The Forces Shaping Catholic Universities Today

For those of us who live life according to the cycles of the academic calendar, May is a reflective month. The (post-secondary) school year is coming to a close and commencement, while technically a new beginning, seems to be experienced by most of our students as a visceral reminder that, as Seneca/Semisonic put it, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Despite all the prospects of the summer ahead, May always seems to prompt a bit of a backward turn. In my teaching, I actually encourage this glance in the review mirror as the semester comes to a close. In part, I do this because I believe in the value of Ignatian pedagogy, which places a premium on reflection. More importantly, though, I do this because I believe part of the rationale for studying theology at a Catholic university is to equip our graduates to evaluate their alma mater in a new, more critical light. After all, Catholic higher education is a theological project; consequently, it takes a degree of theological acumen to hold a Catholic university accountable to itself. Unsurprisingly, then, I find myself here, in the middle of May, caught up with a version of the question I encourage my students to ask: how well do our Catholic colleges and universities live up to the theological tradition that informs their work? There are a variety...

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Evasive news

A few weeks ago, the New York Times had a cover feature in its Sunday magazine, headlines, “Can Dirt Save the Earth?” The article examined agricultural practices that are less carbon-intensive, suggesting that “agriculture could pull carbon out of the air and into the soil.” I am a huge and vocal fan of alternative agriculture in all its forms. But the headline is misleading. The content of the article answers the question pretty decisively: the answer is, no, dirt cannot save the earth! In response to a breathless initiative by France to “completely halt the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide” in this way, the essay says: Few experts I spoke to think the impact would be quite that grand; Pete Smith, for example, estimates that soil could, at the most, store just 13 percent of annual carbon-dioxide emissions at current levels. “I appreciate that everyone wants to save the planet,” he told me, “but we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this is all we need to do.” Thus, even if (as the article indicates) we imagined a total and complete change in our agricultural system, one which has some unknown costs as well, we do not make much progress. So the question is why the New York Times decided nevertheless to provide an extensive article discussing this issue as so revolutionary. What makes this approach attractive? The answer has to...

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The Children of God: The Catholic Response to Gun Violence

The following is a guest post from Andrew Kuzma, who has his Ph.D. in moral theology from Marquette University, and currently teaches morality at a Catholic high school in Milwaukee. Why are we not doing more to reduce gun violence? It’s a question that I have been asking myself lately, as a Catholic and as a moral theologian, but especially as a Catholic high school teacher. In that realm, talking about gun violence is taboo because it commits the unpardonable offense of being “political.” My school, I would wager, is not unique in this regard. Nor is it all...

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Fifth Sunday of Easter: Levels of Bearing Fruit

Reading 1: Acts 9:26-31 Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32 Reading 2: 1 John 3:18-24 Gospel: John 15:1-8 This Sunday’s gospel reading focuses on bearing fruit.  God “takes away every branch . . . . that does not bear fruit.” People must remain in Christ because they “cannot bear fruit” on their own.  “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”  Those who don’t bear fruit “will be thrown out like a branch and wither” and disciples will be known because they “bear much fruit.” On a rudimentary level, these statements can be taken in...

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Finding God in the Dishes: Gaudete et Exsultate

In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis reaffirms the universal call to holiness and says that he explicitly wishes to propose it “in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities” (2).  My colleagues David Cloutier and Matthew Shadle have already reflected on key themes of the document here and here, so I will try to avoid repeating what they have articulated so well already. I will focus on the theme of spirituality in everyday life, and especially on how the pope describes ordinary work as a path of sanctification. As a lay woman...

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Facebook, Privacy, and the Church

“What does the Church have to say about privacy?” I was asked this week, in the aftermath of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings. That’s a good question – I haven’t seen a lot in church documents, nor much from theologians. (I’d love to hear from readers if they’ve seen some good theological discussion…) Privacy is (obviously) an important question in a digital age, and I think the Church ought to get a lot bolder about speaking to privacy. I can envision developing arguments along the lines of creation and identity as people being made in the image of God. From...

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The Existential Journey of Holiness: Pope Francis’s Gaudete et Exsultate

While reading Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world, I was reminded of a contrast drawn by the influential moral theologian Germain Grisez in the first volume of his magnum opus The Way of the Lord Jesus. Grisez outlines two views of moral goodness that have deeply influenced the Catholic tradition. First, Grisez describes what he calls the “scholastic natural-law theory,” which explains moral goodness in terms of conformity to the pattern of human nature. In this view, as Grisez explains, “actions are seen either to conform or not conform...

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Gaudete et exultate: A first (pre-emptive) take

Pope Francis today issued an apostolic exhortation on the universal call to holiness. While it reiterates certain themes that have been seen in prior documents, it is a powerful call. If we don’t distort it. First, the facts. The document has five chapters. The first reiterates and humanizing Vatican II’s insistence that all Christians are called to “something higher”  – to holiness. The second identifies “two subtle errors” in some detail: a contemporary Gnosticism and a contemporary Pelagianism. These two errors were first pointed out in Evangelii Gaudium, and were also the subject of a recent CDF document. The...

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