Wall Street, Corinthians, and Lumen Gentium

What would happen if Catholics took the “Occupy Wall Street” model and “applied it to their passion for and grievances with their own church?” asks Dr. Tom Beaudoin right here on this blog. Judging from the passionate comments in response, Dr. Beaudoin has struck a chord in many readers—and they have offered comments reflecting the pros and cons. It seems to me this question can open up even more discussion and perhaps stir greater reflection on our ongoing struggle to define appropriate roles and boundaries for laity and hierarchy in the church. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement brings into memory happy times for me as a college student at DePaul University in Chicago: seeing Dorothy Day in person, sitting within ten feet of Dan Berrigan as he spoke at a neighborhood church, and even feeling empowered by the increasing voice given to students by the DePaul administration.

It’s great for me to revisit those halcyon days, and I can even admire the spunk and enthusiasm of the young people I recently sat near on the Metro North train as they perfected their placards with last-minute magic marker write-ins on their way to Wall Street. As a college teacher, most of my time is spent talking with and listening to young people. There is great worry among many of them about their future. Many have so many tens of thousands of dollars (or even more than a hundred thousand dollars) of students loans that I worry they will become like the indentured servants of centuries ago—only now they must report to loan agencies with acronyms, anonymous institutions who will not allow even bankruptcy to relieve their students’ indebtedness. As we are aware from many young voices in the church today, the same feeling of being powerless and alienated, feeling frustrated, bored and ignored, occurs too frequently.


When it comes to applying the “Occupy Wall Street” model to the church, my own thoughts lead me to revisit two church documents that specifically examine the laity and the hierarchy and their relationship to each other. These are St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, and "Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution of the Church." I am always willing to listen to my students, and they know this. But I encourage and even require them to back up their opinions with acknowledgment of other sources. With the online tools available today, one can even evaluate the veracity and importance of the sources one is citing. So if we are going to consider the “Wall Street Model” vis-a-vis demanding change, I suggest that a few hours spent with Paul’s letters to the Church at Corinth and "Lumen Gentium" would be a valuable prelude to any taking to the streets, occupying parishes or even setting up tents near the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square (where, in the past, I have trod with Marist students studying Rome and Vatican History).

In several ways the Church at Corinth displayed many of the characteristics many would like to see more of in 21st-century Catholicism. There was huge emphasis on individual spirituality, of each person “listening to the Spirit” and concomitant speaking in tongues or with prophecy. Experimentation and evolution of liturgical practices was occurring without oversight of a hierarchy and “rules.”  There were even “ecumenical” services of sorts, where Christians combined the Lord’s Supper with practices of other religions. There was discussion as to whether Christ’s Resurrection was a factual event or a symbolic and metaphorical one. There was open criticism of Paul as a leader, particularly regarding whether he was driven by self-ambition or was a servant of the community.

Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians served to bring some order back into the community. Even before the Gospels were written, he set down the way the Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated and he delineated its identity apart from Judaism and “the false gods.” He reminded everyone that prophecies will be done away with and tongues will fail but love endures forever and is the greatest gift of all. He emphasized the importance of Christ’s resurrection and the second coming as factual events [“If the dead are not going to be raised, then Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall be dead” (1 Cor 15:34)]. He took responsibility for and banished a sexual abuser from the community.

"Lumen Gentium"—like most of the Vatican II documents—was based on scripture, previous Church Councils, theological and papal writings and discussion of contemporary life. The document uses many of St. Paul’s thoughts in redefining “church” for a nuclear, global world. In fact, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are directly quoted over 50 times. Directly from Corinthians, the church is defined as the Body of Christ, and Paul’s commendations of the many gifts given by God to the Corinthian faithful form a basis for that great concept People of God, and these words also echo across parishes each Sunday in the hymn "We Are All One Body." However, there is another dimension to "Lumen Gentium," which is based on sources after Paul—Patristic writings, in particular—about the need for hierarchy. Perhaps some of the spiritual chaos Paul had to confront at Corinth showed a need for oversight?

Just as I hope young people heading down to New York or Washington, D.C., to protest the modern way of doing business are well-read in economics and history, I encourage my students and other young people who wish to renew the Church to carefully read St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and "Lumen Gentium." I believe our young people need challenge and guidance to examine their own sometimes-emotional reactions in conjunction with a reasoned look at other issues involved. Just as parents, and teachers and hierarchy owe our young people undivided attention and careful empathy, young people themselves need to bring their considerable intellectual skills to a careful assessment of questions such as the relationship of Church laity to hierarchy in today’s world by examining sources beyond their own immediate feelings.

William Van Ornum

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Vince Killoran
7 years ago
I appreciate Bill's thoughtful postings but I take issue with his claim that young people-both the Occupy WS and Tom B.'s posting were not just about young people-are informed solely by "their own immediate feelings."

This slights the Occupy protesters and would-be protesters in our Church. They are an articulate group who make reference to history, economics, and considered notions of justice. it's the harrumphing and finger-wagging from the other side that seems uninformed and emotional.
david power
7 years ago
As always it was a pleasure to read what you wrote Bill.
The example of St Paul is one that most bishops today would probably feel uncomfortable with if they knew what it meant.Although I disagreed with the original content of Tom Beaudoin's blog I agree that the logic of power that pervades the heads of todays bishops needs to be challenged.
St Paul was neither the type to take part in this demonstration or to take refuge in his authority. If he had been there he would have resembled a manic street preacher announcing that the lynching of bankers etc was not what the human heart desired etc.
St Paul challenged  Peter to his face. Is that what is needed today?Who would have the temerity to challenge Peter today?I greatly respect this Pope but I think the attitude of catholics towards the papacy is not a healthy one.Cardinal Ratzinger was afraid to challenge Peter (Wojtyla)himself and that aided and abetted the cover up of all the sexual abuse in the 21st Century.  
Pope Benedict has often called for "adults" in the faith.How do we read this?I see it as a reproach for all of the infantile fawning that he witnessed in his 24 years under his predeccessor.I could be wrong in my  reading.
I agree with you wholeheartedly  that catholics have history on their side.  Most of the great saints , including Francis and Ignatius  ,dealt with some of the nastiest prelates of all times. We must live through these times
Maybe prayer is the greatest act of rebellion. If we prayed for the conversion of the hierarchy to Christ  it would be a challenge to all.It would check the sincerity of our faith and  with the aid of grace help them to turn from their faith in role-playing and back to Jesus. 
we vnornm
7 years ago

I'm going to draw on lots of experience working with young people, and as they will probably tell you I am a great advocate for them.  There is a great need for them to expand their awareness of lots of other viewpoints. I don't hear enough of us older folks gently challenging them. What's wrong with asking them to read the New Testament and Vatican II documents as part of their journey toward deciding whether and what to protest? (If these are not relevant, maybe it's time to pack it in?) We learn from listening to them, yes, but it is a reciprocal relationship, yes? best, bill
we vnornm
7 years ago

Tim Reidy has a nice webcast (on theology and young people) that's relevant to B16s call for us to be "adults in the faith." I recenlty attended a Bar Mitzvah and was totally blown away by how much reading and preparation (not to mention learning Hebrew) went into this ceremony. CCD teachers are the heroes in any parish but somehoe our entire Catholic culture has gotten away from examining alot of the richness of our tradition. b
Vince Killoran
7 years ago
"What's wrong with asking them to read the New Testament and Vatican II documents as part of their journey toward deciding whether and what to protest?"

The short answer Bill is "nothing"-but I think this applies to all Catholics. I've met few 50 yr. old Catholics-on all sides of the divide-who are well-versed in these things. My point was that the Occupy WS folks (of all ages) are quite well-informed.
7 years ago
"....young people themselves need to bring their considerable intellectual skills to a careful assessment of questions such as the relationship of church laity to hierarchy in today's world by examining sources behond their own immediate feelings."

I think this statement reflects the utmost of respect for these young students.  It acknowledges their strengths of intellect and their need to be guided and encouraged to use their minds.  I am so very thankful to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and the Dominican priests who taught at our college.  It was the time of Sputnik and the questioning of American higher education.  We were notonly encouraged to read widely, analyze, synthesize, compare and create ideas.  We were cajoled, scolded and the recipients of other methods of persuasion (all humane, thank goodness).  As Catholic women we were to go out into society as leaders in our fields, culture bearers in our families and always to work for social justice.  In addition to a major and minor we had minors in Theology and Philosphy.  As models of accomplished women, the nuns were powerful.  Excelling was expected because that is what we were capable of.I think any teacher who thus inspires and motivates students is worth his/her weight in gold.   
Tom Maher
7 years ago
The Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Church seems to insprire mass venting of idiosychratic nonsense that most people outside these events can not understand.  These event seem to be a kind of mass pychosis. These events have numerous protest of dissatifaction that are not commonly shared.  These protest are mass venting of unrelated causes not commonly shared.  

The occupy the church impression is that a large number of Catholic college  educated people are exotic Catholic theology gibberish on everything and want ot remake the world to fit their narrow Catholic expereinces.  Reallity however is vastly larger than the narrow limits that a Catholic education provides.  Non-mastery and even non-exposure to  economics, politcs and most sciences and public affairs is very evident, Having a minor in theology and philosophys in the 21 st century does a lot more harm than good when you are otherwise ignorant of the society you live in.  

It should be remebered that most people in the United States and the world are not Caholics and do not have exposure to exotic Catholic theology.  And even most Catholics do not ever attend any Catholic school or university.  So for most people it is  impossible to decode the theological nonsense in these posts.  

One of the assumptions here is that everyone has the same time, place and acceptance expereince of a paticulatr kind of Catholic sub-culture or folklore. But we all did not grow up in Chicago in the 1950s attending Catholic schools with a particular  kind of nuns. We just do not all belong to the same Cahtolic country club.  ANd even if they did have the same expereince not everyone reacts to the experince in the same way for example not everyone approves of or admires the Berrigans or Dorothy Day.   So intellectually, culturally and emotionally we are not all prepared to jump on board the latest Catholic fad of your sub-culture or group.  And the argumentation being made in support of occupying the churtch likely won't get a lot of support.  Before changing the world it might be helpful to have at least a vague sense that the church is not one massive monolith of Catholic school boys and girls and religious.  You occupy the church is missing a road map and reliable detail of what the church is.  The church definetely is not what the  religiously overexposed and hyper active people from Catholic colleges  think it is.
we vnornm
7 years ago
Janice, Tom, David,

Thank you for your thoughts. And as Vince (#5) makes clear, there is a great need for more reading and study among all age groups. Any dialog or protest that then occurs can be much more meaningful. Hope everyone is enjoying the Autum weather! bill
Kang Dole
7 years ago
Maybe this reading of the epistles is too slippery. Lumen Gentium may be about the need for hierarchy, but it's not clear how this need is expressed in the Corinthian correspondence, or what that hierarchy could possibly be. Obviously, a significant element in the letters consists of Paul's negotiation of how his authority is to be accepted, but I think it's anachronistic to read back into the letters the germination of a proof text for Church hierarchy.
I am most especially leery of locating parallels between behaviors at Corinth and ''many of the characteristics many would like to see more of in 21st-century Catholicism.'' (It's here where I see the reading as getting too slippery). I'm not at all sure that there ''was huge emphasis on individual spirituality'' at Corinth. I also do not see any indication that ''experimentation and evolution of liturgical practices was occurring without oversight of a hierarchy and 'rules.''' The latter issue (the lack of oversight from hierarchy) is a problematic formulation, because, again, there is no hierarchy referenced in the text, and Paul does not actually hint at the need for one. As far as experimentation goes, I'm not sure what is meant. If it involves the later claim that there were '''ecumenical' services of sorts, where Christians combined the Lord’s Supper with practices of other religions,'' then I would caution that the tension there isn't so much over experimentation, but rather with the very real social problem of how to engage in the civic life of a Roman colony when meals connected with temple sacrifices are a key element to civic life. ''Experimentation'' and negotiation is pretty much unavoidable for everyone involved, when you're dealing with a very new cult that is emerging in a society with well-established norms for religious practice. I also just don't see where Paul ''took responsibility for and banished a sexual abuser from the community.'' I'm assuming that this is in reference to 1 Cor 5:1-5. If so, then, to follow Paul's lead and use some frank speech, I think the comparison between that situation and the current crisis of sexual abuse is pretty irresponsible.

I personally think that everyone should read the Corinthian letters (for a variety of reasons), and so it's for that reason and not for the sake of a pedantic exercise that I raise the above objections. The reading will be more successful (and more likely to actually happen) if it's not preemptively steered toward prefab objectives.
7 years ago
Yesterday I noted an NYU economics professor led the march uptown in NYC to protest the 'billionaires."
We need to be careful about catagorizing both protestors and what they protest.
I saw the comments at Tom B"s earlier post, and many came from the same persons -often driven by their ideology.
For some the ideology is strongly tied to authority hierachy and order, for others, change and moving ahead.
In the Church there is the same kind of divide and the same perceptions.
It strikes me an Occurpy the Church movement is, like Occupy Wall St, a cry for policy leaders to listen to the needs of people.
In the Church, that seems fair to me: it is a call for mainly chancery types who are invested in canon law and documents to be more pastoral. and to listen!
(I thought professor Hinze's IPOD at this site last week was spot on on how this furthers the Church's mission.)
Emotion is important, not just to be fobbed off:emotions can generate movement which brings change.
Emotions are vital to good decisions on people's lives(the NYT article on Jusge Chu and the complexities of sentencing on Sunday underscore that factor,)
Too often we see answers coming from "answer men" who don't listen.
I think that's at the heart of Tom's post and it strikes me that its speaks much to divisions in the church today.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years ago
First of all, thank you for directing me toward Lumen Gentium, Bill.  What an absolutely gorgeous writing.  It's like reading poetry.  This line:

"The Church is a piece of land to be cultivated, the tillage of God."

is especially noteworthy, I think, when considering what the Church is.  Wow. 

I also like your recommendation to better educate ourselves before entering into dialogue.

Jesuit education employs the Socratic method of instruction which includes teaching students HOW to think and not merely WHAT to think.
Much *education* in America has become primarily propaganda for various social engineering theories  
Too often American institutions of higher education are turning out graduates who are "degreed"; but not educated.
In the traditional Socratic tradition, Jesuits are often at the forefront of critical questioning of the institutionalized policies of both Church and secular authorities.  As Socrates discovered, there is often a very high price to be paid for "speaking truth to power" which may be why so many prefer to run with the herd that shares their prejudices and interests.
Amanda Bovi
7 years ago
I believe it is important to protest for a cause, and i find great parallel between the emotional grievences in the Catholic Church.  Being a college student, I truly respect people sticking up for causes they believing in, and speaking up for themselves.  
we vnornm
7 years ago
Dear Mr. AR:

Thank you for your careful reading and very on-target points. Perhaps for discussion sake there was some "pre-fab pointing", but perhaps the main gist is for all of us to read Corinthians and Lumen Gentium-and as Vince points out so accurately, this hold true for guys like me over 50 (perhaps even more so than the young people?). I believe they hold great relevance to today's world, esepcially the tension (extreme t times) betweeln laity and hierarchy. If we're going to protest tradition, etc. then I think it's go to know more about the tradition we're protesting. Thanks for your careful reading of Corinthians. bill
we vnornm
7 years ago
Dear Robert:

Thank you for your clear reiteration, integration, and analysis of important points in various postings here this past week. The conflicts between chancery and pew are important ones to understand. bill
we vnornm
7 years ago
Beth, thanks for reading Lumen Gentium, and for reaffirming some of the good qualities of Jesuit education, from which I benefitted and continue to benefit from a great deal. (Loyola chicago-where I went-continues to grow and develop.) I am going to a conference at Fairfield University in a couple of weeks with some of my students: there will be some good sessions on spirituality and psychology. Perhaps I will write about this experience. bill
we vnornm
7 years ago

As we have been discussing in class, there may even be things going on within the fields of education and special education which may require the thoughtful and informed confrontation of young persons who are going to work in those systems. I hope you'll keep your antennae up on these-and for other causes in which you sincerely believe your spoken, even shouted, voice will make a difference. There is also an ongoing need in general teaching special education for teachers who will speak up for the many children whose needs may be overlooked by bureaucratic systems which no longer keep in mind the bests interests of the children they serve. And one must learn tact and discretion as to not jeopardize one's own secure place in such a system. Perhaps one of the hardest things of all is to try to change an unjust system in a caring and challenging way from within! bill
7 years ago
The education I described in #6 with its rigorous expectations and grounding in Catholic tradition and social doctrine, gave me a foundation to rely on throughout the rest of my life.  Believe me, as a social worker, single mother and advocate, I went back many times to what I had learned and experienced many years earlier.  This is what I would hope our younger college students are finding today.  ,,,,challenges to thinking and feeling; help in channelling idealism, broad exposure to ideas and the ability to analyze and apply them.  (Tom, I never thought of St. Thomas Acquinas' thought as esoteric!). 

Several commentators mention emotions/feelings.  It is simpleminded to say but it is what one does or doesn't do with one's feelings that is critical.  Feelings of anger, envy, resentment can be destructive if not recognized by the individual and are vented solely to give the person relief.  Feelings of pity and guilt can lead to "unintended consequences" when they fuel social programs without an adequate base in knowlege. I saw a lot of evidence of these unintended consequences during my social work career.  I'm afraid there is too much destructive anger being vented in the church.  As Vince and Bill, both say, it is incumbent on adults to continue their study of the Faith.  The Letters of St. Paul and documents of Vatican II are a good place to start!

Our diocese has an educational institute open to all in the diocese.  The classes are those given to the deacons in training and are excellent for people like me  who have a large gap in learning from college to the present.  I'd guess that other dioceses have similiar programs.

David Brooks has an excellent op-ed in the NY Times about the Occupy Wall Street movement which we could apply to the idea of occupying the church.  At the end he says:  "It's about changing behavior from top to bottom,  Let's occupy ourselves."
we vnornm
7 years ago
Janice and David,

Will have to read the Brooks article. One thing that strikes me is how changing our own behaviors is important. Much harder to change systems, and "blaming" others is indeed one of the most primitive psychological defenses.  Perhaps everyone should flock more to Church to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Myself included. Beware the long lines Saturday afternoon. :-)
K Stebbins
7 years ago
I agree 100 percent that my generation and everyone in general need to challenge their thoughts and views with knowledge and information everyday.
Along with that, it is important to not start accusing people of wrong doing until you fully analyze yourself. I think today more than ever people tend to be more clueless about what is going on in the world and a lot of times it is because they are so fixed on their own views that more information and current events they feel are almost not relevant.
It is always important to challenge oneself  and one's own views. Being open minded is crucial as well. This is a very exciting time that we live in.
With that said, I have not read St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and "Lumen Gentium." No, I don't think you are being too tough on young people.
Mary Sweeney
7 years ago
On my way home yesterday I encountered a group of young students from the local Catholic High School, my alma mater back in the 60's. I stopped to engage them. They were sophomores. I asked them if they did current events in school. They told me they did not. I asked them if there was any discussion of the Occupy movement in class. Again the answer was negative. When I was a Freshman I distrinctly remember studying Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. I definitely remember studying current events. I wondered what they study in Religion class. Do they study the encyclicals, the Documents of Vatican II? I thought about the sermons I have been listening to over these past years. I most definitely have not heard any mention of Vatican II for years and years and years. So, I am left to wonder what lens our students in Catholic Schools use to view the events they see reported on the TV or Internet. Do we take their pulse occasionally or are we content that our roster is full and our staff complete?
7 years ago
About those "long confession lines", I remember pre-VaticanII the long lines for confession and the few communicants at the communion rail.  A total switch. I wonder if our contemporary society  has a different concept of "sin" and whether some psychological theories (eg. I'm okay, you're okay and the self-esteem movement) have had anything to do with this.

In the meantime God is there through the priest offering us peace and reconciliation with him.  I am also one to make better use of this Sacrament.  Our God is so gracious in his forgiveness and offers of reconciliation.  If only, it were this easy to reconcile with people.
david power
7 years ago
Dear Bill,

Thanks for the postings about what Tim Reidy wrote etc.I will look them up.
I was surprised to see you write about Vatican 2 and I am sure that I and  others would appreciate more of that.
We are nearing the anniversary of the council and I hope that America celebrates it with some articles .I consider you the only non-ideological writer on America(many will disagree!) and the most suited to do justice to the documents.  
It would be great if you gave us a critique  of some of them and opened a debate on their relevance to today.

Thanks again! 
we vnornm
7 years ago

Thanks for the good thoughts of someone in college! bvo
we vnornm
7 years ago

Good you are engaing the young folks in dialog; one wishes that you had heard back differently from them regarding the state of their education. You've reminded me I need to study some of those Papal Encyclicals. bill
we vnornm
7 years ago
oops...#27 is to Mary. bill
we vnornm
7 years ago

Thank you. I am re-reading many of the documents now. I would like to do a blog on Catholic education, CCD, and Vatican II. I will work on this and hopefully will get it up over the next few months. Thanks for the idea. I find the documents of Vatican II intriguing: they are traditional and progressive simultaneously and often hard to pigeonhole in either category. bill


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