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.

LCWR: ‘Can’t Hold Back The Spring’

Sr. Pat Farrell

The historic meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis, MO, is drawing to a close.

Sr. Pat Farrell gave her concluding address as she ends her time of service as LCWR’s president. As the body that represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters in the United States reckons with how to respond to a harsh rebuke by the Vatican, Sr. Pat offered this perspective. This is what religious wisdom looks like:

Taking the stage to a standing ovation, Farrell said that “some larger movement in the church … has landed on LCWR.”

A key question facing LCWR, she said, is “What would a prophetic response to the doctrinal assessment look like?”

“I think it would be humble, but not submissive,” she continued. “Rooted in a solid sense of ourselves, but not self-righteous; truthful, but gentle and absolutely fearless.

“It would ask probing questions. Are we being invited to some appropriate pruning and are we open to it? Is this doctrinal process an expression of concern or an attempt to control?

“Concern is based in love and invites unity. Control through fear and intimidation would be an abuse of power.

“Does the institutional legitimacy of canonical recognition empower us to live prophetically? Does it allow us the freedom to question with informed consciences? Does it really welcome feedback in a church that claims to honor the sensus fildeum?”
Farrell also said that it would be a “mistake” to make “too much” of the mandate.

“We cannot allow it to consume us,” she said. “It is not the first time that a form of religious life has collided with the church, nor will it be the last.”

“The doctrinal assessment suggests that we are not currently living in an ideal ecclesial world,” Farrell continued.

Yet, she said, the sisters also “cannot make too little” of the Vatican’s move. It’s “historical impact,” she said, is “apparent to all of us.”

Ending her remarks with a reflection on the Gospel parable of the mustard seed, Farrell showed an image of mustard plants growing in a field, saying the seed is “uncontainable” and “crops up anywhere without permission.”

Comparing the seed to the spirit of God, she continued: “We can indeed live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the newness of God’s spirit.”

Ending with a Spanish phrase she said she learned while ministering in Chile during the military dictatorship there, Farrell said: “They can crush a few flowers, but they cannot hold back the springtime.”

As Farrell left the stage, the audience of about 900 stood slowly, clapping for some three minutes and shouting in affirmation. …

Read the whole National Catholic Reporter article.

Also, in St. Louis Beacon: With prayer and iPads, Women Religious consider response to Vatican

Also, in St. Louis Review: LCWR Sisters discuss complexity of dialogue (really nice photos here)

LCWR Has 300 More Guests Than Expected at Annual Gathering

When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious gather for their annual meeting, they are usually about 600. This year, under threat of hostile takeover from the Vatican, more than 900 gathered.

Among those guests are a number of representatives of national and international Catholic institutes, including a number of heads of international federations of religious orders, a representative from the Latin American Confederation of Religious, head of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, and more.

On Sunday, after the official ending of the assembly, LCWR’s national board will meet privately. Part of that session, according to LCWR president Pat Farrell, will include a meeting with Archbishop Peter Sartain, one of the “guides” assigned to LCWR, “for the very first conversation that really he’s had with us in any official way” so that “we can communicate with him something of a direction that comes from this group,” said Farrell. Here’s an excerpt from a recent National Catholic Reporter article by Joshua J. McElwee.

The much-anticipated gathering of 900 U.S. Catholic sisters who make up the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) opened here Tuesday night with song, prayer, and references big, small, and in-between to the Vatican’s attempted take-over of the group.

References to the Vatican’s critique of the group, which came in an April 18 announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, came early in the two-hour event, with LCWR president Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell telling the assembled that “we don’t have to remind you that our gathering this week is an historic time in the life of this organization.”

The opening of the annual assembly of LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of U.S. women religious, also included a welcome by St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson and details about how the group’s members would discern steps forward during the gathering, which continues through Friday night. … — Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

An American Nun Responds To Vatican Criticism

“Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.” — Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the vice president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa.

Read the transcript and listen to Sr. Pat Farrell’s interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air (July 17, 2012).