Thursday, January 30, 2020

Real heat and true joy

I'm spending the night at the local shelter for families. My usual spot is on an airbed by the door - as portress. A statue of Mary and a large green plant screen some of the light from the parking lot, an Oriental folding screen gives me a bit of privacy from anyone in the hallway. I set my water bottle and phone on the window ledge, and leave my shoes in easy reach. The hall isn't heated, but I bring my sleeping bag and warm socks.

But when I arrived tonight, no bed by the door. Instead I've got a room with a door, and as the director pointed out before she left, "You have real heat!" Not a space heater, it's on a central system, complete with thermostat. (The families' quarters, I hasten to point out, are nicely climate controlled!) It's a storage space, with bins along the walls with supplies for the religious education program, and boxes of books on tables. But it has a picture of laughing Jesus on the wall, and a spot to put my glasses and phone. The real heat is a delight, but the real joy is that picture on the wall.

Friday, January 03, 2020

Via media in the Catholic media

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University just down the road, has a new article up at Commonweal. In "Dangerous Disconnects" he expresses concern about the ways that the formation of Catholic priests is disconnected from the broader intellectual world, as well as from the day to day lives of the laity. Likewise, he notes that academic theology is also
"..if seminary formation is too cut off from the real lives of Catholics, then I think (and I realize that I am generalizing here) the same can sometimes be said for academic theology. Yes, there are numerous examples of theologians who clearly have an ecclesial intentionality and do wonderful work for the people of God. It is not an issue of personal intentions, however, but of the systemic position of academic theology in an endangered Catholic intellectual ecosystem, one in which the magisterium and theologians in the academy also have to compete with the “teaching” found on Catholic blogs and websites and various other outlets."
I don't disagree with Faggioli's basic premise that seminary education and theology departments are too often disconnected from each other and from the lives of the faithful, but I take some issue with all Catholic blogs being rolled into one bundle and with their content described as "teaching" — which I'm certain is not meant as either a compliment nor as an assurance of orthodoxy. I write a (small) Catholic blog, I'm theologically trained at a Roman Catholic seminary and consider myself part of the Catholic intellectual ecosystem. I'm pretty sure I'm doing the work Faggioli is suggesting should be done.

Yes, I know, I have a limited audience compared to many blogs, but I'm not a single voice crying out in the wilderness and I write in other outlets as well. I've written books, contributed to larger blogs and written hundreds of columns for my archdiocesan paper. Currently active Catholic bloggers and writers with strong theological training are out there, including Mags Blackie, Fran Szpylczyn at There Will Be Bread, Mary Poust at Not Strictly Spiritual, Catholic Mom (which I found through Franciscan Mom), and Fr.Austin Fleming at A Concord Pastor Comments. Many more voices are active on Twitter and other social media platforms. The Catholic intellectual sphere is less of a monolith than Faggioli suggests and I wish Fagglioli's article had explored the Catholic intellectual and social media ecosystem a bit more deeply.

Still, I fear we are conceding the field to loud voices who indeed field dubious teaching and preach divisiveness rather than unity. Many of these sites are like train wrecks, it's hard to look away. I understand, I'm guilty of giving them clicks and browsing their Twitter feeds and wondering if we are in the same church (should priests be hawking ammunition on their web sites? Discuss!). Can Catholic Twitter stretch to be as catholic as the Church?