George Weigel on Evangelical Catholicism in Boston

January 19, 2013

Catholic author and Pope John Paul II biographer, George Weigel, spoke at St. Columbkille in Brighton on the topic of “evangelical Catholicism” this past Monday in Boston.  About 250-300 people were in attendance and the event was also livecast over the Internet. This talk was part of the Year of Faith “Catholic Essentials” year-long course for adults being run by the Boston Archdiocese, orchestrated by Bishop Arthur Kennedy, who is responsible for evangelization, with help from the Catholic Media Group.  BCI is a fan of George Weigel and thought the event was excellent. We found a number of things noteworthy about the program we will share.

Excerpts from his talk, as reported in The Pilot:

In his talk, he said evangelical Catholicism displays 10 characteristics that provide a profile of the Catholic Church of the future and suggest standards for continued and deep reform of the Church. [BCI will share the first five]

“First, evangelical Catholicism is radically Christo-centric, or in the phrase of Benedict XVI, evangelical Catholicism is friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Catholicism of the counter-reformation asks the people of the Church to know who Jesus Christ is, and through that knowledge about him to meet him. Evangelical Catholicism begins with meeting and knowing Christ Himself, the primordial sacrament of the human encounter with God,” Weigel said.

He also said evangelical Catholicism affirms divine revelation and embraces its authority as continued through the teaching authority of the Church as Catholics “embrace the authority that Jesus represents and incarnates, the authority of the living God who reveals himself in deed and word to the people of Israel, and who finally and definitively reveals himself in his son.”

“That divine authority is what gives both Scripture and the Church their unique authority,” he said.

He then presented the importance of Church teaching on the sacraments, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, in evangelical Catholicism.

“Third, evangelical Catholicism is a radically sacramental Church. The twin poles of its sacramental life are baptism and the Eucharist,” Weigel said.

In his next point he addressed conversion to Christ as something that remains constant and develops throughout life.

“Fourth, evangelical Catholicism is a call to constant conversion of life, which involves both the rejection of evil and active participation in the works of service and charity,” he said.

He said in his next point that evangelical Catholicism draws from tradition both ancient and authentic, as the Church provides teaching not easily stereotyped as traditionalist or progressive. He said the evangelical Catholic Church recognizes the value of extraordinary form Masses as a means to “accelerate a reform of the reform” of the liturgy, but called liturgical conflicts between traditionalists and progressives “deeply tiresome liturgy wars.”

BCI found the Q&A to be especially interesting, starting with the first question:

Q. “How do we clergy and laity evangelize dissenting Catholics who claim to be authentically Catholic?”

A. (Weigel) “Vigorously!  We have 40 years of trouble to work on here. The notion that there is such a thing as private judgment in Catholicism is now rife throughout the church. One resource we have to deal with this is the Catechism. This was one of the fruits of the Synod of Bishops called to mark the 20th anniversary of Vatican 2. The Catechism lays out, in many respects in a quite beautiful way, what we might call the symphony of Catholic truth. I think it’s important to invite those who are only hearing the flutes or  the clarinets to hear the whole symphony. They might find it a more attractive aesthetic experience and indeed a religious experience.

The parallel problem as we all experience, and perhaps you experience more than others here  Massachusetts, is a tendency to create a barrier between ones Catholic life and ones public life. This is a serious problem.  Voting is an act of public judgement.  It should be shaped by both mind and heart. In a moment in our history when both the right to life and religious freedom—absolute fundamentals of democratic society– are in jeopardy, I think each one of us has a responsibility to speak frankly with family,  friends, neighbors, fellow alumni of institutions (that will go nameless) and say it’s the bottom of the 9th inning on some of these things. and we need to get serious.

Throughout the fall, I must have spoken to several dozen Catholic audiences. Every time someone would complain that this bishop hasn’t done this and this hasn’t done that. I would ask that person how many of the people you come into contact with daily, have you convinced of our point of view?  Look in the mirror and see the agent of the new evangelization! (applause)

In responses to other questions, Weigel talked about the need to protect the unborn as well as help women with crisis pregnancies, he talked about evangelization with the younger generation (via progams like Focus, Eucharistic adoration and being in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord, praying for specific intercessions, having a beautiful aesthetic experience with fine music and liturgy), and reading about the lives of the saints. (BCI differs with Weigel on one point he made regarding recently canonized saints, but we will leave that aside for now).

The event was very good. The only criticism BCI has originates from a reader who notified us of what they felt was a disturbing removal of their comment from the live chat by the Catholic Media folks monitoring the chat. Near the end of the program, an announcement was made by Catholic Media Secretary Scot Landry about the next session, featuring Fr. John Sassani on “How did Jesus pray?”  The reader tells BCI they posted a comment questioning why Fr. Sassani would be leading a faith formation session sanctioned by the archdiocese when he has permitted a Yoga Prayer program at his parish, despite warnings from the Vatican about the spiritual dangers of yoga and when he has a book club at his parish reading  a book by noted dissident nun, Sr. Joan Chittister, “In Search of Belief.”  The reader tells BCI they were on the online chat after the event while people were posting comments about the program when they posted their comment, and then it was removed, while other comments about the program added subsequently were allowed.  The reader pointed BCI to Our Ladys’ bulletin and a comment by a reader, “Newton church-hopper” on our last post:

Our Ladys Book Club was reading “sister” Joan Chittister’s “In Search of Belief” last fall.
Chittister is a dissident nun, 60′s leftist and new-ager, supports women’s ordination, speaks at Call to Action conferences.

What an insult to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Fr. Sassani to have “Our Ladys Book Club” reading a book by a dissident nun who disobeyed the Vatican’s request she not speak at a women’s ordination conference!!!!:

While the archdiocese does have the right to moderate their chat, if that occurred, BCI shares the reader concern about the archdiocese sponsoring the propagation of perspectives when the presenter has some record of encouraging parishioners to do things or read content contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. If, as Weigel said, “evangelical Catholicism embraces its authority as continued through the teaching authority of the Church,”  then why do we have people teaching about the Catholic faith who promote programs in their parish bulletin that have content which is actually contrary to the teaching authority of the Church?  BCI will send a message to those responsible for this program and see if we get any response.

Next time, we will cover an analysis of the recently announced 2012 Annual Report and many concerns faithful Catholics should have. We are sifting through the reports now.

Boston Parish Adult Faith Formation: Good and Bad

October 6, 2012

With pastoral planning in full gear and more focus supposedly going to adult faith formation and evangelization (at least on paper), at the suggestion of a reader, BCI takes a look today at what Boston parishes are doing for their Adult Faith Formation. What are some of the good and the bad programs?  As you might imagine, the good ones are very good, and the bad ones are, well, pretty bad.

In the good category, St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence is doing a six-evening series “Life and Light” exploring the Catechism of the Catholic Church, focusing on the sacraments. Each session includes a presentation by Fr. Paul O’Brien with “extensive opportunities for questions and answers.”

Also in the good category from St. Mary’s in Waltham, as seen in this recent bulletin notice (see 4th inside page), the parish has instituted a second afternoon of adoration and benediction for the fall, and will offer special fasting bread for parishioners. This makes two afternoons of Adoration a week, starting in September. Sounds pretty good to BCI. St. Mary’s also recently had a speaker talk about the benefits of fasting in the Catholic tradition. In principle that sounds good, but the connection between the presenter and his affinity for Medjugorje puts this latter initiative in the controversial category.

In the controversial or not-so-good category is the “Why Catholic?” program from RENEW International offered at many parishes across the Boston Archdiocese with the backing of Cardinal O’Malley. That merits a whole blog post for itself.  Suffice to say for now, BCI believes anything associated with RENEW is highly suspect. Read Site Review: Why Catholic or Renew International: Queries for now. Also, look at their leadership.  Their President, Sr. Theresa Rickard, O.P. is a Blauvelt, NY Dominican Sister, whose order is represented by the Leadership Council of Women Religious.  Sr. Terry holds a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology (St. Louis, Missouri) and a Master of Divinity Degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a multi-denominational Presbyterian-founded school that describes itself as having “roots firmly planted in the Protestant, Reformed tradition. “Being informed by the insights of liberation theologians, the Seminary embraces and addresses the richness and realities of religious pluralism.”   We will revisit this in another post.

In the bad category are St. Susanna in Dedham, Holy Family in Concord and Blessed Sacrament in Walpole.

At St. Susanna in Dedham, Fr. Steve Josoma started the adult faith formation program this fall with a discussion of Buddhism.

September 24, 2012 – The Essence of Buddhism: Cultivating Inner and Outer Harmony. What are the central tenets of Buddhism and how is this ancient wisdom relevant today? Presenter: Wendy Garling, a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, holds an M.A. in Sanskrit Language and Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. She has been teaching Buddhist thought and practice in the Boston area for over ten years. In this overview presentation we will learn about the Buddha’s insights into human potential and his teachings on helpful ways we can view and navigate the world we live in. Wendy will explore with us how we can use these tools to create a happier, more meaningful spiritual life.

Last Sunday, October 1, they discussed Mormonism, led by a life-long Mormon Church leader.  In November, there will be a session “Will the Real Nuns Please Stand Up?” about how nuns are under attack by the Vatican.

As for Holy Family in Concord, here is their brochure. The list features speakers from the recent Voice of the Faithful conference in Boston, including Thomas Groome and Richard Gaillardetz. Groome is a national co-chair of “Catholics for Obama” and a former priest. Groome’s upcoming talk is on his new book, “Will There be Faith?”  Also, Fr. Walter Cuenin and Fr. Austin Fleming will speak on the legacy of Vatican II, among others.  Fr. Cuenin is no stranger to controversy. Time does not permit us to go further there today.

At Blessed Sacrament in Walpole, under Adult Faith Formation on their website, we see that their Book Club recently read the fictional novel, Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver.  Read these reviews at,, and the New York Times, and ask yourself how this belongs in any Catholic Church, let alone an “Adult Faith Formation” program.

Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel is all about sex, and she doesn’t waste much time on foreplay…”Every single thing you hear in the woods right now is just nothing but . . . males drumming up business,” Deanna explains. By chapter’s end she and Eddie are drumming up some of their own, falling on each other for a serious Gore-Tex-ripping mingling of gametes — the ”pursuit of eternity,” biological style.

“Having chosen a life of isolation after her marriage ends, her world is invaded by Eddie Bondo, coyote hunter and sex god, with whom she argues and makes love and through whom she comes to reevaluate her notions of independence. We may think of the natural world as a refuge, Kingsolver suggests, but if anything it places our own choices in sharper relief. Displaying a frank eroticism unusual for Kingsolver, this story held for me the most compelling passages in the novel.”

BCI wonders where the guidelines are for parish-based Adult Faith Formation. We will write to the Secretary for Faith Formation for the Boston Archdiocese to ask.  We find it odd that the archdiocese felt comfortable setting and propagating guidelines in early 2011 that said all Catholic schools must admit children of gay and lesbian parents, but we cannot find any guidelines that parish adult faith formation programs and speakers need to be Catholic and adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Anyone else find that problematic?

Are the adult faith formations programs at your parish good or bad?  Let us know what you think and are seeing via comments or Contact Us.  Have a blessed holiday weekend!

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