From a Chicago Tribune piece (May 31, 2008) titled, "Catholic activists mark the end of an era":
In the late 1970s, with memories of Vietnam still raw and the Cold War raging, hundreds of activists rallied in peace and justice movements, pressing the government for change.
Here in Chicago, a former priest and a former nun saw a chance for similar activism within the Roman Catholic Church. In 1976, Dan and Sheila Daley launched Call To Action, a group of Catholics seeking to act out God's vision in society and hold leaders accountable.
Hmmm..."similar activism"—that is, not just questioning authority, but rebelling against and undermining for one simple reason: it is authority. One has to wonder: how well can you hold leaders accountable to a certain standard when you deny, reject, and discard that very standard? Sure, it seems bold and controversial—
Bold and controversial from the start,
—told you so!—
Call To Action made history as the first lay group to publicly question the church's prohibitions on birth control, women's ordination, homosexuality and celibacy for priests. Its actions paved the way for other reform groups, including Voice of the Faithful and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
—but that means little enough. Being "bold and controversial" is only as good as the things you are being bold and controversial for and about. Saints Peter and Paul were also "bold and controversial" in their time, and its instructive to note that their witness, which involved being martyred for their Master, has lasted two thousand years, while the, um, witness of Call to Action and Co. is fading fast.
The question is whether the next generation will take up the call. Many of the Catholic priests and laypeople who pushed for more far-reaching change after the Second Vatican Council are now 60 or older. In addition, church activists see the papacies of Pope John Paul II and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, as bringing church reform to a near-standstill. Because of that, some observers think the couple's exit may signal the end of an era.
"What we're seeing today with Catholics under 40 is, frankly, the reason they're not joining groups like Call To Action is not because they agree with the bishops. It's because they don't care," said Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.
And why, Father Reese, do you think that is? Is it because they—having received a meaningful and meaty catechesis, spent regular time in Eucharistic adoration, attended reverent liturgies, and been immersed in the teachings and practices of the Church—have become bored, listless, and otherwise disgusted? Or could it be that they—having been shown and told in countless ways that Church teaching is either silly or meaningless, endured banal music and liturgies, and been spoon fed endless bowls of indifferentism and relativism—finally said, "Yeah, this really is silly and meaningless. I'm outta here!"? Could it be that they don't care about the agenda of Call to Action because that agenda is largely stuck in the Sixties and is based on a seriously flawed assumption: that making the Church more like the world will attract more people to the Church.
Nicole Sotelo, 30, Call to Action's program coordinator, said NextGen members recently created a group on Facebook, the popular Internet meeting place. In May, they also launched a blog for young Catholics at youngadultcatholics-blog.com.
In related news, it is estimated that 138 trillion high school and college students already have Facebook pages (heck, I have one!) and that 453 quadtrillion people have blogs (me too!). Welcome to the the 21st century!
"I think many young Catholics have not found the church to be a welcoming place, and they have left. So we're trying to reach them," she said.
Sotelo said future battles for Call To Action will focus on monitoring sexual abuse reforms, fighting racism in the church and protecting the environment, which is the theme for this year's convention, to be held Nov. 7-9 in Milwaukee.
I'd like to hear some of those conversations. I can only imagine...:
Call to Action Person (CAP): Say, are you a Catholic?
Former Catholic (FC): Yeah...so?
CAP: Why don't you come back to the Church?
FC: Uh, why? It's boring. And stupid. And backwards.
CAP: But we're working hard to make it hip and smart. And progressive. Very progressive and forward-thinking. For example, we're starting to work to save the whale and rain forests.
FC: Nice. But I'm already a member of several ecologically sensitive, earth-friendly groups. Have been since 1992.
CAP: Okay, but we're also fighting racism.
FC: Great, sure. That's a bit...yesterday, isn't it. What about sexism, genderism, homophobia?
CAP: Oh, yeah, of course. We're working on that. We have committees and focus groups looking into all of that right now. And we're fighting for women priests.
FC: Well, the Episcopalian group I spend time with has had women priests for years. We never use gender-specific pronouns. And my yoga classes and Buddhist prayers give me the spiritual insight and balance I need.
CAP: [Excitedly] Buddhism! Yeah, that's great stuff! And yoga. I want to do yoga. Uh [recovering composure], but don't you want to be Catholic and do all of that stuff?
FC: [Genuinely bewildered] Why? How? Hey, look, I gotta run. Send me an e-mail.
CAP: Uh...what's that?
And, in closing, the article states:
Today, the group includes 25,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.
But if you ask what the founders believe has been their greatest accomplishment, Sheila Daley said it is creating a place for progressive Catholics to find community.
"I think we have been a very significant support to people who are trying to live out this kind of vision of their Christianity and Catholicism and have felt isolated and alone," she said. "Through us, they have found other people that they can gather with who have that similar vision. That's almost the most important thing."
And what is the most important thing? Rebelling against authority, apparently. That seems bold and controversial, but it is nothing compared to the witness of Peter and Paul, who were rebels in many ways, but were ultimately disciples. They didn't simply define themselves by what they denied (sin, the world, etc.), but by what they embraced, namely, the Person and the Cross of Christ. In the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar:
Everything that I am (insofar as I am anything more on this earth than a fugitive figure without hope, all of whose illusions are rendered worthless by death), I am solely by virtue of Christ's death, which opens up to me the possibility of fulfillment in God. I blossom on the grave of God who died for me. I sink my roots deep into the nourishing soil of his flesh and blood. The love that I draw in faith from this soil can be of no other kind than the love of one who is buried.
Christian belief means the unconditional resolve to surrender one's life for Christ's sake. (The Moment of Christian Witness [Ignatius Press, 1994], pp 26-6.)
"Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts,and be renewed in the spirit of your minds..." (Eph 4:22-23; emphasis added). Now that is a true call to action.
Excerpts from the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar:
• The Conquest of the Bride | From Heart of the World
• Jesus Is Catholic | From In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic
• A Résumé of My Thought | From Hans Urs von Balthasar: His Life and Work
• Church Authority and the Petrine Element | From In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic
• The Cross–For Us | From A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen
• A Theology of Anxiety? | The Introduction to The Christian and Anxiety
• "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary" | From Credo: Meditations on the Apostles' Creed