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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?

About the Author

Thomas Baker is the publisher of Commonweal



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Ann, your last post comes closer to capturing what is going on and possible reasons. As Jim McCrea notes, although SBNR is mostly a movement of the "young", many of we older folk are also becoming SBNR - after decades as committed, practicing members of religious denominations it seems that the organized church sometimes becomes more of an obstacle in developing our relationship with God than a help. I understand why so many young people are not choosing the path of institutional religion, although I do worry that they are leaving without first having established a solid foundation for their spiritual search. ".. the name of the SBNRs indicates to me that many of them left the churches because their longing for the spiritual experience of the holy/God was not being met by the Church,..."That is why most SBNRs talk of "seeking" and a "journey" - they are looking - and they aren't finding what they seek in the churches. Perhaps it's time for the churches to look inward - instead of castigating the SBNRs as "shallow", "self-centered", "lazy", "egotistical" as so many (Fr. James Martin, SJ, are you reading?) are wont to do, they might spend some time looking in a mirror and asking themselves what they are doing to convince SBNRs that the churches are NOT the place to find God. Tinkering with the homilies isnt going to reverse the trend.The strong interest in Buddhism that you note provides a good clue. Brian McLaren tells a story about Dr. Peter Senge of MIT, best known for theories about the "learning organization" when he interviewed him for a conference of ministers. Dr. Senge asked a bookstore manager what the best-selling categories of books are - on top was how to get rich in the IT revolution. But the second most popular category was "religion and spirituality". Books about Buddhism far outsold books on Christianity. When Dr. Senge was asked why Buddhism might attract more interest in contemporary society than does Christianity he said this "I think it's because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that's what people are searching for..." Stephen Prothero (in "God is Not One") is among the many who note that Christianity focuses on the "head" - on belief - and christian history is full of the tragic fruit of Christianity's attempts to impose "right belief" (orthodoxy) on others, including on other Christians. The Catholic church these days is very prone to silencing, excommunication, stomping out dissent and IMPOSING specific beliefs - not only on their own members, but on everyone else too (such as in the contraception debacle, civil gay marriage legislation etc).But Jesus did not talk about these things. At one time Christians were known as the people of the way. But Christian churches seem to mostly fight about right belief - among denominations and within their own denominations (as seen in spades in the RCC right now, and also to a lesser degree in the Anglican communion). The narrow focus on "right" belief has splintered Christianity into tens of thousands of separate Christian churches. I know of Catholic families who are so split on what it means to be a Roman Catholic that some members won't even talk to other members of their own family because they are "dissenters". Dr. Senge's observations are not "new" and many others have made similar observations. But they seem to be ignored by the "leadership" of the churches, especially the RCC and they could be a useful starting place for an honest "examination of conscience" by these leaders to see themselves as others see them and why others are increasingly finding what they see to be unattractive.

Its a lot to accomplish in a Sunday homily, isnt it? Retain a focus on the weeks 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.I suspect this over-stuffed homiletic agenda is the result of every member of the drafting committee having to get his (I'm just guessing it was all men) own hobby horse into the race. So someone says, "We need more catechesis" and someone else says, "Yes, but the homily is supposed to be based on the readings" and someone else quotes Barth about preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other and then someone says, "But we want to make clear that the banquet of the Word is a prelude to the banquet of the Eucharist" and soon you end up with an undoable task.It would probably be better to think of all this not in terms of each homily one gives, but in terms of the sum total of homilies one gives in a three month period. So if one goes three months and has never mentioned the readings (shocking, but not impossible) or made a connection between the Word and the Eucharist or done any teaching or made any connection to the lives of parishioners. . . then perhaps some changes are in order.

Is it permissible to say that everyone's right?The bishops are right that our people need better catechesis.Thomas Baker is right that this complicates the homilist's job.Also - if I may speak candidly: more than a few homilists will need some catechetical brushing up themselves. (I don't exclude myself in this observation). It's one thing for a bishop to instruct all homilists to talk about abortion during the 3rd or 4th weekend in January. By no means is it a sure bet that everything the homilists say that weekend will actually be true or accurate.(There are two problems with this. One is that there will be people in the pews who will know that what was just said was wrong. The homilist's credibility plummets to the ground. The other is that there are people in the pews who don't know that what was just said is wrong. They've been misinstructed.)

I think the poster is basically correct in positioning this new doc as a sequel to Fulfilled In Your Hearing. It affirms the earlier document at several junctures. This is noteworthy because I don't think this is the case with fairly-recent bishops' documents on music and art and environment, which superseded, rather than added on to, what a previous generation of bishops had said.

My impression of the document was like Fritz Bauerschmidt's -- it feels very written-by-committee, so that I couldn't say what its central emphasis was. Except, perhaps, what you identify, Tom, the sense that the laity need careful instruction.I would have been satisfied if it had been one paragraph long, and that paragraph had said only "Please remember, homilists, that your job is to assist the congregation in hearing the word of God speaking to them through that day's Scriptures." I'm all for a little catechizing in the homily, if it's done well -- and there are good homilists who can fit some solid teaching into a homily without turning it into something other than a homily. But in my experience, it would be a major, major improvement if every priest or deacon simply committed themselves to starting with the Scriptures and the question, "What is God saying? How can I help make it clearer?" I recently changed parishes, from one where the preaching almost never had anything to do with the day's readings to one where the pastor takes his obligation to break open the Gospel very seriously. It wasn't the only factor in our decision to change, but it was the biggest one. The Sunday I heard a priest read the wrong Gospel altogether -- never catching his mistake -- and then give a homily about how Jesus definitely wasn't married, no matter what the New York Times says, which incidentally contained at least one major doctrinal error... that was the Sunday I knew we had to do better. And homilists like that one can't possibly meet all the expectations in this document. But if the bishops, or just our bishop, reminded him that preparing the readings is the biggest part of his job as a preacher? That might mike a positive difference.

Thomas, as publisher of Commonweal, you occupy a bully pulpit yourself, one from which you can preach to the preachers.What about publishing here on the blog complete sermons for every day of the liturgical year? Offer unrestricted use of them to any preacher unwilling or unable to write interesting, scholarly, and appropriate homilies by himself. Assign each contributor a week, the Sunday and the six weekdays. The contributor can then post a rough outline of the week's sermons a couple of weeks in advance of the week in which they are to be delivered. With the two-week lead time, the suggested sermon could be expanded upon and refined in comments.

Jim Pauwels,You wrote that "Its one thing for a bishop to instruct all homilists to talk about abortion during the 3rd or 4th weekend in January. By no means is it a sure bet that everything the homilists say that weekend will actually be true or accurate."Can you give an example of what a homilist might say on this subject that would be true or inaccurate? Thanks.

"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."But doesn't the quoted passage from the earlier document refuse this dichotomy? I read it as saying that in order to communicate well the preacher needs to know his congregation well, including what they may be "hoping to hear." But what the preacher concludes the congregation need to hear could very well run counter to what they're hoping to hear. A Presbyterian minister was canned from his parish when he began to preach on racial matters. That clearly wasn't what the congregation was hoping to hear, but perhaps it was what it needed to hear.I like St. Augustine's plea to his congregation: "May the Lord help us by yourprayers so that I say what I ought to say and you need to hear, so that the Word of God may be useful to us all." [In Ps 139, 1: PL 37: 1803]

"Can you give an example of what a homilist might say on this subject that would be true or inaccurate? Thanks."Perhaps I could, but to what end?

Fr. Komonchak,Yes, I do agree people sometimes need to hear difficult and challenging messages. What concerns me is the desire expressed in the new document to give them remedial catechesis, when what they may really want (AND need) is to be challenged every week with the words of the scriptures. (Also, I'm really not convinced that mass-attending Catholics are as ignorant of what the church teaches as they are always portrayed.) It's not that there's anything wrong with remedial catechesis, I just wonder if trying to accomplish it in the homily can be successful. The examples I have seen recently always seem more like lectures (and simplistic, heavy-handed ones) than homilies.

Jim Pauwels,To what end did you choose abortion as a "catechetical" subject that a homilist might say something untrue or inaccurate about? Why reference the specific dates of the 3rd & 4th weekends of January?

Time for me to put in an plug for SOH. In France there is an association of lay people that has taken up the problem since 2007. They (a mix of professionals in theater, communication, and teaching) meet with volunteer priests and deacons who deliver homilies during training sessions, and they give them concrete feedback. The association has the support of the French equivalent of the USCCB. Of course, the laity's input concerns style only, not ideas, because ideas are reserved to the ordained, who receive inspiration directly from the Holy Spirit, and lay people would not want to interfere with that, would they. But they have much to say about the form of delivery, organization, salient points, clarity of the take-home message, etc; the homilists are videotaped and their videos commented on abundantly. There are reports that parishioners frequently compliment their pastor on the suddenly inexplicably improved quality of their homilies: it is gratifying to be of service in that way. That is something that concerned lay people in the US could try to put together as well.

Mr. Baker: At least twice before on this blog we've had rather vigorous discussions on the level of religious literacy and comprehension among Catholics and about remedies for them, including through homilies at Mass. don't think we have to choose between preaching on the Scriptures and preaching that puts some doctrinal meat on the table and prepares for the common praise of God in the liturgy of the sacrament. I've recently given some thought to a series of homilies on the structure and rites of the Mass because I'm wondering if at least two generations of the people in front of me have ever had a catechesis on the matter.

Frank - I chose that as an example because it is top of mind. As a matter of fact, our ordinary asked all of us to preach about abortion last year near the time frame of the Roe v Wade anniversary. I believe it's fairly common. I did preach that Sunday, although what I spoke about wasn't particularly catechetical.I don't want to be cagey, but I'm hesitant (a) to invent some hypothetical error that wasn't spoken from the pulpit in real life, as I'm not sure that there would be any profit in it, but also (b) I don't want to embarrass any of the priests and deacons with whom I collaborate by publicizing any goofs or dopey things they may have said in real life.

Lessee, the bishops sent a document to be preached abbout TWICE on the "Fortnight for Freedom" ad shoe-horned the text intodealing with that...then were other poltically motivated letters and homily points assisgned that had nothing to do with the readings...and sometimes there was the separate instructions on the "respect life themes" in October...and don't leave out the missions, maybe human development and surely the diocesan fund under many titles ...and now the expected "anti-abortion" letter and preaching l...will there be abnother "charge" depending how SC rules on gay marriage,HHS mandate, or some large political event? The bishops use the readings as a fall back when they don't have some other points they wish to make...and judging from homilies of the bishops I've known... they're dreadful - some more sincere than others, some with a deeper sense of Scripture, but generally better to be read for study (or sleeep)...

Jim, let me help! Frank, the most recent time when I whispered in my dad's ear: "That's wrong!" during a homily, the priest had just said that revelation stopped with the death of the last apostle, and that there were now no more revelations in the church. The most memorable time, a few years ago, was when the youngish priest talked about the importance of Latin in liturgy, "for example, the Kyrie Eleison". Naturally there are also plenty of times when I think "I disagree", but that's quite different from "that's wrong".

According to Wikipedia, there are 17,644 local Catholic parishes in the United States. I don't know how to do the math to come up with an accurate estimate, but that works out to an extraordinarily large number of homilies each week, each for a relatively small audience, and if there's a normal curve, a lot of merely average homilies, a small number of really terrible ones, and a small number of excellent ones. In this the Internet age, if the excellent homilies could be identified, it would be quite a simple matter for parishioners across the United States to hear one of the most excellent homilies in the country rather than an average or poor one. I presume it is firmly embedded in Catholic thought that the local parish must have a live homily from the local priest, no matter what quality, than an excellent homily recorded in another location. If that's the case, perhaps on my proposed website (, on Sunday evenings there could be podcasts of the very best homilies from that morning. Why should just a small number of lucky parishioners in a small number of parish with the most thoughtful and intelligent homilists be the ones to hear what could be distributed to a potentially huge audience?

Type "Catholic homilies" in your search engine and you'll get plenty of possibilities. Add the reference to the week and year in liturgical calendar to also get homilies from 3 or 6 years ago. But doesn't everyone here do that already?

I would rather hear a homily about the scripture readings than about Catholic doctrine. The homilies that have meant the most to me have been the ones that made Jesus and his words and acts come alive. Preaching the Mystery of Faith instead sounds like indoctrination.

Claire, thank you for your assistance :-)The revelation topic is a somewhat complex one, in my opinion. It's a good illustration that homilists need to take care to get things right.

Not overlooking Fathers Komonchak and Imbelli, whom I'm willing to wager are both excellent homilists, but the late Fr. Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., was a master homilist who wrote several books on the art of preaching and many more books containing collections of his always thoughtful and thought-provoking homilies. Some of my favorites include:Preaching: The Art and The CraftTell the Next Generation: Homilies & Near HomiliesChrist in Ten Thousand Places: Homilies Toward A New Millenium

I would rather hear a homily about the scripture readings than about Catholic doctrine. Ditto, but it's a minefield. Examining the seminaries' curricula and the descriptions of seminary training written by sociologists of religion makes it clear that scripture scholarship is not something many/most priests are familiar with.Those who are must tread carefully. (Look at the commentary that the pope's recent remarks about animals engendered. Google "pope says no animals" for 28 million leads.)The spies who like tattling to bishops would not like hearing a scholarly exegesis of, e.g., the readings for Epiphany or the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Claire,Revelation did end with the death of the last apostle. Christ is the Father's definitive self-revelation. One cannot add to the truths revealed by Christ during His life and the lives of His apostles'. The riches contained in these truths can be uncovered and fleshed out by scriptural exegesis, theological reflection, the work of the Christological councils, etc, but nothing new has been revealed since the apostolic age. Can you give me an example of a post-apostolic revelation? Thanks.

The riches hidden in these truths can be revealed and fleshed out by scriptural exegesis, theological reflection, the work of the Christological councils, etc.In the usual sense of the word "revealed".

Gerelyn,Yes, I agree it's probably not easy to do a good job with the readings/scripture, but at the end of the day, that stuff is the foundation for everything else (unless Catholicism is really all about Catholicism and not about God). Parishioners (and priests) have to be willing to accept that the homilies about what Jesus said/did will be interpretations. I've read some really good homilies and sermons online - you can find ones posted that are by the early church fathers to the priest of almost any modern parish. One good resource is The Text This Week.

In our parish, back on St. Nicholas day, the Gospel reading included the parable of the two builders, one wise, one foolish, whose work had to stand up to a mighty storm. The homilist gave a brief but powerful sermon setting the parable in the whole context of Jesus' radical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount which had just preceded it. By sheer accident, our Bible study group was present, and moved on afterward to a session in which after a couple of weeks of work on the Sermon on the Mount, we were scheduled to discuss this very section of the Gospel. The group was thrilled to find itself absolutely on the same page with the homilist, for the work we had done had prepared us to appreciate the richness of his elucidation of the passage. So one point made in the document discussed here hits home very hard to me: not only does the homilist have a lot of work to do, but so does the congregation.As I read "Preaching the Mystery of Faith" I must say I also reacted as Tom Baker did in traces of a committee agenda in the list of possible contents of a homily. But of course not every homily need include all thye various suggested contents or approaches. And I do think the sections on the scriptural preparation of the presenter were well done, and even, for this sort of a document, well written.

A long day of discussion of homiletics and not a single previous mention of application to living the Christian life. I think both Scripture study and catechetics belong in educational forums in which way too few US RCs participate. It is part of the error of trying to jam everything into just going to Mass on Sunday, and then insisting that the Mass last under one hour. The homily needs to address, briefly and directly, how to apply the words of the Scriptures and of our liturgical prayer to the ways these people in this demographic area live day to day.How does Christianity apply to driving and parking, shopping and recycling, sports and entertainment, school and work? If one homilist out of a thousand actually gets to these sorts of issues, I would be surprised. I am sick of "glittering generalities" preaching, which reiterates some doctrinal point or some comparative distinction without having anything to do with living the Way of life given by Jesus. I am sick of mere re-phrasings of the parables of and hearing priest after priest repeat the most obvious possible elements which are mentioned 75% of the time when each particular passage is read.I know enough about seminary education to know that the emphases on orthodox theological specifics and canon law leave little room for teaching Scripture or the skills of preaching and presiding. The seminary system and segregation of the clergy leave them with little real world experience, either. Any priest or group of priests who are humble enough to accept some coaching at reasonable rates can contact me at practical.liturgist@gmail.comor via the blog, the point of the homily is to APPLY the words of the Scripture and Liturgy to the lives of the community. This is hard so long as preachers think they are supposed to teach from the pulpit instead of lead, to exercise authority instead of leadership.

A page for yesterday's gospel readings ... few other places, all Jesuit ... Creighton University's Daily Reflections, Sacred Space, Pray-as-you-go

I wonder if, with comunications the way are today, are there any parishes that ask for feedback from the the people in the pews on the homily preached? It might be a way of knowing the level of understanding doctrine, and knowledge of the scriptures that exist in the parish. It also might be a way for the laity to ask questions about the homily etc.

Crystal: there's also agree with Susan about the amount of preliminary work needed to appreciate a homily. To try to help with that, I often prepare 20 questions for my catechism class. Last week's sample:#5 Were the Magi Jewish?#7 In what chapters and verses do we read about the Magi in the other Gospels?#19 Who were the first few groups of people to see Jesus after his birth? What does that tell you about who Jesus Christ came for in the world?#20 The story of the Magi is a legend. It did not happen in reality, but it has meaning that is both true and important for Christians. What is the take-home message of this story?(My favorite twentieth question: "What do you think will be the main point of the homily this Sunday?")

Thomas Baker: Your characterization @01/07/2013 2:19 pm of "remedial catechesis" is rather heavy-handed editorializing on your part.Scripture-based homilies have their place.But let's back up. Pope Benedict XVI is the ring leader of the Catholic bishops. Rightly or wrongly, he fears that many Catholics do not understand the Catholic faith.So the U.S. Catholic bishops are falling in line with their ring leader's observation.To be sure, the Catholic Catechism is supposed to be a synopsis of the Catholic faith.To be sure, teaching key points from the Catholic Catechism could be understood as "remedial catechesis," as you say.But catechesis can also be more than remedial.

Never read the Catechism - don't recall it from RCIA - thank you, God :)

Years ago, I had the honor of serving as the senior editor (with Paul A. Soukup) of a wide-ranging anthology of essays titled COMMUNICATION AND LONERGAN: COMMON GROUND FOR FORGING THE NEW AGE (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1993; now distributed by Rowman & Littlefield).Sister Carla Mae Streeter of the Order of Preachers contributed a fine essay that is relevant to the present discussion of preaching: "Preaching as a Form of Theological Communication: An Instance of Lonergan's Evaluative Hermeneutics" (pages 48-66).

Tom: I don't accept your counterposing a preacher's teaching to his leading, his authority to his leadership. Christian living (imperatives) derive from Christian beliefs (indicatives): we are to do what we are to do because God has done for us what he has done for us. So I think the first duty of the preacher is to preach that Good News, to fulfill Jesus' command to "Teach all nations" and then to try to show that our Christian lives are supposed to be responses to unmerited grace. I think one of the main weaknesses of many preachers is that they either psychologize Gospel passages--"How do you think that older son really felt?"--or reduce religion to ethics, which is what I think I would be doing if I were to use the homily to address the questions you want the preacher to address: "How does Christianity apply to driving and parking, shopping and recycling, sports and entertainment, school and work?" For driving: obey the speed limits; for parking: don't park in a handicapped zone... Nothing particularly Christian about such injunctions. Perhaps there's more that could be said about some of the other ones you mention.

I guess now that the bishops want to return to preaching dogma rather than proclaiming the scripture, we may as well go back to talking about money all the time. Discipleship is in following the way of Jesus. Not explaining fine points of doctrine and what makes a sin venial or mortal and how the Trinity works. The truth is no one has the faintest idea of the Trinity tho it is touted as more important than the crucifixion. My my. Now that the bishops have profoundly catechized us in saying "and with your spirit" rather than "also with you", we can go back to ignoring scripture which we were forbidden to read at one time. Jesus made it very clear that his anointing was to set the captives free. Now the bishops pretend they are the captives because federal funding is not the way they want it. Yet the captives are still not free. In fact they are being abandoned more and more as the bishops pay Indian and African priests to come here while those priests leave serious captives in their own homelands. So the bishops remain in palaces as they maintain they want to catechize while "the poor do not have the gospel preached to them."

Can you give me an example of a post-apostolic revelation? Frank Gibbons,St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Only public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle.

Your characterization @01/07/2013 2:19 pm of remedial catechesis is rather heavy-handed editorializing on your part.Sorry you feel that way, but I think that's clearly the "news" of this particular document. It calls for a renewal of the catechetical mission of the homily, and it feels that this is a particularly opportune moment because of widespread misunderstanding and ignorance of the church's teaching.Yes, as you point out and as the document makes perfectly clear, this directionfrom the bishops is very much a product of Benedict's "New Evangelization," and the bishops are eager to make that connection. The document is loaded with approving references to the N.E. as their inspiration for asking preachers to move in this direction.

#20 The story of the Magi is a legend. It did not happen in reality . . . Claire,Pope Benedict XVI disagrees. See Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 118. In my humble opinion, he is wrong, and the story of the Magi is theological. But if the story of the Magi is theological, then the story of the Holy Innocents is, too. Many Catholic bloggers made references to the Holy Innocents in trying to say something comforting about the school shootings in Newtown. And the bloggers all assumed the killing of the Holy Innocents was a historical fact. I just began reading Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, by Gerhard Lohfink, and in his introduction he says there were four books on his desk as he was writing that he frequently consulted. Two of them were volumes of Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. I was taken aback, because brilliant as Benedict is, he is not a Biblical scholar, and from what I know of his thought, he is out of synch even with most contemporary Catholic Biblical scholars. My point is that if anybody (including a priest giving a homily) says anything very interesting about a Biblical matter, unless he or she puts it forward tentatively, anyone reasonably well versed in such matters can argue that the Bible is being misinterpreted. And probably a lot of people will be upset.

Agree, David Nickol, about the great number of private revelations over the centuries. Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, which Raymond Leo Burke, Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, believes should be a "standard textbook in seminaries," and which Scott Hahn says is a "'must read,' especially for our priests and seminarians," is full of accounts of private revelations. The most important recent ones must be those imparted to St. Faustina Kowalska.Enter "revelations" in the search box for many examples and for details about the role of authentic private revelations in the "Church's ongoing development of doctrine." rich source of material for some interesting sermons.

Revelation with a capital "R" ended with the last apostle. Nothing new has been added since to the Deposit of Faith. I'm just finishing Julian of Norwich's "Revelations of Divine Love". I've also read Theresa of Avila's "Interior Castle", John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul", and Sister (Saint) Faustina's "Dairy: Divine Mercy in My Soul" among other spiritual works that have greatly enriched my faith. But none of the insights that these holy people received or were "shown" add to what was fully revealed in Christ. Nor do the messages of the approved apparitions of the Blessed Mother add to the content of the faith. We're not required to believe in private revelations. So when people say that Revelation ended with the Apostolic age they don't mean that God has stopped teaching us or has stopped speaking to us. They just mean that nothing new has been added to the Deposit of Faith.

David: you're right. Fixed.Frank: that goes to Jim's point. Homilist in question did not define "revelation", and there was no capital "R" in his voice. Could he do it in 7 minutes, and is that a good use of his weekly allotment of people's attention? Does "Preaching the mystery of faith" have any advice on that?

Inasmuch as the topic of revelation has been broached, and it seems fitting, during this octave bookended by Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, to discuss it, I'll share a couple of thoughts.David Nickol's correction is what I had in mind when I remarked that revelation was somewhat complicated, and a homilist needs to get it right. The Second Vatican Council, which thought the topic of revelation so important that it gave us a full-blown dogmatic constitution on it, qualifies the formula even further by noting, "... we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13)." One could note, too, that although Jesus Christ is the culmination and key to all divine revelation, he does not exhaust it. The same VII document notes, "God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20)"; and it's certainly arguable that both created reality and human reason are still under development.And beyond all that, there is the question, "If God reveals himself, and we're not paying attention, has revelation actually happened?" Well, I suppose it has, but it does seem that it is in our reception of divine revelation, and our cooperating in its work in us, and our passing it along to the next generation, that it reaches its fullest flower. This is one good reason to celebrate Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord every year, and indeed to go to mass every Sunday. I have to admit that I'm not much of a fan of homilies that give us pat little formulas like, "Revelation ended with the death of the last apostle" - it doesn't seem much better to me than the one that goes, "Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church." Both are kinda/sorta superficially true, and both generally are trotted out in service of a tendentious point. I think we can do better than that in our preaching.

A gentle suggestion and hint on revelation: over on Pray Tell, Fr. Jan Michael Joncas has been leading a group consideration and discussion of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Wouldn't it be really cool if a qualified person were to do the same here with the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation? And it's only 26 paragraphs.

With all the 'revelations' the Vatican got it wrong on the Jews, the rites issue, women, private masses. Doctrine is such a treacherous field. Being a disciple is what Jesus stressed. To paraphrase Mae West: "Dogma had nothing to do with it." We are witnessing the vast migration of African and Indian priests to these shores and no one is taking issue with it. Just what we need more intellectualization and theorizing (Catechetics) while the captives are still suffering. The new evangelization should deal with the Good News. Not treatises.

A question ... if the deposit of faith is frozen with the last of the apostles, how were infallible new statements about Mary made and accepted?

Thanks, Tom, it is a privelege to know you! The church we love so well and so much is hidden in the details of sad, sad men who need to be loved into life and Commonweal and you are so respectful in giving your lives to civil and loving remarks on issues that are complicated but so simplified by that sadness that they are an embarrassment to thinking Catholics.

Fr. Komonchak and Thomas Burke's ongoing discussion and analysis has helped to illuminate what I found missing in the Thomas' initial blog. Having Professor Komonchak's course on Vatican Ii and hearing him preach at my local parish, while two quite different settings, I received both instruction and inspiration faith at the same time. By this I mean, in class his goal was instruction and not necessarily to inspire, but it so often was. Likewise, his preaching was both inspiring in faith and education in our faith. I find that Thomas is trying to create a dialectic where none need exist. Having been an educator for many years first as a high school teacher of religious studies and then at the college and university levels, I find the majority of my Catholic students sorely in need of basic Catholic instruction on the meaning and worship of the sacraments. Furthermore, I remember very well an important point made in one of my theology classes in the study of liturgy and ritual, that good liturgy feeds the soul and inspires faith; unfortunately, bad liturgy can be the reverse. Having been to many different parishes over the years, I have found this to be proven true. If I do not find a good faith community that includes good liturgy--ritual, music, and homilies--I have left mass with a sense of being unfulfilled and it is so much harder to return to mass the next time. I am saddened that all of this discussion, my own included, has not been based on research that has evidence of whether or not Catholics are leaving the church based on lack of knowledge, understanding; bad liturgies; or other reasons. My current research, based on CARA (Center for Applied Research) and the Pew Forum on Religion and the Public Life shows some trends about why Catholics might be leaving the church but more research is needed. I am afraid that many of our church leaders are making assumptions about individuals in the pew and what is needed based on their world-view, which may be quite disconnected from the lives of average parishioners.

I think Pius X offered an interesting solution:Since it is a fact that in these days adults need instruction no less than the young, all pastors and those having the care of souls shall explain the Catechism to the people in a plain and simple style adapted to the intelligence of their hearers. This shall be carried out on all holy days of obligation, at such time as is most convenient for the people, but not during the same hour when the children are instructed, and this instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays and holy days.Require all adults to spend an hour at Church, in addition to attending Mass with its homily, on all holy days. Wouldn't everyone here have been glad to get an hour of instruction this past Christmas? The bishops' advice in their recent letter is perhaps a little more practical, but not much.

"The bishops advice in their recent letter is perhaps a little more practical, but not much."Hey, Jim, I see the new doc's focus on catechesis as being of a piece with something I've witnessed many times at a parish level over the years: the irresistibility of the captive audience.One starts with an idea: "I've got this really important thing to communicate to the people of the parish. Everyone needs to know about this." The specific content could be anything from a program of adult catechesis, to the need to raise funds for the parish school, to an announcement of the date of the parish picnic.Then, one ponders method: "What is the best way to get this critical information out to the people whom I want to hear it?" The solution practically suggests itself: "Nobody reads long, dull articles in the parish bulletin. We could mail stuff to people's homes, but that costs postage, and only half of our mailing addresses are any good. The only large gathering of people in our community is at mass. Therefore, we will communicate this at mass."Once the method is settled, objections are raised: "But the homily is supposed to 'draw its content mainly from scriptural and liturgical sources, and its character should be that of a proclamation of God's wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy' [SC 35/2]". This presents an obstacle, but not for long: "Let's see, does my screed against Democrats, or anecdotes from my recent vacation, or a presentation of our building plan, meet these criteria? Close enough."

The new Catechesis is perhaps a euphemism for control or preserving the hierarchy/empire. Is the new evangelism going to give us homilies on "consubstantial with the Father" and the revelations of Sr. Faustina? Not far from advocating declaring Mary the Mediatrics of all graces. Again. Then maybe it is a question of who needs catechesis. Bernard of Clairvoux certainly needed catechesis because he advocated the killing of infidels as he along with the pope declared the remission of all sins for those warriors who on the way to Jerusalem plundered and ruined most of the towns they passed through. Or perhaps Athanasius of Alexandria who pranced around Egypt and Constantinople declaring that he had the right to be bishop of Alexandria. Or Augustine of Hippo as he advocated soldiers to force people to become Catholics while telling married people that it was a sin to enjoy marital love making. And what about the Fathers of the Church presiding over the massive adulteration of the Christian faith? Or perhaps Pius XII, and too many German Catholic bishops who kept silent about the massacre of the Jews. .....etc.Ah yes. The New Evangelisation. Pretty soon it will be declared again that it is at least a venial sin to criticize a bishop and probably a mortal sin.

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

Jim, certainly, that might be appropriate. The homily might also aim to make people in the assembly feel a little uncomfortable, as though they had a slightly upset stomach. It can help cast demons out of them. "Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority to expel unclean spirits and to cure sickness and disease of every kind" (Mt 10:1).

Ann,Thanks again for your thoughts. As you say, the Church has closed the book on certain doctrines and teachings and this is the problem. However, getting back to theme of this blog, education from the pulpit on catechesis and doctrine can be, and I believe it will eventually become, a platform for reform. I say this with a "big" assumption, that controversial and disputed issues will be fully explicated, as best it can in a 5 minute homily. Nevertheless, it might lead to more questioning and more pressure for adequate and reasonable answers that may give rise to a revisiting of doctrine.The issue about "education" becomes more complex because many pastoral practices are in direct contradiction with doctrine. A case in point: my parish priest told me all young couples are encouraged to attend a NFP class before marriage. However, once they do, the decision about birth control is up to them. On a theological point, he also believed that a married woman whose life is threatened by another pregnancy, can and should be able to take the pill or be sterilized. This clearly goes against the encyclical Humanae Vitae. He also had not problem with civil unions of gay and lesbian couples. So, while pastoral practices continue to demonstrate inconsistency and contradiction with Church doctrine and teachings, further education will not change minds. My intuition tells me that people in the pews will simply ignore the message as read off of the Church's official transcript on issues such as contraception, homogenous in vitro fertilization, the divorced and remarried, to name only a few. I applaud more education. Let's pray it will lead to much need reform and attract back to the Church those that have left, prevent those that are disenchanted from leaving, and strengthen those that stay and work for reform.

" So, while pastoral practices continue to demonstrate inconsistency and contradiction with Church doctrine and teachings, further education will not change minds. My intuition tells me that people in the pews will simply ignore the message as read off of the Churchs official transcript on issues such as contraception, homogenous in vitro fertilization, the divorced and remarried, to name only a few."Michael - I wouldn't assume that further education will not change minds. I assume - I know - that many people have a very poor understanding of what the church actually teaches on any number of issues, and their views were formed in partial or perfect ignorance of what the church teaches on those matters. Simply providing a baseline of knowledge of church teaching could change minds, or at least it might instigate or provide sustenance to the process of changing minds.Nor would I assume that catechetical preaching need come across as "read off of the Church's official transcript". Part of the preacher's art is to present church teaching in a way that can plant seeds in open hearts, and perhaps can pry closed hearts open.

Michael B. --You raise another point that we seem to avoid here -- the issue of priests who dissent. From where I stand, it seems that priests can get away with dissent if they express their opinions privately but not if they express them from the pulpit or to the press or in classrooms.Well, today we see the culmination of a story of a priest who speaks out publicly to dissent. Fr. Roy Bourgeois has been officially been removed from the priesthood by Rome, apparently with the approval of the Pope himself. There is no avenue of appeal. Vatican doesn't even mention what the charges against him are. Sob.

Before Rome starts this "New Evangelization" it needs to establish just what the Faithful generally believe. We should stop talking about what the Church teaches and start talking about what the Church (the Faithful) believes. What the Church teaches is what the Vatican promulgates. What the Church believes differs from person to person about some important moral matters and about whether or not women can be ordained.There is no way the clergy can *effectively* teach what Rome teaches without also considering the widespread dissent from some of those teachings. When Rome ignores the fact of widespread dissent ,including dissent by respected priests, it weakens its own authority and in the process weakens its teachings about other, non-controversial matters. It makes itself look dumb.

Jim Pauwels,Thanks Jim for being more specific and correct. My apologies for not being more careful with words. Indeed, education may change the minds of some Catholics and embrace all Church teachings. However, based on numerous surveys and complex explanations (e.g., The Theology of the Body), the percentage of Catholics that would change their minds (toward all teachings) would be significantly smaller than the percentage that will be more convinced that certain teachings are not completely true and in many cases unreasonable.My comment about reading off the official Church transcript goes to the point that Ann Oliver just made, namely, few priest will speak from the pulpit as frankly and as honestly about certain teachings (e.g., contraception) as they do in private counseling sessions. A smart priest, may well state the Vatican's view but make a comment about conscience or the gravity of disagreement. In any case, the larger issue is whether education from the pulpit will change the trajectory of non-reception regarding numerous disputed teachings. I think not, but believe (hope) that this will raise more questions and put pressure on the Church to address these questions. One such question is whether an infertile married Catholic couple can adopt a frozen but living embryo, a frozen fertilized egg as a result of in vitro fertilization? Think about the morality of a just and loving act by a infertile couple that is willing to give the gift of life to a potential human being, frozen but alive, and awaiting to come into this world and be loved. The reason the Church has not answered this question is because it would contradict the principles upon which the Church condemns homogenous in vitro fertilization and other issues in sexual ethics. I could go into more detail on this issue, but I will stop here for your reflection. Ann,Thanks again for your comments.

I wish you didn't use the loaded and very negative term "dissent", that has been propagated by certain conservative groups. In catechism controversial topics pose a problem. The options are:- learn and teach the official line, even if it does not match our own opinion. That would surely be ineffective because it lacks authenticity- present our own opinion. That seems to go against the implicit mandate, which is to transmit the beliefs of the church as a whole- sweep controversial topics under the carpet and stick to safe topics. Over time, that creates an image of the church as disconnected from real lifeI suppose that experienced people know how to navigate between those three options.

Often when I explain certain teachings and practices from the leadership in the church, people will say that they do not get concerned with what the pope and the bishops do and that they just concentrate on their relationship with God, neighbor and the Eucharist. Which is hard to argue with when one considers the considerable confusion some may find in the leaders of the church. Namely, who is giving the catechesis. EWTN, NCR, Catjholic universities, The Register. etc..? In other words students will have to deal with the prejudices of their teachers. A cursory history of the church will show that many quoted scholars in the church have been fatally wrong. Or as Jesus said of some teachers: "they do not enter themselves and they prevent others from entering."The community that is the church remains a valuable influence, nevertheless, in keeping us centered on the Eucharist and the Sermon on the Mount. Separate spiritualities can be dangerous as a recent study shows. The feedback of the community is needed to stay grounded. But one has to be careful of those who need to dominate or as Jesus says: "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.?

Claire --I'm afraid I must differ with you about use of the word "dissent". Because I'm talking about strong disagreement with official views, I think the word is the most accurate one available. Yes, it is a negative reaction -- on purpose. The conservatives are right about that. It is why I have a certain sympathy for the SSPXers -- they admit contradiction when they find them, unlike Rome at times. As you yourself show so clearly in your reply to me, the other three options don't seem to get us anywhere. Why? I say it's because they none of them truly confront the problems. Being a Catholic does not always mean being affirmative.

Ann: Thinking about marriage as an analogous example of a relationship where people strive for unity, I would say that it just takes work, patience, and mutual respect. (The analog of the religious conservative groups bemoan the good old days when the husband took all decisions and the wife agreed, or else!)Perhaps, on current controversies such as artificial contraception, "official views" were simply too quick to emerge and were put in writing before discussions had matured. The Vatican went too fast. Divisive topics (in marriage) cannot be solved by (the husband) declaring them solved: sometimes they just have to remain hanging as long-term difficulties that slowly, slowly get worked out over many years. It's not that the hypothetical priest mentioned by Michael Barberi is a "dissenter". It's that the official view was defined hastily and prematurely, and now it stands in the way of progress towards unity. That is very difficult to undo, like a mathematical theory in which the definitions and notations were not set quite the right way and were over-specified, so that they become an obstacle to progress.

I am coming late to this discussion. However, I want to second Michael Barbieri's comments. Many believe that the "problem" is "poor catechesis". They believe that if only Catholics KNEW official teachings and the church's reasons for them, they would cast away their doubts - and, yes, their DISSENT - from some teachings. However, it doesn't always work that way. I was educated mostly in Catholic schools. I am old enough to well remember the not-so-good old days before Vatican II. I memorized the Baltimore catechism. I attended a Catholic college where I took the mandatory 12 hours of theology and additional 12 hours of philosophy. Later I attended adult education courses at the parish level, and audited at the graduate seminary level. And I studied on my own - I read - commentary, articles, books by current authors, some original sources also, including Origen, the desert fathers, selected Aquinas (in addition to a whole course taken on Aquinas in college) etc. When I was in my late 40s, having survived as a practicing Catholic primarily by ignoring many official teachings, I was jolted from my lethargy by Mulieris Dignitatem - in reading it, I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach. So I focused my self-study program on a couple of related issues - the church's teachings on gender and on birth control. Those led to more - relating especially to the teachings that the church's governance structure is founded upon. The more I learned about the church's teachings - and the further I traced those teachings to their roots, the more appalled I was. In the meantime, the sexual abuse scandal became public. As revelation after revelation came out, and the pope and responsible bishops stonewalled - refusing to take those actions that would show honest repentance and true accountabilty for enabling the rape and molestation of tens of thousands of young people through their conspiracy to protect the priest rapists/abusers, I could see the linkages between these inexcusable actions of the church hierarchy and of the pope and the teachings on women, the teachings on sexuality (including mandatory celibacy) etc. The more I learned, the more the true impact of these distorted teachings became clear to me, and the extent of the harm done by them, I finally reached a point where I could no longer ignore my conscience. I had to leave - I was almost 60 years old and had been a loyal participant in the church I had loved my whole life. But I could no longer be an enabler of a dysfunction that had caused so much horror and for which no sign of understanding had come from Rome or bishops. The only exception is Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Sydney, who admits he waited to publish his book until after his retirement because of fear of retribution.Perhaps more education - assuming it is uncensored and complete and delves into church history and the development of teachings from the first century - might end up causing even more to leave the church rather than keep them in the pews. However, I am guessing these "educational" and "catechectical" homilies will be mostly at the elementary school level, highly censored uncritical explanations. Perhaps some will be content with that.

Anne, in the Catholic church I've had personal encounters with sexism, racism, mean gossip, antiSemitism, sexual misconduct, financial bankruptcy, homophobia, and what not, and occasionally I briefly feel overwhelmed, but it never lasts. A few hours go by, a few days at most, and I am aware again that at the core of the Church is Christ, and in comparison to that, nothing else matters. If you leave, you don't go to Mass any more. If you don't go to Mass, you are missing out on a chance to be mingled with Christ. Why let people's lack of accountability, or whatever, risk separating you from Christ? Perhaps you don't want to be in the same church as Bishop x (say). But it is only through Christ that we are thrown together, and he will transform us so that we can cohabit: you have to be willing to give him a chance to weave us together. As to the systemic problems, several billion years happened before Christ came. Maybe several more billion years will happen before the end of times: the 2000 years that have elapsed since the resurrection are like nothing. You should give the Church a little more time before calling it quits!But this is pointless. If you saw what I'm saying, you would not be leaving. If you do not, I sound like a nut.

"at the core of the Church is Christ,"Claire --Indeed. Yes, He is present to others (and us) in other ways, but presence in the Eucharist is most special, and I believe Duns Scotus was right when he said that the reason God became man was because He wanted to be with us. Dysfunctional bishops shouldn't stand in His way or ours.

Claire, what you don't understand - as is the case with so many Catholics who have said the same thing to me as you are saying - is that leaving the Roman Catholic church is NOT "separating" oneself from Christ nor is it leaving "the" church - Christ's church. Sometimes leaving formal participation in the Roman Catholic church means coming closer to Christ, because once away from the turmoil, it is possible to focus on Christ, on the gospels, on the spiritual journey without being confronted by a nagging conscience that is telling you that you are supporting an immoral group of men, a hierarchy that has enabled incalculable harm to many, especially to those who became victims of priest sexual molesters who COULD HAVE BEEN STOPPED by a bishop and were not. I could no longer support the system that permitted this and I could no longer ignore the teachings that were among those that contributed to the environment that bred these crimes. Others are hurt in different ways by Catholic teachings - not just the victims of sexual abuse. The Roman Catholic church does not own Christ, and it is not the sum total of christianity. I do not define "the church" narrowly - as "the Roman Catholic church." Christ's church includes ALL of those who follow him and his teachings. I am not quitting "the church". There are a billion christians in the world who are not Roman Catholic and many of them seem to be very, very close to Christ indeed. Many of them are "closer" to Christ than are many Catholic family and friends, for whom being Roman Catholic is more family heritage and culture than a spiritual path. Among the few who are still practicing Catholics, most ignore many of the official teachings. "Educating" them through homilies is likely to have no impact because they know what they believe and don't believe - and WHY. It is not due to ignorance, as the bishops assume.Once I saw the damage that was being done, and once I understood the role played by the teachings, I felt I had no choice but to obey my (VERY well informed conscience) and leave active practice as a Roman Catholic. Each Catholic has to make his or her own choice. Some say "stay and fight". Others believe that "fighting" for truth and what is right in a church that does not permit the non-clergy any voice whatsoever in the governance of the church or in the development of doctrine is enabling the dysfunction.But, it is not easy to leave. I was an active, practicing member of the Roman Catholic church for most of my life. So I still keep in touch - mostly through reading websites such as this one. Of my four siblings, only one is still in the church. Of my many, many Catholic friends and former classmates, only a few are still practicing Roman Catholics. Some are "nones"; some are members of other Christian denominations. They have not left Christ, nor have they left Christ's church.I appreciate you taking the time to write your post, and your concern. I understand what you are saying. I hope that you grasp at least a little of what I am saying too.

Re: ParaeneticThank you, Claire. It appears that you are a wonderfully wicked person -- mischievous!Let's go for protreptic sermons and forget the paraenetic (or paraemetic, for that matter). The Gospel continues to call us to a new and different life.

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is fast approaching. The "official" dates are 18-25 January, but may be fudged a bit, locally, to better match the calendar (e.g., Sunday to Sunday, this year 20-27 January). What has this to do with catechetical preaching? Well, we could at least pray that the obstacles to unity which WE as Catholics present may become fewer and less virulent. and that our preaching will more and more contribute both to sounder faith and greater unity.

In January 2012 the Barna Group released the results of a survey about what people experience in church. There's nothing directly about sermons, though there is one question about getting new insights at church (it doesn't happen very often). Yet the people who attend do find some value, even a lot in some ways, I don't find too much consistency in the answers.

A new study out this week found some very surprising differences between "spiritual but not religious" folks and the religious, the agnostic, and the atheist ones. From the CNN religion site:"The study, published in the January edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry, says spiritual but not religious people, as opposed to people who are religious, agnostic or atheist, were more likely to develop a "mental disorder," "be dependent on drugs" and "have abnormal eating attitudes, like bulimia and anorexia.'People who have spiritual beliefs outside of the context of any organized religion are more likely to suffer from these maladies,' said Michael King, a professor at University College London and the head researcher on the project."Thirty percent of respondents who identified as spiritual said they had used drugs, a number that was nearly twice as much as the 16% of religious respondents who said they had used drugs, according to the study. Among the spiritual respondents, 5% said they were dependent on drugs, while 2% of religious respondents identified as dependent."On mental health issues, the study said spiritual but not religious people were more likely to suffer from any neurotic disorder, mixed anxiety/depressive disorders or depression than their religious counterparts. Overall, 19% of spiritual respondents said they suffered from a neurotic disorder, while 15% of religious respondents responded the same way."Might those sermons might do more good than we imagine, even when we don't particularly like them? I think the report deserves its own thread.

Ann, I should not reply, as I have not read the original British report on the higher rate of various behaviors among the "spiritual but not religious." But, one possibility - according to the brief summary, 72% of young people (millenials) self-identify as SBNR. Given that it is mostly the young who are SBNR and also who are most likely to use drugs, to have eating disorders etc, it is not unlikely that their higher rate of risk behaviors may be due to their age instead of to their spiritual and religious choices. It really makes little sense that being "spiritual" would make someone more inclined to use drugs or have a mood disorder or eating disorder than being atheist or agnostic would be. Being young is a factor in those behaviors though and since most SBNR are young, it is not a surprising finding.

Anne: I hear you. Let's just shoot for unity then, as Michael Cassidy suggestsAnn: this is the kind of study to which my first reaction is skepticism. If there is some truth to it, my first shot at an explanation would be to suggest that people who are "religious" are better able and willing to conform to the rules of a community, thus have more self-discipline and a greater ability to adjust to their environment; but that's purely a made-up conjecture.

Ann --Yes, using drugs, mental disorders, etc. do not seem to have any intrinsic connection to not being religious. But I wonder if this is so. Might being non-religious be the cause of those problems? Or, the opposite, might those problems be the cause of being non-religious? (At least in some people.) I still find the finding to be surprising.Claire --But is it being religious that causes the ease of conformity, or is it the opposite -- being conformists inclines one towards religion? I suspect it's the latter. But how to classify the young SBNRs -- adolescents tend rebel against the values of their elders, but they are strongly conformist with respect to the values of their own groups. On the other hand, atheists seem generally inclined to be non-conformists (though that could easily be pure stereotyping on my part).We can have more than one cause for a behavior -- or not, and causes can change. So who knows. But I still find the study surprising.

Ann, you raise an interesting question. But, one must be careful about confusing correlation with causation. The "explosion" in the numbers of young people identifying as "none" or "SBNR" is relatively recent - the dramatic increase has occurred just during the last ten years. But drug problems, mental health problems, eating disorders etc among the young are not new. They have pretty much always afflicted the young - both teens and young adults - in greater numbers proportionately than adults who are 30+, even when this age cohort still identified more strongly with organized religion. Some have suggested that the close intertwining of organized christianity, especially, with "right-wing" political causes combined with non-stop news stories about the failures of the leaders of institutional religion (including the various televangelist scandals as well as the sexual abuse that the bishops of the Catholic church permitted) have led to understandable disenchantment with institutional religion. Judaism has also seen a decline in participation of the young. I don't know about eastern religions - Hindus and "cradle" Buddhists or Muslims. The fact that these disaffected young adults use drugs more often than their seniors etc may be totally unrelated to their choice to disaffiliate with institutional religion, which they often see as hypocritical at best and destructive at worst.

Anne --The question of why the young have left the church is no doubt highly complex, with many causative factors involved. But I strongly suspect that calling themselves "spiritual but not religious" tells us an important reason why they left. In the old days, the Church was called "a religion" in the sense of a complex entity composed of dogmas, hierarchical power, rituals/prayer, and individual spiritual experience of the holy/God. The spiritual experience were *part* of the religion. But the name of the SBNRs indicates to me that many of them left the churches because their longing for the spiritual experience of the holy/God was not being met by the Church, neither in the prayer practices of the Mass nor through the sermons, nor in prayer practices outside of the Mass.Though the God whom Catholics worshipped at Mass was said to be holy, good, and highly personal, many of the young found Him to be abstract and remote, if they thought He existed at all. They yearned for experience which was both spiritual (past the physical) and intimate. They wanted their experience of the spiritual to be of something present, individual and beautiful. They didn't find it in the Church, so they left. So how have they satisfied those longings so that they can still describe themselves as "spiritual"? Two answers leap to mind. In the 60's many turned to drugs, some of which convinced them that the drugs alone would produce the sort of experiences they longed for. Think of Aldous Husley and Timothy Leary, for example. This would explain why many in the young cohort described in the English study use drugs more than those in the "religious" cohort. But there was also the advent of various forms of Buddhism and other non-western spiritual practices. In the 60's many young people turned to such teachers as Ph lip Kapleau and Sunryu Suzuki, and over the years there have been many, many others, such as Thich Nhat Hanh who also emphasizes promoting peace (which appeals to many of the young). And there are transcendental meditation and non-denominational spiritual advisors such as Deepak Chopra whose message and practices seem to emphasize the tranquility and fulfillment of the individuals' own spirit, whether or not the person believes in God in the traditional sense. In other words, many of the young have learned meditative practices which yield the sorts of experiences they describe as "spiritual", whether the spirit involved is their own individual souls or some Absolute or God.My reading (and some of my own spiritual practice) has led me to believe that not all of these spiritual experiences are indeed of God, but rather, they focus on/are mindful of the beauty of the human spirit which the practitioners sometimes mistake for God. (See R.C. Zaehner's Mysticism: Sacred and Profane.) This can be very valuable psychologically, but that does not make it religious -- that is, it does not make such meditative practices to be experiences of a personal God. Zaehner shows that the experiences are quite real and quite common. (He also shows that in some cases the practitioners become proud and dismissive of the value of other people. This confirms, I think, that not all of those meditative practices are directed to God, but, rather to the health or deep mental satisfaction of the meditator.) This might seem to have taken us far afield from the question of Catholic sermons. But it seems to me that until Catholic sermons and catechesis concern themselves more with the individual's spiritual relationship with God Himself, people, especially the young, will not remain in the Catholic Church. They need to learn to pray in ways they have not been taught to pray -- in ways that help them establish an intimate, personal relationship with the Lord. This would probably require the clergy to learn how to teach such prayer practices -- the practices which used to be called "contemplative prayer", I say, so be it.

"Now that the bishops have profoundly catechized us in saying and with your spirit rather than also with you, ..."Not all of us, Bill. Not all of us.

The older I get the less of what I hear of/from Catholicism is believable to me. (Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around?"I guess that makes me "SBNR." That's OK with me.

" The explosion in the numbers of young people identifying as none or SBNR is relatively recent the dramatic increase has occurred just during the last ten years. "One aspect we should keep in mind is that teens and young adults are now in the second or even third generation of gradual decreasing religious practice. I suspect that a significant percentage of "SBNRs" among young adults were never formed in the habits of formal religious practice.

Anne --I think we agree much more than disagree. However, I do think that this quarreling over Church teachings is not peculiar to these times. Such quarrels go back to the beginning of Christianity. The big difference these days, I think, is that there are simply more educated people on both sides to argue about it, and Vatican II made it clear that we are to tell the truth about beliefs even against the hierarchy when we find convincing reason to disagree;I also think that belief is more important than you seem to think. Belief is the necessary presupposition of spirituality, as well as of full=fledged religion. If we had no conception of God we wouldn't begin to pray or try to do what we think He wants. We would never choose one path over another. Yes, there is some logic=chopping in the Church, and some of the old teachings were less than perfect responses to different historical circumstances (though they were often an improvement on current secular beliefs), And some of the ethics needs urgently to be reviewed in the light of our more complete understanding of human nature (especially the fact that our nature admits of great variations of things to be done by different individuals!). I think we ignore dogmas at our peril. Most of them got to be dogma (explicit, official teachings) only because earlier Christians cherished them, and as such I think they surely possess a great deal of truth. Though, yes, at times the Church has been wrong.I just don't think that having some different beliefs is unusual, nor does it kill the fundamental faith of believers, as the bishops seem to think. Would that those shepherds knew their sheep better!

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