Spiritual But Not Religious

May 25, 2012

The following is a reflection on Robert Fuller’s book Spiritual But Not Religious by Joe Hoover, SJ.

            In a religious and political climate today that fiercely grapples for position on precisely what American values are and where they are rooted, it is helpful to realize in more depth what American religious pursuit has traditionally been about. Though it came out more than ten years ago, the historical survey Spiritual But Not Religious makes a timely contribution to this discourse in pointing out that a strain of independence has been running through American spirituality for a very long time. Those who think that the United States was founded on the same kind of church-going faith that we have today, for instance, are mistaken. As author Robert Fuller points out, only a small number of colonialists were churchgoers. By the time the Revolutionary War came, a mere fifteen percent of Americans belonged to any church. Most of them practiced religion, but not solely rooted in Christianity. Early America was rife with “fortune telling, astrology, folk medicine, witchcraft and divinization.” He goes on to note that “[f]rom the outset, Americans have had a persistent interest in religious ideas that fall well outside the parameters of bible-centered theology.”

          The freedom embodied by those without religion–then and now–is mirrored somewhat by those with religion. “A sizable percentage of church members have little loyalty to their church’s theological traditions,” writes Fuller, speaking of today’s Christians. In America, the market reigns, not just in economics but in the culture as a whole, including the spiritual. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter: Mother’s Day

May 13, 2012


Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17

Happy Mother’s Day.  As I’m sure y’all know, Mother’s Day is not an official holiday on the liturgical calendar.  Hence, the Scripture readings don’t exactly reflect the occasion; there are no direct references to the dignity of Christian motherhood.  There is, however, a theme that I consider indirectly related to Christian motherhood: baptism.  The reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents baptism as the culmination of the Holy Spirit’s among in Cornelius and his household.  Since Christians have always considered baptism a birth to new life, and the Church the womb where that new life gestates, they have always also considered the Church a true mother.

But what does the Church’s motherhood have to do with the flesh-and-blood motherhood that we celebrate today?  I think, actually, quite a lot.  Experience suggests that esteem for the Church’s supernatural motherhood is closely tied to esteem for natural motherhood.  Even the historical origin of Mother’s Day in certain countries suggests this.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Current Crisis of Catholic Feminism

May 13, 2012

My good friend Jim Keane has written a stirring encomium to the religious sisters who are members of the LCWR at In All Things.  The pastor at my parish this morning referenced the tremendous motherly role that many of those sisters have played in our lives.  On this Mother’s Day we do well to remember them.

Yet the pastor also reprimanded the Vatican for its importunate “attack” on those same sisters, as he called it.  Also on this Mother’s Day, I think it well to reflect on a part of this discussion that is often left out.  That is on the current crisis of Catholic feminism in the United States.

In her excellent sociological analysis of nuns and feminism, Visual Habits: Nuns, Feminism, and American Postwar Popular Culture, Rebecca Sullivan notes that in the post-war era, nuns became the blank slate upon which many feminine dreams were written.  They were deemed acceptable as such a slate because “they fired up dreams of feminine independence while smothering any possibility that the flames might spread out of control.” Eventually, of course, nuns reacted strongly to playing this role for American civil society and instead embraced a more radical form of feminism. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B: God is Greater than our Hearts

May 5, 2012


Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

There’s a verse in today’s second reading that hints at the depth of healing that Christ makes possible: “[I]n whatever our hearts condemn … God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn 3:19b-20a).  Sometimes we get so used to cadences of biblical language, that it’s easy to overlook the depth of the mystery being expressed.

The first remarkable feature of this verse is surely this: it speaks of the heart as the origin of a certain kind of condemnation.  What could this mean?  Nowadays we use the heart to refer strictly to our emotions—and usually to out positive emotions.  We often oppose the “heart” to the “head,” and we describe compassionate and generous people as having “big hearts.”  In Scripture, though, the word is broader and deeper: it is the source of bad emotions as well as good; it is the seat of our cravings, the organ of our private thoughts, the storehouse of our memories.

The condemnation of the heart, understood biblically, can consequently refer to “accusations” that originate from a place deeper than our own thinking and willing. Read the rest of this entry »

Rhetoric, Action, and Cooperation

May 1, 2012

On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it is time to tone down the corporate language of cooperation in evil and instead begin to take personal, active measures towards cutting out in significant ways our own material ties to evil.

Let me say this first: I am proud of our Bishops.  I am proud that they have made a statement about freedom of religion and the requirement that the government not infringe on that freedom, as I have expressed already here.  The government has stuck its head into the right of religious liberty, mostly especially of Catholics and Muslims, and it is time for it to back off.

But the rhetoric of “cooperation with evil” got out of hand.  Cooperation is one of those things that is very much a matter of personal discernment.  There are “objective” principles to take into account, but the judging of them is highly personal and complex, and many have gotten it wrong.  For example, a well known prelate, in a statement of personal opinion, explained in an interview: Read the rest of this entry »