Its Confusing Out There
In A Faith That Frees, Richard G. Malloy, S.J., who teaches anthropology and sociology at Saint Josephs University in Philadelphia, conveys his vision of Catholic orthopraxis in North America at the start of the 21st century. On the one hand, using the methods, ideas and information of cultural anthropology and sociology, he analyzes aspects of American Catholicism. On the other hand, drawing on theology as well as the pastoral letters of the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he makes concrete proposals concerning the ways in which North American Catholics should live and act so that they mature in their Christian faith and simultaneously witness to the Gospel. In his words:
This book privileges not theological truths to be disseminated but rather practices and experiences, conversations and dialogues, hoping that the authentic living of our faith, a full and flexible Catholicism, will transform us by persuasion and example, rather than by the hammering home of seemingly self-evident, monological truths.In the books first part (Chapters 1 to 3), Malloy gives his theory of Catholicism. Working with the ideas of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., he explains that authentic Catholicism involves ongoing conversion, the transformation of ones self over a lifetime into a person incorporated into the reality of God, the promise made to us all that we may become participants in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) (p. 19). This spiritual process includes, he contends, a critical consciousness of the cultural components that affect our practice of Catholicism. Moving from what Lonergan called a classicist notion of culture to an empirical notion of culture, Catholics should express their Christian belief in specific practices or actions that confront and seek to change the shortcomings of our society and culture while also affirming legitimate American values. In other words, the followers of Jesus Christ should discern how the social structures, cultural values, and meanings of our society and age measure up against the gospel message of life and liberty, truth and love, freedom and hope.
In the books second part (Chapters 4 to 8), Malloy highlights prophetic practices of Catholicism that lead to conversion and transformation in various social and cultural venues. Concerning todays globalization, for example, he observes in Chapter 7 that the worlds population doubled from 1955 to 1995, going from 2.5 billion to 5 billion, and that by 2035 it will be 9 billion people. This rapid increase has affected the Catholic Church. Today there are approximately 1.1 billion Catholics. Of these, 520 million are in Latin America. In Africa, the number of Catholics has grown from 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000. During this same period, the number of Catholics in Asia grew from 11 million to 107 million. Not surprisingly, as Catholics in Africa, Asia and Latin America view the Gospel and the Christian tradition in relation to their respective cultures, they will increasingly transform and transmit life in Christ in ways as yet unforeseen and unpredictable.
In light of this new global reality, Malloy argues that North American Catholics should accept todays world church with its new forms of prayer, worship and Christian life. Also, they should work for the well-being of the worlds poor and for the overcoming of de-humanizing capitalism. In short, Catholics should practice a cross-cultural, global Christianity.
Based on his sociological and anthropological analyses of further dimensions of American life, Malloy proposes other forms of orthopraxis. Catholics should adopt the practice of just gender and race relations, the practice of economic social justice, the practice of sane, sensual, responsible and relational sexuality and cultural practices that foster and admire peace and peacemakers. Also, church leaders should engage in the loving exercise of power and authority.
A Faith That Frees stands in the theological tradition of the Second Vatican Councils outreach to the world. Vatican IIs Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World brings the truths of Christian belief into dialogue with the world about its various problems, throwing the light of the Gospel on them and supplying humanity with the saving resources which the Church has received from its founder under the promptings of the Holy Spirit (Gaudium et Spes, No. 3). Similarly, Malloys book answers the questions with which we struggle as we strive to live as Catholics in todays increasingly globalized world.
A Faith That Frees is a challenging book. It introduces readers to sociological data, concepts in cultural anthropology and theological notions concerning Christian praxis, conversion and the churchs mission. Anecdotes from Malloys pastoral ministries in the inner city and in Latin America illuminate this rich material. Further, the text moves between social-science analyses of specific situations in North America and theological statements about the ways in which Catholics should act in these situations in order to witness to Jesus Christ and the Gospel. This frequent back-and-forth movement requires readers concentration and also a readiness to pause and reflect on our actual ways of expressing the Christian faith. Given this emphasis on Catholic practices in the first world, A Faith That Frees contributes to the growing literature in liberation theology for North America.
This article also appeared in print, under the headline “Its Confusing Out There,” in the December 24, 2007, issue.