Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Can the Church Change?
By Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.

As a young priest, right after Vatican Council II (1963-1965), I remember a man coming up to me after Mass one Sunday. He was shaking with anger, and said, “There are too many changes! They’ve taken the ‘Amen’ away from the Our Father! Now they’ve gone too far!”

This story is true, if a little extreme, but it points to a problem. Over the last 40 years or so, the question of change in the Church is one of the most divisive of hot-button issues.

For some “conservative” Catholics there has been too much change; for some “progressive” Catholics, not nearly enough. What are we to make of this? Is there or isn’t there a place for change in the Church?

First, we should begin with some facts. Even a quick survey of the history of the Roman Catholic Church shows that whether we are speaking of Church organization, the liturgy or doctrine—the Church has indeed changed.

The core of our faith is, of course, constant. The creed we recite at Mass on Sunday goes back to the early Christian centuries and is itself firmly rooted in the New Testament. Our understanding of it, however, has always grown and developed in and through its interactions with different times, cultures and questions.

Instead of asking, “Should the Church change?” perhaps we ought to be asking, “Where did we ever get the idea that it does not or should not?”


A Healthy Body

Perhaps an analogy will be helpful. In the New Testament, faced with the divisive issues of the Church in Corinth, Paul compared the Church to a body with different parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Romans 12:4-5). Today, in light of our many divisive issues, we might extend his comparison. A human body must constantly take in new things: fresh air, food, water, etc. This is essential if we are to grow and be healthy. However, not everything we take in is in fact healthy; at times we pick up germs and viruses. The body has an immune system to warn us when things are going wrong and to help sort out what is harmful.

We can apply this idea to the progressive and conservative functions within the Church. To be healthy and alive the Church takes in new ideas, new challenges, new experiences: It must be “progressive.” However, not all that comes in is good for us, so it also has a ‘‘conservative” dimension to help sort out the unhealthy elements. In truth, we should each be either progressive-conservatives or conservative-progressives!

The immune system, however, can have problems. These can take two directions. On the one hand, the system can be weak (for example, after cancer) or nonexistent (as with AIDS). In this case, anything and everything that comes along can become a major problem and could be potentially fatal. On the other hand, the immune system may itself become diseased or malfunctioning (the so-called autoimmune diseases such as arthritis or lupus). In this case, the immune system believes that the body is sick or sicker than it really is, and begins to devour the body itself. This, too, can be painful and potentially fatal.

Radical Christianity on the far left would represent the broken-down immune system; it is not balanced by a healthy conservatism. Fundamentalist Christianity on the far right would represent a diseased immune system; it is not balanced by a healthy progressivism. Both extremes can be very destructive.

Looking for Balance

This can also help us to appreciate the ironic fact that the labels for the two extremes, “radical” and “fundamentalist,” in fact both mean the same thing: holding on to what is basic, fundamental, in the roots (radical comes from the Latin word for “root”). Both progressive and conservative dimensions are root, basic, fundamental to the life of the body of Christ, which the Church is. Radical Christianity is not a healthy progressivism; nor is fundamentalist Christianity a healthy conservatism.

Each of us has a basic identity which lasts throughout our lives. Each of us also undergoes change all the time. The same is true of our Church. It has its underlying, constant identity, but it also undergoes change.

We have an English word for living entities that do not change. The word is dead. As the saying goes, to live is to change.We believe the Church to be the living body of Christ in the world.

Father Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., is a professor of Old Testament, Semitic Languages and Biblical Spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

Next: Why Do Catholics…?

Questions for Reflection:

• How well do you or don’t you adapt to change? Give an example.

• What are some of the Church’s teachings/thoughts that have changed in your lifetime? How did you accept the change?

God Is Truth
By Judith Dunlap

The Catechism tells us that God is love and truth. John’s first letter clearly says that “God is love” (4:8), and his Gospel tells us that Jesus is truth (14:6). We often hear or read about God as love, but God as truth is not quite as familiar to many of us.

Actually, there is only one absolute truth—and that is God. All other truth is relative. It is limited and conditioned by all sorts of things, including physicality, relativity, time, even culture. Three people can witness an accident and truthfully testify to seemingly contradictory statements. Their truth can be dictated by the where, when and how of their relationship to the incident. It can be colored by personal limitations (eyesight, height, etc.) or even personal viewpoints (prejudice, associations with other life experiences). Only God is truth, because only God is limitless.

We know that even the Church’s understanding of truth changes. We all remember that Galileo was considered a heretic because he proposed that the sun did not revolve around the earth. If the Church is open to admitting limitations in its belief system, we should be as well. As new ideas of faith or Church or even God challenge us, we need to constantly pray to remain in the truth, reminding ourselves that the one and only absolute truth is God.

Life’s journey is about learning and growing, constantly filtering the truth as we see it through the witness of the Church and our own ever-expanding experiences. This month, on the feast of Christ the King, we hear Jesus telling us that he came into the world “to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). It is in allowing Christ to be king and bowing to our own limitations that truth can reign in our hearts.

For Family Response:

Ask family members to talk about how they see/image God. Adults and teens can talk about how their image of God has changed over the years.

Media Watch
By Frank Frost

From the beginning, the movie Invincible lets us know that this story is not just about Vince Papale. It starts with a grainy, gritty, industrial portrait of South Philly, and when we begin to meet the main characters, we have a hard time sorting them out. They are a motley crew of rabid Philadelphia Eagles fans who play rough tackle football on their own leisure time in a vacant lot lined with abandoned cars.

This is all effective metaphor for a frustrated, depressed group of 30- something blue-collar workers, who live on the edge economically. When they’re not at an Eagles game or throwing their own brutal blocks, they hang out at Max’s bar and celebrate their common existence.

Thus it is that the struggle of Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) turns out to be not just his chance to escape his own dead-end existence. The whole neighborhood’s sense of pride rides on his shoulders. Coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) will expand on this community responsibility. As the new coach he attempts to motivate his Eagles team before a key game by telling them the pride of the city depends on them. Win one—not for the Gipper, but for the city itself.

Based on a real character and a true story, Invincible is a story of self-esteem, hope, determination, persistence and loyalty on several levels. What is true of Vince is also true of his drinking buddies, his neighborhood, Coach Vermeil and Philadelphia itself. Vince’s friends and neighbors face job problems that require determination and persistence equal to his own. The coach faces a crisis of self-confidence and courage.

In 1976, the Philadelphia Eagles have had a run of bad seasons and their fans are getting ugly about it. The freshly hired coach holds open tryouts for the team as a publicity and motivation stunt. Vince’s buddies urge Vince to try out, but he is reluctant. How can he believe in himself? His wife has recently walked out on him, taking everything. Even his father discourages him, telling him, “A man can only take so much failure.”

However foolhardy it may seem,Vince gives it a go. In a visual reference to the movie Rocky, he hits the streets with training runs at sunup. When he is the only walk-on to be invited to training camp, he becomes a local media darling. But as the days go on, the stakes grow higher. Vince becomes all the more depressed at the prospect of failure, compounded by the anger of one close friend who senses Vince slipping away.

Vince makes the team, but the turning point for him is not his success in the stadium. It is a night of playing football with his buddies in the rain and mud in the abandoned lot. Here the pain is worth it. Here the mud is bathed in a golden light, friends are bound together and whether Vince makes the Eagles team or not, he has discovered himself as well as the power of true friendship.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231)

A queen may be an unlikely person to be known for service to the poor and suffering, but that is who and what St. Elizabeth of Hungary was—and why the Church celebrates her. It’s also why she won the affection of the ordinary people of her day.

The daughter of the king of Hungary, Elizabeth was born at a time when arranged royal marriages were common. At an early age she was promised to Louis, the future prince of Thuringia in southern Germany. They married when she was 14 and he was 20. They were a happy and devoted couple, and Elizabeth gave birth to three children.

Under the spiritual direction of a Franciscan, Elizabeth led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor and sick. She wore simple clothing and fed hundreds of poor people who came to the royal gate each day. While her husband fully supported her work, Elizabeth’s charitable acts struck his family as embarrassing and excessive. When Louis died from plague while on a crusade to the Holy Land, Elizabeth was devastated. They had been married only six years.

Suddenly, Elizabeth was alone and vulnerable. Whether voluntarily or under pressure, she left her husband’s family and the security of the palace. In 1228 she became a Secular Franciscan and spent the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital she had founded in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who had died only a few years before. By then, however, her health was broken. Elizabeth died before her 24th birthday. She was canonized only four years later.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary is the patron of Catholic charities and of the Secular Franciscan Order. Her feast day is November 17.

Diane Halal

What do you do when your bishop says he has a nice building that he’d like put to good use? If you’re Diane Halal, you say, “Thank you! I’ll make sure something great happens there.”

And then you follow through on your promise, which is exactly what she did more than 10 years ago. Ever since, WE CARE, an ecumenical outreach effort located in Los Alamitos, California, has been offering referrals out of that building seven days each week to anyone in need: people abused by their spouses, people in need of jobs or social benefits, people desperate to find child care.

Seeing to it that good things happen, especially for the poor, has been at the heart of Diane’s life since she joined the Secular Franciscan Order (S.F.O.) 50 years ago while in college. She has steeped herself in the spirituality of Francis and Clare and devoted herself to one charitable cause after another. The Diocese of Orange, California, honored her as Woman of the Year in 2004.

With an energy level possessed by few her age—she recently turned 71—Diane keeps finding new ways to serve and to deepen her faith. Each day begins with Mass. After that, it’s anybody’s guess—volunteer work, bringing Communion to the homebound, serving as a lector at her parish, combating fraud against the elderly, writing pro-life letters to government officials. She also makes time for her seven grown children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

One day 50 years ago, Diane Halal made a permanent commitment to the gospel life. Every day since, she has reaffirmed it. “I have a hard time imagining life without being a Secular Franciscan. It’s the thread behind everything I do.”

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