Saturday, December 22, 2007

Alliance for Catholic Education and MCPS

For over ten years now, we have been tremendously blessed at Montgomery Catholic to be associated with Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education--a program that places young teachers in our schools.

ACE teachers are recent college graduates from some of the premiere universities across the country, who agree to make two year commitments to teach in Catholic schools while earning a Master's Degree in teaching along the way. You can learn more about the ACE program here.

Our current ACE teachers, both of whom complete their 2nd year with us in May, are Mariangela Sullivan, who teaches Theology and English in the high school, and Daniel Bowen, who teaches Social Studies in the middle school. Mariangela is a graduate of Yale, whereas Daniel graduated from Notre Dame. Both teachers have brought a spectacular amount of creativity and enthusiasm to their classrooms and are loved by the students.

For two excellent overviews of the ACE program, watch these videos here:

Thank you, Mariangela and Daniel, for your commitment to us. Thank you, ACE, for your service to our Catholic schools around the country.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Continuity and Change within our Church

One of the natural tensions of leading a contemporary Church with a historical "deposit of faith" is finding new ways to have that faith speak persuasively and powerfully to modern people. Often this means sorting through our doctrines to determine the essence or idea of what is being expressed and then finding new language to express this essence, always remaining faithful to the original doctrine. Inevitably, these reformulations are met with resistance and fear that we're compromising our faith or watering it down, when in fact we strengthen it by making it speak more directly to modern people.

What is continuous and what is changeable? This is the central question of theology for all eras of our Church. Nineteenth century theologian and scholar John Henry Newman (now "venerable", with the cause for his canonization still on-going) wrote a wonderful essay entitled "The Development of Doctrine", in which he compared the history of doctrine in our Church to the life of a stream:

"It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or sect, which, on the contrary, is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and, for a time, savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom, more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities or its scope. At first, no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent: it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time, it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out is one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter its bearing; parties rise and fall against it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations and old principles appear in new forms; it changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."

(John Henry Newman, “Essay on the Development of Doctrine”, Notre Dame Press, 1989, p.40)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Waiting and waiting and...

It took Rome over two years to replace the bishop of Birmingham just to the north of us. Our own bishop, Oscar H. Lipscomb, put in his papers in September of 2006. It is now December of 2007, with no indication from Rome who our successor will be or when he will be arriving. In both cases, the bishops put in their resignation papers at the age of 75 as required by canon law. Their resignations were not a sudden surprise that caught Rome unaware!

If we truly believe in the central importance of bishops as successors to Christ, there is really no excuse for these delays. In both of the local cases above, the bishops remained in place, but like all out-going leaders, their tendency is/was to put off making major decisions until the next bishop is in place. "I don't want to tie the hands of my successor" is the oft-repeated phrase, and at age of 75+, having faithfully served the Church for 50 years, who can blame them? One can only imagine the weariness with which these bishops approach/approached confirmation season! Meanwhile, parishes and schools may need closing, high schools may need building, priests may need pastoral care, archdiocesan offices may need restructuring, and pastors and executive employees of the Church may need vision to lead their institutions. But everyone waits.

I suspect one cause of this unreasonably slow process is a reluctance to embrace new technologies to expedite selections. I see no reason the Vatican could not keep an updated "Top 50" list of potential bishops, with resumes that include a history of service to the Church, achievements, strengths, a recommendation from their current bishop and special talents. Each of the 50 would be "pre-cleared", making it unnecessary to go through a stringent investigation for each new placement. Secured email exchanges would clear up questions and assist the Vatican in updating this list frequently, as well as uncovering new men to place on the list. Then, when an episcopacy becomes "open", it is really only a matter of matching the needs of the diocese with the talents of those on the list. The process should take no more than 3months, if that.

The problem is many of those in leadership positions in our Church were born in a different era and are uncomfortable with technology and unaware of how it could enhance their administrative efficiency . Look carefully at how most chanceries and tribunals do business and you will see little has changed from 30 years ago, excepting the use of word-processors for type-writers. Almost all official correspondence is still through the U.S. mail. Rarely will you find a chancery that knows email addresses for each of its priests or uses these for routine sharing of information. Rarely will you find dioceses with truly active, helpful web pages (with some notable exceptions). The same is true at the Vatican. Church officials may defend these practices, citing concerns about privacy or about proper ecclesiastical authentication, even though banks and vendors have been authenticating and conducting business for ten years now over the internet.

By not becoming fluent in the arena of technology, the Church misses out on using a tool that can aid it in its evangelization. My daughter, vice-president of her freshman class at Notre Dame, sent a "Facebook" message to her classmates that they would be hosting a night time rosary and hot chocolate at the Grotto on campus, and over 300 members of her class came to out to pray! Technology is the "vernacular" of modernity, and we can advance our gospel mission by learning its language.

We can also use it to improve the efficiency of our Church in doing routine busines, like selecting bishops. Its December, 2007, and we're still waiting...