Wednesday, March 7, 2007

2007 ANAHEIM: Religious Education Congress or Matterhorn?

By Paul Dion, STL
Well, we're back from Anaheim Convention Center, the venue of the 2007 Religious Education Congress. This was a new experience for me this year. I was actually working for three days, or nearly three days. I have to admit that it was fun. I will also relate to you that nothing has changed over the thirty plus years that I have been touched either directly or indirectly by the event.
Come aboard and I'll sprinkle you with some glitter from the Magic Kingdom in the hope that some of it will turn out to be Grace from the KINGDOM.

I have had three personal paragraphs of experiences at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (The Congress). All three paragraphs lead to the same conclusion, year after year. So we start at the beginning, many, many years ago.

PARAGRAPH 1 (Circa 1979-1991)

My wife, director of Faith Formation at an inner city parish in San Diego, always attends The Congress. She always arranges the trip and the lodging for as many of the catechists as she can get to commit to three days away from the family. I teach a couple of Theology 101 courses for the Diocese of San Diego, but for the next three days we practice the System.

We buy a package for Disneyland and not too expensive hotel. Friday and Saturday she studies and listens and participates in The Congress. The boys and I are tearing Disneyland apart. Sunday morning we all go to Mass at the arena and then the three of us go back for one last pass at Disneyland. At about two PM we leave and drive back to San Diego. Wife tells me the highlights of her experience on the way home while the two guys are passed out in the back of the van.
Seven PM on the first evening of my Theology Class.
Three solid hours of grilling about the "whacked-out" presenter who said that the natural law is an outdated concept; what about the nun who said that homosexuality is not a sin? and then there's this guy who said that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke are not historically true... Three hours of this stuff. I never had anyone absent for the first session after The Congress. I don't think that I attended three conferences in the first twelve years of my teaching experience in San Diego, but I had these tremendously exciting classes immediately after the affair, every single year.

PARAGRAPH 2 (Circa 1993 - 2006)
Our children are somewhat older now and so we leave them home in San Diego on Friday. I sign up for the most "ignominious" speakers on the roster. Of course Saturday and Sunday don't change, but I get in some conference time. I can't remember how many years we did this, but I don't remember a single "outrageous" statement being made in my presence. Not even by Edwina Gateley.

Children are now grown. I and my wife know where every rest room in Disneyland is located. But now, we don't go there. I have to count on her to direct me to the rest rooms at The Congress. This is neat. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, conferences, Masses, film exhibits, concerts and the occasional hospitality suite. Nothing that can match what I was accustomed to in the "real world", but good enough for Church work, ya know!
I no longer teach for the Diocese of San Diego. I live either in Fremont (S.F. Bay Area) or in Moreno Valley (So. Cal.) Some of the "hot buttons" have changed. Collegiality is a forgotten word. Immigration is in; ordination of women is menttioned, like in, "I'm not supposed to bring this up, but..."; the mandatory comments on homosexual life in the Church, as in, "Homosexuals have gifts to offer to the Church too..." etc. etc.
I teach Theology mostly in the morning now.

I like the audience that morning sessions attract. But the beat goes on. "What's with these girl servers?; Some guy said that the covenant with Moses is no longer valid!; This other speaker said that the ten commandments aren't the only commandments in the Old Testament! Come On..." "I was in the room when the speaker said that the church is not absolutely against capital punishment."

PARAGRAPH 3 (2007 Religious Education Congress)
Mama and I go to The Congress. Sadly, she is not feeling well, so she gets to enjoy the hotel bed. I am healthy and working for We have a booth and we're chatting up a storm. We're signing up subscribers; selling ad space and talking to the publishers, artists, writers and bishops who happen to be there.
I was in seventh heaven. I hadn't been to a trade show in about 8 years. Man, this was great. It was a great experience evangelizing at a trade show. Those of you who know trade shows can vouch that they are generally not great evangelizing venues. Hey this was great.
I went to three conferences and three Masses. Two of the conferences were kind of blah. The third one was exciting. Immigration and where to find it in the Bible. This guy was tough. I mean, real tough for a guy who converted from being a Quaker. Maybe that's why he converted. It's more fun being a tough Catholic than a meek Quaker. Even the Bishop of San Bernardino had a booth at the trade show. He and his auxiliary were there for the entire weekend. Say what you will, I think this was excellent strategy.
Nine-thirty I have to repeat this?
Ninety minutes grew into two hours. One person said, I attended four conferences. One that I liked and three that I wish I hadn't heard. Oh, well...

So we now end with The Conclusion:

1. I say this every year. Go to The Congress with an open mind and listen to everything as if you were a child. Keep an open mind and don't go around looking for heretical statements. With an attitude like that you are sure to hear several that will strike you as being against Catholic doctrine only because you were predisposed to listen for such.
2. Remember that the presenters have perhaps written 10 books and have been teaching and studying for 20 to 40 years. They are trying to interest you, they are not trying to educate you. They can't educate you in 75 minutes. If you want to be educated, go to school where you can sit down for 45 hours and really build an intellectual and emotional environment around the topic.
3. Remember that the bishop (Archbishop Mahony, in this case) is the Teacher who controls the content. There is not a whole lot of academic freedom concerning Church teaching. You can ask Hans Küng or Charles Curran. Rest assured that the presenters may push the envelope and you may be somewhat surprised by some of the statements. Trust in the fact that these people are not out to get ostracized by violating the Archbishop's mandate. This after all is their living.
This is not your living. What may seem shocking to you could very well be a staple for a more deeply initiated individual, including the bishop.
4. Do not spend much time reading the comments of people who have no credentials to judge what is or what is not orthodox Church teaching. There is a whole large office in Rome that is charged to do that. Cardnal Levada is in charge of taking reports from the bishops concerning questionable matters of doctrine. Remember that by their ordination to the level of Bishop, the bishops are the ones who by their sacramental grace and the authority of their office are the "guardian angels" of the magisterium. Just because you don't like an idea or a concept doesn't mean that is is not Catholic Doctrine.

So, keep going to The Congress. Keep reading Keep an open mind and a gentle heart so that God will have a comfortable place to stay with you, no matter what you hear.

Many of you have heard me say this, but it bears repeating, "Faith is not an intellectual exercise." Faith is a love relationship between a human being and God. Don't let yourself be shaken from that. One statement in a 75 minute talk at The Congress should not disturb you.

If we all walk with God in the dynamic love of discipleship, we won't be tempted to cry at one another's funeral, least of all, at mine.
Post a Comment