Earlier this week, friends in Minnesota informed me of the death of Rev. Harvey Egan.
As noted by reporter Glenn Howatt in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Harvey “transformed” the south Minneapolis parish of St. Joan of Arc into the vibrant community it is today.
"Egan was installed as St. Joan of Arc pastor in 1967,” writes Howatt, “and under the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, he created a contemporary mass that was conducted in the church’s gymnasium. ‘That was the time to make up your mind, whether you were going to go with old church or new,’ Egan said in a 2003 interview posted on the church’s website. I knew what Vatican II said and I knew this was the right way to go.’”
Howatt also notes how in 1978, Egan invited feminist Gloria Steinem to speak from the church pulpit. The event, Howatt reports, “drew a public reprimand from the Archdiocese,” which said Egan exercised poor judgment in inviting Steinem, a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, to deliver a sermon.
Yet far from being detrimental to St. Joan of Arc, the controversy served to bring into clearer focus the values and ministry of the community: “[We] believe in women and their participation in the liturgy,” said Egan in 2003. “[We] believe in contemporary themes and their position in the liturgy.”
The Star Tribune notes that “Egan’s ministry was also underscored by opposition to war, poverty and racism,” and that “while he weathered rebukes at anti-war protests and calls for his recall by some conservative Catholics, St. Joan of Arc grew during and after his tenure.”
Harvey believed that activism was the antidote to the stagnation that overt emphasis on traditionalism inevitably leads. “Where Jesus was doesn’t interest me. It’s where he is now that I want to find,” he told the Star Tribune in 1986 when he retired. “I want to see the action now. The message of the resurrection is that love of Christ is alive and in operation here and now.”
Although I have connections with St. Joan of Arc, have facilitated collaborations between the parish and the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the organization I serve as executive coordinator, and have even delivered a sermon at St. Joan’s, I unfortunately never had the honor of meeting and conversing with Harvey Egan.
Yet reading about Harvey and reflecting on his words, I am reminded of Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe and his observations on contemporary Catholicism, and in particular, his understanding of “Kingdom Catholics.”
In his April 2006 address at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Radcliffe identified two types of Catholics – Kingdom Catholics and Communion Catholics. According to Radcliffe, the church needs both.
Here’s what Radcliffe has to say about the former: “By Kingdom Catholics, I mean those of us who have a deep sense of the church as the pilgrim people of God on the way to the kingdom. The theologians who have been central for this tradition have been people like the Jesuit Karl Rahner, and the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Gustavo Gutierrez. This tradition stresses openness to the world (finding the presence of the Holy Spirit working outside the church), freedom, and the pursuit of justice.”
St. Joan of Arc parish certainly embodies this particular way of being Catholic.
By “Communion Catholics,” Radcliffe means those who came to feel that after the Second Vatican Council, there was an “urgent need to rebuild the inner life of the church.” According to Radcliffe, such Catholics “went with theologians like Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger. Their theology often stressed Catholic identity, was wary of too hearty an embrace of modernity, and stressed the cross.”
My sense is that many of St. Joan of Arc's critics embrace this particular tradition, this particular way of being Catholic.
Radcliffe is quick to point out that “all this is a bit of a caricature,” yet “most of us will feel some attraction to both of these traditions, [though] will probably feel a primary identification with one or the other.”
In accounting for the deep divisions within contemporary Catholicism, Radcliffe suggests that “both Kingdom and Communion Catholics are suffering from what Mindy Thomson Fullilove calls ‘root shock’ in her new book of the same title. She was describing the traumatic experience for black communities of enduring the destruction of their neighborhoods. Millions of black people found not just their houses destroyed in the name of urban development, but their communities dispersed. So root shock is the loss of home. Fullilove writes that ‘root shock is the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional ecosystem . . . Root shock undermines trust, increases anxiety about letting loved ones out of one’s sight, destabilizes relationships, destroys social, emotional and financial resources, and increases the risk for every kind of stress-related disease, from depression to heart attack. Root shock leaves people chronically cranky, barking distinctive, croaky complaints that their world was abruptly taken away.’”
Says Radcliffe: “One of the effects of root shock is that you want to live with people like you. You become suspicious and nervous about people who are different. I argue that all Catholics, especially those in the United States, are suffering from root shock.
"Both Kingdom and Communion Catholics find their sense of being at home in the church threatened and undermined. Kingdom Catholics were filled with joy by the [Second] Vatican Council, and felt themselves to be on the way to a deeply renewed and less clerical church, which would be a sign of hope and liberation. But as the years went by, they often felt disappointed and betrayed. The church was not turning out to be the home they had hoped for. And Communion Catholics also felt betrayed. They endured the loss of beloved traditions, ways of celebrating the liturgy, a sense of a Catholic world. Nuns threw away their habits, and it seemed that you could believe and do whatever you liked. And so both blamed the other side for destroying our home. And this produced just the anger and insecurity that Fullilove described. Each side blames the other for their exile, and that produces anger and frustration.”
And what is the remedy for such a divisive situation? According to Radcliffe, the first thing that we must do is to “get some feel of the loss of home that ‘the other side’ feels. We must get some sense of their pain in exile.”
Second, we need to understand that the church needs both parties if it is to flourish. Radcliffe notes that, interestingly, “both understanding of what it means to find a home in the church are present at the Last Supper.”
He observes that “the sharing of the bread is centripetal . . . It gathers us into the community of Christ’s friends and disciples. It is a sign of that interior life of the church which is so crucial for Communion Catholics. But the cup of wine is centrifugal. It expresses that outward thrust which is important for Kingdom Catholics, the reaching out to all humanity, ready to find the Holy Sprit working in all people.”
Thus, says Radcliffe, “the central sacrament of the church, the sign of our shared home, has then this double rhythm. It gathers in and reaches out. It is like breathing. We breathe in and we breathe out. If we just emptied our lungs or just filled them, we would die! We need both if we are to live, just as the church needs a fruitful and living tension between Kingdom and Communion Catholics. I believe that it is a tension which is present in the very name of our church, Roman Catholic. ‘Roman’ stresses the clear identity that we have, in communion with the see of Rome, an identifiable community, with its particular ways of talking and praying. ‘Catholic’ stresses the outreach for what is universal, and which can be impatient with too secure and fixed identity. This tension has always been present in the church . . . It is present today still. We need to live this tension happily and fruitfully, and not as a battle to the death. And that means that we have to dialogue.”
I have a feeling that Harvey would agree.
To read Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow's piece on the Rev. Harvey Egan, click here.