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Coming soon to a pulpit near you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. http://ncronline.org/The 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. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/09/the-spiritual-but-not-religious... 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.http://www.barna.org/congregations-articles/556-what-people-experience-i...

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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