Wise words from a flawed man


Milwaukee's cathedral
The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee (Wikimedia CC)


It is reported that, when young people used to tell the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, that they were having a difficult time understanding what it meant to be Catholic, he would advise them to participate in worship services in the same parish every Sunday for six months.  That is, he encouraged them to become genuinely integrated into a believing and worshiping community.  Likewise, he suggested that they work as volunteers in a soup kitchen for the poor during the same six-month period.  If they followed these two practices, he would explain, they would come to understand, and to feel, what it means to be Catholic.  They might well well begin out of curiosity, but the rhythm of these practices would eventually redirect their hearts.


Rembert Weakland (who was eventually caught up in a personal sexual scandal) may have been a flawed messenger, but there is, I think, wisdom in his suggestions — wisdom that can easily be translated in something like an equivalent Latter-day Saint vernacular.


In particular, as the former bishop of a singles ward adjacent to Utah Valley University, I would counsel young Latter-day Saints to become fully active in a particular ward.  I certainly understand the urge to “ward hop” in quest of That Special Someone, but full activity in the Church isn’t merely partaking of the sacrament every week, it’s also living and serving in a specific community.


Commenting on Archbishop Weakland’s counsel in an article published nearly two decades ago, William Spohn asked,


Why would the archbishop recommend these practices rather than encourage them to take a course in theology at Marquette University [in Milwaukee]?  He knows that the young people are not seeking a theory but a way of life.  A way of life is constituted by certain practices and the beliefs that inform them.  Christian life is a way of being that is inextricably linked to certain ways of acting.  The two central practices of worship and service to the poor will help the questioners understand the Catholic way of life from the inside.  By intentionally engaging in these practices, they will discover that God finds them in these ordinary actions . . .


“Spiritual practices,” continued Professor Spohn,


require commitment and regularity is they are to transform us. . . .  Spiritual practices are journeys, not day trips into the realm of the sacred.  They are not hobbies or occasional exercises that depend on our moods.  Practices require commitment, the deliberate setting aside of time to do them regularly, like reading scripture 20 minutes a day or worshiping every Sunday with a particular community.  Spiritual practices are usually cooperative enterprises, like showing up every Saturday afternoon to work at a soup kitchen.[1]


[1] William Spohn, Theology Today (Winter 2000).



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