February 27, 2010

The mission of the laity...

From a talk by Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, at Holy Family Cathedral, Anchorage, Reading the Signs of the Times: Dominican Education and the Challenge of Contemporary Culture:

...All of this was deliberately discarded, and it is now the case that most Catholic universities are indistinguishable from any other. As a consequence, the positions of Catholic alumni on social questions, even on issues that directly reflect the Church's moral teaching, do not differ significantly from the rest of the population....

....Why was Catholic education so thoroughly abandoned? In my judgment, the reason is to be found in a profound sense of inferiority that pertained on the part of Catholic educators in the 1950's and 1960's. This is seen in the participants of the Land-O-Lakes Conference held in Wisconsin in 1967 around the topic "What is the nature and role of the contemporary Catholic university?"

Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame, chaired the conference that included the presidents or academic deans of Boston College, Georgetown, Fordham, the Catholic University and other Catholic institutions. At the center of their deliberations was an assertion: "The Catholic university participates in the total university life of our time, has the same functions as all other true universities and, in general, offers the same services to society."[iii] Behind this assertion was an assumption: that the Catholic university had not been acknowledged to participate fully in the university life of our time, to perform the same functions as other true universities or to offer the same services to society. We should notice this, crucial fact: that the definition of a true university was assumed to be other than the Catholic institution and that to become truly a university, a Catholic university must look to the non-Catholic institution as its standard or model....

...No thought was given to what had been the purpose of a Catholic university, which was not merely to put Catholics as an immigrant population on an equal footing with Protestant and secular populations, but to give Catholic students access to their own intellectual tradition and the European and Western culture that it had shaped...

...So little was left of anything distinctively Catholic in the curriculum of Catholic universities that some have begun to initiate programs in something called "Catholic Studies" in an attempt, one presumes, to imitate the non-Catholic institutions that have instituted similar programs.

There have, I think, been two principal consequences of the general collapse of Catholic higher education. First, it has compromised our ability to entrust the whole of the Catholic tradition to the generations that have followed my own. Second, it has had the ironic effect of clericalizing the Church, of marginalizing the contribution to the Church that most properly belongs to the laity

...This task of evangelizing the culture and its institutions is pre-eminently a lay responsibility. While the pastoral care of souls may not require creativity in the secular spheres of human life, the application of the Gospel to the initiatives and institutions that make up our contemporary world requires that fundamental questions concerning man and woman and the world must be explored and answered. Ironically, in their concern to accommodate Catholic education to the world, the Catholic institutions have rendered a real engagement with secular concerns far less likely. As a consequence, since Vatican Council II the Church has turned inward almost exclusively focused upon the care of the Catholic community, and a good part of the reason for this is that we have not formed our young people for the sake of the mission to secular society. The concern of the pastoral care of the community is that of Bishops, priests and deacons –of clerics– and in my lifetime the Church has become more clerical, not less...[my emphasis]
Posted by John Weidner at February 27, 2010 5:23 PM
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