As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently attended a talk by historian, author, and theologian Paul Collins.
Actually, he and his wife Marilyn Hatton, who serves as a co-convenor of Ordination for Catholic Women (OCW), were both speakers at a September 12 Spirituality in the Pub event in Goulburn.
The title of their talk was “Handing on the Faith to the Next Generation: Have We Been a Success or Failure?” Together, Paul and Marilyn made a very interesting and insightful presentation in responding to this important question.
They began their presentation by outlining “the current context,” one marked by rampant materialism; a “tendency to fundamentalist views in a depleted historical era”; a growing number of people more educated about and questioning of religious issues; and a Church leadership in crisis, in transition, and, in many ways, no longer leading in a Christ-like fashion but masking and distorting God’s love and wisdom.
Such a challenging context gives rise to some important questions for the Catholic Church, a major one being: How do we model and practice our faith?
Collins is particularly concerned that our liturgies often fail to mediate experiences of the transcendent, a sense of the sacred. He notes that for many young people, nature is the place to which they go so as to experience awe.
“We need to help young people experience a sense of the sacred [within the Catholic community],” says Collins, along with “a sense that this sacred reality beckons them to respond in both prayerful silence and action.”
Insisting that he was “anti-clericalism, not anti-clergy,” Collins suggested to the audience (numbering around forty) that “real leadership is not to be found among bishops and clergy” (many of whom have fallen prey to clericalism), but, more often than not, “in Catholic schools; in groups of principals and teachers dedicated to reflecting communal living, social justice, and a sense that life is more than ‘the mighty dollar.’”
They, along with Catholic families, are, says Collins, “creating the Catholic imagination,” which, like a filter, enables young people to imagine and see the world in a uniquely Catholic way.
As Collins points out, “Our faith is not just about feeling happy and being nice, but about a 2,000-year-old tradition.” Catholicism should “help young people place themselves in the flow of history and the world.”
Yet Collins, though a firm believer in “the tradition” of the Catholic faith, is not a “traditionalist,” a term that has come to mean someone fearful of and resistant to change.
“If there’s one constant in the Church,” says Collins, “it’s change.” That being said, he acknowledged a tension within the contemporary Church regarding “sorting out what is constant and permanent, and what is changing and needs to be changing.”
“Our Catholic tradition equips us with freedom of conscience and a striving for understanding,” noted Collins towards the end of his co-presentation.
All of which “allows us to be generous and flexible to whatever life presents,” added Hatton.
Both agreed that freedom of conscience is one of the most important aspects of our faith needed to be handed on.
And thankfully there are people like Paul Collins, Marilyn Hatton, and others working within the Church to ensure that this and other important aspects of our rich Catholic faith are identified, discussed, celebrated, embodied and, indeed, “handed on.”
Above from left: Jacki Kruger, Goulburn SIP co-coordinator; Marilyn Hatton; Pat Smith, principal of St. Joseph's Primary School; Paul Collins; and Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the U.S.-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities – Goulburn , September 12, 2006.
See also the Wild Reed posts:
• Goulburn Revisited
• Goulburn Landmarks
• Goulburn Reunion