Updated: Oct 31
Every week for nearly thirty-three years, at whichever parish I have been a pastor, I used the weekly Sunday bulletin of the parish to not just inform parishioners about what was happening in the parish but also to offer some theological commentary and insight. I used the title “Pastor’s Perspective” to indicate that my ideas were meant to be ‘food for thought’ and not the final word on a matter; a perspective which I hoped would be valuable to others, as they thought through similar issues. I tried to keep the weekly articles to between 1000-2000 words, so as to not overwhelm the parishioners and to force myself to not fall into an overly academic mode of communication.
Now that I am moving into "senior status" in the Archdiocese of Detroit, I will no longer have that privileged weekly parish venue, but I would like to continue to do something similar. Thus, this website and this initial blog. My goal is modest. I am not trying to create a social media-savvy brand. In fact, these articles may remain minimal or even dormant for significant stretches, as I figure out just what senior priest status means for me, but I hope not. Or, I may find it more worthwhile to post short videos on topics that fit into these themes or even an occasional homily. We will see what develops.
But why the title “Church-World-Kingdom”? That name hearkens back to a program initiated in the Archdiocese of Detroit by then Archbishop John Dearden in the wake of all that happened at the Second Vatican Council (held in Rome from 1962-1965). Although there are currently many commentators in the Catholic Church who either dismiss the significance of that Council or try to minimize its unexpected transformative understanding of the Church, its structure, its mission, its liturgy, and its role in society, the Second Vatican Council was and will be seen as one of the most significant turning points in the history of the Catholic Church. And, for those who participated in the Church-World-Kingdom project on a local level in the Archdiocese of Detroit (including my parents who hosted a small group in the home), they were excited and energized by the Council's vision. Archbishop Dearden’s Church-World-Kingdom program was one of the two most intensive efforts by dioceses to immerse their people in the teaching of Vatican II (the other, interestingly, was then Archbishop Karol Wojtyla from Krakow, who later is elected and takes the name Pope John Paul II). Because of it and other such efforts approved by Archbishop (and then Cardinal) Dearden, the Archdiocese of Detroit was in the forefront of the renewal envisioned by Vatican II. But in Detroit the energy was not simply inner-focused on the Church itself but on the transformation that could occur in a world, which lives by principles of authentic social justice. Thus “Church-World-Kingdom” was not just the title of a program but a recognition of the interplay that happens between the Church and the culture within which it is immersed.
This interplay of Church-World-Kingdom comes to the forefront especially in the document from the Second Vatican Council called Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). A brief quote from that document appears on the header of this website, calling the Church a type of "leaven" for society. An entire shift in ecclesiology is contained in that image. Although Christendom in the West had long fallen apart, the Church still operated (operates?!) too often as though that was the ideal. For example, if a nation was not guided by Catholic teaching in its laws, it was common teaching that such an arrangement could be “tolerated” but not fully accepted. The ideal was still the concept of a “Christian nation.” This image is also different from the early Church view of two separate kingdoms, with the Church as the “ark of salvation” and all others condemned to eternal damnation. No, says Vatican II, the Church is to be leaven, act “like a soul” to the world, drawing all toward the horizon we call God’s reign or God’s kingdom. There is a legitimate autonomy that the Church must recognize in various areas of society and a corresponding wisdom the Church must listen to and be in dialogue with. In that same document, the Council points out that God offers salvation to all in God’s own way (#22), and so it is not the case the earthly historical Church is the sole “ark of salvation” for all. This means that it is necessary to resist the easy binaries of Church/World, Good/Evil, We Have Truth/ You Have Falsehood—which so many current evangelism-oriented initiatives tend to fall into—and engage in the more complex (and modest) interplay of both Church and World being challenged by and drawn toward a common horizon, the Kingdom (Reign) of God.
Finally, “Church-World-Kingdom” captures my own areas of theological interest. A theology that is too Church-centric and focused mainly on doctrinal statements and whether people properly believe in such statements very easily becomes stagnant, mistaking orthodoxy for verbal beliefs rather than the witness of a Christ-centered life within the community of faith. The amazing insights that the world produces via art, literature, physics, biology, chemistry, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and other areas of human inquiry and insight constantly challenge the Church to examine itself in light of new insights (think of the Copernican revolution or theory of evolution among many others). In turn, the Church at its best, with its eyes set on the reign of God (the Kingdom) always challenges such wisdom of the world to not settle for a minimalist understanding of the human person, human community, and what it means to be human. In short, Church and World can be seen as dialogue partners in the pursuit of truth, beauty, goodness, and living justly—the area of theology known traditionally as Fundamental Theology.
Given that broad range of interest, my hope is that any major event or new insight from any discipline, as well as any developments in the realm of the Church (given who I am, I will be mostly focused on the Catholic Church), can become part of the dialogue on this website. May it prove, at least for a few, fruitful food for thought.