation. Martini says that the Catholic Church is 200 years behind the times and called for it to recognize its mistakes and embark on a radical journey of change. He says the wealthy Church in Europe and America is worn-out. “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.” He calls for the sacraments to be a channel for healing, “not a tool for discipline.” Cardinal Martini’s short reflections remind us that there is a prophetic tradition in the church that still functions at the highest levels, even when it is obscured.

3. Navigating the Shifts by Sr. Pat Farrell, osf. This is Sr. Pat’s address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in 2012. She cogently outlines where some of the fault lines are in contemporary Catholicism, what is the American genius that we offer to the universal church, and how to move forward with disciplined wisdom. I think these are the nonviolent “marching orders” for the American Catholic liberation movement.

4. Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology by Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ. On the rare occasions when I meet up with leading Catholic writers and thinkers, I always try to ask one question: Who is doing the most important biblical or theological work right now? More often than not they give me one name: Elizabeth Johnson. A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, New York, Beth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. Consider Jesus is a short, very accessible introduction to the critical theological questions of our time and why some theological questions are important to engage for our spiritual maturity.

5. Prophets In Their Own Country: Women Religious Bearing Witness to the Gospel in a Troubled Church by Sandra Schneiders, IHM. Based on her brilliant series of articles published in The National Catholic Reporter, these reflections on religious life were inspired by the Vatican’s announcement of an “Apostolic Visitation” of U.S. women religious from 2009-2011. Schneiders articulates anew the meaning of religious life, the biblical theology underlying it, the reasons for the renewal undertaken after Vatican II, and the forms of apostolic religious life that have developed since. While this book addresses an issue for Catholic women’s communities in the U.S., it is addressed to all Vatican II Catholics. She begins to frame a new form of ministry within the Catholic church–one not based on “monastic/apostolic mission” but instead on “prophetic ministry.”

What else would you add?
*Pacem in Terris, Pope John’s masterpiece encyclical
*The Good Pope by Greg Tobin — easy-to-read history of John XXIII and his work to call and open the second Vatican Council before his death from stomach cancer.

2 thoughts on “5 Things to Read for Thinking Catholics”

  1. My wife and I married each other 25 years ago in Bogota, Colombia. After 12 years in sacramental ministry as an ordained Catholic priest, I then began a whole new sacred journey of life with Marietta, the love of my life. She who is my best friend and soul mate. Thanks be to God, we now have two wonderful young adult children in our life together. These three loving persons, with whom I share my life today are the vital inspiration and motivation for every breath I take, every dream I have for the world and its many splendoured beauty.
    The energy and vision of Vatican II has guided me through these past 50 years: 21 formative years within a religious community known as the Passionists and 25 years in the Sacrament of marriage and family life have shaped my spirituality and my growing conviction that God is preparing a great banquet for all of creation and we are to invite the whole world to share in it. We are called to act with justice, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God.
    Thanks for offering this list of 5 things to ponder as we join the wonderful and wise vision of Good Pope John: “…the moment has come to discern the signs of the times, to seize the opportunity to look far ahead.”

  2. Thank God for the few remaining Vatican II priests and religious in our lives, and for these clarion calls to recover the direction of V2. We are in a faith sharing group that will want to read one or all of these books. When my wife and I married 44 years ago (she is from a Catholic Worker family and I am an Episcopalian), we were elated with the direction of the church (not capitalized on purpose), and felt like we were on the cutting edge of the church in the world. It’s been very hard to see just how dull that edge has become in the last 44 years.

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