“New Evangelization” with a Commitment towards Praxis

In her article “Pastoral Theology or Practical Theology” Kathleen Calahan reminds us that practical theology is not associated with the actions of the Church, “rather it is the determination theologically of the Church’s ‘principles and prescriptions for the Church’s present action’.”[1] Citing both Karl Rahner and Heinz Schuster Calahan presents practical theology as providing “a basis for a scientifically responsible self-awareness of the Church as she has to act here and now.”[2]

Practical theology, as I shared with a recent post, is presented as a pastoral process the employs a scientific method to critically engage the Church (and its various theological disciplines) with society. Calahan goes on to note that this theological proposal  offered by Rahner and Schuster never made it officially into Catholic theology but she proposes a glimmer of hope insofar as practical theologians are moving forward in employing this method. In another article Calahan unpacks this a bit by saying that:

…there is a remarkably “catholic” approach to theology currently in place. Certainly the rise and acceptance of liberation, feminist, contextual, Asian, African, and more recently communicative theologies, are kin and cousins to practical theology in important ways, especially their commitment to praxis and theology’s role in a revitalized faith for the mission of the church.[3]

Calahan’s assertion resonates with what practical theologians are saying within the various theological contexts mentioned above. The “Pastoral contribution to the Synod for Africa” declares that practical theology’s purpose is “to provide a critical and theological reflection on the pastoral praxis of the church in the contemporary situation… Practical theology is called practical because the subject matter of its study is the praxis of the Church.”[4]

Praxis and methodologies are vital components of Latino practical theology. Allan Figuero Deck suggest that practical theology, understood this way, offers a great contribution to the efforts underway for what the Church calls, the “New Evangelization.” Surveying the treatment of “new evangelization” since the time of Pope Paul VI Deck is hopeful that this unfolding concept will be “arguably the most ecclessially sanctioned, illuminating and practical visions at hand for what is supposed to be happening in the life of Christian communities today.”[5]

For Deck one of the major challenges for the Church is its inability to “make the explicit link between faith and justice.” Certainly at the level of the Pope and even with national conferences we do get periodic links regarding how the teaching of our faith can instruct us on social issues (although that tends to be a one sided relationship insofar as the Church does not generally allow for a critical self-examination of itself with respect to social developments). Nevertheless I share Deck’s concern that especially at the local parish and perhaps even at the diocesan level we often do not know how to integrate this link.

Yet Deck remains hopeful that if the Church embraces the gifts of the contextual theologies then it may be able to recognize a process for praxis. Using the context of Latino theology Deck prescribes that the Church (at the parish level) ought to be intentionally familiar and embrace the multicultural diversity of its parish community within the liturgical and social life of the parish. He also suggests that an intimate link needs to be forged between the worship life of the Parish and the social issues that affect it. In this way he proposes that Catholic Social Teaching must be part of the evangelical message. Finally, he also recommends “a much more differentiated and creative approach to ministry” that seeks out the unmet social and spiritual needs of its parish community.[6]

[1] Kathleen Calahan, Chapter Six, “Pastoral Theology or Practical Theology? Limits and Possibilities,” in James Sweeney, Gemma Simmonds, and David Lonsdale (eds.) Keeping Faith in Practice: Aspects of Catholic Pastoral Theology (London: SCM, 2010), pp. 105

[2] Ibid., pp. 106

[3] Kathleen Calahan, “Locating Practical Theology in Catholic Theological Discourse and Practise,” International Journal of Practical Theology, Vol. 15 (2011), pp. 17

[4] Cecil McGarry, Rodrigo Mejia, Valerian Shirima, A light on our Path: A Pastoral Contribution to the synod for Africa (Nairobi: St. Paul Publications, 1993), pp. 35-36

[5] Allen Figueroa Deck, “A Latino Practical Theology: Mapping the road ahead,” Theological Studies 65 (2004) pp. 280

[6] Ibid.; pp. 296-297


About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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