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Coming soon to a pulpit near you?

There hasnt been much comment here about the U.S. bishops recent document on preaching, Preaching the Mystery of Faith, approved at their November 2012 meeting. Since it represents a new direction in the bishops thoughts about the goal of Sunday preaching, I wonder what people think about the changes the bishops have recommended.

Preaching the Mystery of Faith is a sequel to the influential 1978 document from the bishops on preaching, Fulfilled in Your Hearing. The bishops say that new circumstances within the Church at this historical moment call for us to build on this previous document.

What new circumstances? It is a familiar list. First, people have become disaffected with the church mostly, in the documents analysis, because of our individualistic, relativistic, materialistic society, not because of what people may have come to feel about the church, its message, its leaders, the nature of authority, or their local parish. Second, both the people who have drifted away and those who are at mass every week seem to be uninformed about the Church's teaching. Neither of these diagnoses are documented with details, perhaps because they are now so widely regarded (by many church leaders, anyway) as the official story of our current condition.

The bishops call upon preachers to remember that homilies are inspirational when they touch the deepest levels of the human heart. But the bishops also clearly feel that Fulfilled in Your Hearing neglected the homily's catechetical function, and the driving force behind Preaching the Mystery of Faith is to restore catechesis, in the form of description and explanation of church doctrine and tradition, as a stronger and more urgent homiletic priority.

When we have the privilege of preaching the homily to a congregation at the Sunday Eucharist, we also have an invaluable opportunity to advance the Church's catechetical ministry. ... Over time the homilist, while respecting the unique form and spirit of the Sunday homily, should communicate the full scope of this rich catechetical teaching to his congregation.It would also be helpful for experts and publishers to prepare pastoral aids for the clergy to help connect the proclamation of the readings with the doctrines of the Church.

In addition, the bishops say that virtually every homily preached during the liturgy should make some connection between the Scriptures just heard and the Eucharist about to be celebrated.

It's a lot to accomplish in a Sunday homily, isn't it? Retain a focus on the week's readings and how they might illuminate the great questions and decisions of our lives, but also make their connection to the doctrines of the church explicit, and provide an explanation of those doctrines as needed. And also make sure to work in the Eucharist.

In 1978, Fulfilled in Your Hearing helped begin an era where preaching on the readings became the official and widespread expectation for what most preachers should be doing most Sundays. By contrast, with Preaching the Mystery of Faith, the catechetical homily only marginally related to the lectionary may make something of a comeback. In my own diocese, a schema of such homilies is running throughout the Year of Faith, with all preachers directed to devote the second Sunday of each month to an assigned catechetical topic (Scripture and Tradition, The Four Marks of the Church, etc.).

Perhaps there are people who will respond well to a refresher of Catholic Basics in their homilies. What concerns me most is the undercurrent of condescension towards those who will hear these homilies: those undercatechized, culture-saturated laity who need so much remedial teaching: "The homilist ... addresses disciples who like their spiritual ancestors on the road to Emmaus may be tending, in varying degrees, in the wrong direction, confused and unsure." Thus the need to be very explicit about resolving their confusion.

By contrast, the innate respect for the assembly expressed in Fulfilled in Your Hearing asks us to wonder first about the words parish listeners are actually hoping to hear, rather than our preconceived notion of what they ought to hear.

Unless a preacher knows what a congregation needs, wants, or is able to hear, there is every possibility that the message offered in the homily will not meet the needs of the people who hear it. To say this is by no means to imply that preachers are only to preach what their congregations want to hear. Only when preachers know what their congregations want to hear will they be able to communicate what a congregation needs to hear: Homilists may indeed preach on what they understand to be the real issues, but if they are not in touch with what the people think are the real issues, they will very likely be misunderstood or not heard at all. What is communicated is not what is said, but it is what is heard, and what is heard is determined in large measure by what the hearer needs or wants to hear.

The bishops have made their own judgment about the shape of our parishes right now and what their assemblies need and want to hear in homilies. Are they right?

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The fact is that lay Catholics who are in their 40s and younger were not well catechized in our school years. We all recall the butterfly banners and the talk of the golden rule and a good neighbor policy put forth in those days, however the deeper ideas like the Trinity or transubstantiation were not well presented at all. It is almost as if (some) adults back then took what was given them, shredded it to bits, and gave us younger folks the tatters.And no matter that some do not like to hear this; it is true that for the most part the priest is smarter and better educated than the laity he tends.In our parish (California), most folks do not even know when to kneel, stand or sit. Everyone stopped kneeling after communion a long time ago, but now most have also forgotten that is respectful to remain standing after Communion until the hosts have been put back into the tabernacle, and the door closed. That people are so lazy they cannot stand for a few minutes but instead simply plop down so quickly is very poor form in any case, but that they are so obviously ignorant of the significance of the open tabernacle is more worrying.Ignorance on the part of the laity is one reason the Mass was re-translated of course, complete with all those big bad "Latin sounding" words like consubstantial that (according to some), were supposed to scare us all, and the same sort of ignorance is a good reason for the priest to be a bit more scholarly, to take on the role of teacher, in his sermons.

I went to a first communion Mass last year during which at every step the priest interrupted the liturgy to explain: "this is called a paten", "that is called a chasuble", "that's a corporeal" or whatever, and spent the homily dishing out similarly minute and, in my view, totally unimportant information related to communion. Much to my frustration, the several middle-aged adults I sampled as we were leaving the church (some occasional Mass-goers, some regular Mass-goers) were unanimously happy with the Mass, because "they never knew all that. They hadn't learned much when they had catechism as kids, and it's good to learn these things. Even for us adults, it's quite instructive." I stood alone in my disapproval.People are so starved of religious knowledge that they're ready to grasp at straws. Anything! Teach them anything (as long as it's not political), and they'll ask for more!

:"And no matter that some do not like to hear this; it is true that for the most part the priest is smarter and better educated than the laity he tends."Ken --If you had taught some of the seminarians I taught you wouldn't say such a thing.As for standing after Communion, my generation (very old) was taught that the most reverential posture is kneeling. So we kneel after Communion. Add to that some of us old folks are too shaky on our feet to stand for a long time (the time between rising to go to Communion and the time the door to the tabernacle is clsoed).

"I went to a first communion Mass last year during which at every step the priest interrupted the liturgy to explain: this is called a paten, that is called a chasuble, thats a corporeal or whatever, "Right - my experience of these "teaching masses" is that the liturgy comes to a grinding halt. I'm not a fan of them.

I just attended a funeral Mass for a priest chaplain , a retired Navy captain, with four bishops on the altar.When the Navy squad folded and presented the flag at the end of Mass I thought I saw all four bishops envy the reverent rubrics that the Navy presented.

Why can't the Catholic Church catechize its own people? I am reaching the point where I want to scream every time I hear how "poorly catechized" Catholics are!

Please do not misunderstand me Ann; I am not referring to exceptios, older folks and thos who have physical problems. I am referring to the majority of the people in the congregation; to the typical American Catholic. Most are able bodied and robust, some even a bit portly, certainly able to kneel or stand until the tabernacle is closed. To watch and see a great mass of people, thump or plop down so quickly, and so unceremoniously like that is at best unsightly. It shows ignorance, bad manners, low decorum, low brow, or something like that; in any case it is not complimentary, it does not look or feel good.

You should go around with a water gun and squirt people who are sitting down.

It is a bit like waiting in the long lines at CostCo, watching the great mass of folks as they drive the over-sized crockery carts, with oversized packages of everything from the gigantic bags of crackers, chips or cereal, oversized cans of coffee, a half-gallon tub of hummis, to the 50-roll package of toilet paper. Ugh what a sight, like a herd of cattle. It is no wonder the French think they are fancier that we Americans it is because they are!:-)

To watch and see a great mass of people, thump or plop down so quickly, and so unceremoniously like that is at best unsightly. It shows ignorance, bad manners, low decorum, low brow, or something like that; in any case it is not complimentary, it does not look or feel good.It's such a miserable experience going to mass with other baptized people. Either they're too ignorant to know any doctrine, or they're cultural clots who don't even know how to act. (Thank you, God, for not making me like these other Catholics.)I wonder what this preaching document (or any church document) would be like if we assumed that the people in the pews deserve more respect, and appreciation for their presence, than they do correction.Abe, I think you got this one about right.

'Abe, I think you got this one about right.' and 'ortho Ken' is against big families at Costco.. consistancy is the bane of Libs.

Well it is worth keeping a sense of humor and being able to laugh at ourselves. And no Thomas, I do not thank God I am 'not like the others'; I am all too guilty of the same, nor am I against big families or anything else - except maybe giant grocery carts and long lines :-) The point most were making here earlier was they seemed to think the priest should have this great undying admiration for and maybe even learn something from the vaunted Laity. My point is that in general, most of us can probably learn more from the priest.

That's why I love dotCommonweal: so many words! Ken's tirade, completed by Thomas's novel "cultural clots", reminds me of Brassens' song "La ronde des jurons". It is such a pleasure to fill one's mouth with words. Quite festive. (Does any song like that exist in the English language?)Voici la ron-de des juronsQui chantaient clair, qui dansaient rondQuand les GauloisDe bon aloiDu franc-parler suivaient la loiJurant par-lJurant par-ciJurant langue raccourcieComme des grains de chapeletLes joyeux jurons dfilaientTous les morbleus, tous les ventrebleusLes sacrebleus et les cornegidouillesAinsi, parbleu, que les jarnibleusEt les palsambleusTous les cristis, les ventres saint-grisLes par ma barbe et les noms d'une pipeAinsi, pardi, que les sapristisEt les sacristisSans oublier les jarnicotonsLes scrogneugneus et les bigr's et les bougr'sLes saperlottes, les cr nom de nomLes pestes, et pouah, diantre, fichtre et foutreTous les Bon DieuTous les vertudieuxTonnerr' de Brest et saperlipopetteAinsi, pardieu, que les jarnidieuxEt les pasquedieuxQuelle pitiLes charretiersOnt un langage chtiLes harengresEt les mgresNe parlent plus la lgreLe vieux catchisme poissardN'a gur' plus cours chez les hussardsIls ont vcu, de profundisLes joyeux jurons de jadisTous les morbleus, ...

Ken,I have learned a great deal from my pastor this week - mostly about how to manage a bishop. So maybe you're right!Tom

For those who can't read French: sorry! It's "The round of expletives", and compares them to a sequence of rosary beads. I tried google translate, but it failed miserably...

I guess what disappoints me about this document is that I don't see much hope that it could actually help make a better homilist out of priests like the one I mentioned above, who stepped into the ambo with no idea what Gospel passage he was about to read. His homily -- or, rather, his remarks-in-lieu-of-a-homily -- was prepared, after all, and I think he sincerely did believe that what the congregation needed most from him was assurance that the recent flap of Was-Jesus-Married coverage in the news need not rock our faith. I think someone like him would look at "Preaching the Mystery of Faith," if he looked at it at all, and come away thinking he was on the right track. I think your question is a good one, Tom. Another way of putting it might be, would it improve matters if the approach in a document like this one was less "How do we get those laypeople back in line?" and more "How can we make the liturgy a better act of prayer for everyone involved?" Fr. Komonchak's idea of a catechesis on the Mass may well be a good one -- it always deepens my experience of praying the Mass to learn more about it. But it has to be conceived and performed as an act of positive engagement. It won't do much to enhance anyone's prayer to be on the receiving end of a you-dumb-Catholics lecture. And if the preacher looks out at the congregation and feels only contempt for those who worked to pass on the faith in the decades after Vatican II, he's not the guy I want walking me through the Gospel.

Here's the opening of one of the model catechetical homilies that were sent around my diocese as an example of how to do this. The topic is Scripture and Tradition, which is assigned for the Sunday that is also Mother's Day.My brothers and sisters, todays liturgy helps us remember another mother in our lives who has handed on the faith to us, namely, the Church our Mother.However, just as with our own mothers who taught us about the Catholic faith, so also what the church teaches us is not her own invention, but is something which she herself has received. She received it from Jesus.I am afraid that when I hear the phrase "catechetical homily" this is what I am picturing more of.

It is a very positive move forward that the USCCB is encouraging priests to educate from the pulpit especially on catechesis and church doctrine. Nevertheless, much more is needed if we are to believe that a better informed laity will lead to more reception of doctrine and a deepening of faith. A case in point about the role and importance of education: the Church's most educated in theology and philosophy, e.g., theologians, are in profound disagreement over many Church teachings. Does this not speak to a much larger problem about education, especially if by a miracle the Church could increase the education of the laity to one approaching the education of theologians? IMO, Church structure and decision-making is part of problem. Today we have: the pope, the Roman Curia in a quasi-decision making role with the pope, and the Council of Bishops in a mostly consultative role (and not very frequently). If we truly were to implement Vatican II's call for collegiality, then I propose that the order and structure should be: the pope, the Council of Bishops in a quasi-decision making role with the pope, and the Roman Curia, theologians and the laity in a consultative role.Perhaps when this happens, both catechesis education and doctrine reception, especially with respect to sexual ethics, will not be so problematic.

"We all recall the butterfly banners and the talk of the golden rule and a good neighbor policy put forth in those days, however the deeper ideas like the Trinity or transubstantiation were not well presented at all."Ken, This is your problem that you consider the explanation of the Trinity or transubstantiation more important than love of neighbor.

So, the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith have a subdivision, in the US Bishops latest on homilies/preaching. And I'm still not convinced of the need for any of them! When the bishops regularly start to celebrate Sunday and weekday liturgies and give meaningful homilies at the same, let me know, and then I'll listen up to what they have to say to the troops.I've been at it for forty-six years and still find it the most demanding responsibility of presbyteral service. Being retired (actively) does afford more time and energy, yet it's still work and hopefully the results are better. If all of the suggestions in their latest piece were incorporated into the homily, you'd be looking at, at least a half hour. To begin with, let's have fewer masses, a vigil and no more than two on Sunday. Then schedule a couple of meetings during the week, a morning for the retirees/ seniors, and an evening for the working folk/ parents so as to sit down with the preachers or homilists (need they always be ordained???) and jointly wrestle with the scriptures, and the lived experience of the community. Let the homilist take notes and receive written suggestions from the two groups and later, let him/her meditate on their input. Next, go to the word processor and set it at eighteen point double-spaced type. A day later tweek it some more, then deliver it to a tape recorder in an empty church; listen to it alone or with others; then pray with it, and turn it over to the preacher of good news to the poor! Don't worry about the doctrine; Deus providet, ecclesia supplicet or something like that !

"Next, go to the word processor and set it at eighteen point double-spaced type. A day later tweek it some more, then deliver it to a tape recorder in an empty church; listen to it alone or with others; then pray with it, and turn it over to the preacher of good news to the poor!"Sounds good to me. It would truly be a revolution if every homilist put as much time and relevance to a homily.

Well, my pastor won't be burdened with all that stuff -- New Evangelisms, relevant sermons, etc. He's gone. Nobody seems to know where. Being replaced by a Vietnamese who just finished studying canon law in Canada. Pouf! Just like that.The Church is dying, folks. There is no community.

Claire, I'm reminded of a real-life incident in the heady days following Vatican II, when the vernacular was still a novelty. I can still hear some clueless soul asking, "Father, are we going to sing the Kyrie in Latin today?"Soson imas, o Theos imon pandote, Soson imas!

On a more substantive note, for many years we depended largely upon our Catholic education system (schools and CCD) to do the basic catechesis; nowadays not so much. For adults coming into the Church, we have the RCIA which does the job. But for other adult Catholics there is not much in the way of religious education, on average. We don't have the tradition of Sunday schools for adults, nor of mid-week Bible study (although some parishes certainly do this; but not most). So, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised if many adults don't have a firm grasp of the fine points of the faith. On the other hand, the vernacular readings at Mass and (where it is done) homilies based upon the readings have really made a difference for many people. It seems to me that we have a better grasp of the GOSPEL, the Good News, even if we're not so conversant with the catechism and its definitions. Another area that could use some attention is prayer. I found it depressing in the extreme to hear of a midwestern diocese -- one with a noted university -- where the bishop was preventing Dominican Sisters (who are part of a contemplative tradition) from teaching people about prayer. The implied motto seems to be, "We don't want no theosis around here." To have an active effort to prevent people from accessing the contemplative tradition of the Catholic faith seems to me to border on the criminal. It also might help to explain why people are leaving (along with a few other reasons already stated by others). The odd thing is that it was that most orthodox of theologians, Thomas Aquinas, who insisted that contemplative prayer was available to all. I wonder if the bishop in question considers himself a Thomist? I'm certain that he feels he's orthodox.

First, a comment I should have made earlier, the "public revelation completed in the age of Apostles" means that Scripture contains all that we need to be catechized on. The homily is catechetical when it applies Scripture to life. If something is presented that does not have roots in scripture, it is not catechesis. Catechesis is always about what has been revealed to us preeminently in Scripture.Second, I agree with Ken, though I think he is one of the poorly catechized if he has been taught that the continuing presence of Christ in the Tabernacle is more important than the liturgical sharing in Christ at communion. But then, Pius X believed laity of his day were poorly catechized. And so it has always been and always will be. We can know more, understand better, love more wisely. A purpose of prayer is to accomplish that, whether it is a simple Our Father or a solemn liturgy.

"The homily is catechetical when it applies Scripture to life. If something is presented that does not have roots in scripture, it is not catechesis. Catechesis is always about what has been revealed to us preeminently in Scripture."Jim McK, I largely agree, and this goes to Michael Cassidy's point that "we have a better grasp of the GOSPEL, the Good News, even if were not so conversant with the catechism and its definitions."I expect that the bishops are searching for ways to supplement (rather than replace) scriptural preaching with preaching that touches on other areas in which people also need to be catechized, such as Christian doctrine and morality. A weakness - and a strength - of lectionary-based preaching is that the appointed readings of the day don't always connect up very well with timely topics. To take obvious examples: after something like 9/11 or Sandy Hook happens, the expectation is that people come to church seeking insight or comfort, but the lectionary was not arranged with those current events in mind. I recall articles and Internet commentary in the wake of 9/11 to the effect of, "Planes just crashed into the World Trade Center, and our priest talked about something completely different last Sunday." Skilled homilists often manage to make connections anyway between the readings and events in our lives, but the readings do add a layer of complexity to this process. (And of course, not all homilists are adept at this connection-making).It is to the credit of the author(s) of this new document that it is somewhat measured in its advocacy for catechetical preaching; the document doesn't advocate a wholesale jettisoning of lectionary-based preaching. It's up to bishops and parish preachers to adopt this moderate approach.

Christianity is not an educational system folks. It is a way of life. The Apostles could barely read or write. Yet Jesus praise God for choosing the unwise and infants. The key word is orthopraxy not orthodoxy. Yet we let the empire builders frame the discussion. The Good News is not rocket science. Ok lets go back to the full catchechesis days when millions of Jews were killed because they were not Christian and the two worst worlds occurred. At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.

It is a way of life. Bill:I know many people who think like that. They want their kids to be raised Christian because of the values. Fraternity between people, generosity, kindness and good works. It does not matter whether people are Christian or Moslem, as long as they are of goodwill. Living a good life, that's the central thing. The rest (for example, whether Christ is resurrected) is secondary; it doesn't really matter. It's a bunch of accretions that are tolerated because of people's agreement with the main message, which is about living an ethical life dedicated to others.I don't agree.The Good News is not rocket science.Yet people do not know enough to understand it. You are assuming much more knowledge than they have. Take the Eucharist, for example. When I was 3 or 4 years old, my parents said: "Shhh! Quiet! Baby Jesus is coming! He is coming now! He is over there on the altar!" and as the priest elevated the Host right after consecration, I exclaimed loudly: "But where? Where is Jesus? I don't see him. Show me!" - and that was the grand total of my education on the Eucharist for the next 35 years. That's how it is: people are told, at a young age, something that is bizarre, at that time they believe it in spite of lack of sense because they trust the adults around them, and then the question is assumed to be settled and never returned to again. Further, young teenagers have the sense that examining their faith is sinful, because it might raise doubts. The idea that questioning is suspect, almost taboo, and that the quest for knowledge is dangerous is reinforced by parents and adults around them who have no answers to their tentative questions, other than an unhelpful, perhaps slightly embarrassed "that's how it is" (a non-answer often backed up by repeating that quote by Jesus that you mention), or an equally unhelpful "it doesn't really matter as long as one lives a good, ethical life". So teenagers who want to keep on believing have to carefully nurse their ignorance. One day the dam breaks, the vague stirrings of their hearts are not sufficient to keep reason at bay, they see the light and realize that it's all a bunch of stupid, inconsistent superstitions invented by people who cannot face reality. If at some point in their childhood they had some experience of connection to God, they may keep a nostalgic memory of how good it felt, but with the light of adult reason, they understand that such is the lure of religion, like opium inducing artificial happiness. It's a hoax set up by a corrupt organization. They now look at the ignorant, superstitious, uneducated believers with the condescending superiority of rational beings. When they look at the believers who are otherwise rational, educated beings, they think that it must be a blind spot, that they're like addicts who need their religious fix. The proof that it's a blind spot? If they ask a Catholic, who is otherwise well educated, some basic question about their religious faith (such as: if your God is so good, then why does he allow suffering?), odds are that they'll receive woefully inadequate answers.These people, who have been raised Catholic but have moved away, and who think that they know what Catholicism is about, are the ones targeted by new evangelization. It's a daunting challenge!I reject the idea that education is not important for the Christian faith.In addition, without religious education, we are hostage of the arbitrary pronouncements of our clergy. We cannot question their fiats, because our attempts would be easily squelched by their superior knowledge. But when you learn more, it's empowering. You are not cowed by peremptory answers or dismissive silence. You are more free. In addition, as Mollie writes above: " it always deepens my experience of praying the Mass to learn more about it." For some of us at least, learning is a way not only to deal with doubts or to answer other people's questions or to be more free, but, more fundamentally, to deepen our own faith.

If they ask a Catholic, who is otherwise well educated, some basic question about their religious faith (such as: if your God is so good, then why does he allow suffering?), odds are that theyll receive woefully inadequate answers.Odds are that a well catechized person will also give a woefully inadequate answer to THAT question. Is there an adequate answer?I agree that education is necessary, fruitful, normally beneficial. But God is the best educator, whether he is speaking from a whirlwind, preaching on a mountainside or being proclaimed in Church. What we, or maybe just I, most need is to listen better to hear God better. That is learned by hearing others speak of God in ways that can touch them. That is a primary purpose of rekigious education, to provide a model and an experience of God.

Claire - that is a brilliant comment. Thank you.Bill is also right that we don't need degrees in theology in order to be good Christians. But the knowledge base of Christianity seems to be an essential part of our faith. For good or ill, the Gospels don't consist of a systematic exposition of our faith.FWIW - most of those in our parish who are American citizens from birth seem to have had some formal schooling in Catholicism. That is not always the case for immigrants. And some of those immigrants seem to experience our faith in quite a different way. Some of them seem more apt to have lively devotions, and perhaps have a faith that is fed by personal experience, by no means excluding, in a couple of cases I'm thinking of, the sort of thing that is labelled "private revelation". Perhaps the ideal would be for a person to be able to have both the personal experience and the formation. Folks with the former but not the latter may be more prone to veer off into idiosyncratic, tangential faith lives. Folks with the latter but not the former may have a rather arid faith life. Just my personal opinion.

We are called First to have a personal relationship with God. That means daily prayer, reflection (meditation/contemplation), receiving the Sacraments.We are called to not only Imitate Christ but to Be Christ to others (concepts taken from the words of Mother Theresa to her Sisters in India "Don't preach about Christ----BE Christ). This requires recognizing God as VERB---as ACTION in LOVE. God is always acting out of love, mercy and compassion toward us. We are called to do the same towards others as our brothers and sisters. In Matthew's Gospel (25:31-47), Christ tells us that all nations and all peoples will be judged at the end of time by what they did to others---for as Jesus tells us---we did it to him.Secondly, as Claire so well stated, we need to be educated in our faith. This means not only have religious education for the youngsters all the up to their senior year in high school---but also as adults. It means reading, getting into discussion groups (if available), and constantly GROWING in our faith. If we are not learning, we are sliding backwards.Finally, this means going beyond what the priests preach in their homilies. Some parishes are blessed with priest who are not only good---but are great (I've been blessed with a few pastors in that category). Even so---it is the responsibility of Catholics sincerely developing their spiritual life to be knowledgable in their faith, and to read, read, read and not to be afraid of something that challenges their sometimes 'boxed' views of the faith. And they need to utilize their personal experience (as Jim Pauwels had stated)---because it is an Authentic means of knowing God (sadly our official Church doesn't afford personal experience the great respect that it deserves).

". . . people have become disaffected with the church mostly, in the documents analysis, because of our individualistic, relativistic, materialistic society, not because of what people may have come to feel about the church, its message, its leaders, the nature of authority, or their local parish. "To which planet does this statement refer? Is this another way for the bishops to excuse themselves for their lack of credibility with the American people, Catholics included? No question that American individualism is a threat to nation and church, but whom do the bishops think they are kidding with regard to "leadership" and "authority"?

IMHO, the bishops should have a television station, designed to teach 24/7. Daily shows on Church history, scripture, American Church history, archaeology, art, music, liturgy, literature, saints, prayer, theology, philosophy, religious life, devotional practices, etc., etc. All real/authentic. All presented by real scholars, with real credentials from respected universities, etc., etc. No angry bloviators. No single-issue narrow-minded phonies. Etc.Teaching is the bishops' responsibility. Why shirk it? Why pretend that real scholarship is beyond the understanding of those who seem to be uninformed about the Churchs teaching? No preacher, however well-educated, however gifted at public speaking, can do in twenty minutes a week what Christians deserve. Why are the shepherds so fearful, so eager to avoid feeding the lambs/sheep entrusted to them?

Claire,I never said the resurrection is not essential. But even St Paul says that those who follow the natural law are better than Christians who don't. What I am saying is the resurrection/Crucifixion is more important than the Trinity, Apostolic succession and the empire. The Eucharist is the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus whom we join in offering to God our love, gifts, desires and our love for each other. That is not rocket science. Sure we need to reinforce this and explain. But to delve into how Jesus is wholly present, body soul and divinity...nobody including Thomas Aquinas know what that means. That is not rocket science. Even Thomas realized at the end of his life that all of this was nothing compared to the love and service of God and neighbor. One thing we are quite uneducated about is this passage: "THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED." Most Christians say it is the Captives fault.That is the quintessential part of our faith. Dogma may impress in certain circles. But it does not get a person one inch closer to the Lord.

Here is part of what Pope Benedict said about the homily in his apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" (46) The catechetical and paraemetic aim of the homily should not be forgotten. During the course of the liturgical year it is appropriate to offer the faithful, prudently and on the basis of the three-year lectionary, "thematic" homilies treating the great themes of the Christian faith, on the basis of what has been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium in the four "pillars" of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Compendium, namely: the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer.

All of these blog comments are focused on the fundamental message of Christ: to love God and neighbor, strive to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect, do not kill, steal, etc. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as Ann and others have said it is a life of constant prayer, contemplate-centering, or other forms as well as sacrament. Education helps us grow in our faith and live morally upright lives. However, what constitutes a good moral life, a life of fidelity and love of God for His sake and not merely for the consequences? I had a standard Catholic elementary school education in the 1950s. Things changed, and I read constantly, went to Church through college, and continued that for 20 years after I married. However, like many of you I got disenchanted with the ritual, especially the message inherent in homilies, with a do this, don't do that message, and a it your fault that you are offending God, with no mention of the Grace of Christ and His Holy Spirit, et al. When I disagreed with certain Church teachings, I dedicated myself to rigorous education in moral theology for 7 years under the mentoring of two prominent theologians representing two end of the theologian divide. I wanted to make up my own mind based on a thorough education, prayer, sacrament, and guidance of a local parish priest. My point is this: What does it mean to live a morally good life from the point of view of the pope and the Catholic Church? Is it everything they teach, adherence to every doctrine, etc, as they assert? Or is it based on a love of God and neighbor, the Decalogue, the Gospel, prayer, etc? What is the standard? If the standard is in tension with Church doctrine, then will education solve this problem? To wit, if you asked every Catholic and theologian if they agree with every Church doctrine that "in part" reflects what it means to live a morally good life pleasing to God, you will find something that the Church does not agree with. Hence, does this not point to the larger problem about "education" in faith and morals? It begs the question whether education will lead to a faith and moral standard the Church believes every Catholic should have. Or is the question about what God expects of us, which is not necessarily what the leaders of His Church expect? We live in a divided Church and the question about education is: will it lead to reception of Church teachings, and help us become the person God wants us to be.

Preaching scripture, doctrine and Eucharist are possible, though it may take more than 10 minutes per Sunday. A cradle and practicing Catholic, I direct music at a small Episcopal church whose priest manages to include scripture every week and doctrine and Eucharist most weeks. His sermons are about 15-20 minutes long, tight, non repetitive, and with just enough humor and personal anecdote to maintain the congregation's attention. 90% of them could be delivered word for word in a Catholic church.

About ongoing religious education...One painless (and fun) way to work towards this goal is to become part of a parish book club. My parish has a book club that is now in its seventh year, and we have read a wide selection of books. Some selections have proven more popular than others, of course, but almost all have resulted in wide-ranging and open discussions about various facets of the Christian life and the Church. It's also a great way to meet people beyond a nod and a "Peace be with you" during Mass.Don't have a book club in your parish? They are very easy to start and maintain. If you are interested, contact me offline, and I'll be happy to share some thoughts about starting a book club, and I'll also provide a list of the books we've read over the years if you'd like some ideas about what a group in your parish might like to read.

Gerelyn --Excellent idea about a bishops TV channel! In my area there must be a couple of dozen religious shows sponsored by various groups. They must be popular since there are so many of them.There is EWTN but all it is. is yesteday's coffee. It gives no fair idea of the thinking -- and wondering -- that is going on in the Church. Of course, to be interesting the bishops would have to consider those topics which people are really interested in, including the hot button ons. But let every side have their say, including the bishops. When their arguments are persuasive, they will persuade. When the bishops are not persuasive they'll realize they have to go back to the drawing board. There would also need to be honest-to-God discussions, discussions by people with real questions, as well as reporting of events of particular interest. (No more sweeping the bad stuff under the rug.) And there could be ecumenical stuff too. Maybe movies on Saturday night. And a sports page? (Nah.)Now all we need is a billionaire to underwrite it. Dana Gioia could run it. Or who?

"Hence, does this not point to the larger problem about education in faith and morals? It begs the question whether education will lead to a faith and moral standard the Church believes every Catholic should have."Michael B. --Important question -- one might push it even further and ask whether education in many cases leads to an *abandonment* of the Faith. People typically lose their faith after high school, especially in college. The question "Why?" can't be answered just with "Oh, they were seduced by the individualism and materialism and hedonism of the age." That is true to some extent, no doubt, but there are just too many questions young people don't have answered when they need them answered, and there are too many misconceptions about the Faith that have not been corrected when they needed to be corrected. Adult education is a necessity, and the poor priests can't possibly supply all of it in Sunday sermons.

Ann,Your wrote,"That is true to some extent, no doubt, but there are just too many questions young people dont have answered when they need them answered, and there are too many misconceptions about the Faith that have not been corrected when they needed to be corrected."I would say that many young people, and older adults, do not have reasonable, just and loving answers to many concrete problems. In many cases, what they have are answers to moral dilemmas that are inconsistent and in contradiction with the hierarchy of values, human experience and reason. Thus, it is not merely that they don't have answers to their questions, but rather the answers go against their informed consciences. Granted, in some cases Catholics are misinformed and ignorant about their faith and the principles underlying moral laws. However, the Church has done a poor job of educating and convincing. They proclaim the truth by authority, not necessarily by reason. They expect a submission of mind and heart by faith, regardless if such a submission goes against their informed conscience. For those Catholics that disagree with certain Church teachings, Rome would say that their consciences are not properly informed, and for those consciences that are properly informed, their consciences are misinformed and distorted.Yes, education if necessary but education is no guarantee that what the Church proclaims as truth, will be embraced. My case in point, that we live in a divided Church and this profound division manifests itself among the most educated in Catholic theology and philosophy. As you insightfully observed, in many cases an proper education can lead to abandonment. Hopefully, it will lead to reform.

Claire:"paraemetic "?? What the heck does that mean? I could -- and will -- look it up, but I've never seen the word before, and even my Latin & Greek doesn't help much. Never seen or heard it before in 70 years.In other words, who in the heck is writing this stuff? Must be they of the same ilk as those re-doing the Liturgy.

"These people, who have been raised Catholic but have moved away, and who think that they know what Catholicism is about, are the ones targeted by new evangelization. Its a daunting challenge!" Yes, such evangelization IS a daunting challenge, especially for one important reason, IMHO: The Church that plans to do the evangelizing has done virtually NOTHING to reform its behavior which was the cause of so much disaffection. To wit, it has not responded appropriately or effectively to the sexual abuse scandal in all its guises; nor has it figured out how to treat its own people with fairness and equity (for example, but not exclusively: women and theologians), and (although some progress has been made) it apparently continues to engage in a variety of morally and legally questionable financial practices. Further, it continues to select "leaders" whose main aim in life seems to be to kiss up to Rome and whatever the latest Roman opinion happens to be. And those people apparently feel free to engage in outright lies when it suits them to make their case (witness the ridiculous and false rhetoric which went into "selling" the new version of the Liturgy).Under those circumstances, the New Evangelization is going to fail. The Church is trying to run yet another con game on people who are very savvy about the institution and its failings. If the hierarchy is serious about wishing to evangelize, they (and we) need to take another look -- at themselves, at the Gospels, at the documents of Vatican II. As it now stands, "this dog won't hunt". Most of the people who remain in the pews are not quite so alienated as those who have left. But if the institutional Church fails to act -- with charity and integrity -- they soon will be just as alienated. As for the USA, if our bishops are counting on a more docile and malleable Latino majority, it might be a wise thing to ask why so many Latinos, both here and in Latin America, have decided that evangelical Protestantism is more attractive. Further, if the Church continues to alienate women, they will also be alienating the next generation -- because women are largely responsible for passing on the faith. We are on the brink of organizational disaster, but the band continues to play the same old tunes. This comment goes a bit beyond the letter of the topic, but not (I think) beyond its spirit and meaning. Reality has a strange way of impinging upon our faith life.

"One day the dam breaks, the vague stirrings of their hearts are not sufficient to keep reason at bay..."Not so very long ago, we belonged to a Church which respected the intellectual life. Theology was defined as "faith seeking understanding" and our 'official' theologian was one who was on the cutting edge of theology in his day, working with a then-newly-discovered philosophy and with the science of the day (such as it was) to re-cast the faith in a new way. Today, we live in a schizophrenic Church, one which promotes "the Court of the Gentiles", seeking dialogue with secular thinkers, but also a Church which swiftly and ruthlessly punishes its own best thinkers while refusing to punish its leaders who have engaged in or permitted moral turpitude. We live in a Church which has lost much of its respect for intellectual integrity. Instead, it carries on (yet again, in the spirit of Pius IX, Pius X, and to some extent Pius XII) a relentless campaign against modernity. It has recently appointed bishops, for example, who believe in a "young earth" -- in other words, they don't accept evolution even as a probable theory. This is a Church which still thinks it can "silo" issues, keeping each in its own compartment (whether geographical or intellectual). It thinks it can disrespect its own thinkers and still gain the trust of thinkers outside its borders. It believes that it can unilaterally abrogate liturgical agreements with Protestant Churches, yet still carry on credible and fruitful dialogue with those same bodies. It fails to recognize the deep implications of living in the Information Age. It thinks it can live its internal life as a quixotic absolute monarchy, but still successfully preach the need for the rule of law in the secular world. None of this is any longer true, and it is time for the Roman Catholic Church to wake up to the reality in which it actually lives. "Catechetical homilies" ought to be the least of the hierarchy's worries. Our young people should be taught -- and it should be the case -- that our faith is not inimical to reason. That does not mean that we can "explain" the Trinity or the Resurrection or other aspects of our faith which we accept from Revelation; but it certainly means that we can examine them, think about them, question them, and eventually reach a deeper understanding of them. Occasionally, it may be best to put some troubling questions "on the back burner" for awhile, and return to them later; meanwhile, we can live in faith, in trust. In other areas -- moral theology, for example -- reason ought to play a more definitive role. We certainly also have a strong tradition in that regard, but a tradition which seems to be under attack from within.

Michael B. --I couldn't agree with you more. But how to get the hierarchy to allow honest questioning of dogmas, there's the biggest problem. The hierarchy's claim to more certitude than Scripture and Tradition support is, as I see it, the main cause of the divisions in the Church. Pope Benedict recently complained about fundamentalism in theology, but I don't think he realizes that in some areas he too is a fundamentalis -- he simply will not question some things, or even allow talking about them. Not Jesus' way. And the Faithful know it.

Michael Cassidy Under those circumstances, the New Evangelization is going to fail. The Church is trying to run yet another con game on people who are very savvy about the institution and its failings. If the hierarchy is serious about wishing to evangelize, they (and we) need to take another look at themselves, at the Gospels, at the documents of Vatican II. As it now stands, this dog wont hunt. Amen, Amen, I say to you - you have my vote for any leadership post in which you're willing to SERVE - thanks for your articulateness - peace to you in all you do, jdkirwin, p.p. (ret.) albany

paraeneticI agree. I suspect that the climate of disrespect of its own thinkers stifles creativity and discourages vocations. That is why this is the time for the laity to take initiatives. Lay people have more freedom. They cannot be so easily silenced.

Wikipedia: In rhetoric, protrepsis () and paraenesis () are two closely related styles of exhortation that are employed by moral philosophers. Whilst there is a widely accepted distinction between the two that is employed by modern writers, classical philosophers did not make a clear distinction between the two [] The modern distinction between the two ideas, as generally used in modern scholarship, is explained by Stanley Stowers thus:[2]In this discussion I will use protreptic in reference to hortatory literature that calls the audience to a new and different way of life, and paraenesis for advice and exhortation to continue in a certain way of life. The terms however were used this way only sometimes and not consistently in antiquity.I had to look it up to know what it meant. Then, when I pasted the paragraph into the combox, I changed the "n" into an "m" just for kicks. Then I waited to see if anyone would notice anything...

Claire,My first reaction on seeing paraemetic was to break it down to para and emetic. Puzzled by what that might have to do with the subject, I set it aside while I read its context.You shouldn't misquote the pope like that. You make him sound like he is actually saying something appropriate about homilies. "So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." Rev 3:16

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