Category Archives: Peter Avvento

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – The Religious Formation of the Young by Peter Avvento

Is our challenge forming the young, or forming the adults?

Is our challenge forming the young, or forming the adults?

“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
Challenges Facing the Catholic Church
Series 3
“The Religious Formation of the Young”

“How can the Church ensure the sound religious formation of its youth?”

The first problem that we have to face, across the country, is the near bankruptcy in the way children are taught and initiated into the sacramental life. While there are some exceptions, by and large this is the state of affairs. Children are baptized before they know anything about what is going on. They are introduced to First Reconciliation before they have anything much to be penitent about and in a way that almost assumes that their “first confession” will be their “last confession”. They approach First Communion in a better spirit but often within a family context that is more about the “show” then it is about deepening of the family faith experience. Worst of all, our young people receive Confirmation as a kind of “diploma” which ends their religious education just at a time when it should be a sign of deepening discipleship not graduation. In many circles Confirmation has come to be known as the “sacrament after which you do not need to go to church if you don’t want to.

Based on the above portrait there is no way that a sacramental catechesis will attract the young until we as adult Catholics freely engage in a much less passive way in a life of faith and that we approach our faith as wanting to make a difference in the world.

How do we do this? We need to connect worship and mission. Most parishes put a lot of work into their liturgy as well as reaching out to the local community in works of support. But relatively few faith communities pursue the path of promoting structural changes in society. As a church we are not very effective at promoting the overall vision of God’s Kingdom. All too often we focus on making stands on specific issues – abortion, same sex marriage, etc. Rather we must promote human dignity, promote the common good, and promote a consistent ethic of life across the board. These are the pillars of a sound catholic social teaching

While small children should primarily be taught Bible stories, adolescents and young adults need to be introduced to the vision of a Church making a difference in the world. They need to be challenged by the call to daily discipleship – not to the fulfillment of project hours so as to pass a test. Our young people will not be impressed by being told to love the Church or to follow the teaching of the pope. But if they can come to see the Church striving to make a positive difference in the world, with leaders who are in touch with the concerns of everyday people, many of them will make a connection between a Church of integrity and worship.


Comments Off on Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – The Religious Formation of the Young by Peter Avvento

Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Peter Avvento

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow – Challenges Facing the Catholic Church, Part 2 – by Peter Avvento

Peter Avvento offers us a snapshot of the session that he offered this past Monday. Please join us for future sessions, April 29, May 6, and May 13 as we discuss the challenges faced by the Roman Catholic Church, in the context of our rich history. We begin at 7pm in the Social Hall at St Edward the Confessor; all are welcome, admission is free, but a free will offering is always gratefully accepted. 

Madre Pascalina Lehnert, who served as Pope Pius XII housekeeper and later as secretary. She served from 1917-1958, and was considered a most powerful woman.

Madre Pascalina Lehnert, who served as Pope Pius XII housekeeper and later as secretary. She served from 1917-1958, and was considered a most powerful woman.

Challenges Facing the Catholic Church
Series 2

“How does the Church need to change in order to allow for the full participation of women?”

Critics of the Roman Catholic Church often contend that we are a sexist institution. If we are honest we have to admit that there is some truth here. While women certainly constitute considerably more than half the church-going population and while they dominate the entire field of lay ministry, they simply do not have remotely proportional representation in leadership roles on the parish, diocesan or international levels.

Why is this case? It is not that the Church restricts ordained ministry to men, but rather, it is that the Church assigns all leadership roles to the ranks of the ordained, who just happen to be men. It is not self-evident that the charism of leadership is intrinsically connected to that of pastoral ministry, but….as long as our church is organized on the assumption that this connection is real then women n cannot take their appropriate places in church leadership.

How can we change the situation? One approach is to find a way moving forward to an ordained ministry that includes women as equal partners with men. The other approach is to distinguish between leadership and the pastoral ministry of the ordained. Both approaches involve radical changes in the Church and neither is seriously being considered at the highest levels of Church leadership at this time. But that does not mean that change cannot occur. As painful as it might sound, within the Church we do not measure change and/or development in years or even decades. Rather we measure in terms of centuries and eons.

The Vatican is not setting out to put women down, although some say that it seems that way. We also have to realize that those many members of the Church, laity and clergy alike, who believe that it is time for a change, are not trying to destroy the institution, but rather, are trying to save it from itself. It is also incumbent on everyone with some skin in the game to be neither overly protective of a clericalist status quo nor simply to transpose the “rights language” of the secular feminist debate into the ecclesial arena.

Both sides in the debate have to place the issue in the context of the ecclesial tradition. Those who desire to ordain women cannot just “thumb their nose” at the fact that this has never been a practice of the Church. And those who oppose it cannot simply say so in the name of unchanging tradition. Tradition is important and sometimes it is normative ecclesial memory, but tradition is a constant process of development, a living stream of change.

So where does the Holy Spirit come into the picture? The Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth and does so through the teaching authority of the popes and bishops as well as in the practice of the whole People of God – lay and clergy alike. But what are we to make of the activity of the Spirit when there is a serious issue over which the Church is divided? In such a time it is tempting to simply say that the Holy Spirit can never be at war with itself and so one side is right and the other must back down. It would be wiser to consider the possibility that the work of the Spirit may be invested in the discernment process that will result from good debate and out of which the truth that the Spirit guarantees will eventually emerge.

Comments Off on Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow – Challenges Facing the Catholic Church, Part 2 – by Peter Avvento

Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Peter Avvento, Uncategorized

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – Challenges Facing the Catholic Church by Peter Avvento

Peter Avvento offered part 1 of this series on Monday night. If you missed part 1, don’t let that keep you from attending any of the other sessions. This was a great evening, with the promise of more to follow. There are no easy answers, but Peter offers us excellent questions to explore, and the possibility of paths to follow. All are welcome, so please join us! And please share this with friends and on social media.

SKMBT_C28013041608110“Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
Challenges Facing the Catholic Church

A Crisis of Faith or a Crisis of Culture?

If you stop and talk with your everyday Catholic I am sure that you will hear them bemoan the fact that we are experiencing a crisis of faith of epic proportions. Evidence of this crisis can be found in the decline in Mass attendance, the challenges to authority, the loss of respect for the institution due to the sex abuse scandals, the decline in priestly vocations, the seemingly rampant secularism that colors the mind and heart of our young people. But is this truly a crisis of faith or is it not a crisis of culture?

We are all products of our cultural environment as well as shapers and architects of that culture. In order to understand what this crisis is about we need to look at three key cultural moments in the life of American Catholicism: culture of need, culture of compliance and culture of demand.

Culture of need – points to our earliest historical memory of being a Catholic in this country. The immigrant experience was one that can be described as a “search for acceptance”. The church provided the safe harbor for our grandparents and great-grandparents. In a country that believed or claim to believe in freedom of religion our Catholic ancestors were shunned, ridiculed and persecuted. They sought refuge in their parish community, typically constituted along ethnic lines – the Polish parish, the Italian parish, the Irish parish and so on, especially in the urban capitals of our country. Our ancestors flocked to the church for acceptance, community and enjoyment. The Church met that need.

Culture of compliance – this next evolution can best be summarized by the phrase, “Pray, pay, obey” and reached its apex in the 1950s as churches and seminaries were full, money was in the bank and everything proceeded like clockwork. This cultural epoch was not about individual choice and commitment. Rather, one could “hide in the weeds” of being born into the Catholic community. One learned the answers in the catechism and without even appropriating the core message, tried to live by a code of decency. This culture was based on a merit system whereby one could “earn” salvation through obedience and compliance.

Culture of demand – emerged as part of the post Vatican II experience and the rude awakening to individual freedom that was heralded in the 1960s. Now we began to be educated consumers who demanded excellence – excellent preaching, excellent music, and excellent liturgical celebration. If we did not get what we wanted to moved to where we could find it. No longer were we bound b y geographical confines. We “shopped” for what we wanted and needed. This continues to be our situation today. We want to be fed and we will move inside and outside of our denomination to find happiness and peace.


Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Peter Avvento, Uncategorized

Gaudium et Spes – The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World by Peter Avvento


(This was to have posted a few weeks back… I entered it, posted it, but it seems to have disappeared. Here it is in its entirety! Apologies to Peter Avvento and to all of you.)

This was one of the most bitterly debated documents of the council. The original plan had called for one document on the church – “De Ecclesia”- but this changed largely due through the efforts of Leo Cardinal Suenens (Belgium) and his fellow bishops from Germany and the Netherlands. The pivotal point was the need to make a distinction between the church ad intra (the basic nature and structure of the Church) and the church ad extra (the church understood from the perspective of its mission to the world). Thus Vatican II produced two documents – “Lumen Gentium” (on the nature of the church) and “Gaudium et Spes” (on the mission of the church). One of the key speeches was that given by Dom Helder Camara of Brazil that bears repeating and should be emphasized to church leadership today, Are we to spend our whole time discussing internal church problems while two-thirds of humankind is dying of hunger?”


Part I of “Gaudium et Spes” establishes the theological framework for the church’s engagement in the world. It creates a theological anthropology that is grounded in the biblical notion of the human person as the “image of God”. Part II deals with the practical questions of moral application and addresses such topics as marriage and family, economic and social life and the fostering of peace.

Throughout the document there is an over-riding spirit of respectful dialogue with the world. On one hand, the church admits that it has much to learn from the world. On the other hand, the church offers to the world the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. The Church maintains that it is the guardian of the deposit of God’s Word and it draws religious and moral principles from it but it does not always have a ready answer to every question. While this may be frustrating to some it is part and parcel of the fact that life is filled with more “gray” than “black and white”, especially in moral matters.

One of the basic themes is an understanding of the Church (“all Christian faithful” as being called to a mission in the world. The Church believes that through each of us and all of us as a whole, we can make the human family even more human. Your actions and my actions have a social and a political impact. The metaphor of “leaven” (yeast) is most appropriate because it suggests that we are sent into the world to transform it from within. As a result, this document repudiates any attempt to define the church as being over and against the world as if it were so sort of autonomous entity (“a perfect society”) unaffected by the issues and concerns for humanity. The Church is NOT of ultimate importance – the Kingdom of God is. The Church exists as a UNIVERSAL SACRAMENT of SALVATION. As Christians we must be willing to “get our hands dirty” for the sake of the Kingdom.


Comments Off on Gaudium et Spes – The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World by Peter Avvento

Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Gaudium et Spes, Peter Avvento, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Edward the Confessor Clifton Park, Vatican II

Lumen Gentium – by Peter Avvento

Once again, Peter Avvento offers some thoughts after another Adult Faith Enrichment evening at St. Edward the Confessor. If you are in the area, come by on any Monday night that the programs are offered – all are welcome. A free will offering will gladly be accepted, but no entry fee is required.

“Since the Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument that is of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race…” (LG n.1)

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, is, above all, an attempt to express in very broad strokes the doctrinal self understanding of the Catholic Church. It begins by speaking about the “mystery” of the Church. St. Paul uses this very same word (“mysterion”) to refer to the self revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This term carried with it the connotation of something that cannot be entirely explained or understood. And yet, St. Paul insists that the very mystery of God and of the divine love for humanity has been revealed in Jesus Christ.

It was a short step from Paul’s use of the term “mystery” with reference to God’s plan of salvation in Christ to its application by early Christian writers to the sacramental life of the Church. The mystery that we celebrate in the liturgy is nothing other than our participation in the paschal mystery of our redemption in Christ. Latin authors translated the word “mysterion” as “sacramentum”. By the 4th century, Christian authors began to use this language to speak about the ritual celebrations of the church (the sacraments with which we are very familiar).

The Mystical Body of Christ

During the Middle Ages, Catholic theology began to apply the category of mystery that was long understood to refer to the Mystical Body of Christ in the Eucharist to the Mystical Body that is the Church. The authors understood that the fruit of participation in the Eucharist is unity, the communion with God and with one another that constitutes the very foundation of Church.

During the period of the Reformation and Counter Reformation we see a further development. For the Protestant Reformers, the true church of Christ was no longer visible due to the corruption that had eroded its visible institution. It was hidden from view and should be known only as a spiritual reality. Catholic theology, led by the illustrious Jesuit, St. Robert Bellarmine (to whom this author has a personal devotion although I disagree with much of his theology) placed a strong emphasis on the continuity between the visible reality of the institutional church and the true church established by Christ.

What was Bellarmine’s vision? He understood the Church as a “visible” and “perfect” society, equipped with everything necessary for the salvation of its members. This vision dominated the Catholic theology manuals and textbooks down through the early 20th century. The teaching of Vatican II is an effort to restore a balance between understanding the inner, spiritual dimensions of the church and its concrete, historical reality.

Comments Off on Lumen Gentium – by Peter Avvento

Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Lumen Gentium, Peter Avvento, Vatican II

“Dei Verbum” – Vatican II Declaration on Divine Revelation by Peter Avvento

(This is an excerpt from the Monday night Adult Faith Enrichment series on Vatican II, written by Peter Avvento)

In the centuries after the Council of Trent the Church assumed a defensive posture and created a “fortress mentality”. This posture was understandable in that the Church had been under attack by the Reformers, the rise of modern science and the Age of Enlightenment. The theological texts of these times were theological “manuals” which gave the impression that divine revelation was little more than a collection of truth statements. During the 19th century and early 20th century the dominant theological method in Catholic theology was “neo-scholasticism” whose approach to theology was the use of the “dogmatic manual”. Seminary texts were prepared to offer students the necessary defensive “weapons” to defend the truths of the Catholic faith.

Let’s look briefly at this model, usually referred to as the “Propositional Model”. Although the truth statements contained in these books had their remote origin in Scripture and tradition, their immediate source of authority was the magesterium (teaching function of the church). The magesterium became the immediate rule of faith for ordinary Catholics. Hence the phrase – “What does the official Church have to say about this or that?” So Scripture became the remote rule of faith, a rule that needed the magesterium for guidance. In this model, faith was conceived as an intellectual assent to truths that were contained in propositions – very mathematical to be sure but not very theological!

In the preparatory stages of Vatican II the theological commission, comprised mostly of Roman scholastic theologians, presented a draft document on revelation which was simply a rehash of the dogmatic manuals with little emphasis on scripture which had been receiving new energy through the biblical renewal movement ushered in by the 1943 encyclical of Pope Pius XII, “Divino Afflante Spiritu”. This commission expected a rubber stamp approval and was stunned when good and wise Pope John XXIII intervened and rejected their document. He created a new commission who would eventually come up with the document that we have today – “Dei Verbum” (“Word of God”).
The key to this document lies in its “personalist viewpoint” evident most especially in paragraph 2 which shows a theological shift away from the old propositional model. Now we read that God does not reveal to us a collection of information; rather, God shares his very self with us. God comes to us as a person, Jesus Christ, who is both “mediator and the sum total of revelation”.

The document refers to the character of divine revelation as the “most intimate truth” communicated by God. This is a radical departure from the traditional emphasis on “truths” or “mysteries of faith”. Revelation is not a collection of statements, theses, propositions, axioms or teachings but is the “single intimate truth” of God’s love for us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In order for God to communicate with us He must communicate in a manner that is appropriate to our status as finite creatures. This is an old axiom that was held by St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics, “quidquid recipitur, recipitur ad modum recipientis” (“that which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver”). Sarcastically, it can be translated as “we only hear what we want to hear”. The truth of that statement lies in the fact that we must be “open” to hear God’s loving Word in order to “believe” it and “act” upon it.

Comments Off on “Dei Verbum” – Vatican II Declaration on Divine Revelation by Peter Avvento

Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Peter Avvento, Vatican II

“Vatican II: Pearls of Wisdom” Legacy and Challenge – by Peter Avvento

(Peter Avvento offered a talk on Vatican II and it’s legacy on Monday night; this is a recap. Please see the Adult Faith Enrichment Schedule on the parish website for future offerings!)

Whether we like it or not, Vatican II has irreversibly penetrated our Catholic DNA. Now with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, stops and starts, ups and downs, we may only now be ready to determine what that legacy is and what must be done to move forward to the completion of this vision of “aggiornamento.”

It is probably safe to say, now from this benefit of hindsight that we are experience that Vatican II should serve as a compass for the future of the Church and not as a final destination or port or terminal. After fifty years we can see it and come to appreciate it as an unprecedented event in the history of our faith. Why? How can we say this?

According to the famous Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner SJ, one of the key figures at the council, Vatican II represents a significant “horizon shift” in the history of the Church. It can be likened to the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15) a gathering that represented the first “horizon shift” for this early Jewish movement that was beginning to preach to the Gentile world through the efforts of Paul. Must Gentiles become Jews in order to follow Jesus? The answer of “No” paved the way for the worldwide development of Christianity. For Vatican II a critical element in this “horizon shift” was the role attributed to the Holy Spirit – that divine dynamic that pushed, moved and guided the council. But, we contend, this divine dynamic did not end with the council. It continues today through the study, reception and implementation of the decrees and spirit of the council.

Because of all that we have said above we cannot and must not go back to a pre Vatican II period – although some pine for the certainty of the good old days, which, from this writer’s standpoint, were not that good! The future of our Church is an unfinished symphony, a portrait still being painted.

Does this mean a permanent revolution? No! It does not! But…..It does mean that we cannot and must not go back to an era that no longer holds meaning. It means that we must remain true to our calling to be “hearers of the Word” and constantly open to the Spirit who speaks to us in our own language – a language of compassion, concern, inclusiveness, forgiveness and mercy.

This is a time for joy. Despite all the upheavals in the world and issues within our own Church, this is not a time for timidity, not a time to return to the presumed safety of the Upper Room. It is a time for boldness, for discipleship and joyous optimism. Now is a time when we can all join with good and saintly Pope John XXIII who proclaimed with joy as he opened the council, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia!” (“Mother Church rejoices!”). Mother Church indeed rejoices whenever we baptize and bless, whenever we feed the hungry, forgive and heal, comfort and console, join together and commit ourselves, bring peace to the poor, the needy, the depressed, the disabled and the marginalized. This is the legacy and challenge of Vatican II.


Filed under Adult Faith Enrichment, Peter Avvento, SJ, Vatican II