LA Congress: The Church Beautiful
I’ve spent the last 60 hours amidst the wild diversity that is the Catholic Church, and that is manifest so beautifully here at the annual Religious Education Congress. Five students from Santa Clara University have traveled here with me, and have been taking in all that the Congress has to offer: hundreds of sessions on Catholic life and ministry; and acres of Catholic exhibitors of books, art, kitsch, graduate schools, clothing, vestments, and religious life (one of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement was very effective at loading me up with enough posters and prayer cards for half the undergrads at Santa Clara--"Here!" he barked jovially as he shoved the goods into my hands, "You better take these, because I worked so hard to set all this up!"). On Friday, I gave a session about how Catholic college students relate faith to sexual decision-making. Nearly 700 people were there, and I am happy to say that perhaps half of them were students. My presentation, edging somewhat toward the didactic side, focused on recent studies that try to gauge the dynamics of sexual practice in adolescent and collegiate culture and relate those dynamics to the faith backgrounds students bring. There was a palpable energy, especially among the students, about the issues. And afterward, one well-known professor from a prominent Catholic university told me that in his view, the relation of faith and sex was the number one issue of concern about undergraduate life at his institution. On Saturday, I chaired a roundtable on Catholicism and homosexuality, the fourth such roundtable in four years here. Along with Charles O’Neill and Sr. Kathleen Bryant, RSC, I discussed Catholic spirituality as manifest in gay and lesbian ministries and lives. In particular, I talked about the spirituality of being an "ally" for LGBTQ+ Catholics. We had around 600-ish people, all extraordinarily attentive to the issues being discussed, and as has been true for the last several years at these sessions, they were in remarkably good and feisty spirits. I noticed this year an increase in the number of parents of lesbian and gay Catholics who spoke up during the discussion period and with whom I talked afterward. In all, quite satisfying sessions, though of course I replay them in my mind many times, and think about what could have gone differently or better. But also a real delight this weekend has been seeing my students get into this rich Catholic world. I had a long and leisurely dinner with them this evening to begin to unpack their experiences, and was surprised and gratified at how much a quick and deep immersion into this giant temporary Catholic camp has meant to them. Many of them see it as a significant plateau-point in their theological journey, especially as several of them are preparing to graduate as religion majors in a few months. I feel deeply fortunate to have this "event" on my calendar each year, because I know I will be conducted into hope for, and joy in, the Church. And that has indeed happened again this year. Tom Beaudoin Anaheim, California
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