the grammar of simplicity

At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible ‘to fish’ for God in the deep waters of his Mystery. (Pope Francis address to Bishops of Brazil)

As a reader and a writer, I have great respect for those who show an economy of words. The same is true in speaking. We all know persons who will hog a conversation or take any opportunity to lecture others with their expertise. It is also seen on blogs, commentaries and discussion boards. I often find myself seeking the brief responses that pack a punch in a couple of lines. I’m easily turned off by bloviating souls who inflate their own egos with a verbosity that revels in weaving an aura of linguistic superiority. (oops! :-))

A grammar of simplicity is not about ‘dumbing down’ the message, though some seem to fear it is. EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo wrote in The National Catholic Register,  “This papal style is so different from the piercing intelligence of Benedict XVI or the philosophical theatricality of John Paul II that is almost jarring. The new Pope is at once blunt and simple — much like those receiving his message.”

I, for one, love the ‘blunt and simple’ approach of Pope Francis. It doesn’t mean I am blunt or simple; or even a simpleton! 😉

There is a time and place for dense, theological ponderings. I find them intellectually stimulating, but seldom spiritually uplifting.

There is a time and place for lengthy homilies, but I am more likely to go home with a keeper line to ponder further when the message is clear, concise, and on the mark.

The new evangelization calls us all to not only embrace more fully our own faith, but to work on spreading that faith in words and action. It’s a real challenge to share our beliefs in a simple yet clear way; to find the right words that express the truth in ways that entice others to learn more.

And, of course, here’s hoping that the grammar of simplicity can find its way back into our liturgical language…





it’s christmas, and time for catholics “come home” campaigns

The Vancouver Sun posted an article titled Canadian Catholics debate “Come Home” campaign I’m glad there is a debate, and add my voice to those who question the validity and effectiveness of these expensive, marketing campaigns. I’m also uncomfortable with the underlying message that they send.

For example, look at the language being used. “Fallen away” Catholics brings up images of the Archangel Michael sending Lucifer and his minions hurtling to hell. When we use the word “fallen”, we are already judging those who left as sinners. We are the holy, faithful ones. Our holiness is judged by our pew presence on a Sunday morning, a narrow view of holiness indeed.

The reasons for leaving an active church life are varied, yet we still hear the same tired litany of blame. It’s the “seductiveness of mass secular culture”. Families are too busy with extra-curricular activities. The increase in two income families results in fewer volunteers in the parish. In Vancouver, the “West Coast culture” is blamed for the rise of atheism and those who identify themselves as spiritual, not religious.

The blame is seldom turned inward. What about all the good women and men who can no longer stay in a church where abusive behavior is condoned? The sexual abuse crisis is a major issue. No less damaging are insensitive and bullying priests, bishops, and laity. A dysfunctional parish or diocese can push good souls in droves out the doors. Some experience a hurt so deep that no amount of marketing dollars will bring them back. And, no, they have not “fallen away”. They left, with good reason.

I am a strong proponent of the call for a new evangelization in our church. I find inspiration in the many voices that wisely speak to the foundational work that is required before we actively reach out to others. This foundational work recognizes the critical need for dialogue, both within our church and beyond.  It acknowledges the need to genuinely repent and make amends for the human sinfulness in our church. It seeks wisdom in silence and prayer. It focuses less on doctrinal purity and more on rekindling the heart of our faith. It knows that true conversion comes not from forced obedience, but from a free assent to the good news and demands of the gospel.

The new evangelization is much deeper and more profound than simply filling up the pews on Sunday.  Until we have faced the difficult tasks of this foundational work, any efforts to draw women and men back to a full and active participation in parish life will be superficial at best. Expensive marketers and glossy media campaigns might draw a few curious souls through our doors. Unless they find a healthy, vibrant, faith-filled community to welcome them, they may not come back. After all, we know what happens to new wine in old wine-skins.

the bourgeois story and the new evangelization


Here is my latest catholic dialogue column for the Prairie Messenger. The expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Order and the priesthood for his support of women’s ordination has made headlines around the world. Top-down, disciplinary actions and demands for doctrinal purity and unquestioning obedience seem to be increasing. How do these disciplinary actions affect the perception of our Church? What effect do they have on the new evangelization?

If a pure church is the goal, new evangelization is not needed