5 responses to “Communion(s) of Saints

  1. Aaron,
    Thanks for this post which raises some good points and can be a kickoff for some good conversation. I like the idea of a need to rethink how our inner sense of faith is connected to our outward practice. I also share in your concerns about church shopping — something deeply connected to our consumer culture (Although, I have mixed feelings about this when I hear of people finding real spiritual fulfillment in going to Latin Mass across town or finding a parish where they feel welcome as a divorced parent, person of color, or LGBT Catholic at the Jesuit parish in the city).

    Something that is often missed when speaking of the impact of the Second Vatican Council is that the communitarian impulse following Vatican II built heavily on pre-Vatican II models including sodalities, devotional societies, Catholic Action, and the young Christian worker movement. The movements around the council were not, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, a break from the past, but a development of a rich tradition.

    Sadly, it seem very commonplace in some circles to decry and dismiss the efforts of at building a participatory church as “sentimental.” For the moment, I will not address the problematic nature of this term that carries with it a lot of sexist baggage where the sentimental is pejoratively relegated to the feminine and rational to the masculine.

    I don’t see these practices and the People of God ecclesiology as opposed to beautiful devotional traditions such as the Sacred Heart. A lot has changed in the world over the past fifty years and it is not all related to Vatican II (the loss of the Catholic ghetto culture is a big part). The lack of interest in some of these devotions in the USA (many of them related to ethnic traditions) may have more to do with cultural changes than the council. –Just look at the changes that are happening in Jewish and Protestant communities.

    In the face of individualistic neo-liberal globalization and consumerism driven by American culture, the People of God and liberation models of church are far from “sentimental.” In fact, these are radical in their ability to move people to deeper internal relationships with God and with one another.

    While I agree that too much attention to community can lead to false (external) community and detract from the radical demands of committed discipleship, it is also true that many devotions can also be individualistic and cut people off from what is happening in the liturgy, the church and the world.

    Thanks again for the post. These are just a few thoughts.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Kevin. Here are some others to continue the conversation:

    I agree that certain devotions were linked closely to ethnic traditions, but I think devotions such as a prayer for the “poor souls” and devotion to the Sacred Heart had a rather international profile. I think the rather tenuous hold that they now have on the Catholic imagination is evidence that something broader is happening. I also agree that not every change can be laid at the feet of the Council. Broader cultural shifts are afoot. Still, it’s also clear that the Council was also a catalyst for change in the broader culture, so the two can’t be neatly separated.

    “Sentimental” would naturally only have sexist overtones if one presumed from the outset that women are more prone to sentimentality. I don’t necessarily assume that. And, at least as the word is used in the post, I don’t think that women are more sentimental than men. The male-oriented fraternal orders (rotarians, freemasons, etc.) would equally fit the bill of “sentimental” organizations.

    It’s always hard to speak about a movement as broad as liberation theology, but I think one could certainly find “sentimental” elements (as defined in the essay) in such movements as ‘comunidades de base,’ which attempted to recenter the Church in “intentional” (i.e., elective rather than an ‘inherited’) communities. This often involved a process of ‘conscientization’ by which the comunidad itself became a project and explicit focus of aspiration. They would share these traits with non-liberationist movements as well, but I use that example because it is from those quarters that I more often hear the narrative of once-privatized-now-socialized-faith.

    And finally, yes, everything can be abused–even devotions.

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