The Postmodern Church of Tomorrow

Catholicism can be seen as postmodern to the extent that it has overcome some of the limitations of the Tridentine paradigm. Vatican II moved beyond Trent in theory (but not much in practice) on: church structure, collegiality, conscience, salvation outside the church, ecumenism, social justice, etc. Postmodern Catholicism puts the insights of Vatican II into practice and expands them. There is no need to get involved in a discussion of postmodernity at the theoretical level.

Basic concepts of the Tridentine theology are missing in the conclusions of the continental assemblies of the Latin American bishops in Aparecida in 2007 and the Second African Synod of 2009. In these texts there is no mention of original sin or Adam and Eve, no mention of the necessity of sacraments for salvation, no mention of the Mass as sacrifice, no mention of the hierarchical nature of the church, no mention of the teaching authority of the hierarchy, and no reference to Tradition. These traditional doctrines are not rejected; rather, they are seen as less important than missionary discipleship which is the agenda for the next decade. These documents were accepted and promulgated by Benedict XVI. With these documents the local churches of Latin America and Africa seem to have moved beyond the Tridentine paradigm into something quite different.

In in my research I found postmodern Catholics for whom the church is the local community of disciples rather than the worldwide structure of sacred powers; it is the ecumenical body of Christ rather than the legal (and often regal) Roman hierarchy. Spirituality is more important to them than dogmatics. They are more interested in renewal than structural reform. Prayer, scripture, and the poor are central concerns, rather than the sacramental spirituality of confession and communion. Other-worldly salvation has little appeal. They tend to be dispersed in small communities, yet they are strong in their unconventional or postmodern convictions. They are also very close to Evangelicals—which opens a door to ecumenism at the local level and is likely to stop Catholics for looking elsewhere to find spiritual nourishment. Can theologians help in the move beyond (not against) the Tridentine paradigm? Let us hear from you.

Pierre HEGY,
Adelphi University, Garden City NY 11530

No More Living in a Magical World

Psychologically speaking, magical perception involves linking cause and effect without understanding the link between them. We learn to think this way when we are young children, and it is one of the reasons why kids are good with electronic gadgets. They quickly learn which buttons to press in order to get the effects they want without having to understand the inner workings of digital equipment. Magical perception also facilitates social organization. Ordinary citizens take an oath of office and automatically become public officials. Two people go through a wedding ceremony and instantaneously become husband and wife. Someone is ordained a priest and immediately receives spiritual powers that lay people do not have.

Magical perception pervaded our lives as Tridentine Catholics. The baptized could get into heaven but the unbaptized could not. Confess to a priest and even mortal sins could be forgiven. Those who were married were married for life, and those who were ordained were ordained for life. Magical thinking thrives in stable social organizations.

In the mid-twentieth century, however, society started becoming less stable. Prosperity fostered social mobility, sexual restrictions relaxed, and the underprivileged gained civil rights. In the church, Catholics stopped going to confession, their divorce rate went up, and priests sometimes turned back into lay people. As a result, the magical thinking that pervaded Catholic culture was questioned and sometimes rejected. We have yet to find a way to be a church without the support of sacramental magic.

Joseph MARTOS,
Author of Doors of the Sacred

The Postmodern Church in Latin America

The postmodern Catholic Church in Latin America has been literally transformed from an authoritarian, imperialistic, colonial and largely foreign institution into its opposite.  Through the Latin American Bishop’s Conferences at Medellin, Puebla, Santo Domingo, and Aparecida, three overriding themes have come to define the post-Tridentine or postmodern Church in Latin America.  First is a commitment to the most marginalized and its option for the poor, second is an inclusive collaboration with laypeople and third is a demonstrated commitment to unity in diversity.

Building upon the opening sentence of Gaudium et spes, CELAM affirmed at the Medellin Conference in no uncertain terms that the Church now stood with those most vulnerable in society and that “structures” responsible for that marginalization needed to be dismantled.  Far from the colonial church which served as an uncritical chaplain to state power in its subjugation of native peoples, the Church not only committed itself to the poor, but was self-critical of its own use of power and wealth.  In a telling section titled “On the Poverty of the Church,” the Bishops offered a startling reflection on their power and use of wealth stating plainly that the “appearance of a wealthy and privileged Church hierarchy is problematic” given their new commitment to the poor.

This critique of power not only extended out to societal structures that dehumanized but inward to the very way in which the Church did its own business.  One of the early commitments at Medellin was “To renew and create new structures in the church that institutionalize dialogue and channel collaboration between bishops, priests, religious, and laity.”  This recognition of a lack of dialogue and collaboration has resulted in some of the most creative and liberating opportunities for lay ministry in the world.  Whether it is the Presidentes de Asamblea in the Dominican Republic, the Delegados de la Palabra in El Salvador or the Catequistas in Bolivia, lay people have been empowered to “own” their faith and evangelize their communities in profound ways.

               The inevitable consequence of lay empowerment was an acceptance of diversity reflective of the particular communities in a variety of ecclesial contexts.  Whether it was the use of voodoo in Haitian Catholic liturgies, reference to earth spirituality in Andean Catholic communities, or merely the acknowledgement of a variety of spiritual realities in Brazilian Catholicism, the faith has become more enculturated in non-western sociological contexts.  This movement of the Church hierarchy more deeply into the lives of its people through commitments to the marginalized, new collaboration with lay people and a new openness to non-western cultures characterizes the post-Tridentine church in Latin America.

Thomas M. KELLY,
Creighton University, Omaha, NE 68102


Secular Catholics

This semester, I had my forty students write a six-page paper on their world view. I was struck by how overwhelmingly those who had grown up in churches (which was not most of them) expressed rejection of or great doubt and ambivalence toward Christianity. Several of the Catholic students were rather explicit in evaluating the traditional beliefs of Catholicism as unbelievable magic beliefs. Coincidentally within the past week in two different social settings my wife and I heard individuals refer to themselves as a "secular Catholic." This was the first time we'd heard individuals use that phrase, and we both remarked on its of-courseness as a counterpart to "secular Jew."

These experiences would lead me to see as likely the continued decline in religious participation as well as a growing secularization of the thought of those who continue to participate.
Anton Jacobs,

Secularized Australia

We have entered the most holy period of the liturgical year of Lent and one would hardly know it, living in Australia. No mention of Lenten practices in the media. No press coverage of the Cardinal or church leaders like in Chicago when I lived there for 15 years. No fish frys and no meatless options on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Mass attendance is single digit participation like secular Europe. I do not see church renewal in Australia. When I left Australia in 1997 approx 33% of the country identified itself as Catholic. Today that figure is in the low 20's with barely any practicing. Of the 160 families that attend my children's parish school, no more than 20 would attend mass on a semi regular basis. My children ask me why we go to mass when their friends don't. We are usually the only family with children at an 11am mass, along with the grey haired set.

God and being a disciple of Jesus is virtually non existent in the consciousness of the people. I have to turn to my local kingdom of family. I have to show my children aged 12, 10 and 8 that God is alive in the world, not necessarily the church. The Post Modern Church in Australia is found in the hearts of all who love others as themselves. The church has become irrelevant in social discourse.
Paul McMahon,

Hopes for the future

Having lived in Canada all my life and worked across this wonderful land in various pastoral capacities, I’m still pulled by hope for the future of the Catholic Church throughout the world, including the western world and Canada as well. For me, there are shoots of new life in what I would call, borrowing from Raimondo Pannikar, ‘Christianness’. I must keep seeking the historical roots to present practice and identity, not only in Canadian Catholicism, but in Canadians at large. These ‘tethered’ roots then allow me to live more consciously and joyfully in the present and to live in ‘hope’ for the future.

When an organization shuts down its thinkers, it is an indication of organizational decline. Perhaps under Pope Francis those who have been ‘thinking with the Church’ but who have been repressed or forced out will be permitted to return or ‘think out loud’ along with sanctioned ‘thinkers’ and this will contribute to the future of the Church.
Michael Dallaire,

The myth of hope

One could almost call it a sustaining myth in countries like Australia and Canada, that the large numbers of Catholics who have maintained some type of loose association with the church will in the future take up more active involvement. There is very little evidence to sustain this hope but as long as it remains in place it tends to skew the debate. Richard Rymarz, Comment to Richard: Once upon a time, formed by my tradition, I presumed that every human being sooner of later addressed “final” issues, the God questions. And in fact, in our Eurocentric world, that tended to be the case. Increasingly that seems to be a “presumed fact,” not an empirical datum, because of the anthropological discrepancies on this point. Faith is going to have a tougher time justifying its existence.
Bernard Lee,

To Bernard:

My colleague who is a hospice chaplain says that when people are addressing those 'final' issues, they do not worry about whether they have followed the church's rules or been faithful to the doctrine. They simply want to know, "Did I love well enough?"
Marti Jewell,

Most are accidental Catholics

The Church in North America has been my spiritual home for 70 years. There is no doubt that the external marks of identity have shifted radically, though the change was so gradual as to be almost imperceptible. The North American Catholic Church of today was founded in pre-Vatican II American Catholicism, We have a Church of mostly very good people, whose religious and moral imaginary is “Christian,” but not evangelical. Most are accidental Catholics. What they lack is the a chance to get to know each other as people called by the Holy Spirit to live a life according to the Gospel. Pope Francis’ Joy of the Gospel picks up on the Zeitgeist.
Richard Shields,

A voice from the small remnant

For at least 25 years I have been part of that part of the campus community that worships each Sunday. This is a group/remnant of students, less than 2% of the largely unchurched student-body, a small choir, three or four faculty and staff members, and sometimes visiting parents. This is a post-Tridentine community in the sense that participation is self-motivated, not part of an inherited structure. The students know that they are a very small fraction of the whole. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. My wife and I attend daily mass with communion. As a deacon, I read the gospel; the homily is usually by a Capuchin with a Notre Dame doctorate in philosophy, thus appropriately at college-level. We introduce to the faith through RCIA 4-6 students a year. Very little of ethnic Catholicism is left here.
Dan Sheridan,

For an accountable church

As chaplain, homilist, and mission preacher, I see a few examples of renewal and many of failure. The difference hinges on governance. Where the parish priest or those in charge micromanage, everything tends to shrivel and parishioners lose interest. On the other hand where those in charge listen to and work with their flock (I say with and not for), the parish becomes energized and sometimes even a second home.

Francis in Evangelii Gaudium rightly puts the responsibility on styles of pasturing that are deaf to emotions, restricted in methods of prayer, and over-protective. This is just as often the fault of parishioners as pastors. Many on each side need to either act as or learn how to be responsible adults and not be treated or treat others condescendingly. Getting used to a church that is accountable as well as responsible to its faithful will be hard for many but I see it happening here and there.
Chris Rupert,

Example of an evangelizing church

In a Guatemalan parish I am visiting, there are at least 1000 parishioners meeting for prayer in homes once a week, in small communities. During Lent they will also do the Stations of the Cross in 14 different homes for five weeks. As an example, a small community may convene on Monday for its regular prayer meeting. On Tuesday the members will go from door to door to find 14 homes to host one of the 14 stations of the cross. On Friday, the little band will come to the first house, carrying a cross and singing. There the host – preferably a non-practicing or a non-Catholic – has prepared a little table with flowers and candles to place the cross. After friendly greetings, one member reads the description of the first station, followed by a commentary, reflections, and comments (the host is welcome to join-in). Then comes a prayer, and a few kind words to the host. And the little band moves on to the second house for the second station, singing and carrying the cross. The 14 stations take about two and a half hours every Friday night.

At the end of the five weeks of Lent, each small community will have visited 5 times 14 or 70 homes. There are 158 small communities, which means that the communities will have visited 70 x 158 = over 10,000 homes (the parish counts over 100,000 people and one priest.) Some of these homes are likely to join an existing small community. Between 2012 and 2014 over 30 new communities were added. The future? Bright. It only requires faith and commitment. There is hope for Australia and Canada if they follow this example.
Pierre Hegy,

An immersion experience

In the recent immersion week in the Navajo Nation we concluded the Catholic Mass with a traditional Navajo blessing involving cedar smoke and an eagle feather. We ended one night in a sweat lodge led by a Navajo man. We did some manual labor, hosted a conversation with a public health official and visited a lot of local people and a number of sacred Navajo places. We did a lot more learning and listening than we did labor work. What happened in this immersion week is nothing less than the formation of a community committed to being open to cultural experiences that were outside their comfort zones, thematizing together how those experiences might lead us to think anew, and challenging one another to imagine how we might better serve people – in other words, doing a certain kind of theology that can get lost in more "technical" theological discourse.

I have a hard time imagining "the church" becoming that kind of open setting – making space for Muslims and nones to build community. But in my campus ministry, I am coming more and more to see this kind of community as an ideal for me. I obviously continue to engage with Christians most frequently, but I understand my work as caring for students no matter their religious belonging or lack thereof, and allowing for a range of religious identities rather than having a group of Catholics only.
Patrick Cousins,

Comment to Patrick

Patrick's description helped me imagine what Pope Francis was referring to in Chapter 4 of the Joy of the Gospel.
The "bowling alone in America" and the communitarian impulse (à la Wolfe, Etzioni, et al) have given way to the priority of autonomy and individualism. Parishes are and will remains places of cult, of communal worship, and popular piety. But they ought also to have room for people seeking "more". Pastors and Catholics must be able to see the possibilities for small communities, and foster their formation (even if it is only 15 people in a congregation of 1500), engaging the parish in the real world and embodying the promise of the Beatitudes.
Richard Shields,

Tridentine versus postmodern model

Francis has provided an opportunity for consultation with the laity on the synod on the family. The responses are coming back remarkably similar from all parts of the globe. This is the sensus fideii. Will the bishops listen? The answer to this question is very important to the future of the church. But there are those who are longing for some imagined Tridentine model. More and more diocesan and parish positions are being filled with men instead of women. Young adults, disturbed by the politicization of the church, are walking away. But we are, or could become, communities of disciples. Is this the postmodern church or is it returning to our apostolic roots?
Marti R. Jewell,

Trent not reformable but re-interpretable

Trent produced no creed but settled some doctrinal and reform questions like bishops residing in their dioceses and justification. The international Roman Catholic dialogue has brought the issue of justification to agreement. So interpretation (not rejection) of Trent is possible. The language of Trent was fine in the 16th century, but hard to grasp today for many Catholics. Interpretation and revision of the words and sentences and above all, good catechesis are necessary for the future church if it intends to hold good Catholics in its fold.
Jill Raitt,

Clear out the snakes from the temple

There is nothing wrong with the Tridentine model per se. The Creeds are important and all who wish to call themselves Christians should embrace them. Faith in God, however, is all important because it is our faith that makes us righteous and it is impossible to please God without it. But what is faith? It is believing in the one whom He sent, namely Jesus. It's time to clear out any snakes that may be in our temples. See Ezekiel chapter 8. That would be renewal.
Al Baker,

Youthful enthusiasm

I see deep pockets of faith among some groups of young people. They take God very seriously. When I look back at my own teenage years, maybe we went to church more, but I don't recall my peers and I taking faith all that seriously. I also respect the current high school generation for their focus on community. I was at the National Catholic Youth Conference in November, doing a workshop on preaching in the clergy track. Youthful enthusiasm bubbled like a geyser; but what the kids really liked were the robes of the religious orders; it’s a generation with a penchant for things medieval. We will see where that takes us.
Karla Bellinger,

A report about the Latin American church

Having studied Latin America over the last 4 or 5 decades, I might say that the base of the church is changing more rapidly than its leadership. More specifically:

The base communities. They remain a real phenomenon. Something like house churches with regular participation in the small community and occasional participation in the parish: they bubble up all over. They happen as simultaneous creations that seek contact and reinforcement among themselves. In these communities, people read the bible, talk about life and try to relate the two in a meaningful way. Small scale promotes trust and sharing. This is an area in which the church can play an important part.

The charismatics. There is a lot of well deserved attention given to the growth of Pentecostal Protestantism, but the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is also one of the fastest growing movements in the region, at the grass roots all across Latin America. The Catholic charismatics are not simply a defensive reaction by the Catholic Church to Pentecostal Protestant growth. They are a movement of renewal within the Catholicism itself.

Social associations. Social movements of all kinds ranging from cooperatives to women's groups, educational initiatives, health centers, mutual aid societies for migrants, peasant groups, land invasions, ecological centers, help to prisoners and so on and so on. Over the last 40 years an amazing range of social movements of all kinds has emerged throughout Latin America, with Christian commitments and resources supplied by supportive church leaders. They form part of what some have referred to as a vital civil society within the church, a set of groups and people who carry forward the commitments of their faith in these areas.

What has changed is the unquestioning alliance of church and state, previously shown in the countless joint appearances of presidents and bishops, that used to fill the newspapers. On the whole, this world is gone. It has been replaced by participation that is more voluntary, more joyful, more autonomous. These changes are part of the democratization of society and culture that necessarily affects the church because its members live in this world. Pope Francis has opened some doors to this way of thinking, believing and belonging. Hopefully more is coming.
Daniel Levine,

Somos todos de una sola Iglesia aquí!

In July last year I took part in a remarkable three-day meeting in Guatemala with some 40 clergy and lay people actively addressing violence at the grassroots in Latin America. Despite a wide range of Christian traditions – from Catholics through mainline and peace Protestants to Evangelicals and Neo-Pentecostals – discussion was fluid, open and generous. When I commented to a Mexican priest over dinner on the “ecumenical” character of our reflections, he reproved me gently for my “antiquated theology”: “We are all one church here” (Somos todos de una sola Iglesia aquí). I understood what he meant. Participants spoke of their personal faith linked to action in concrete situations and took heart from that of others. There were many differences among them – not least, divergent opinions about how to relate to government authorities in their nominally democratic societies – but also a deep sense of what united them.

To me the most notable change that Pope Francis has brought the Church is his consistent emphasis on face-to-face pastoral ministry. It stems from his personal experience, of course, but also that of so much of the Latin American Church over the past half century. As he put it in his long interview last September, the Church is “a field hospital after battle” and “must heal the wounds, heal the wounds,” starting “from the ground up.” Violence – political in the past, largely criminal today – has been a scourge in the region through this whole period (See: And it is precisely with those who suffer it directly, on the ground, that the Church must be present. That pastoral commitment to “accompany” the poor was central to Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and after all the internal struggle over Liberation Theology, it remains a key to his vision for the Church.
Alexander Wilde,

Women in the future church

My experience of the Episcopal Church has been that the increasing numbers and prominence of women in all manner of roles in this church (including, obviously, the clergy as well) has been all to the good and is rapidly breaking down any kind of "top-down" and clericalist mentality and practice. Yet Pope Francis, for all his good qualities, seems to be blind to the realities of women's roles in the churches today.
Linda Maloney, M

A communal Mass presided by a womenpriest.

Last night I attended my second Mass at which a Roman Catholic Womanpriest presided. In this community, the celebration involves as many people as possible: the Scripture readings are proclaimed by lay members, the homily is "shared" with an opportunity for all present to include their thoughts, the words of institution are communal, and a meal is provided by members of the community after Mass. A place where all are truly welcome to join in the celebration of our Lord no matter their faith background, sexual orientation, political views, life situation, etc. A truly refreshing experience!

Was I honored to be asked to proclaim the Gospel? Yes. Do I better understand the point of the Eucharist as I pray the words of institution along with the rest of the congregation? Perhaps. Will I abandon my work in the Roman Catholic Church and make statements for or against one or the other experience? Probably not. I approach this with the notion that it may have some value. For me, it is not about choosing one thing over another but, rather, incorporating each into my own belief system, giving me broader opportunities to experience and learn from what others hold so dear. There is something the Roman Catholic Church can learn, as new communities come to the fore within the Church – communities that are both moving forward while reclaiming something from the past.
Judy Brown

The contribution of the Pentecostals and Charismatics

The Catholic Church may owe a debt of gratitude to the Pentecostal movement. Awakening the church from its slumber, the Catholic Charismatic movement is enjoying rapid growth in Brazil and throughout Latin America. It may also turn out that, as the hierarchy worries about competition, the freedom to build communities that meet the spiritual needs of Hispanic Catholics and the success they enjoy could lead a similar movement throughout the church.

Perhaps the future of not just the Catholic Church but of Christianity in general will lie in its ability to seek reconciliation rather than conflict, to recognize as have many Pentecostals and Catholics in Latin America, that a deep personal faith that is lived in community, one that provides strength and hope for a better life, may be the most effective response to a secular culture that would dismiss religion.
David Briggs

Comment to David

In the storms of years past, where sexual misconduct of children by priests, abuse of power by clerical authorities, and a culture of blind obedience loomed large, it seemed like there was no better way to add insult to injury then to investigate and move to sanction the LCWR by the Vatican. I am a lay woman, but this was perhaps one of the lowest points of my Catholic life.

So from my vantage point, I'm hopeful we have a bishop in Rome from "el fin del mundo" leading us through a Eurocentric Post- modernity and into the Transmodern reality. We've got lots of work to do, and much need to keep Shabbat!
Elsie Miranda, Elsie

The Catholic Church in America

This morning I read the NY Times report that 9 million Syrians have been driven from their homes, almost half of the population, about a million dead from violence or hunger or disease. Then this aging sociologist (Fordham emeritus, 2006) was moved to return to the computer. Sociology is always in transition: there is no knowledge without a horizon of thought, and objectivity is not neutrality. My hope for the Church is that the universal will trump the parochial. That the American Catholic Church be replaced in our moral imaginations by the Catholic Church in America. And that Catholics in America become better known as sharing the world’s discomfit rather than our penchant to view globalism as a national security problem warranting astronomical military budgets. That perhaps could be our next discussion.
Jim Kelly,

A vision for the church of tomorrow

The church needs reform and I would like to share with you some of my views...

· Jesus is the savior and son of God through faith in whom human beings are brought to maturity and promised eternal life. We believe with St. Paul that His death and resurrection have given us hope of this salvation here and beyond.
· All Christians are catholic Christians. The church is already one in the unity of faith, hope and love just as the human race is already one in spite of its divisions and deadly tensions. All the churches are the sacrament of God as is Jesus himself.
· The divisions among Christians, and indeed among human beings, are artificial and sinful especially those caused by the seemingly universal conviction that we are right and “they” are wrong.
· Governmental and precise ritual structures are adventitious to the process of salvation and revelation. Every church in which the gospel is preached and life is lived according to that gospel is “more or less true.” They are all equally bound to unity of faith, hope and love.
God bless the churches of Christ.
Bill Shea,

Comment to Bill:

I find your words deeply moving.
And when I sit with the people of many faiths in the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, I sense something akin to your sentiment, although few of them have Jesus as their starting point.
Your ecclesiological credo offers us a springboard into the future, or so it seems to this cantankerous Protestant.
Anton Jacobs,

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