A little context is called for. On Sunday I read an intriguing and somewhat disturbing assessment of Pope Francis and the Synod entitled “The Plot to Change Catholicism” by Ross Douthat of the New York Times. This essay was in essence a summary of fears that have been spreading through the “blogosphere.” Nearly 600 readers responded with substantive responses to the Times, a considerable number. My own reaction was the author’s limited handle on Church history, but before I could put hands to the keyboard a responding essay came from a Facebook post by Father James Martin, S.J., actually a reference to a Catholic blog called Daily Theology. DT blogger Andy Staron wrote a fine piece entitled “Some Thoughts on Ross Douthat and Doctrine.”
I have read Ross Douthat for some years; in fact, I bought and reviewed his book, Bad Religion, on Amazon a few years back. Ross converted to an Evangelical Church in his youth, and then later to Roman Catholicism. He has the restrained and articulate zeal of the educated convert. My philosophical difference with him continues to be his overemphasis upon the highly visible Church and its role in shaping culture versus a feel for flesh and blood daily life in the Church and the need to take risks in ministering to an impoverished culture.
I have only made the acquaintance of Andy Staron today thanks to Father Martin’s Facebook link. In many respects his site seems to have a similar goals with the Cafe: thoughtful adult education for Catholic ministers and laity. I was thrilled to see that he successfully articulated a long-held opinion of mine, that Catholics on the whole are more poorly educated about the faith than at any time in memory. To his point, Catholics are unaware of or fuzzy about some very basic realities that we could always count on years ago: for example, that the “Church grew;” another, that there were levels of binding seriousness to Catholic pronouncements; and yet another, “that father could fix anything in the confessional.” I learned the third one myself from the old master confessors of our big city Franciscan shrine churches when I would work with them on confession shifts during summers and Holy Week. When Archbishop Cupich of Chicago discussed the powers of the confessional and conscience (technically, “internal forum solutions”) at the Synod the other day, you would have thought he was calling for the canonization of Judas to judge from bloggers’ vitriol. He was simply observing the same practice I was taught and used for years.
Whatever comes from the Synod, we are already discovering—if it wasn’t evident already—that Catholic education needs to be rebuilt from the foundation on up. And this is not just a lay issue: the Curia has grumbled during the Synod about the “schoolboy theology” of many bishops. And I actually found myself in agreement with the Curia—“just this once.”
I am not happy with the consistency of the Wednesday entry, presently titled “Professional Development.” It is becoming a little disorganized, tending away from what I had envisioned as a mental health/job stress source assisting those in church settings. As it turned out, I need continuing education credits for my mental health license, too, and yesterday I registered for an online course around the book, I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It’s Not This by Julie Jansen. Thanks to Amazon Prime, the book arrived this AM and it looks promising, addressing issues that religious educators and ministers share with their secular workplace peers. I hope to begin a several-week series on the parish workplace next Wednesday. If the book interests you, it is available on Audible and Kindle, though the paperback edition allows you to actually do the tests, questionnaires, etc.
Tuesdays (the Sunday Scriptures) and Thursdays (The Catechism) are set for the long haul. Feel free to make suggestions on what would be useful for you.