An Epiphany reflection to start the New Year……

Professor Eberhard Möbius of the University of New Hampshire has published a report that galactic “winds” that flow around the solar system have been changing direction over the past four decades. Comparing results from measurements obtained from eleven spacecraft since 1972, Möbius and colleagues have concluded that the direction the “winds” are coming from has shifted and our own movement through the solar system is producing great changes in a relatively short time.

Galactic winds in the church have shifted as well. There is no turning back now. Some call it the New Reformation. Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin could never have imagined what is happening today. (Some of our bishops can’t imagine it either; but that is a temporary problem.)


We are beginning to see the signs of a galactic change in our understanding of God and traditional Christian belief. Today I offer just a few signs of changing times.

(1)   GOD: According to the Pew Research people, a growing percentage of young people under 30, from the so-called “Millennial Generation,” are coming to doubt or question the existence of God as traditionally understood. Many older people, of course, resonate with them and are leaving organized religion in an increasing stream of “believers” who no longer feel at home with the doctrine and rituals of organized religion. 20%¨of Americans now belong to the spiritual but not religious group. A danger sign? I don’t think so. It is rather a challenge to re-think our experiences of God and church.

I remembered a discussion with an American archbishop at a November meeting of our USCCB in Baltimore. I remarked that God is just as much “mother” as “father.” Suddenly his face turned red and he angrily shouted at me that “God is Father and that is UNCHANGEABLE TRUTH!”

(2)   TRUTH: I would not say that truth is relative. I do suggest that we often see the truth through highly contextualized and often foggy lenses. (Since my recent cataract operations, I keenly understand and appreciate these old and new kinds of vision.) Great numbers of Catholic believers today do have new visions and new perspectives on Christian belief, human understanding, and moral behavior. Perhaps they – we – see things better today. Better perhaps than many church leaders who still need Catholic cataract surgery.

(3)   ORDAINED WOMEN: I really don’t think we need a Vatican document about a “theology of women.” I get annoyed when I hear that because it smacks of antiquated clerical patriarchy. We simply need an up to date theology of the human person. More and more people today understand that women are not inferior to men and that women can be…..that women ARE……effective, competent, and wonderfully pastoral ordained ministers (priests) in today’s Christian communities. Some institutional religious leaders still fulminate that such ordinations are not possible. With all due respect, I would suggest that these negative antagonists are theologically ignorant and blind to contemporary realities.

(4)   CHURCH BIGGER THAN CATHOLIC CHURCH: When I was a young man, I firmly believed that Catholics were the real and only authentic Christians. My Dad was a Protestant. It bothered me greatly that (as a priest told my seventh grade religion class) he followed a “false religion.” Years later of course, the mist in my eyes cleared and I could see that the Church of Christ….the Body of Christ……is much greater and more dynamic than just the Church of Rome. Today, we are still working-out major the implications of this truth. More galactic change. The implications touch on sacramental life, Christian moral teaching, and of course the teaching authority of the church. It is time to drop the old Roman Catholic hegemony.

(5)   SEX AGAIN: As people begin to look through today’s lenses, they see that human sexuality is far richer, more wonderful, and much more complex than just connecting genitalia and producing babies. Human sexuality is the way we are as men and women, and the way we express ourselves……affectively, psychologically, physically, and socially. It is the way we relate to each-other, and the way we relate to the Divine. Hetero-Sexual marriage can be wonderful; but so can same-sex marriage. More than 60% of today’s U.S. Catholics support same-sex marriage. Despite episcopal attempts to stop it, support among Catholics continues to grow. The morality of all sexual relationships is based on respect for the other and respect for self. Jesus told us that is the golden rule.

(6) NATURAL LAW:   My old archbishop friend told me not so long ago that I no longer respect natural law. Indeed, what is natural law? Is it natural that men use and oppress women! Is it natural that rich people take advantage of and ignore the poor? Is it natural that straights denigrate gays? Is it natural that getting a girl pregnant is more important than preserving and maintaining her life? Perhaps human nature is evolving as well…..certainly our understanding of human nature is continually evolving. Natural law is not carved in stone it echoes with the beatings of  human hearts and the reflections of human minds. There God is very close indeed.

(7)   PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY: We live today in societies that are culturally and religiously pluralistic. What then is the appropriate response of believers in such societies? Is it appropriate that the public morality mirror Christian or Muslim morality? Is it appropriate that U.S. Catholic bishops try to impose a narrow-minded Catholic morality on the entire population?

(8)   POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY: And what about Catholic legislators? Is it appropriate and proper Catholic political leaders be banned from Eucharist, because they are trying to formulate a broad-based public morality, in a pluralistic society? Are we really so sure that the Catholic position is the ONLY legitimate position?

Well friends these are a few quick thoughts at the start of a new year.

The new reformation — a truly contemporary Catholic change is underway — and it is much greater than what I sketch here. We are believers and explorers in a time of galactic change. The issue is not dissent but discovery.

It is indeed a new age. We are indeed new explorers. Everything is not neatly worked out. The days are exciting but can be fearful as well. Nevertheless….we read in the Gospels that Christ is with us till the end of the world; and thanks to him, Christianity gives us the courage to live with integrity and hope in the sometimes radical insecurity of daily life.

Happy New Year!




15 thoughts on “The New Reformation: The Winds of Catholic Change

    1. Thanks Nancy. For me the big phrase that hit me on New Year’s day is: we are not dissenters but discoverers…….

  1. Jack,
    Wonderful!! We do indeed need a “theology of the human person.” Back in the ’80’s in my Adult Formation classes, I always addressed the issue of women, and how, as baptized and adopted sisters in Christ, they were only allowed to encounter the graces of six and not seven sacraments. Where is the equality, I would ask, that Paul, over and over again stresses, especially in Gal 3? Many would say, “Well, that’s what the Church teaches.” I wish I had addressed that issue in light of your cataract surgery ; )
    Gelukkig Nieuwjaar, as my Dutch classmates taught me way back in those glorious Vatican II days in bella Roma.

  2. I agree with Jim. Indeed one of your best. Your vision and analysis are intellectually and spiritually uplifting. Yes, it’s an exciting time for excellent theologians such as yourself.

  3. Guess What? Our “so with IT” Bishop is Suddenly heeding the Protestant exhortation to read the Bible. WOW! After something like 400 years some of our quaint leaders are now agreeing as Martha Stewart would say: “It’s a good thing.”

  4. thanks Jack for your insightful comments. these ideas will serve as fodder for discussion with discerning individuals… as soon as we can find a couple! annette & lee

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