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Entries from November 2019

Heroes of the Fourth Turning: The Challenge of Empathy and Accompaniment

How far does must empathy extend? Is it our responsibility, as Christians or as citizens, to understand intimately the perspectives of those whose views or way of life we detest? If I give myself over to identification with another person, do I have something to lose? These are profound questions, the types that I like to ask of students in my seminars. They have no easy answers. We each answer them with our lives.

These thoughts came to my mind recently when I had the fortune to attend the final performance of Will Arbery’s play Heroes of the Fourth Turning during its run at Playwrights Horizon in New York City. This play generated a sensation among the Catholic intelligentsia, particularly among youth of the millennial generation. It may be surprising, then, to consider that this play centers on a group of young adults whose paths crossed at a conservative Catholic college, Transfiguration College of Wyoming. Why did this play, unusual Theater District fare, generate so much attention as one of the off-Broadway hits of the fall?

Arbery’s play roots itself thoroughly in what we at Sacred Heart call the Catholic intellectual tradition, with discussions of Aristotle, Flannery O’Connor, Augustine and assorted contemporary figures. The program for the play references René Girard and Hannah Arendt.  Indeed, early in the play, two of the characters discuss “big conversations” as a hallmark of their friendship, going back to their time at the college. The play itself very clearly deals with the idea that an education focused on asking the “big questions” might not always lead to the answers that its proponents think they are seeking. Much hinges, I think, on whether one sees this aspect of “Great Books” or similar education as a feature or a bug.

Arbery’s notes in the program reference the idea of a fugue in its twofold meaning – the classical musical vision of the fugue as variations on a theme so masterfully executed in many works of Johann Sebastian Bach as well as in much Renaissance polyphony; and the idea of a fugue state in which someone temporarily loses their identity. In this way, the play functions as a kind of fugue, in which the five main characters put forth variations on a worldview, interrupted several times by a loud noise whose provenance remains mysterious, and concluding with one of the characters going into a fugue state. The “big conversations,” then, are a kind of music that needs various perspectives but yet remains incomplete and in need of the outside, dissonant note.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning is a work worth contemplating on a number of levels, and like all good and great art, it eludes easy answers to the questions it asks. Politically, it performs a double turn in exploring the ability of the conservatives on stage to empathize – or not – with others while asking a largely liberal New York audience to empathize with them. Yet I think its exploration of empathy is more profound on an existential and spiritual level. What, it asks, do we have to lose if we enter into the world of another? If I truly empathize with another person, do I remain myself or enter into a “fugue” state as Emily does near the end?

Pope Francis has emphasized accompaniment – walking with other people – as one of the central themes of his pontificate. For him, the church ought to be a place of accompaniment. But accompanying someone is a challenging task; it requires seeing the world from their perspective and identifying with them on a deep level. It has the potential to change us in ways that might make us uncomfortable. As Arbery himself puts it, identification with others is dangerous, and risks the loss of oneself. Gustavo Gutiérrez, founder of Latin American liberation theology, has described accompaniment in terms of the parable of the Good Samaritan, which means “entering the world of the other, of the ‘insignificant’ person, of the one excluded from dominant social sectors, communities, viewpoints and ideas.” Martin Luther King, preaching on this same Good Samaritan parable, called for a “dangerous unselfishness.” 

Will Arbery’s play challenges us, whether Catholic, ex-Catholic or never Catholic, to leave the road we are on and empathize with “others” in our community, church, nation and world; to forsake the self-absorption Pope Francis has frequently criticized within the church. As Arbery put it in an interview, “Love is ugly. Faith is painful. Joy hurts.” We need to take the risk of empathy, for in entering the lives of the others we can heal our own brittle selves.


Daniel A. Rober is a systematic theologian and Catholic studies professor at Sacred Heart University.


Promoting Social and Economic Justice Through Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

In January 2019 I wrote a blog here on “Culture Wars and Women’s Bodies.” I described how Christian groups allied with the political Right are able to influence international law and policy-making around sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) through the Mission of the Holy See, which has permanent observer status at the UN. I want to revisit that topic here in view of recent events in Nairobi, Kenya.

From 12th to 14th November 2019, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) co-convened a summit in Nairobi together with the Danish and Kenyan Governments to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The ICPD+25 Summit was attended by over 9,500 delegates from more than 170 countries. According to the final press release, conference participants made “bold commitments to transform the world by ending all maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.”

The rhetoric is idealistic but the aims are laudable, and in some areas there has already been considerable progress. The maternal mortality rate worldwide has declined by 38 percent since 2000, from 342 deaths per 100,000 live births to 211 deaths. Nevertheless, there are still an estimated 295,000 maternal deaths per year, of which 94% occur in the world’s poorest countries and communities. Poverty, racial and ethnic discrimination and war are all factors affecting maternal and infant survival. In the United States maternal mortality has increased over the past 30 years, with black women being three to four times more likely to die through causes relating to pregnancy and childbirth than white women. There are similar discrepancies between black and white maternal deaths in the UK.

Social and economic justice and maternal and infant well-being are therefore inseparable. If we want mothers and their children to survive and to thrive, we must address the policies and injustices which make pregnancy and childbirth a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of poor women and their children. Legitimate campaigns to protect the lives of the unborn must be balanced with the need to protect the lives of women and girls trapped in devastating situations of sexual abuse and enforced childbearing. The Catholic Church should be in the forefront of international efforts to combat the devastating impact of poverty on the lives of women and children, including campaigns to secure the right to sexual and reproductive health care and well-being. This is indeed the case at grassroots level through the work of Catholic NGOs and religious orders, but the Catholic hierarchy remains one of the most obstructive forces in the struggle for sexual and reproductive justice.

The Holy See boycotted the Nairobi Summit. In a press release it expressed concern that the summit was not being held under the official auspices of the UN. It criticized the organizers for reducing the agenda “to so-called ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ and ‘comprehensive sexuality education’” instead of focusing on issues such as “women and children living in extreme poverty, migration, strategies for development, literacy and education …”

Ever since the Cairo conference there has been an ideological stand-off between the Holy See and the majority of UN member states over SRHR. The Holy See has successfully lobbied to ensure that abortion has never been included as a reproductive right in official UN policies and resolutions. While the abbreviation SRHR is now common currency among development agencies and human rights campaigns, the Holy See and its allies in the UN have successfully ensured that official UN terminology refers only to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights (SRHRR), bracketing out sexual rights. The Holy See has registered numerous interventions and reservations to stipulate that such language should be interpreted according to church teachings on marriage, the family, birth control and abortion.

To question some of these tactics is not to say that SRHR campaigns should be unconstrained by any moral or religious perspectives. The importance of marriage and family life should be acknowledged in any development programme. The Holy See has the capacity to provide a voice of advocacy and conscience on behalf of the world’s poor which prevents the international development agenda from being hijacked by wealthy nations and corporations. Neo-Malthusian population control policies must be kept at bay if human dignity, rights and freedom of conscience are to be respected. Many feminist NGOs at the UN share some of these concerns and could be potential allies of the Holy See if there were less mutual hostility.

That press release on the Nairobi summit makes clear that the Vatican see the focus on SRHR as a distraction from issues of poverty, literacy and education, etc. This suggests a high level of ignorance or indifference to the ways in which poverty and lack of access to education and health care impact most directly on the lives of women and girls through their sexual and reproductive capacities. Their human dignity cannot be defended if their sexual and reproductive rights are bracketed out, but nowhere in Catholic social teaching is there any informed attempt to address these issues. The hierarchy’s romanticization of marriage and motherhood masks the grim realities of death, injury, abuse and violence which are the reality for hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest women and girls.

The Holy See’s boycott of the Nairobi Summit aligns it once again with the Far Right and with some of the world’s most oppressive states with regard to SRHR. The US Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement about ICPD+25 on behalf of the US, Brazil, Belarus, Egypt, Haiti, Hungary, Libya, Poland, Senegal, St Lucia and Uganda. It expressed reservations similar to those in the Holy See’s press release, saying: “We do not support references in international documents to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) .... In addition, the use of the term SRHR may be used to actively promote practices like abortion.”

The campaign organization CitizenGO has hundreds of thousands of subscribers around the world willing to sign any petition which opposes homosexuality and abortion and promotes a conservative political and religious agenda. It organized a petition asking President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya not to support the Nairobi Summit (he gave the opening address). In collaboration with March For Life CitizenGO organized protests in the streets of Nairobi and distributed banners and posters bearing the names of both organizations.

It feels painful to criticize Pope Francis when he is already under siege and is working so hard for positive change in the Church. Yet somebody needs to tell him that, as long as he colludes by his silence and evasion around the central question of women and the combined impact of poverty and patriarchy on women’s sexual and reproductive lives, he is lending implicit support to a cabal of far right interventionists working through Catholic networks. The messy, risk-taking church of the poor that he so passionately and eloquently promotes would not have boycotted Nairobi. It would have been there in the thick of the debates, speaking out as a voice of conscience on behalf of the world’s poorest women and girls from a position of attentive listening and dialogue.

Archbishop Antje Jackelén of Sweden said in her closing address to ICPD+25 that

SRHR is a win-win for ALL. We must work with faith organizations because influencing behavior change is one of their strengths. … We must build spaces for safe and brave and difficult conversations … Bodies matter to God, because in the Christian faith God took the form of human in Jesus Christ.

If only the Holy See could bring such words of wisdom to the dialogue instead of so often acting as a disruptive and obstructive presence.


Tina Beattie is professor of Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton, London.


A Marginalized Pope and How You Can Help Him

In Evangelii gaudium, the most important document of his pontificate, Pope Francis urges every bishop and local Church around the world to “undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” (EG 30).

This apostolic exhortation, also known as “The Joy of the Gospel,” seeks to “draw out the pastoral consequences” of the Second Vatican Council (cf. EG 38). It does so by offering “guidelines” for a “new phase of evangelization…marked by enthusiasm and vitality” (EG 17).

“I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear,” the pope says (EG 33).

Then he spells out what he’s looking for.

“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation, ” he says (EG 27).

“Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities,” Francis insists (EG 33).

Transforming, channeling and rethinking are all synonyms for changing such customs, structures and ways of doing things.

“We should not be afraid to examine them,” the pope says, even if they have deep historic roots and are beautiful. The litmus test is whether they still communicate the Gospel to people of our times (cf. EG 43).

The fact is that many of the Church’s customs and structures have become symbols of a self-preservation that is pathologically inward looking. They’ve become part of a comfort zone that the pope is trying to shake us out of; part of an illness that we don’t even realize is ailing us.

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he declares (EG 49).

The pope issued Evangelii gaudium in November 2013. That’s six years ago. 

But in these six years, how many dioceses around the world have actually begun the “resolute process of discernment, purification and reform” that the pope calls for? How many bishops in the United States have done so?

As a national body, they certainly have not. Judging by the business-as-usual proceedings at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting in Baltimore this week, one wonders how many of these prelates have even read the pope’s apostolic exhortation.

Reform-minded Catholics in the United States are right to be discouraged by an episcopal leadership that is so clearly out of sync with Pope Francis and the priorities and tone he has set for renewing and reforming the Church. The bishops are not following either the spirit or the letter of Evangelii gaudium. And let’s not even talk about his encyclical on the Care of Our Common Home, Laudato Si’.

Many of the bishops – and priests ordained within the past 25 years – seem to be more attached to the magisterium of Benedict XVI, but in an ideological way that turns the former pope’s more carefully nuanced theological musings into weapons for the culture war they are waging against “modernity.”

They and the clericalist laypeople that support them are obviously trying to outlast Francis, who is 83 years old next month. Their dream is that it won’t be long before there is a new pope who will base his pontificate on the “we have always done it this way” mentality.  

This dream is a nightmare for those Catholics who actually love and support Pope Francis and his vision for a reformed Church and a more united global family, as is spelled out so boldly in Evangelii gaudium and Laudato Si’.

How can reform-minded Catholics help the pope in this arduous task of rebuilding a house that is in such a clear state of collapse? He cannot do it alone.

First of all, be generous in responding to the request he makes almost every time he ends a speech or address: pray for him. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer.

Pray, also, for all bishops and priests – those who are supporting Francis, those who are indifferent to him and those actively working against him.

Second, actively encourage all those in ministry (ordained or not) to read the “The Joy of the Gospel.” Invite them, along with other friends and people of your parish, to form a study group to look more carefully at the document and find ways to implement its guidelines.

There are many practical steps that can be taken even without formal permission from Church authorities. They can contribute to a process of transformation, development and lasting change.

Third, invite people who have drifted away from the Church or have never felt welcome to join you at your regular place of worship. You will likely have to accompany them closely, at least at the beginning. But this, too, can be catalyst for introducing new energy for change.

And, finally, do not give up hope. The psalmist gives encouragement by proclaiming, “Put not your trusts in princes, in mortals that cannot save.”

Instead, be assured that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church and, as Lady Julian of Norwich said so famously in the 14th century, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”   

It may sound naïve. It may sound silly. But it is the truly Christian response.


Robert Mickens is the English editor for La Croix International website.


Being a Catholic College in a Neoliberal World

The challenges to Catholic higher education continue, though they are not what they were 20 or 30 years ago. The battle with the institutional church is won, but the embrace of the secular world has come to be fraught with more peril than we might have imagined. Hope for the future, which is surely what we have to have, will not be justified by defending the purity of our Catholic identity in face of episcopal suspicions. Rather, it will require us to find a way to be defiantly Catholic in a secular world that tends to be indifferent rather than hostile to Catholic schools to demonstrate that what the Catholic school has to offer is exactly what our world needs. If this sounds a little bit like the beginning of an editorial from First Things, a journal to which I subscribe solely for the purpose of learning how the other half thinks, be patient with me. Where First Things and its conservative allies imagine that the future lies in re-sacralizing our schools and colleges, I think the opposite is true. Our aim should be to secularize the genius of Catholic education. As Pope Francis might put it, we have to go to the periphery with a message of salvation. In a pluralistic world the message of salvation, of salus, is one that means both saving and health. The mission of the “missionary disciples” in this day and age, the mission to the world, is a message calling the human race to health, a health only to be accomplished in a healthy world. And the mission of our Catholic schools is increasingly a mission to students who do not come from the Catholic tradition and do not care about its internal concerns. The periphery, or some of it, may actually be in our classrooms.

We are all familiar with the dismal demographics of contemporary Catholicism. There are far fewer people actively participating in church than a generation ago, and far more of them, especially the younger generation, identifying themselves as “nones” or at least while still checking the box “Catholic” admitting to only rare or even no engagement with liturgical celebrations. For most of our institutions, the percentage of Catholic students is steadily decreasing, replaced by others with little or no interest in our tradition. And our Catholic students are largely under-catechized, even if they have weathered the horrors of CCD. However devout they might be, and some undoubtedly are, basic Catholic literacy cannot be taken for granted anymore. (And, parenthetically, couldn’t be taken for granted for their parents’ generation either.) Add to this that there are some good reasons for righteous anger against our church—though the appeal to that anger can sometimes be just a way of justifying one’s own drift away from commitment.

I think I am making a safe observation, though it is only anecdotal, drawn from my almost four decades of teaching undergraduates, that there is no correlation between the waning enthusiasm for institutional Catholicism among our students and their genuine goodness. They are mostly serious people, sometimes a little confused as the young often are, about priorities, but genuinely trying to find their way forward in what is a much more complicated world than the one in which most of us grew up. We all know of the epidemic of mental health issues among college students, and I think that we have not done nearly enough to relate it to the new stresses that students of today face. On the whole, we do not make them work as hard as we had to work in college, and we certainly grade them less harshly, so the stress has to have its ground somewhere else. And that somewhere else lies in what I am going to call the neoliberal constitution of our contemporary society.

It is with the first mention of the term neoliberalism that I am able to bring together our concern for the plight of our Catholic colleges and universities with the personal and spiritual stresses on our student body. Our institutions, our students and we, ourselves, live under the hegemony of global market capitalism and its latest and most sinister mutation, surveillance capitalism. When we make institutional accommodations to “the real world,” when we downplay principle in favor of pragmatism, or when we do nothing to address the fact that our students live their lives facing a small screen instead of one another, we are bending if not breaking in face of the hurricane force winds of the market. If, on the other hand, we resist these forces, is this not going to imperil our futures, even though in many respects we actually exist to confront these social forces? To modify Oscar Wilde’s phrase, “a neoliberal is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” Beyond the embattled humanities, aren’t we torn between pandering to neoliberalism in order to survive, and sinking in a sea of prophecy, drowning in our own anachronistic self-righteousness? Well, no, actually.

Many of our schools will not survive another 15 years with a clear Catholic identity if they do not make a conscious choice to survive with meaning. In other words, if we are just like everyone else, but struggling financially and with declining enrollments, small endowments and limited financial aid resources, the writing is very clearly on the wall. Viktor Frankl did not say that “meaning” would save the concentration camp victims. In fact, he observed that often the best and most compassionate of his fellow inmates were the first to succumb. On the contrary, his message was the darker one that survival with meaning was the only form of survival worth having. When he later applied his experience to his field of existential psychology, his interventions with his patients encouraged them to search their lives for what it was that prevented them determining that suicide was their only option. I do not recommend asking our college and university presidents why they do not commit institutional suicide. It is their job to keep us all afloat, after all. But I would suggest that merely keeping ourselves afloat is a form of institutional suicide. First the spirit, then the bricks and mortar.

The present pope’s principal priority is to reorient the Catholic Church away from the sin of self-referentiality to a genuinely evangelical perspective. For Francis, a Christian is a missionary disciple whose orientation should be towards the periphery. To be evangelical or missionary is to move away from the center, not to stay at home, however comfortable that might be. Perhaps we could call this the Hobbit option. Bilbo and Frodo loved the Shire, but they saw that placing their comforts aside and setting out to combat evil was the only way, in the end, that the Shire could be preserved. The trope of the quest has its uses, though it is not the Holy Grail that should be our objective, so much as a world that is made safe for all its denizens, human and nonhuman alike, to flourish in the home that their creator God has offered to them, presumably knowing full well that its viability depends upon the right choices being made.

To be evangelical or to be a missionary disciple is evidently to take up the challenge of spreading the good news. The Gospel, the god spel of Old English, literally means the good news. But what is the good news that the missionary disciple of today is called to proclaim? The gospel never changes, but in the words of Thomas Aquinas, Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur or “what is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” In other words, how the good news is spread must be tailored to what the hearers can hear. In days gone by, this meant that the missionary disciple needed to inculturate the message of the gospel in language and practices that the target audience could appreciate. Find a way to link veneration of the saints with the veneration of ancestors, or teach animists about the role of the Holy Spirit, or point as St. Paul did in Corinth to the shrine to the unknown God, and you are on your way to the full gospel. Today, the challenge is greater.

Much Catholic religious reflection is rightly suspicious of what is called “atonement theology,” the interpretation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as an act of God in which the blood of his son atones for our sinfulness and reconciles us with our creator. But if we can just see atonement as at-one-ment and not as a ransom for sin, something can be rescued here. Christ came to show the way for the human race to be restored to union with God, to overcome the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis, which at heart was a sin against God’s creation, punished by introducing toil into human life, toil with and sometimes against the created world. Reconciliation is a restoration of the original harmony between God, human beings and the whole created order.

If this is so, then the good news that Christians must proclaim is the message of discipleship of Christ, as the one who subordinated his own self to the demands of God for the restoration of cosmic harmony. The way beyond sinfulness, says Calvary, is the way of subordinating our own selves to the creative love of God, wanting above all a created order that is built upon love. And if this is true, how far have we strayed to become children of a neoliberal order in which price and not value is the primary good. Neoliberalism is self-referential and contradictory to the gospel. It is at its root a deeply sinful structure, even if all those who benefit from it are not personally deeply implicated in its sinfulness. But liberation theologians would have us understand that we are to some degree implicated in sinful structures. You do not have to own slaves to be guilty of living quietly in a slave society. And you do not have to be a master of the universe to be in some degree responsible for the evils of global market capitalism.

All of this has serious practical implications for the shape of the task we undertake as Catholic schools. Here then is what it comes down to. If a Catholic college or university is going to survive as authentically Catholic, it needs to be missionary and evangelical, promoting and spreading to the world beyond itself the message of the good news that God wills human other-directedness in the service of cosmic harmony. One of the major ways that it will do this will be to educate its students to as sophisticated and critical an understanding of the world today as it possibly can. And the other is to prepare students in the hope that they will choose to fight under the standard of the truly human, not that of the anti-human. When the institution does this, and when its students follow along, then they are missionary disciples, whether they are Catholic or Buddhist or whatever. And as the great theologian Karl Rahner would then comment, I believe, then they have been confronted by the message of salvation, and they have said yes to it in their own lives, ad modum recipientis recipitur.

This may sound hopelessly idealistic, though in my view it is coldly and clinically rational. The way for our institutions to survive with meaning is to stand up to the neoliberal world by the proclamation of human values, not specifically Catholic or Christian values, though I hope I have suggested to you that the message of salvation has more to do with authentic humanism than it does with Catholic or any other denominational language. This is what I meant at the beginning of this little essay when I advocated not the re-sacralization of the Catholic university, but rather the secularization of the genius of the Catholic educational tradition.

So what might all this mean concretely for how we go about our business just as long as we can? Our pedagogical mission orientation must be to maintain a constant intentionality throughout the curriculum. It is easy for a philosopher to be a humanist, but what does this have to do with theoretical physics or accounting? So, as serious and as critical an engagement as is possible with whatever is the object of study; in this sense as thoroughly worldly or secular as we can achieve, but accomplished against the background conscious awareness that all we do is prepare students academically and personally for entry into lives of responsible human behavior.

But there is not just pedagogy, there is also paideia, which is perhaps a term unfamiliar to some, but refers to the total educational impact of what we might call the culture of the institution. What goes on in the classroom in terms of human formation is of little avail if the academic community as a whole does not reinforce in all its practices the commitments it makes to the classroom. So, attention to paideia is vital, it is where we walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk, and it has many dimensions.

There are many schools that are aware of their responsibilities to the world, and there are not a few Catholic schools that are not as faithful to the gospel call to cosmic harmony as they ought to be. But the strength of the Catholic tradition is that the kind of intentionality I have identified is simply not optional for our faith tradition. Thus we have the impetus to engage seriously in the adventure of Catholic education, and we stand under judgment if we fail our students, our world and, consequently, our God. So this is the justification we need in face of any claim that we are sidelining what is most Catholic. What is most Catholic is what it most evangelical, in the sense in which I have used this term, most oriented towards genuine human fulfilment in the context of cosmic harmony. Because we are Catholic, that is why we do this. So the fabric of Catholic life, its liturgy and its sacramentality, its prayer and its rituals, are ways of declaring the “why” of our educational mission and the nature of our identity. They are not, if they ever were, the “what” of our mission.

Remarkably, I believe, if we have the energy and the luck to be able to teach and nurture in this way, at once vital to the world’s future and vital to the understanding of soteriology that I have been outlining, we will find ourselves in line with what, in fact, are the overriding concerns of the younger generations of our world, of any faith or none. Young people are rising up against their inheritance of environmental degradation, the destruction of species and the coming threats to water and food supplies. The holism of the Catholic perspective just happens to be exactly what the world needs right now, and we should not be afraid to proclaim the importance of our perspective. If we market ourselves along these lines and we can walk the walk that talking the talk suggests, we will attract more students rather than less. Yes, we will continue to train professionals, but if we are successful, they will be people who will put their skills at the service of humanity, not the global market economy. They may or may not be Catholic or Christian, but they will not be self-referential. Both our students individually and our institutions themselves indulge in self-referentiality at their peril.

As Catholic schools, we are not doing this for God, but we are doing this because God has missioned us to act on behalf of the human race. In solidarity with those of other faiths and none, the Catholic Church could lead the charge, and bringing it to readiness to do so may be the most important thing our colleges and universities can do for the world. Teaching students of all faiths and none, the traditional language of the Catholic tradition may seem to have fallen into the background, if not into total disuse. But the faith tradition is the foundation for the conviction that teaching in this way is the right thing to do, and the hope that through it we can remake the world. After all, this is surely what Christian discipleship intends.


Paul Lakeland is a teacher, scholar and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.