John C. Haughey
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Many non-Catholic Christian students, especially those whose backgrounds are Lutheran or evangelical, are not shy about making personal faith statements in my theology classes at Loyola University Chicago. Faith statements made in a classroom are pure gold for a teacher of theology, because they legitimize conversations that go beyond theology to the convictions in the hearts of the students.

Catholic students, on the other hand, are very slow to make faith statements or statements about a personal relationship with Christ, even though Pope John Paul II has insisted that a personal, even intimate relationship with Christ should be the aim of our programs of catechesis in the church. This has led me to ask an uncomfortable question: have Catholic students been catechized into what one might call Church-ianity, whereas many of our non-Catholic Christian students are in a religious condition of Christ-ianity?

Catholic students are quick to talk about their experience of church, both positive and negative. They are not shy in talking about their moral convictions—about social justice, for instance. They are somewhat aware of the complexity of Scripture, in particular how difficult it is to find the historical person of Jesus in the New Testament. Not a few are savvy about the complexity of church history and of the different and sometimes conflicting models of the church that are operating in their home parishes. They are even somewhat conversant with doctrinal developments within the church, especially since the Second Vatican Council. All this is to the good.

What is not to the good is that all this knowledge—theological, doctrinal, moral, scriptural, historical—can leave them somewhat knowledgeable but apparently uncatechized—at least according to Pope John Paul’s definition of that term—without even suspecting the difference between these two different religious conditions.

I am not presuming that Catholic students do not have a personal relationship with Jesus. But if they do, they tend to be unforthcoming about it. This could be ascribed to something cultural, or there might be something more problematic that warrants our attention. In an informal response to an address I gave on this topic, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago wondered whether Catholics experience Jesus differently than many of our Protestant brothers and sisters and whether the difference might be linked to the sacraments, as Catholics understand and receive them. This is a very astute question. Does our sacramental richness excuse or explain our virtual silence about this matter in comparison with many of our ecumenical counterparts?

My experience of Catholic students in the classroom is similar to my experience of Catholic theologians in formal dialogue with evangelicals and Pentecostals. I have been a member of two different Vatican-sponsored dialogues for 17 years—with evangelicals (for five years) and Pentecostals (for 12 years). The dialogue members who speak most easily about their experience of Christ have invariably been the non-Catholic Pentecostal and evangelical scholars, while the Catholic members of these commissions are much more comfortable speaking about texts. Still, these seasoned Catholic scholars could hardly be described as lacking a personal relationship with Christ. What is it about Catholicism that makes personal sharing about one’s relationship with Jesus less likely?

One obvious cut into the matter is orthodoxy. Our centuries-old Catholic faith has a rich history of concern about purity in doctrinal matters. One of the recent efforts of the official church to insure a greater degree of this is the mandatum that Catholic faculty members have been asked to “take” and comply with. Coupled with the issue of orthodoxy is the matter of orthopraxy, that is, right conduct or the accompanying practices that give evidence of orthodoxy. Is evangelization one of these? Neither claiming a personal relationship with Jesus nor evangelization has been associated with the mandatum. One can ask why.

Although faculty members at Catholic institutions of higher learning do not see their classes as an occasion for evangelization, nonetheless there is the question of what has been called preparatio evangelica. This entails bringing out in bold relief the work of God that has been going on in the students’ minds and hearts as well as weeding out growth from the other sower, “the enemy of our souls,” to use St. Ignatius of Loyola’s phrase. In the dialogical setting of a class, I find invaluable the unsolicited faith statements made by the kind of students I have described, because they answer my theologically posed questions from the ground of their faith convictions. This makes it much easier for me to do with the rest of the students the work of evangelical preparation that is appropriate for a theology class.

Today it is more acceptable in public life to profess Jesus’ lordship in one’s personal life. Many of our political leaders, including President George W. Bush, show an increasing facility in making such professions. None of us is so naïve as to think that a person who makes such declarations necessarily embodies the values implied in these professions of faith. Claiming to have a personal relationship with Jesus is no guarantee that there is Gospel knowledge or integrity about promoting the values that should accompany such a profession. As Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord.... Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?... I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you” (Mt 7:22-3).

Why are Catholics reticent about professing their faith? One reason might be that we harbor a cultural bias against “them,” people who have developed a facility about claiming Christ as their lord and savior. In our Catholic culture, such professions are much more suspect and less honored than they are in an evangelical culture. There is also some fear that the words may become a mere formula. Jesus himself reiterated Isaiah’s lament about people honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from God (Mt 15:8).

Another reason could be that we make the church carry our responsibility about our personal relationship with God. “As long as I go to church, righteousness is mine” is the unconscious and unwarranted assumption. Mother Church is the source of my being right with God. The faith is mediated through authorized people, who are intellectually, sacramentally, institutionally empowered to do so. By contrast, there can be an immediacy between the soul and the Word of God as evident in evangelical churches—not always or everywhere, of course, but enough to ask ourselves as Catholics whether the mediated Word, rather than the personally appropriated Word, has become central to our praxis and the reason for our Church-ianity. Without deprecating our many-layered and rich Catholic intellectual tradition, it would be good to recognize that we have much to learn from the simpler, more personal tradition of evangelical Christianity that speaks of Jesus with familiarity.

John C. Haughey, S.J., is professor of theology at Loyola University Chicago.

Comments

Susan M. Frazier | 5/19/2004 - 11:35am
The parish of St. Mary Church and Catholic Campus Ministry in Oxford, Ohio includes Miami University. The city is small and the school large, so, not surprisingly, the majority of the catechumens and confirmands in our RCIA are college students. Each week our RCIA program includes a "faith sharing" presentation, and while this is occasionally by an Oxford resident, most are made by students. As a former catechumen and now a member of the RCIA team, I've heard many college students speak openly and comfortably about their faith. I can't explain John Haughey's experience of students who "are not shy in talking about their moral convictions" but tend to be non-vocal about "a personal relationship with Jesus." The students I've seen and heard have spoken with joy and conviction of their awareness of a close, personal relationship with our Lord. They are comfortable describing their awareness of God in their lives, relating how they turn to Him in thanks and in need, and sharing the value of their prayer life.

I don't have an explanation for this difference. I only know how grateful I am for the affirmation these students so readily give.

Mary Margaret Fynn | 5/23/2004 - 4:59pm
At the Jesuit retreat house in Los Altos,Calif., a shrine to St Francis provides a beautiful refreshing spot for meditation. Over on bench is St Francis saying "Preach the Gospel always; when necessary use words". I read of Mother Treasa's "dark night of the soul" but never heard of her speaking of it publically while she lived on earth. Instead she lived the Gospel. St Paul on the other hand boasted in the Lord. The Spirit calls us to our own unique "voices" and maybe the younger Christians find it less difficult to speak of the most personal intimate relationship possible between our self and our Creator/Lord/Spirit who sustains us every minute of our lives here on earth and calls us to Him through death and rising with Him. As an older Catholic (born 1942) and actively graced with experience in the 12 Step tradition of AA, I find walking the walk a wee bit harder than talking the talk. Anonymousness of the ego but intergity of the self's choices shine forth God's grace. Also I experience scandal with the public proclamations so at odds with the lives lived. And such great insensitivity to the integrity of another loved human being to intrude with black and white demands that I so often hear with evangelism. Jesus said not to lay on heavy burdens. Now St. Ignatius labored writing letters after letters to his Jesuits so maybe he is more like St. Paul and maybe in this time we need more St Paul's for the Pope is surely right in identifying our first world values as not Christian. (Our government wages a pre-emptive war and lowers taxes, lead by a president who calls himself called by "His Father". And makes such a public display at prayer breakfasts but doesn't go to a signle funeral of our dead soliders. This is a scandal to me.) Our Father calls many others to lives lived in graced anyonmousness, to let the Spirit speak and heal in Her way. In the early church folks were drawn to the table of the Lord by "see how they love one another" and Jesus said "not every one who calls on the Lord" is following Him. A little discernment is necessary. God grant we all find the right balance in our lives and words.
Jane Mason | 5/23/2004 - 2:10am
I read John Haughey's article, "Church-ianity and Christ-ianity" with great interest, but have to wonder why he's so confused? Where has he been for the past 25 years?

Maybe once upon a time Pope John Paul II really did insist a personal relationship with Christ should be the goal of our catechesis. Unfortunately that message became buried beneath piles of Vatican documents on what we may and may not believe, how we may and may not live, and even how we may and may not practice our "personal relationship with Christ" and other human beings and still be "accepted" by the Church.

Personal relationships are defined by those parties involved in it, not outside authorities, dogma, and mandatums.

In a personal relationship, we share our deepest-held beliefs and desires for ourselves and those we care about. Topics such as birth control, same-sex relationships, and women's ordination remain important issues to me, and I share these reflections with the Christ I'm involved with personally.

I've no doubt there are young adult Catholics who have personal relationships with Christ. Some may even have a personal relationship with a feminine God.

But the official Church has made it clear in both word & deed that they don't want to know about it and often take steps to even discourage it.

Really! How can Fr. Haughey be surprised?

Robert M. Kearns, S.S.J. | 2/9/2007 - 4:27pm
The article by John C. Haughey, S.J., “Christ-ianity and Church-ianity” (5/24) was right on the mark. And Msgr. William E. Biebel’s letter, “Moving Beyond” (7/5), provides good insight on why we Roman Catholics are not comfortable being personal in our expression of faith. Although I have second-generation Boston-Irish roots, my 40-plus years of ministry among African-Americans have opened me to a deeper meaning of faith, praying with enthusiasm and celebrating with a joyful spirit.

African-American Catholic spirituality centers on personal faith, the Scripture, community and joyfulness. It is a treasure for the church. When will it be discovered and promoted by our church leaders, pastors, teachers and writers? It is the New Evangelization!

Gregory Byrne | 2/9/2007 - 3:24pm
“Christ-ianity and Church-ianity,” by John C. Haughey, S.J., (5/24) is an insightful contribution to the cultural conversation about the links (and distance between) evangelicals and Catholics. Here in the South the differences seem much smaller than in the Northeast, and the arts may be partly responsible. For example, Catholics here grow up listening to (and enjoying) radio-friendly Christian rock and pop, and I believe this contributes to their growing willingness to talk about “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Our diocesan radio station is indistinguishable in musical content from the many local Christian evangelical stations, and most teens tune in at least occasionally. If you grow up absorbing the evangelical fervor of concerts by, say, the Newsboys or Rebecca St. James, you quite naturally become more willing to express your faith in public. Teens and adults who regularly attend Life Teen Masses also hear and respond to this music, lending something of the old charismatic feel to these Masses.

Finally, I concur with Father Haughey’s insight regarding the “personally appropriated word.” It seems to me that exposure to Sacred Scripture plays a large role in whether Catholics are willing to make confessional statements. Invariably, in the mega-parish I serve, I find that Catholics young and old who spend time regularly with the Bible and attend Bible classes and discussions are much more comfortable with professing that they both love Jesus and seek to follow his call in their lives.

While there is much for Catholics to be wary of in the evangelical movement (obsession with “the rapture,” and the geopolitical consequences of such obsession, for one thing), we can indeed learn much from the simpler, more overtly emotive faith of our evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ.

(Msgr.) William E. Biebel | 2/9/2007 - 3:24pm
Having read “Christ-ianity and Church-ianity,” by John C. Haughey, S.J., (5/24), may I offer my own take on the slowness of Catholics to speak openly about the faith and their own personal experience of it. As a priest of 42 years, I have been perplexed by our people’s inability to pray in public, apart from “safe,” memorized prayers and the lack of public witness to Christ’s presence in their lives.

The church in America was culturally formed by the countless bishops. priests and religious who traced their roots to Irish Catholicism. While tenacious in their fidelity to the faith, the terrible years of oppression and penal laws in the mother country developed a deliberate reticence to display religion to outsiders. The practice of the faith, while deep and devoted, rarely showed its face outside the home or the parish. Silence in church, so strictly enjoined on children of earlier generations, has made participation in Mass so reticent. Until Renew and other movements made it possible, public improvised prayer was something only Protestants did and Catholics had to learn.

Irish-American Catholicism was a tradition I shared growing up. While my opinion intends no slur on that noble faith-style, I contend that we are just now moving beyond it, thanks to ecumenism, the charismatic renewal and newer ecclesiologies. Let every spirit praise the Lord!

Susan M. Frazier | 5/19/2004 - 11:35am
The parish of St. Mary Church and Catholic Campus Ministry in Oxford, Ohio includes Miami University. The city is small and the school large, so, not surprisingly, the majority of the catechumens and confirmands in our RCIA are college students. Each week our RCIA program includes a "faith sharing" presentation, and while this is occasionally by an Oxford resident, most are made by students. As a former catechumen and now a member of the RCIA team, I've heard many college students speak openly and comfortably about their faith. I can't explain John Haughey's experience of students who "are not shy in talking about their moral convictions" but tend to be non-vocal about "a personal relationship with Jesus." The students I've seen and heard have spoken with joy and conviction of their awareness of a close, personal relationship with our Lord. They are comfortable describing their awareness of God in their lives, relating how they turn to Him in thanks and in need, and sharing the value of their prayer life.

I don't have an explanation for this difference. I only know how grateful I am for the affirmation these students so readily give.

Mary Margaret Fynn | 5/23/2004 - 4:59pm
At the Jesuit retreat house in Los Altos,Calif., a shrine to St Francis provides a beautiful refreshing spot for meditation. Over on bench is St Francis saying "Preach the Gospel always; when necessary use words". I read of Mother Treasa's "dark night of the soul" but never heard of her speaking of it publically while she lived on earth. Instead she lived the Gospel. St Paul on the other hand boasted in the Lord. The Spirit calls us to our own unique "voices" and maybe the younger Christians find it less difficult to speak of the most personal intimate relationship possible between our self and our Creator/Lord/Spirit who sustains us every minute of our lives here on earth and calls us to Him through death and rising with Him. As an older Catholic (born 1942) and actively graced with experience in the 12 Step tradition of AA, I find walking the walk a wee bit harder than talking the talk. Anonymousness of the ego but intergity of the self's choices shine forth God's grace. Also I experience scandal with the public proclamations so at odds with the lives lived. And such great insensitivity to the integrity of another loved human being to intrude with black and white demands that I so often hear with evangelism. Jesus said not to lay on heavy burdens. Now St. Ignatius labored writing letters after letters to his Jesuits so maybe he is more like St. Paul and maybe in this time we need more St Paul's for the Pope is surely right in identifying our first world values as not Christian. (Our government wages a pre-emptive war and lowers taxes, lead by a president who calls himself called by "His Father". And makes such a public display at prayer breakfasts but doesn't go to a signle funeral of our dead soliders. This is a scandal to me.) Our Father calls many others to lives lived in graced anyonmousness, to let the Spirit speak and heal in Her way. In the early church folks were drawn to the table of the Lord by "see how they love one another" and Jesus said "not every one who calls on the Lord" is following Him. A little discernment is necessary. God grant we all find the right balance in our lives and words.
Jane Mason | 5/23/2004 - 2:10am
I read John Haughey's article, "Church-ianity and Christ-ianity" with great interest, but have to wonder why he's so confused? Where has he been for the past 25 years?

Maybe once upon a time Pope John Paul II really did insist a personal relationship with Christ should be the goal of our catechesis. Unfortunately that message became buried beneath piles of Vatican documents on what we may and may not believe, how we may and may not live, and even how we may and may not practice our "personal relationship with Christ" and other human beings and still be "accepted" by the Church.

Personal relationships are defined by those parties involved in it, not outside authorities, dogma, and mandatums.

In a personal relationship, we share our deepest-held beliefs and desires for ourselves and those we care about. Topics such as birth control, same-sex relationships, and women's ordination remain important issues to me, and I share these reflections with the Christ I'm involved with personally.

I've no doubt there are young adult Catholics who have personal relationships with Christ. Some may even have a personal relationship with a feminine God.

But the official Church has made it clear in both word & deed that they don't want to know about it and often take steps to even discourage it.

Really! How can Fr. Haughey be surprised?