Emerson, Day, and I

My latest piece for InsideCatholic is up there and attracting a few comments. Go over, read, and even comment if you wish.

As ever, I have no real hope of making converts, but the very act of being gently provocative may bear fruit.

Some day.

In some way.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Emerson, Day, and I

  1. Sean says:

    Todd, I appreciate your post on InsideCatholic. Having lived in places where Catholicism can be liberal (the midwest), conservative (the east coast), and not entirely legal (China). I learned the hard way to try to listen to where I was and learn from the people in the pews around me, even if I don’t like what I am hearing. I don’t mean this to be a platitude, but sometimes people from different perspectives and experiences do indeed bring riches into the community and maybe make it more likely that we can hear the spirit in our midst.

    I wish we could do away with the labels of “conservative” and “progressive.” It seems to me that those words don’t help us but rather prepare us to not listen to what the other person has to say.

    If we spend time on labels does it not look more like team-sports than faith?

    It seems that if we can be open within our own community of Catholics, we could someday be open to the witness of other Christians who pray to the same God sometimes with the same words approved by a different committee (we all have pride after all).

    If Christians as a whole could be open to one another would that not remove a “stumbling-block” (dare I say scandal) to the sharing of the Gospel to the world and in itself be a strong witness to the truth?

  2. tom hunt says:

    to what do you hope to make converts? I am already Catholic, does that not suffice?

    I wrote a reponse to your aticle ascking for clarification. I can be found at


    tom, not liberal, not conservative, not progressive nor traditional. Just Catholic.

  3. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    Enjoyed your contribution to Inside Catholic. Once labels come into play negative reactions can fog up the debate. I have strong doubts that the commentator who called your contribution “Modernist” really knows the meaning of the term.
    I also often wonder about what some like to label, without going into specifics, so called “inappropriate” interpretations of Vatican II. It may be well to recall that nearly every history seems to indicate that the Curia was always trying to hold the line, as they interpreted it, and that virtually all documents prepared within the Vatican were rejected by the Council fathers, with the approval of John XXIII or Paul VI. Further, in the post-Conciliar an unreformed Curia tried to block some movements of reform.
    Some years after I arrived in Japan, I had an opportunity to review the history of liturgical reform here,and to make a presentation to an assembly of Bishops and priests who had lived through the immediate post-Conciliar era here in Japan. As part of my preparation for that review I was privileged to spend time with some Japanese Bishops who were present at the Council, and hear their stories of their battles with Rome. Those battles continued into the papacy of John PaulII, and not too many signs of a change can be seen under the present Pope. Asia still feels it hasn’t been fully understood by Rome, so the struggle to receive the Council still goes on. I’m not going to comment on which tendency has the upper-hand, but just say most of those I am in touch with feel our journey still has some way to go.
    Personally I long for a return to a discussion that more scripturally based, centered on the core teaching of our faith, and willing to accept how much many of our current faith expressions are both historically and culturally contextualized. Demanding that a dialog partner is “orthodox” according to how you define “orthodoxy” is not the way forward.
    As a member of a missionary/religious congregation that calls on a membership from over 60 countries around the world, and works in some 60 odd countries and regions, I rejoice in our differences. In 2003 our Founder Arnold Janssen and one of our first missionaries to China, Joseph Frienadametz were canonized. The motto for the celebrations was “One Heart, Many Faces”; sounds like a good definition also of the word ‘Catholic’.
    For those with an interest in the reception of the Council, may I recommend the closing chapters of the English theologian, Nicholas Lash’s latest book, “Theology for Pilgrims”.
    In the meantime, Todd, keep up your witness to a genuine “Catholic Sensibility”, something so often absent on web sites of those who consider themselves “Traditional Catholics”.

  4. R.C. says:



    I’m the same fellow who responded to your original post by agreeing with your, or your editor’s, concern for easily-misunderstood terms like “progressive.” I noted that we should all be “progressive” by making progress, “conservative” by conserving all the good things inherited from our forebears in the faith, “traditionalist” by adhering to sacred tradition, and even “fundamentalist” by maintaining the correct proportions of focus between fundamentals of Christianity and peripheral issues.

    Having identified myself, let me second a question/source of confusion identified by Tom Hunt, above; namely, what your beliefs are.

    And I don’t mean “your beliefs” in general, non-controversial areas, either. If you reply by saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” I’ll nod my head in approval, but I’ll also roll my eyes because you’ll have known darned well that wasn’t the intent of the question!

    If you “have no real hope of making any converts,” then you must have some kind of positive assertion (at least one, maybe more) to which you’d like to convert the reader (however slim your hopes).

    And those assertions must be controversial, or they wouldn’t require “conversion.”

    And I suspect these assertions must be culturally, if not by necessity, associated with a left-leaning political slant (as left/right are defined in the U.S.) since you call yourself a “progressive” Catholic.

    But what are they? Don’t be bashful, man; spell it out! We’re grown-ups; we can take it.

    It’s your choice, of course. You needn’t debate, or even announce your opinion on, any topic you don’t wish to. (I could understand your reticence, if you know in advance your opinions will be unpopular with a given audience. Sometimes people are uncivil in their reactions to views with which they disagree.)

    But if you choose to say, “Never mind, forget I said anything” after such a conspicuous article, and such a conspicuous self-labeling as “progressive,” then I think it’s only fair for the Inside Catholic crowd to get a bit annoyed.

    It’d be like having a man walk up to you, say, “Be warned: I believe something you might not like!” and, when after a pregnant pause you say, “which is…?” he responds, “Oh, nothing. Let’s talk about something else.” (Such maddening behavior should be prosecutable under “incitement to riot” statutes, don’t you think?)

    So, with a mix of self-conscious charity and vexed curiosity, I plead with you: Out with it!

  5. Todd says:

    Plead away, RC my friend. The InsideCatholic editors approached me to write regularly for them, and to address a mixture of topics. Rather than spill the beans on future plans, I decided to hold tight to the topic they assigned.

    I’m aware that caused no end of frustration to some in the commentariat there.

    Now that you’ve visited here, RC, you can use my search bar, look up a controversial topic, and re-engage a discussion. You pick the topic and go for it. What could be simpler?

  6. R.C. says:


    As you will.

    But so far, I’ve yet to see you post anything in your Commentary area that conservatives are en-masse likely to disagree with.

    You suggested that those interested in seeing you enter the fray of controversy look at that particular topic. Well, I’ve paged through five pages of it thus far, and my impressions are:

    1. Your tone when mentioning conservatives expresses mild contempt, or is dismissive, but you don’t say why;

    2. Your tone when mentioning Karl Rove expresses less-mild contempt, or is dismissive, but you don’t say why;

    3. You wish, at one point, that some pro-choice people with good arguments had bothered to show up in a discussion thread to trouble the pro-lifers there, but you don’t discuss whether that’s because you want the pro-lifers to try out their arguments against tougher opponents and thereby improve their debating skills, or because you think the pro-lifers are ignorant of good arguments and need to hear them in order to be convinced to change their views, or what.

    4. You have a tone of anger against just about every clergyman mentioned — all those in positions of authority, that is, but you don’t mention many non-authority figures.

    Still, after viewing posts in your Commentary area and even the Politics area, I’m only able to guess what you think on the basis of your tone-of-voice when making references.

    What I *don’t* see are actual debatable assertions, backed up by appeal to logic or evidence. Don’t misunderstand me! I’m not trying to insult you; I don’t mean that your thoughts are illogical or unsupported. I’m just saying there’s no way for a reader of your blog to know, one way or the other, because the thoughts themselves are difficult to discern, and the way you arrived at them, utterly absent.

    (I also admit that even this is somewhat unfair; I’ve only read through perhaps 20-25 actual posts. Perhaps your older posts, which I haven’t yet seen, make positive assertions with accompanying rationales. But I’m running short on time and can’t dig any deeper today.)

    Anyhow, perhaps there’ll be more to talk about in your future posts at InsideCatholic; I look forward to them.

  7. Ender says:

    I have to second RC’s comments. I read your article in InsideCatholic and posted the link in a debate forum on that very topic. Someone who followed that link made the observation that, while you called yourself a progressive, there was no explanation of what that term means to you. While I had to agree with that I defended your article by observing that its tone and that of the responders was at least civil – unlike the bomb throwing that is typical of the debate forum.

    I also responded that, although you specifically rejected a request by an InsideCatholic commenter to provide those details, you did state that one could go to your web site to find the answers to those questions.

    Well, here I am and like RC I cannot find the answers either. I am perplexed. You call yourself a progressive Catholic but unless you tell us what you mean by that I’m not sure it explains any more than if you had said you were an orange Catholic.

  8. Todd says:

    Ender & R.C., thanks for visiting. A few things might be in play here.

    It could be that I’m a moderate progressive. So if you’re looking for a free love kind of guy who’d like to open up the ordained priesthood to women, children, and horses, you may be disappointed.

    It could also be that by hanging out with Republicans and Libertarians, you have a skewed view of the whole spectrum of ideology in the Church and in society at large. In other words, when you inhabit the realm of 600 nanometers (the color orange) everything red, yellow, and blue looks rather alien.

    I’ve observed that the internet tends to embolden special interest groups, in that they have the whole world to scour to find like-minded souls.

    It might also be that progressive Catholics in the mainstream are no more heterodox than you are. And if you’re used to pointing to the antics of women’s ordination cruises, I could in turn point you to the followers of Pope Pius XIII and ask you to give an accounting of yourself.

    However, since you’ve gone to all the trouble of visiting here and searching, let me give you a controversial tidbit: I think the 1962 Missal is washed up, or should be. If traditionalists would care to put Sacrosanctum Concilium to work to reform their liturgy the way they think it should be brought into line with Vatican II, I could support that. But it’s current use is misguided, harmful to unity, and encourages dissent and a lack of charity.

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