flying in the face of tradition: listening to the lived experience of the faithful

I equate holiday time with a good read. I start with a light book to clear the head. An Andrew Greeley novel is perfect for this. Greeley’s characters, dialogue, and plots offer an entertaining romp through the humanness of church life. His mischievous approach to romance and sexuality has won him many critics who wonder how a priest can know so much about human love. Somehow, I always come away from a Greeley mystery loving my Catholic faith a wee bit more.

I also wanted to catch up on some more serious reading, and opened up Flying in the Face of Tradition: Listening to the Lived Experience of the Faithful by Louis DeThomasis, FSC. I found it to be as much of a page turner as the Greeley novel. DeThomasis is a De LaSalle Brother, a Christian educator and investment manager. Now in his early 70’s, he addresses the need for transformation in our church.

In answer to the question, “Is the institutional church dying?” he responds with a firm Yes! He is careful to clarify the difference between the institutional, structural church and the church which is the Body of Christ, the People of God. He believes “the super-structure of the church, the one that makes the institutional rules and has made the institutional mistakes that have gotten us into our present situation…it is the institutional church that is dying, not the church we Catholics belong to.” And, it needs to die in order for the real transformation to take place.

DeThomasis believes that religious ideologues in all faith traditions, “do nothing but stifle the human imagination in its quest to embrace the faith mystery. It reduces the religion to neat, ideological formulae under the guise of ‘truth’, ‘orthodoxy,’ ‘rules,’ and ‘doctrine.’ Is this not what Jesus fought against his entire life?”

He asks us to look more closely at the role of tradition and reason in our church. Tradition is not a strict adherence to the past. It is “a way for the People of God, which is the church, to read the signs of the times and invent the future. It is a liberating force, not an inhibiting one.” We need “to embrace tradition, understand what it really means, and begin to really exercise it.”

The political leanings of a writer are easily identified in the lexicon they embrace. DeThomasis yearns for the dynamics of subsidiarity, collaboration, dialogue, shared responsibility, acceptance of diversity, inclusivity, gender equality, and globalization. He yearns for the model of church proposed by Vatican II. He also fearlessly plunges into the forbidden waters of female ordination; refusing to accept that the issue is no longer open to discussion.

Louis DeThomasis affirms that a questioning Catholic is not a bad Catholic. He writes not to tear down and condemn. He writes from a deep hope for the church that he loves; the church that is the People of God.  Flying in the Face of Tradition is not a dense, theological treatise. It is an easily accessible read for those of us who are not theologians, and this adds to its richness. It is a valuable resource for individual pondering and group dialogue.


Vatican criticizes US theologian’s book on sexual ethics | National Catholic Reporter

Sr. Margaret Farley

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has sharply criticized Just Love, an award-winning book on sexual ethics by Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley, a prominent Catholic theologian at Yale University.

“Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,” the congregation’s five-page “Notification” said.

In those areas, it said, the author’s position “contradicts” or “is opposed to” or “does not conform to” church teaching.

(From Vatican criticizes US theologian’s book on sexual ethics | National Catholic Reporter.)

Some people wait for Oprah to tell them what to read. I depend on our good bishops. They have the concern of my eternal soul at heart and want to ensure that I will not read anything that might sully my pure and ignorant lay mind. So, if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) warns me of a book, I scoot right on over to Amazon to see if it’s available. This is how Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God popped into my online shopping cart last year.

This morning, I snagged the last copy of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics on As with most books that get a highly publicized CDF seal of unapproval, it will probably sell like hot-cakes.

Online Catholic new-sites were hopping with the news of Sr. Margaret Farley’s censure today. The usual voices on discussion boards were present, yelling yay or nay to the CDF for their work. Few, I believe, actually read the book. I haven’t. Jamie L. Manson, one of my favorite writers at NCR, provided a wonderful back-grounder on Sr. Farley and her work. Jamie was her student and research assistant at the Yale Divinity, so knows of whom she speaks.

NCR has also provided a summary of the book. Frankly, Sr. Farley had me at the title, Just Love. She attempts to explore difficult issues around sexuality through a justice lens, using the traditional notion of justice as “to render to each his or her due,” taking that to mean “persons and groups of persons ought to be affirmed according to their concrete reality, actual and potential.”

The seven norms Farley gives for a framework of Christian sexual action are

  • Do no unjust harm
  • Free consent
  • Mutuality
  • Equality
  • Commitment
  • Fruitfulness
  • Social justice

Sr. Farley, herself, admits that her book departs from orthodox Catholic thinking regarding sexuality. And, she is honest about this. But her work is that of a theologian, and not a catechist. A catechist is meant to ‘echo’ the doctrine and teachings of the Church. A theologian explores them, and seeks how they can speak to women and men of today. Admittedly, mistakes may be made along the way; as with any research. But there is also the possibility for discovering new ways of thinking and understanding.

Many are saddened at what seems to be another example of ecclesial bullying of theologians. The irony of it being yet another religious woman during the tensions surrounding the crack-down on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has been apparent to many. But, perhaps it will send more enquiring minds to check out what the fuss is all about. That is what this enquiring mind is going to do.

And a boost in book sales might give Sr. Farley the support she needs for the fight ahead.

the power of introverts

I cringe at attending large social gatherings. I abhor the group think mentality of pep rallies or the over-enthusiastic speaker who insists we answer their rhetorical questions with exuberant unison. I need silence and solitude to read and write. I avoid loud debates; whether in person or online. I simmer inwardly when an over-confident, smooth talker monopolizes a meeting. I love my lively clan of a family, but need to retreat to my room to replenish my energy.

I think I might be an introvert!

Now I have found an ally who has intelligently and insightfully put into words the story of being an introvert in an increasingly extroverted world. I’m only in the middle of Susan Cain’s fabulous book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but have already gleaned much wisdom and understanding from it. Cain has written a very readable book, filled with solid research, exploring how the culture in the U.S.A. changed from a focus on character to personality. From Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People to Unleashing the Power Within with Tony Robbin’s, we are told that success is equated with being able to convince others to buy what we are selling (whether it’s products, ideas or ourselves) and to do so with over-the-top confidence and bravado. From corporate board rooms to church pews, the focus is too often on presentation and not substance.

Ideas are what form substance, and this is where introverts usually excel. Throughout her book, Cain returns to naming a litany of introverts whose ideas have been the catalyst for great change in the fields of science, technology and the arts.  In the introduction, she quotes the science journalist Winifred Gallagher,

The glory of the disposition that stops to consider the stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.

Of course our world needs the gifts of both introverts and extraverts. It’s not a matter of either or, but of both and. But this book is an affirmation for those of us who have ever felt drowned out by the extroverted world we live in.

(Note: the next few posts will continue this discussion. In the meantime, here’s a link to an interview with Susan Cain on CBS News.)