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Joy! Sr. Cristina and Evangelii Gaudium

2014 April 14
by Brian Starks

Below is another awesome guest post from Rachel Chow, Master’s student in Theology at Notre Dame (and CSPRI research assistant).


This semester, the CSPRI Catholic Social Teaching reading group (join us if you’re in the South Bend area!) has been discussing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), and at times it left me wondering what the joy of the evangelization would actually look like.  Then the video of Sr. Cristina Scuccia, a 25-year-old Ursuline nun performing Alicia Keys’ “No One” on Italy’s The Voice, fell into my lap last month.


Here is how I think Sr. Cristina captures exactly what Pope Francis is talking about in Evangelii Gaudium (EG):

“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.  That is what the angel proclaimed to shepherds in Bethlehem: ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people’ (Lk 2:10)” (EG no. 23).  How might one reach people all over the world with the Good News?  Sr. Cristina’s choice to sing on The Voice seems to do just that.  She sings not just for those who have already come to believe the Gospel message or who find themselves in the pews at Mass, but for anyone who will listen – the audience, the judges, her fellow Ursuline sisters, anyone who cares to watch her on TV or the internet.  “[Pope Francis] always says we should go out and evangelize…I am here for this!” she tells the judges enthusiastically.  Although I could not have understood what she said without the magic of closed captioning, the language she chose to speak in – the language of joy – can be understood by everyone.  “You could understand what was going on without knowing what was being said,” Brian Starks, CSPRI’s director, mentioned after he watched the video for the first time, “I will have to try the closed captioning next time, but seemed almost better without it the first time!”

 “God’s word is unpredictable in its power…The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking” (EG no.22).  Who would have guessed that a video of an Ursuline nun in a simple habit singing on an Italian reality show would be watched 43 million times by people around the world!  Certainly not the nun herself, who came simply to share the gift of her voice, as she told judge Raffaella Carrà.  And who would have guessed that she could bring a rapper to tears in a matter of minutes?  Certainly not the rapper, J-Ax, whose entire body reflected his deep amazement throughout the entire video.  As Andy Staron (Wheeling Jesuit University) noted in an excellent blog post soon after the video came out, “[Evangelization] can mean calling attention to the presence of God in the most unlikely places. Even on a tv show.”

 “The Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy…This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit” (no.21).  The joy we see in this video is not only that of Sr. Cristina as she sings and interacts with the judges, but that of her fellow nuns and of the judges.  Watching backstage, her Ursuline sisters jump up and down and cheer excitedly during and after her performance.  When Sr. Cristina chooses J-Ax to be her coach, he runs up onstage and hugs her, swinging her around.  “Goodness,” as Pope Francis notes, “always tends to spread” (EG no. 9).

So I see this video as Evangelii Gaudium come to life.  I really hope Pope Francis gives Sr. Cristina the call she (jokingly) waits for.


Pondering the Catholic Church’s Response to Mental Illness

2014 March 25
by Brian Starks

This is a guest post by Rachel Chow.  Rachel is a Notre Dame graduate theology student, currently working on her Master of Theological Studies and working with CSPRI.


Last month, the New York State Catholic bishops issued a statement entitled, “’For IAm Lonely and Afflicted’: Toward a Just Response to the Needs of Mentally Ill Persons.”  The statement was a combination of facts about mental illness, policy proposals to the New York state legislature, and, most importantly, exhortations “to  every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal, and all others in positions of Church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the Church to the fullest extent possible.”  I say that this last aspect, the call to compassion among Catholic leaders, the most significant facet of this document because it highlights the Church’s unique role in care for those with mental illnesses in our communities and our parishes.  It is both an acknowledgement of what the Church can and does do, and a recognition that the Church is called to do more.     read more…

Fr. Augustus Tolton, Servant of God

2014 March 4
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by Isis Leslie

20_bannerWith yesterday being the memorial of Saint Katherine Drexel, who founded schools in the Southern United States for African Americans and in the West for Native Americans, and on the heels of Black History Month, it seems overdue to recognize that the Church is now in the early stages of considering the cause for sainthood of Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American diocesan Catholic priest. Fr. Tolton would be the first African-American saint from the United States. Although an American, Fr. Tolton attended seminary and in 1886 was ordained in Rome, because, due to his race, no American seminary would accept him. Despite this exclusion, Fr. Tolton persevered through seminary and served in pious dedication to the Church and to the Lord.
read more…

The Politics of Modesty

2014 February 26
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by Brian Starks

I usually really appreciate posts at Vox Nova, which is why I put the site on the Catholic Conversation’s blog roll.  So, when I feel they’ve gotten something wrong, even if it is only in tone and style rather than in substance, I feel the need to call them out on it.  And that is what this post does!

In highlighting recurring gender double-standards associated with the virtue of modesty, Kyle Cupp conducts a detailed interpretive analysis of a you-tube video entitled “Virtue makes you Beautiful” that has recently gone viral.

read more…

“Intelligent, Courageous, and Full of Love”: The Conversation around Catholic Marriage and Family Life Continues

2014 February 24
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by Sarah Moran

Pope and Cardinal SodanoMany of you may recall the buzz on both The Catholic Conversation and other media over the past few months regarding Pope Francis’ call for global input in preparation for the October 2014 Extraordinary Synod on “the pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelization.” Brian Starks discussed the practical issues surrounding the use of scientific vs. non-scientific survey methods to gather responses. Linda Kawental followed the lively discussion in both secular and Catholic media outlets “over what exactly the Vatican questionnaire means and how Catholics are to interpret it.”

Then earlier this month, two countries, Germany and Switzerland, published summaries of responses to the Vatican’s 38 survey questions regarding how the Church’s teachings on marriage and family are understood in their dioceses and how pastoral care regarding key marriage and family issues takes shape there. Their summaries are quite fascinating and worth reading in the original before looking to the manifold media interpretations of these summaries, such as a Catholic News Service (CNS) article after the German and Swiss summaries and Reuter’s interpretation of Germany’s findings.

And now, just this past week (February 20-21), roughly 150 cardinals gathered with Pope Francis in Rome for two days to preliminarily discuss pastoral challenges around marriage and family, focused particularly on three themes: the Christian vision of people and family life; essential pastoral programs to support families; and ministry to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. An overview of their discussions was been made available to reporters by Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson, and are summarized here. It is unclear how much the German and Swiss survey summaries influenced these discussions, but the Pope’s call that the Church’s pastoral approach to Christian marriage and family be “intelligent, courageous, and full of love,” his selection of retired German cardinal Walter Kasper to give the opening talk, and the Pope’s simple gesture of arriving before cardinals and greeting each one warmly at the door to the synod hall (video footage available here) may offer clues.

“I Love to Teach”

2014 February 19
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by Brian Starks

Feature ImageBob Butz passed away Feb. 5, 2014 at the age of 92.

“I love to teach.”  That was Bob Butz’s simple response to a question from a reporter, asking why he was still teaching in his late 70s, long after others had retired.  And it was the title given to the article written about him that I posted outside my door as an Assistant Professor at Florida State University.

Or was Mr. Butz in his 80s at the time of the article?  I guess I need to go back and find that article in my memory box, because in reading various tributes to Mr. Butz recently, I saw that he finally retired from teaching at age 88.  I still remember taking Etymology with him in high school and partaking of his joy in uncovering the hidden roots of a word. read more…

Is There Really a Priest Shortage in the Archdiocese of Detroit? (AOD)

2014 February 17
by Mike McCallion

St. John Vianney- Patron Saint of Parish Priests

I think there is a common misconception in the Archdiocese of Detroit that there is a priest shortage!  When I compare the number of priests to the number of parishes in the Archdiocese, it seems clear to me that there is not a priest shortage.  If I am right, sociologists would call “the priest shortage” a mythic fact, myth in the sense of statistically not true.  Let me explain. read more…

The Social Dimension of the New Evangelization

2014 February 4
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by Mike McCallion

socialI would like to thank Sarah Moran for her insightful blogs (3 of them) on “The Social Dimensions of Evangelization,” even though I am late in responding.  Stressing the social dimensions of Pope Francis’ thought in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is important and timely.  In stressing a social dimension Pope Francis is not diverging from the thought of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but, he is “emphasizing” something different than they.  And it is not just an emphasis on the poor that makes Francis different; it is his systematic treatment of the “social” dimension, particularly as it relates to the poor.  Paragraph 57 of his exhortation is shockingly “social” in my estimation in arguing that what you and I have (money) is already the poor’s, it is not like we are giving them something of ours:  “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood.  It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.” read more…

Micro-Mobilization and The South Bend March for Life: Some Preliminary Thoughts

2014 January 29
by Isis Leslie

March4life_1While most of us were thinking about the March for Life in Washington DC, or perhaps of the upcoming Marches in the UK and Paris, the St. Joseph’s Right to Life society organized a March for Life right here in South Bend. The South Bend demonstration was conducted from 12pm-1pm on Wednesday, January 22nd in front of the Courthouse at 204 S. Main Street in Downtown South Bend. During the hour long march, I conducted twelve approximately five minute interviews with march participants. read more…

Thesis Seven: Practices

2014 January 13
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by Mike McCallion


“Roundtable on the Sociology of Religion: Twenty-Three Theses on the Status of Religion in American Sociology—A Mellon Working-Group Reflection.”  2013.  Christian Smith, Brandon Vaidyanathan, Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Jose Casanova, Hilary Davidson, Elaine Howard Ecklund, John H. Evans, Philip S. Gorski, Mary Ellen Konieczny, Jason A. Springs, Jenny Trinitapoli, and Meredith Whitnah.  Journal of the American Academy of Religion, PP. 1-36.


The article above should be discussed by sociologists, especially sociologists of religion, and so I highlight one of the 23 theses with that discussion in mind.

Thesis seven states:  “disciplinary preoccupations and trends often include conceptual inadequacies and biases that impede the serious study of religion.” read more…

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