When the Saints Are Marching Out: DISCUSSION






1.         The  secularization of the churches
            I certainly encountered this dynamic during my seventeen years as a parish pastor (ELCA). Christmas pageants epitomized this trend. While the pageant was ostensibly about Christ's birth, it was really a celebration of the cuteness of our children. I love cute children just fine, but the focus on how adorable it is that little Sarah is dressed up as a cow and is waving at her mom during the pageant detracts from the message. Do I sound like a Scrooge? Understand that I am as corny and festive as anyone at Christmas time, but the pageant, at least at my congregation, essentially trivialized the profundity of the Incarnation. There was no real message being proclaimed in any substantive way. We were too busy adoring our children to adore the Christ child.
David Von Schlichtenvonschlichten@setonhill.edu
Seton Hill University

2.        Thank God for the secularization of Christmas
            God so loved the world (saeculum) that he gave his only son. Christmas is rightly a secular holiday. Christmas is the cutting edge of the Gospel filled with the message of love and personal/social transformation ( eg the popularity of Dicken's Xmas Carol, even if some of the rip offs are soppy). People are infused with joy and generosity for the poor and the outcast and love of neighbor. People often say they wish we could keep the spirit of Christmas everyday of the year. Whoever welcomes the stranger (even if our own kids who we often don't understand), welcomes Christ. Our children's adorability is God loving them in and through us. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God --wether they have the "right' theology or not. Not everyone one whose says "Lord, Lord" enters the kingdom who those who do the will of God and love even their enemy.
Darrell Fasching, darrellfasching@aol.com
South Florida University

      Reply to Darrell:

Because God loved the saeculum (world), Christmas is rightly a secular holiday sounds logically problematic. John 3:16 is about Jesus dying on the cross for the world. So then, should Easter be a secular holiday? Good Friday? We don't need to worry about the Resurrection as long as our kids make us smile when they see their Easter baskets?
David Von Schlichtenvonschlichten@setonhill.edu

      3.        What’s wrong with secularization?           
            Is something inherently wrong with secularism? I might be wrong but I do not think so. Perhaps the love of the secular may serve as a corrective measure to the problematic of dualism.
            Second, I prefer to see our affiliation with celebrities as broadening the communion of saints. Apart from some crazy celebrities, many millennials identify with celebrities because of their ability to instantiate some social virtues. Take for example, Angelina Jolie; her love for global peace is appealing to many millennials. This forces or ought to compel us in the church to broaden our theological vision on the communion of saints. Must the saints be the dead? The holy few within the confines of the church? If Lumen Gentium argues for a concentric circle of membership in the church, then logically the holy in the secular context, in this case our celebrities, ought then be seen as part of the communion of saints.
            Reading the signs of the times entails seeing beyond the familiar and finding new narratives previously untold. Secularism may be the new lens through which our new narratives ought to be told.
SimonMary Asese Aihiokhai, aihiokhais@yahoo.co.uk
University of Portland

4.         The church has been secularized since Constantinian times
       1. Secularized church?  Nothing new there.  It began full bore with the 4th century bishops agreement to become Constantinian bureaucrats in addition to Christian leaders.  The struggle between a gospel church and a unit of culture bureaucracy has been going on ever since.
       2. A high percentage of Christians are not and have not been Christian in reality (i.e. by New Testament terms).  When they drift out, the church is not losing anything it ever had.   When the numbers of young dropouts grows (pace WYD),  who should be surprised?  There aren't many Boy Scouts who stick around and turn into Eagle Scouts. The dropout (or sticking around) is part of the growing up  process.  Life, after all, is a highly unpredictable journey, especially when it comes to religious communities.
       3. The glue of Christian community is commitment and trust.  When they are not reached there is no Christian church, or only a very weakened one. In the current context it must be said that since Catholics in particular can't trust popes, bishops and priests with their children,  how then is there a church in any real and Christian sense?  The church cannot live by Tradition alone!
       4. Is there hope for "gospel churches"? Of course there is. The church may shed but it doesn't die.  Who would ever have predicted Pope Francis?  The beat goes on.
William M. Shea,  wshea@holycross.edu
College of the Holy Cross

5.          Reply to David
       The Gospel is liberation from the tyranny of the sacred. The sacred divides the world into sacred and profane, us vs them or sinners vs the saved. But in the sermon on the mount Jesus says the love of God falls, like the life giving rain, on the just and unjust alike. And Paul says that what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners and still enemies of God. God came for the world not for the church, the church is the body of Christ embracing the world.
            The church is the living body of Christ (not reducible to an institution) but a community of love, a community that has that mind in it that was in Christ Jesus, (the mind of God). So Paul says when one feels joy, we all do and when one feels sorrow we all do. We are not here to recruit the world but to heal it. Pope Francis is reawakening this  awareness – the church as field hospital.
            Theology matters but only to the degree that it enables us to the embrace the world that Jesus died for, the world of sinners – the world of Gods enemies. That is crucified love – loving those who reject you and so they are redeemed by that love. That world of God’s enemies is the world that God loves – the secular world not some sacred world of us vs them.
Darrell Fasching, darrellfasching@aol.com
South Florida University

6.         Defining secularization and the secularization of the churches
 To Darrell,
            Your position is challenging. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond.
            Secularization has been the main sociological theory of the 20th century. As explained by the Web, “Secularization refers to the historical process in which religion loses social and cultural significance... Social theorists such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim, postulated that the modernization of society would include a decline in levels of religiosity.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularization
            So far this theory is amply justified by statistics. In the West, church attendance decreases by about 50% every 20 to 30 years. Ireland’s 82% attendance rate in 1981 dropped to 35% in 2008. The US stands at about 22% but its millennials at 14%; Australia has dropped to 12 %, and  several European countries are at 6-8% level. The most socially advanced countries of Scandinavia where religion is totally free have attendance rates of about 3%. According to sociological theory, as societies progress, religion becomes marginalized.
            In the US the Catholic church has lost 32 Million baptized members. Catholic marriages have decreased by 52% and infant baptism by 46% since 1965 while the population has increased by 44% . The number of elementary Catholic schools has declined by 50% and their study body by 69%.  I do not see one can support this theory with “Thank God for the Secularization” of Christmas and other aspects.
            The problem I raise is the secularization of churches (not society) when Christmas becomes an extension of the shopping spree (on average Americans spent about $1,000 for their family Christmas gifts – and maybe give small change to the church). Ask: how many of the children in your family know at least five Christmas carols, and how many know commercials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?"
            When bishops and CTSA meet in expensive hotels while at least some religious houses are half empty, what does it say about secularization?
            Let’s continue the discussion. From the fire of opposite ideas comes the light of truth.
Adelphi University

7.         On secularization and religious decline
             Yes, in the Western world there is a decline in institutional religions, but there are still people yearning for a transcendental experience – we call them the "spiritual but not religious" people. The challenges for the churches is to provide these spiritual seekers a sense of meaning, and a life purposeful.
            First, in my opinion, the Catholic and many mainline Protestant churches are too pre-occupied with their own internal affairs and agenda (ecclesia ad intra) to the point that they lost the missionary spirit (missio ad gentes). Christianity grows best in places and situations that provide meaning for those who live in the margin (i.e., political, social and religious persecution or harassment) where Christians are forced to make a stand for their beliefs and thus attract new members. The Western world is too comfortable to make such stands.
            Secondly, while institutional religions have lost the appeal on the people, smaller group with tighter community bonds are growing. This is the case with most Christian growth in the global South and among the evangelical and/or Pentecostal groups.
            Third, while some Christian feasts like Christmas, Valentine, Halloween (All Saints Eve) become secularized, other like the Pascha is not. Easter egg hunting might be there, but the Paschal Triduum is still a religious celebration.  Admittedly, Christians did not have Christmas until the 4th century, but we always celebrate the Pascha from the earliest time in Christian memory.
            Fourth, without a societal pressure, religions have become a matter of private choice and a voluntary association. Our situation today is not unlike the situation of Christians in early centuries. To ensure our survival, we have to provide the people with something that make their lives meaningful in the mid of chaos and sufferings – that what the pre-Constantinian Christians used to do when they spread their faith across Southern Europe, North Africa, and eastward to the Persian empire and India.
Anh Q. Tran, S.J.,  aqtran@scu.edu               
Santa Clara University

8.          On Evangelical and Pentecostal growth
           Evangelicals and Pentecostals,  especially the latter,  have successfully deciphered how to blend religiosity with modernity or post-modernity. Historically they are products of modernity and post-modernity. Hence they have figured out how to maintain active religiosity in a secularized world. On the part of the mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations, those are still rumbling in the quagmire of the pre-secularized society. Whether you believe in evolution or not, the truth is that life responds to the evolutionary philosophy. Therefore, the choice of mainline Protestant and Catholics to continue to replicate religion of the pre-secular world will continually hunt them, period.
Marinus Iwuchukwuiwuchukwum@duq.edu
Duquesne University

9.                  The need for right theology
            We need "right" theology.  We also need to transvalue, not "dilute" it according to each new epoch.  The problem, of course, lies in what is the "right theology" and what is vehicle for the faith which has carried us into the 21st century.
            There are just too many people who cannot "buy" the essence of Christianity and Christ's life according the literal "died for our sins" version that many still hold so very sacred.
            This split between the literal and "poetic" versions of Catholicism is well documented by philosopher/theologian John D Caputo in his books, Religion witout Religion, The Weakness of God and the Insistence of God.
            Could there be at least two different valid interpretations of our faith…not just "continuity and rupture"?   Vatican II pointed us in the poetic direction while retaining the literal hermeneutic.  Might we have need for both literal and poetic interpretations of theology, governance and liturgy in the Church today?  …even it that means "allowing" (if not "fostering") the development of a new rite in our Church?
Lea Hunter, 4vatican2rite@gmail.com

10.               The growing skepticism of indifference
            Instead of the vigorous religious wars of the 16th century, we now have the growing skepticism of indifference.  Thus about 20-25% of young Americans are not affiliated with any religious denomination.  They are the “Nones.” The problem is that the religious culture is practically dead.  Holy days have now become holidays.  The Christ in Christmas has worn thin.    The solutions are difficult.  First, we have to be sure about what we actually believe.  Which religious customs have symbolic value for this 21st century secular person?  Which religious symbols no longer have meaning in a technological age?  Why do we use so many rural agrarian Bible stories when practically everyone lives in an urban area?  Inculturation was a big topic when dealing with indigenous people; why has no one tried inculturation in an urban secular culture?   Why aren’t churches using I-phones in their Sunday congregation instead of turning them off?
Eugene Finnegan, efinne1540@gmail.com
Calumet College of St. Joseph

11.         A paradigm shift
            Perhaps a paradigm shift in thinking about secularization would be helpful.  Maybe the presentation of sacred symbols and theology has lost resonance with more recent birth cohorts while the search for meaningful existence is primordial – i.e. not going to go away as it is integral to being human.  In this conception, the concept of secularization is not a useful one for understanding contemporary spiritual and religious practice and sentiment.  Perhaps the religious products on the shelf are irrelevant and could use “aggiornamento,” the updating of church structures, language and reconnecting to the culture in the vernacular –  where people really live and experience faith.
Wayne Thompson, wthompson@carthage.edu
Carthage College

       to Lea Anne
            John Caputo was the successor, at Syracuse University, to the French theologian, Gabriel Vahanian, who authored The Death of God in 1961.
            Vahanian described what he did as "theopoetics." He argued the Gospel kerygma sanctifies the world, which is to say that the Holiness of God makes the world "less than sacred but more than profane" --the arena of God's glory. He argued, like Bultmann,  if we want to proclaim the Gospel today, we have to do it in a new language no longer tied to a pre-scientific world.
        to Wayne
            Yes we are talking about a poetic paradigm shift. The word of God, like manna in the desert, must be gathered anew each day, making all things a new creation.
Darrell Faschingdarrellfasching@aol.com

13.                 Re: aggiornamento
            It was after all, Patriarch Maximos and his small Melkite band in a sea of Latin Rite hierarchs, who managed to introduce such items as the use of the vernacular, Eucharistic concelebration, and communion under both kinds in the Latin liturgy, the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order, the creation of what would become the periodically held Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, while championing new attitudes to and less offensive vocabulary in ecumenical relationships with other Christians, especially with the Orthodox Churches, and the recognition of Eastern Catholic communities for what they are, “Churches,” not “rites.”
Lea Hunter, 4vatican2rite@gmail.com

14.        Junk instead of nourishment
            Maybe in our bifurcation of secular and sacred we have lost the insight of universal revelation. As one person noted: in children, etc. Maybe, too, we in many cases offer junk instead of challenge and nourishment in religious instruction and in ritual.
            My husband and I yesterday experienced this at mass in English in Italy: poor readers, terrible homily, and not much more (yes, I do believe Eucharist is present, even under these condition.)  While it is certainly true that we must bring to Eucharist faith, it is important that there is something more than magic to take away.  Otherwise the "secular" world will be more attractive. And we will not even realize that God is speaking there.
Dolores L. Christiedlchristie@aol.com

15.        Piety like grass through cement sidewalks
            Yesterday, the Secular Carmelite community to which I belong celebrated its 25th jubilee of serving the Church as contemplative intercessors. We have 54 members. We constructed a litter for our St. Joseph statue (our patron), and four members carried it from our meeting hall into the chapel across monastery grounds as we walked behind singing. We prayed the litany to St. Joseph in the chapel and then had a Mass. During the celebration, gold and silver dust was seen on our clothing. I have read in the past this happens sometimes at Marian events and is supposed to be a sign of blessing....
            Piety will always spring up like grass through cement sidewalks. We all brought food for our local shelter as well.
Clare McGrath-Merkle, cmm4@verizon.net

16.        Being sacrament to one another
            If we understand ‘Sacra-ment’ to mean, sacred intention, purpose, remembrance, then, we must understand our naturalness as sacred, as sacra-ment. In Truth, we are of, and belong to the “Naturalis Sacramentum Ordinis”. In accepting the radical sense of ‘sacrament’, we cannot disconnect our own selves from being sacrament to one another, to all other – it is a divine commission attending our belonging to the Order of Nature. This is universal Divine Ordination.
Sylvester L. Steffen,   sylvesterlsteffen@evolution101.org

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