The four gospels are personal memories, often memories of memories, not accounts of eye witnesses, and these memories are presented with the creative power of the imagination. For the disciples of the first generation up to today, Jesus was/is alive in their memories and imagination. Quite different is the Jesus of history, the Jesus of historians: he lived and died two thousand years ago but is not related to people’s imagination. Many Catholics and ex-Catholics say that they only learned about the Jesus of history, not the Jesus of discipleship.
The Synoptics do not mention the raising of Lazarus. Marc does not mention the Beatitudes. Luke has nothing on the Cana wedding. Matthew does not mention Pentecost and the Ascension. John ignores the Sermon on the Mount and all the parables. The reason is simple: “There are many other things that Jesus did” so that is impossible to cover them all. But for the disciples, any number of stories and teachings is enough to fire their imagination.
This is till true today. All disciples have a different mental images of Jesus: the images of Grünenwald are different from those of El Greco, Rouault and all other artists. The gospel teachings must be alive in one's memory and imagination. Non-disciples do not have such vivid memories; they may have knowledge but little faith. — This is the same as the opposition between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history, and between knowing about Jesus and having a personal relationship with him.
According to the Pew research presented in Faith in Flux (2009), about a third of Catholics in the US has left the church, mainly because their spiritual needs were not satisfied. Here are common statements given to me. “When I was Catholic, I didn't have a personal relationship. God was out there, at a distance.” “What turned me off was the lack of enthusiasm, the monotone and ritualistic way of things; it was not spiritually fulfilling.” And as a conclusion of twelve years in Catholic education: “My view of God in Catholic schools was that he was distant, unconnected and mean. I did not get the salvation part, only the sin part, a God of rules and judgment.”
1. The shrinking church
There are some twenty million former Catholics in the United States, making it the second largest Christian “denomination.” This shrinking is a mystery as well as a shock to most Christian churches. In my own family a whole generation, a dozen adults and now children, have left and show no signs of returning. This I find painful but again not surprising.
While we do need explanation, we do not need blame. William Portier helped us a decade ago with his thesis that the Catholic sub-culture had collapsed, a fact which allowed a shrinking of the number of practicing Catholics as well as a growth in the number of what he called “evangelical Catholics.” That dying sub-culture is, of course, tied into other cultural trends that favor voluntarism and (those favorite papal whipping posts) materialism, relativism and individualism. If all this is correct we would be close to having an explanatory context in which to put our shrinking Catholic practice. I have preferred the Catholic sub-culture to any other and still live in it by choice. Far from evangelical, I remain in a “world” largely structured by pre and post Vatican II meanings and longings. I can no longer “keep up” with the church that moves and changes. I’m floating in its wake, often restively but still happy.
I have met in my teaching career very few poor teachers but by a vast majority good and dedicated. I have met and heard less than a handful of dumb or offensive preachers. Priests are a pretty good lot at their work. Bishops, aside from their horrendous record on the pedophilia morass, have done their jobs well in the main. I do think that as a result of pedophilia, Vatican corruption and failed practice of celibacy, radical changes in church governance are needed.
Parenting does not imply control or direction the growing child’s religious life. They do grow up fast and will choose whether to pray or not and how to do it, to listen to preaching and teaching or not, to walk the communion line or not. Reasons to consider returning will bubble up in the course of living an adult life and some sort of conversion of mind and heart. Thus it has always been.
William M. Shea, email@example.com
College of the Holy Cross
2. Understanding the “vs.” part
I do understand the “vs.” part. Sadly over the centuries the institutional church with its hierarchy and its orthodoxy and its “one size fits all” approach to Catholicism has tried to tie Jesus down to one “right” interpretation. But we don’t have to let them. We can learn about Jesus, through books and homilies (sometimes!) and courses, and we can contemplate Jesus through reflecting on the values he lived by and the lessons he taught. The verb disco in Latin means both to teach and to learn, so the true disciple is the one who both learns and acts, both studies our moral codes and goes out to live a life of loving service.
Marie Conn, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA
3. Liberation vs. catechism
In order to frame the debate it might be helpful to ask whether the Church's involvement in education is motivated by a primarily social justice commitment or primarily by a catechetical one.
The rhetoric around Catholic education tends to be tied to a catechetical motive, viz. to form students holistically (the integral education of the whole person), with the understanding that this means leading the student to the fullness of human promise, viz. a lived and transformative relationship with God. I would trace this thinking in North America back to the Council of Baltimore's decree of every parish to have a Catholic school and every Catholic parent the obligation to send their children to the Catholic school. This model was based on a pre-Vatican II ecclesiology.
In the years 1965-1975 a large number of those traditionally trained/educated Catholics, those solidly equipped to live out their faith in a secular world, left the Church or became rather less observant that hoped for. In the spirit of those times Catholic young men and women no longer felt obliged to "obey the laws of the Church concerning matrimony."
Catholic education will be best served if it is thought of from the perspective of social mission of the Church, a liberating activity that although partial nevertheless fulfills an essential role in the liberation of the person. Grand theological narratives or schema may only distract Catholic educators from their task--to seize the kairotic moment as part of the Lord's work that brings "the good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to down trodden" then this witness will be witness to the Good News and the students will have the Gospel preached to them.
Richard Shields, email@example.com
University of St. Michael's College, Toronto, Ontario
4. Need for a more integrated model
The "handing on" of the faith at Catholic colleges and universities continues to face significant challenges. Most students from Catholic high schools have become bored with facts and have been offered limited opportunities to raise and explore their real questions. And departments of Theology/Religious Studies maintain an academic, professional distance from the personal - that's the work of Campus Ministry. All of this leads to an absence of integration further compounded by service learning without a Gospel focus.
The professional air of the Theology classroom results from a 20th Century need to establish the discipline as a science in the academy. Given the reality of a new century, as well as some of the more recent research on young adult and emerging adult faith formation, a more integrated approach would seem to serve both the academy and the church. A more integrated approach would be attentive to the real questions of students and would foster a critical engagement with the tradition. Young/emerging adults need and want to engage questions of ultimate meaning, purpose, and value. Seeking to engage students beyond the level of new information would provide greater credibility to required religious studies/theology courses. And for the Catholic (or any tradition specific institution) would give greater credence to its Mission.
Frank Berna, firstname.lastname@example.org
La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA
5. Education through witnessing
On the question of whether Catholic education should be concerned more with orthopraxis or orthodoxy I have found that the only way through the polarity is to focus on Jesus The Christ mediated through the lives of others.
I have known many superb Catholic educators; those who were so in touch with their humanity and their need for Christ, that it imbued their teaching practice and inspired me to go further along the religious and spiritual road. A few of these were naturally gifted educators. Yet, the most memorable were those whom, while gifted and brilliant, had suffered persecution for their thinking, sometimes at the hands of the Magisterium, and whose ‘wounds’ were visible in their teaching. My classmates and I knew the cost some of these teachers paid and yet they continued to ‘stand and deliver’ the content of their courses. Such exposure led me to know that teaching can be a dangerous work and that being a Catholic educator is not for the faint of heart.
The witness of the Jesuits murdered in El Salvador along with their female co-workers, the witness of Romero, and the witness of thousands of others stand hand-in-hand with the witness of theologians, many male but also many female, who have been unjustly censored, all give credence to the work of Catholic education being very serious work.
What grounds a person, what motivates a person to engage in such a serious and at time dangerous work? Ultimately it is a question of vocational response. For me the vocation of the teacher, beyond the curriculum, is key to Catholic education. That is, the ‘who’ of the educator is much more important than the ‘what’ of the course content. Now, course content is important and it is necessary for a disciple of Jesus to have proper knowledge and possess the proper tools for interpretation and to sustain just and transformative action in the world. Yet, deeper than these requirements is the teacher’s experience of the ‘who’ of Jesus. It is this experience of Jesus mediated through the Catholic educator that is critical to the entire work of Catholic education.
I will end with a quote from Thomas Merton. I’ve changed “Christian” for “Catholic educator.” I think it achieves the essential task of outlining the heart of Catholic education.
“We can learn from Clement of Alexandria that a Catholic educator is something more than a propagandist for a “movement. For him the function of education is to awaken souls to “the spark of goodness deposited within them by the Creator”, and by that awakening to lead them to enlightenment. What is enlightenment? Recognition of the Word of God as the true teacher: the ability to listen to God, to attend to God, and to submit oneself entirely to God.
“The work of awakening, of forming, and finally of guiding the soul to perfect and mature wisdom is done not so much by the teacher as by Christ. The teacher speaks and works as the humble instrument of Christ.”
Michael Dalaire, email@example.com
Educator/Writer, Vancouver, BC
6. The difficulty of assessing attitudinal change
It has been suggested that we should teach something that is “spiritually fulfilling,” helpful in establishing a relationship with God (“I didn't have a personal relationship.” “I did not get the salvation part”).
Here is a quote from a departmental review I participated in last year, suggesting how to evaluate this process. The program will:
- Develop rubrics and assessment tools to determine the efficacy of its programs with regard to outreach and attitudinal change
- Use existing research in the field of … in addition to the sociology and psychology of attitudinal change as a basis for its own self-reflection and assessment
- Publish its findings as a means of engaging a larger dialogue about strategies for change through its activities, experiences, scholarship and programming on ... issues.
This assessment of attitudinal change is now part of that department. I have difficulty knowing how to achieve this goal and whether it should be normative in a classroom setting. Do I flunk someone because they do not have the right attitude? If several students do not have a personal relationship with Jesus/God at the end of the semester, do I get a bad evaluation as a teacher? Do I, as an administrator, only hire those who have a demonstrated ability to teach “the disciples’ Jesus”?
My view is that Catholic colleges “teach” discipleship outside the Theology or Religious Studies classroom. Leave the “classrooms” for the systematic reflection on their spiritual and faith experiences in the light of the Catholic tradition; stimulate the experiences outside the classroom.
Religious experience without reflection in the company of those skilled in such matters can cause harm to those undergoing the experience. Let me quote St. Theresa: “A spiritual director is necessary; but if he be not a learned man, he is a great hindrance. It will help us much if we consult those who are learned, provided they be virtuous; even if they be not spiritual, they will be of service to me, and God will enable them to understand what they should teach…”
Life, religious or otherwise, needs more than experience and heart. It must be wholistic and include reason. Catholic education has a long history which includes both. Because of the difficulties associated with assessment, funding, the recognition of teaching religion and about religion as a profession equal to all the others in a school, and what a normative experience is, I think it best to use the other facilities present in a Catholic college to stimulate religious experiences, personal relationships with Jesus, and conversion to discipleship.
Nathan R. Kollar, firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor emeritus, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY
7. For a scientific language about the divine
The current estrangement between talking about God (academic theology) and talking to God (personal religious experience) might be eased if the philosophical idiom for talking about God were suitably revised to reduce the tension between the alleged workings of divine primary and creaturely secondary causality both in human life and in our human understanding of the way that the world operates. That is, instead of seeing natural and supernatural agencies as independent of one another in their respective modes of operation, why not think of them as always working in tandem with one another as co-producers of each and every empirical event.
Some empirical events like alleged miracles might demand more input of divine causality but still some necessary input from creaturely causality to produce the desired effect; in other less spectacular empirical events the reverse would be true. Divine causality would be active simply to sustain the normal workings of creaturely causality. But for this co-mingling of primary and secondary causality to be the case, one might have to adopt what I call a systems-oriented approach to the God-world relationship in which higher-order and lower-order physical systems mutually condition and thereby constrain one another’s different modes of operation.
One example from the workings of nature might be the way that molecules in their distinctive mode of operation are conditioned by the properties of their constituent atoms and the constituent atoms are constrained in their mode of operation by inclusion within a molecule with its own distinctive properties and mode of operation. Applied to the God-world relationship, this would mean that divine primary causality is inevitably constrained in its mode of operation by what is currently going on within this world and yet this world in its ongoing mode of operation is subtly being guided to the realization of goals and values envisioned by the three divine persons in their collective decision to create a world in their own image and likeness.
Finally, applied to personal experience of God’s presence and activity in one’s life, this would mean that the offer of divine grace is always there and yet is conditioned in its empirical effect by the way that we respond to that offer from moment to moment.
Joe Bracken, S.J., email@example.com
Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH
8. Why did Jesus’s disciples remember him?
Why did those who followed Jesus in the beginning stay with him, re-member him, and ignite ongoing generations with the intense experience they had?
John's epistles point to the responsibility of the church to mediate the risen Christ, whom they themselves had never met but whom them themselves had experienced in the community, to those who entered their midst. "We pass on to you . . . ." This is not so much a witness of deeds or tenets of belief. Rather, I think it's the attraction of people whose lives ARE the living Christ. Was it not dedicated priests and nuns, albeit somewhat romanticized by the costume and the mystery, that initiated thoughts of serving the church in the past?
Certainly there is room for frank catechesis today. It should be done by those with two characteristics: on the one hand, they should have a palpable sense of Christ in themselves. On the other hand, it is important that they have good background in theology. I believe more damage is done by well-meaning catechists who do not understand their tradition well than by those outside the church.
On the other hand, teaching Christianity in an academic setting has a different purpose. College courses are not meant to convert but rather to bring understanding of content, etc. to students. If the teaching is authentic, it will appeal to some beyond the "information." But that is a side benefit and not the main purpose of a college course. Grace is gift, not something that can be part of a syllabus. And sometimes gifts are left to gather dust in dark corners of our lives.
Dee Christie firstname.lastname@example.org
John Carroll University, University Heights, OH
9. The variety of factors
Does theology as an academic "science" leave students in an intellectual morass, causing some to dispose of their faith as now-inadequate? Or do experiential or faith-based theology programs challenge participants with an adequate measure of objective inquiry? The answers themselves are mixed, but a few patterns emerge.
The majority of undergraduate theology students I encounter are in the challenging process of learning that faith can be critically examined. While some students experience anger–sometimes quite palpable in discussions–about "never being told this about Jesus before," others find their intellectual development and historical knowledge increasing their interest in spiritual and religious themes.
Some skeptics in theology courses (I think of a physics major I once taught) may grace another spiritual threshold than their otherwise penetrating empiricism has allowed them to venture. Conversely, theological objectivity often brings a widened horizon to a faith-filled student, who can now see his or her religious tradition from a greater distance, thereby inhabiting it more authentically. For students from faith traditions, perhaps there is a place for the shocking, "wake up and smell the historical Jesus coffee" many theology students experience when first exposed.
Neville Ann Kelly, email@example.com
Director, Lean Scholar Initiative
9. Teaching the notional apprehension of beliefs – with faith.
“Most Catholic universities have dichotomized faith and belief: the nurturing of faith is assigned to the chaplaincies and the teaching of doctrine to the theology departments.” The institutional schism at Canisius, where I am a Professor of Religious Studies and Theology, is deeper than that. There is no institutional commitment to teaching Catholic doctrine because the school severed formal ties with the Jesuits and with the Church in the 1970s.
I present myself as a representative of the Catholic and Jesuit tradition in all of my courses. I wear clerics and begin every class with a prayer: a short time of silence, followed by the invitation for all to join me in the Lord's Prayer.
I use John Henry Newman's distinctions from the opening of the Grammar of Assent to explain the difference between the practice of religion and the academic study of religion.
1. Notional apprehension: grasping ideas, the articulation of beliefs.
2. Notional assent: agreeing or disagreeing with these ideas
3-4. Apprehension and assent: from personal experience to making a decision.
I explain that I will grade them solely on notional apprehension. We have an obligation to understand (apprehend) what we accept and do not accept. I do my level best to grant students academic and religious freedom, although my prayer is always for their conversion to faith in
Someone said, "Invincible ignorance is most often found among the educated." I am in a tiny minority of practicing Catholics or committed Christians on the faculty and staff. I do my best to preach Jesus, crucified and risen and glorified, in season and out, but with very little hope of changing the faculty and the College. I strive to be good seed and to sow good seed where I can; the rest is in God's hands.
Martin X. Moleski, SJ, firstname.lastname@example.org
Canisius College, Buffalo, NY
10. The dynamics of discernment
The line that moved me most so far, perhaps, was Micheal Dallaire's quote from Thomas Merton: "What is enlightenment? ... the ability to listen to God, to attend to God, and to submit oneself entirely to God."
I haven't started teaching in the university classroom yet (my PhD has just been minted!) but I have been teaching religion / theology for many years in other settings, and it seems to me that the most important thing I can train my students to do is to develop the habits of discernment.
David White's book, Practicing Discernment with Youth, does a great job of laying out the dynamics of discernment:
1. Listen to your heart for the movements of spirit that call out to you from a situation you are exploring.
2. Look into the situation more deeply and critically
3. Remember / Discover / Dream: pull out resources from the theological tradition (and from your own traditions and imagination) in order to put them in mutual critical dialogue with the realities of the situation
4. Decide and Do Something
I think that this kind of teaching can lead to the 'enlightenment' that Merton and Clement speak of; and I also think it represents teaching in a genuinely Catholic way.
John Falcone, email@example.com
11. Soft vs hard sell
I have not taught Sociology of Religion for some years now, as I have been too busy with other classes and Mock Trial coaching, and have had a stellar replacement for the class in Matt Bahr. One observation from when I did teach that course: We are a Catholic, humanistic, Jesuit university at Gonzaga. At the time, my classes were probably 60% Catholic at best, and many had fallen away in their faith. I found that by teaching the material without bias (as in not coaxing conversion or a return to the fold), many of my students again found their faith (Catholic or otherwise). They were overjoyed with my furnishing the tools for their own empowerment, but in my leaving the rest to them. Numerous students have shared uplifting stories of their renewed faith with me through the years since.
For me, the bottom line is treating others as you prefer to be treated. The soft sell works wonders for me. Hard sell causes resistance at best, and usually absolute departure. There are many teaching techniques that are viable alternatives. I always encourage those on stage to be themselves (embracing their personal style), and the rest will come. With religion, I did just that, and found amazing grace as the ultimate result.
Georgie Ann Weatherby, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA