3 Things Evangelization is Not

Millennial writer Mike Jordan Laskey writes:

Evangelization is not proselytism….

On the flip side, evangelization is a long-term process. It’s relationship-building, invitation, dialogue, truly caring about other people, and modeling Christian love through concrete actions. It’s living with a sort of deep joy and hospitality that make people say, “I don’t know what she has, but I want to be around her.”

Does evangelization include talking about Jesus? Sure, absolutely, but only in the context of trusting relationship.

Evangelization is not saying “God bless you” instead of “Bless you” when someone sneezes….

The troubling belief running underneath this complaint is that evangelization is some sort of anti-PC battle we have to fight….

The idea animating evangelical activity is that the life of faith is full of so much beauty, meaning, community, learning, grace and more that we can’t help but want to share that with others. We can’t let superficial social interactions in our pluralistic society preoccupy us.

Evangelization is not targeting people who are already committed to other traditions….

St. John Paul II talked about a “new evangelization,” one that seeks to engage Catholics who have drifted away or whose faith has become hollow and lifeless. That’s fertile ground for evangelization. And we can evangelize folks who aren’t committed to any faith community in particular, people who are seeking something more in their lives.


Jean Vanier, 1928-2019

Jean Vanier—the founder of L’Arche, a leading Catholic intellectual, and living saint—died this morning. Vanier’s profound Christian witness and commitment to replacing our throwaway culture with a culture of love, solidarity, and tenderness are the heart of his remarkable life and legacy. To learn more about his life, you can read the following:

His obituary in the Washington Post

His obituary in the New York Times

His obituary in The Tablet

This Reflection by John Allen

Jean Vanier, who changed lives of intellectually disabled, dies in Paris

Vanier on the Throwaway Culture vs. a Culture of Encounter and Relationship 

How Jean Vanier Learned What Love is All About

10 Rules for Life by Jean Vanier

His Appearance on On Being with Krista Tippett



Pope Francis’ Prayer Intentions for May 2019: For Unity in Diversity in Africa


“The ethnic, linguistic, and tribal divisions in Africa can be overcome promoting unity in diversity. I want to thank the religious sisters, priests, laity, and missionaries for their work to create dialogue and reconciliation among the various sectors of African society. Let us pray this month that the Church in Africa, through the commitment of its members, may be the seed of unity among her peoples and a sign of hope for this continent.”


Quote of the Day

Pope Francis: “One who loves has the imagination to discover solutions where others see only problems. One who loves helps others according to their needs and with creativity, not according to pre-established or commonplace ideas. He is a creator: love leads you to create, it is always in the lead.”


Promoting the Common Good and Option for the Poor in the Trump Era: An Interview with Stephen Schneck

Dr. Stephen Schneck is one of the country’s premier Catholic intellectuals—an advocate for Catholic social teaching in public life, lecturer, writer, and activist. He recently retired as the Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies (IPR) at the Catholic University of America, where he was also an award-winning professor in the politics department. In 2015, President Obama appointed Schneck to the White House Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Millennial editor Robert Christian, who was a graduate fellow under Schneck at IPR, recently interviewed him about his experiences as a pro-life Democrat, politics in the Trump Era, their shared work, and other subjects related to Catholicism and politics.

As a pro-life Democrat who believes in the preferential option for the poor, how would you evaluate recent trends in American politics and within the Democratic Party?

The measure of civilization, to my mind, is how the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the most vulnerable among us fare. This is the measure for justice that’s at the heart of the Christian social justice mission. It’s also the criterion for discerning the common good. And, who are the poor? Think about the homeless trans kid panhandling outside the Metro, the disabled single parent on the next block who depends on Medicaid and food stamps, a migrant mother and her child separated and locked up on our southern border, the opioid-addicted former truck driver in Appalachia, and, yes, by poor we must also mean unborn children at risk to be aborted. For Christians, every law, every policy, and every candidacy for public office should be assessed with the question: What does this mean for these poor? That’s putting Catholic teaching’s preference for the poor into practice.

Neither political party looks great from this vantage point. Both parties are currently dominated by elite activists motivated by what seem to me to be exclusionary, fractional interests – at the expense of the common good, and especially at the expense of the poor. Fortunately, there are some exceptions to this generalization on both sides of the aisle. But, the trends and larger picture are worrisome, with sharper and more militant fractional politics and an “us versus them” ethic more akin to Carl Schmitt’s than Christianity’s “all are welcome” worldview. Thank God for the few remaining compassionate conservatives and for pro-life progressives.

How would you assess Donald Trump’s presidency so far? And do you think his approach will define the future of conservatism in the US?

As I mentioned, both political parties are caught up in the divisive logic of an exaggerated “us versus them” identity politics. Trump’s is a particularly crude and odious appeal to Make America “White” Again. Before Trump, conservatism in America was about the rule of law, small government, higher morality, and deference to the time-hallowed norms and tradition, all of which were perceived to constrain or modulate arbitrary power by government and other sources of power in society. Trumpism disdains limits on their president’s power, so much so that the old conservative ideals are at best seen as quaint and more often than not seen as pointy-headed fluff to be ignored. What then does it mean to be conservative now? Frankly, it’s little more than white nationalism. To be sure, the race card was played by fringe elements of the conservative movement in the past. With Trump, though, white nationalism has become the defining heart of conservatism and it’s hard to see how that will change anytime soon.

We’ve both seen pro-life Democrats who abandoned their sincere pro-life commitments to advance their political careers and subsequently increased their influence. We’ve seen pro-life Democrats who switched parties and over time abandoned their commitment to social justice, in favor of faith in an unfettered free market—and some have gone on to become very prominent figures. Why do you remain a pro-life Democrat? What would you say to young people who are pro-life progressives but worried that their views will limit their ability to rise in politics or diminish their ability to make a concrete difference in people’s lives through politics or policy?

Ha! You’re catching me at a moment when I am questioning my place in the Democratic Party. I have long been an ardent supporter of the party because of its commitment to social justice and its suspicion of the undemocratic power of economic and cultural elites. I support it as well for its history of solidarity with the working class. As a Catholic, a mix of social justice, solidarity, and preference for those among us who are least empowered accords with what I understand to be the mission of Christianity in our world below. Being pro-life for me is about that mission. So, of course, I am a Democrat.

Many activist interest groups currently in control of the Democratic Party, however, seem more inclined toward libertarian individualism than toward social justice, solidarity, and a preference for the disempowered. Pro-abortion interest groups like NARAL are examples of that, and these groups have a de facto veto over which candidates are supported or who can rise within the party.  So, if a Democratic candidate opposes late-term abortions, then she can forget about support from the DNC, DSCC, DCCC, or even her state’s party organizations.

What’s a pro-life Democrat to do? First, I think today’s pro-life message must be presented as something much more encompassing and more integral than opposition to abortion. To be pro-life is to promote care for creation like the Green New Deal, comprehensive healthcare like Medicare for All, justice for immigrants, an economy for the 90%, ending the death penalty, a living wage, and so on. Second, I think being a pro-life Democrat requires directly challenging the libertarian ideology of groups like NARAL by reminding Democrats that their party historically is the party of solidarity, social justice, and a preference for the least empowered. Finally, it can only help to remind the party that alienating pro-life voters only narrows the range of Americans who would vote for its candidates – and, pro-life Democrats and independents are over-represented in states and districts that saw voters switch from Obama to Trump in 2016.

You have a background in the study of personalism. How has it shaped Catholic social teaching? What is its relevance for today?

What I like about a personalist theology is that it presents faith as seeing the face of God in real people as we encounter them in their real lives. Personalism rejects formalisms that present faith largely as rules for judgment or as principles to know. Indeed, I love the humility of personalism. The self is decentered and humbled in openness and hope for a glimpse of God’s face in our encounter with and service to others.

If you were to set up a reading list for those interested in Catholic social teaching and the philosophy behind it (for beginners, those at an intermediate level, and those who are more advanced), what would that reading list look like? Who are the essential authors to read to truly grasp the nature of the Catholic political worldview?

I’m not good at listing books, but off the top of my head… Jacques Maritain’s The Person and Common Good, Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World, encyclicals like Caritas in veritate, Sollicitudo rei socialis, Laudato si’, Emmanuel Mounier’s Personalism, Gabriel Marcel’s Man Against Mass Society. A deeper dive would include selected works by Paul Ricouer, Hans Georg Gadamer, Max Scheler, Charles Taylor, and the like. I’m sure I’m stupidly forgetting many obvious important works. Also don’t forget novels, like Albert Camus’ The Plague or Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.

Pope Francis has emphasized taking on the throwaway culture, going to the margins, and being a poor church for the poor. How would you assess the impact of this agenda on the Church in the US and global Catholicism?

Pope Francis calls us to live our faith in the model of Jesus, by which I mean bringing good news to the poor, reaching out with open arms to those on the margins, and humbly looking to discern the face of God in genuine encounter with those who have been objectified or “thrown away” by the faceless processes and structural evils of our world. This profound call, were it broadly heard within the Church, would be transformative. The agenda that His Holiness has pursued, both in the world and institutionally within the Church, reflect his call to live such a faith – and I am personally inspired by his efforts.

The impact of his efforts is obvious and welcome. Yet, those efforts have also met passive and now frequently active resistance. Not too surprisingly, this opposition to Pope Francis aligns with interests that are privileged by the processes and structures of the status quo. Let’s be clear; Pope Francis is not changing the message of the Church. Pope St. John Paul II also called us to live our faith in the model of Jesus, for example, with a very similar theology of encounter with real personhood. Francis, however, is positioning that theology to address a broader range of structures in the world and within the Church itself.

You have been outspoken about the rise in extremism. We see it in the US, Europe, and even in the US Church with the rise of alt-Catholics. You have suggested that the pope should address this pestilence in his next encyclical. Why do you think this should be a top priority—and what would you hope to hear from the pope on the subject in an encyclical?

Rome has been slow to recognize that the ideology of the new ethnic nationalism movements is heretically corrosive to faith. These alt-movements, to one degree or another, are all about the myth of purity for a race or nation. It’s all-too-apparent how powerful the appeal has been for some Christian populations in Europe and the United States that feel beleaguered and alienated by accelerating social and cultural change. In Catholic circles now, some leaders of these groups even claim theological legitimacy by asserting that they are defending the faith. To make matters worse, the ideology can easily hijack elements of those theologies that advocate a defensive approach to the modern world.

It goes without saying that the ideology is diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospels. But, we’re past the time where it’s enough for His Holiness to point to the parable of the Good Samaritan or to contrast preference for the nation or race with the Church’s teaching of preference for the poor. This extremist ideology is winning converts among Catholics, even among the clergy. The Church needs a thoroughgoing examination of the ideology’s errors that can only be done in something like an encyclical, making it clear that no Catholic can subscribe to these dangerous ideas or endorse those who do.

At the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, the Erroneous Autonomy event series on libertarianism seemed to me to be one of the Institute’s most vital efforts and accomplishments. Would you agree with that, and are there other events that stand out to you as particularly noteworthy and valuable?

Our critical examination of libertarianism within the context of Catholic teachings in the Erroneous Autonomy series changed minds. Hosting that series is the most important thing the Institute ever did. It’s our legacy, Robert.

Some on the Catholic left seem unwilling to consider the importance of subsidiarity. But you have taken the time to clarify the concept at a time when many intentionally distort it to weaken the federal social safety net or advance similar objectives. How should we understand subsidiarity? And at a time when democratic norms are collapsing, union membership is at low levels, and radical individualism remains ascendant, can the concept offer anything unique and helpful to those who care about the common good? 

Subsidiarity is about the prudential organization of solidarity for the common good. It cannot be conceived apart from its role within solidarity or its end in the common good. It’s just wrong to imagine it as federalism. Most appalling are those who portray it as a version of competitive individualism. Moreover, subsidiarity is not properly understood if it is only seen as a limit on the power of the state. Subsidiarity is an organizing of solidarity to disrupt hierarchical concentrations of power. A workers’ union is an example of subsidiarity that disrupts the hierarchical power of faceless economic forces. A Latino cultural club is an example of subsidiarity that disrupts the hierarchical power of mass society. Even within the Church, think about how subsidiarity challenges the hierarchical power of clericalism.

You mention individualism. We’re all aware how the economic market, modern technologies, and a prevalent morality and politics that radicalizes the value of individual choice all work to isolate each of us from a sense of belonging to something beyond the self. Far from empowering us as rugged individuals, that isolation leaves us alone against the overweening forces of the economy, technology, society, and the state. Subsidiarity is about the empowering of little communities around us that, on one hand, lend greater capacity to resist the many mass forces of modern life and, on the other hand, help us find our place and responsibilities in light of the common good of all.

Some anti-Vatican II “trads” in the US have endorsed a revival of integralism and declared that Catholiclism and liberal democracy are incompatible (while often showing a great affinity for 20th century dictators or kings from centuries ago). How would you respond to such claims? Is there a distinction that can be drawn between democracy, liberal democracy, and philosophical liberalism—or are they too intertwined? What would the authentic participation the Church has endorsed, particularly in recent papacies, look like in the 21st century in a country like the United States or Hungary?

Democracy is difficult to reconcile with our faith only in political forms that eschew solidarity and the common good. The “trads” are right to notice this, but they err by adopting a top-down integralism as a remedy. Our mission in this world, as Christians, must always begin with preference for the “bottom,” not the top. Political authority should begin with those Christ in Matthew 25 calls “the least” among us. For this reason, it’s clear to me that only democracy conforms with the spirit of the Gospels.

Liberalism, by which I mean a polity organized around individual liberty and rights, is a much more complex topic for consideration vis-à-vis Catholic moral and social teachings. The liberal understanding of individual rights and liberties is utterly integral with many of history’s greatest achievements for the human spirit. I admire and endorse the work of historians and philosophers who have labored to highlight the origin in and continuing dependency of liberal political philosophy on Christian theology. I am also inspired by the philosophers who are rethinking liberalism in regard to responsibilities beyond the self that is being done in light of common good concerns such as climate change and social justice. All that said, while Christianity must always recognize that rights and liberty are critical components of a just political order, I have not in my own mind resolved how flexible the term “liberalism” can be. Not sure about the best label…. As Christians we must humble our “self.”


Will the Trump Era Lead to the Rise and Triumph of Illiberal Catholic Conservatism? Don’t Count On It

Over at First Things, a manifesto was recently published that proclaimed that the old “conservative consensus” was dead and that space has been created by Donald Trump’s victory for a better form of conservatism.  The authors of the manifesto are right about the demise of the old conservative consensus; there are many studies and public opinion polls that demonstrate that the political right in the United States now embraces many of the policy positions of President Donald Trump.  However, while they are right about this change in the values of this newly emerging conservatism in the United States they—surprisingly and rather disturbingly—appear to believe these changes may very well be positive!

On the matter of nationalism, the manifesto works hard to blend Trumpian ideals with the aims of a certain illiberal conservative Catholic political mindset. Ultimately, this approach is morally objectionable and stands in conflict with Catholic social teaching.  Meanwhile, their assumptions about Trump’s policies or the space he has created through his election are disconnected from reality. President Trump’s administration is not a true ally of Catholics—neither those with a reasonable understanding of Catholic social teaching nor even those trying to create a more reactionary alternative understanding.

In the manifesto, the signatories praise what they call the “new nationalism” that opposes “open borders.” They maintain that Americans ought to show allegiance and devotion to Americans above all others. There is a palpable anti-immigrant mentality behind these appeals and the simplistic dualities they set up. Their nationalistic desires have certainly been aided by the rise of Trump’s nationalism.

Of course, it flies in the face of the Church’s commitment to global and international solidarity and institutions. And it comes at a time when US Bishops from across the political spectrum have acted in unison against Trump’s xenophobic, grossly immoral immigration policies. The Trumpian pseudo-Catholic conservatism of these “new nationalists” (who do not signify any way they are different from the other ‘America First’ nationalists of today or last century) stands in opposition to the Christian call to universal brotherhood and sisterhood.  The social teachings of the Catholic Church teach us that governance, citizenship, and political life should always be directed toward the common good. We are obligated to put the common good above our selfish interests and stand with the most vulnerable in society because of our principle of solidarity.  As Catholics, we have an obligation towards the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled, and religious and ethnic minorities. And we have a responsibility to welcome the stranger, including vulnerable migrants who are fleeing abject poverty and violence.

Catholic social teaching emphasizes the importance of strong community. Solidarity is the name we give for what weaves us together in community.  This community, however, does not stop at the borders.  We are not defined by where we were born or where we live—the principle of solidarity transcends boundaries. As Saint Pope John Paul II wrote: “We are all one family in the world” (Sollicitudo rei socialis).  Pope Emeritus Benedict also argued that people must go beyond seeing people in other countries as mere neighbors—that we must be united in fraternity. This is not the globalism of elites on private jets but the globalism of a religion that is catholic (universal). And the Church’s teaching is not optional, something to grab or ignore in line at the cafeteria.

Yet the authors of the manifesto clearly reject the call to solidarity and concern for the global common good.  They embrace a worldview where only the people who live within our politically-drawn boundaries are part of our extended family.  They see the international community as dangerous to the American way of life. The pope speaks from the heart of the faith when he encourages us to build bridges instead of walls, but they want walls. The negative reference to multiculturalism may point to a Steve Bannon-style culture warrior stance of opposing “the other” because they might destroy the fabric of the American way of life.

Beyond this clear rejection of Catholic teaching, it is not clear why they think many of the other ideals they advocate can be better served in this new Trump Era than by past conservatives. Will President Trump’s administration produce a conservatism with a much greater commitment to defending human dignity? Do Trump’s policies really help American workers who have been neglected, helping to foster a conservatism focused on such folks?  They also desire a conservatism that challenges “the soulless society of individual affluence” and believe that:

Our society must not prioritize the needs of the childless, the healthy, and the intellectually competitive. Our policy must accommodate the messy demands of authentic human attachments: family, faith, and the political community. We welcome allies who oppose dehumanizing attempts at “liberation” such as pornography, “designer babies,” wombs for rent, and the severing of the link between sex and gender.

Does that sound like the conservatism arising from Trump’s victory? Trump is obsessed with money and power. He has mocked those with disabilities. He tried to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health insurance.

Is he strengthening our political community? He has downplayed Russia’s repeated attacks on American democracy and backed voter suppression efforts. Is he a friend of religion? The Trump administration is definitely no friend to religious freedom or diverse political communities.  As a candidate, and as President, he called for a Muslim Ban.  He raised the specter of a Muslim registry. He has proposed gross violations of religious liberty for religious minorities by using the power of the United States government to close down mosques and places of worship that he deems “un-American.”

How about opposing pornography and the culture that makes it so popular? I’m not sure how a man who is caught on tape admitting to sexual assault, who dehumanizes women by publicly rating them on a 1-10 hotness scale, and has had affairs with porn stars can be seen as an ally of people who want to eradicate pornography. They claim to “reject attempts to compromise on human dignity.” It is not clear how Trump’s presidency will help conservatism be more focused on promoting human dignity—assuming that one regards women as human beings with dignity.

Is Trump really turning away from investors and “job creators” and making it easier to create a conservatism that benefits workers? He has passed regressive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the largest corporations, while undoing critical economic regulations and safeguards. These policies are designed to help those at the very top while abandoning normal American workers, the vulnerable, and the needy. His administration has done everything it could to empower corporate greed and exacerbate inequality.

Beyond this inability to explain how the Trump administration is creating space for the various principles they favor (besides their nationalism), an even greater failure may be their inability to recognize that the election of Donald Trump and his administration’s corruption and incompetence are a clear distress signal.  The election of President Trump should signal to all political observers that there is dysfunction at the heart of American politics. The American political system is spiraling downward not turning a corner.

The election of Donald Trump was an attempted firebombing of the American political system by those who felt that today’s diverse, multicultural, and globalized world is hostile to their preferred way of life—one tainted by sexism, racism, and xenophobia (not merely economic anxiety). This is not the time to rejoice at the possibilities of how conservative Catholics can use the Trumpian conservative movement to advance their causes; this is the time for deep introspection and self-examination. How might each of us have contributed to the election of an incompetent, immoral, egotistical political neophyte whose core supporters seem to nihilistically relish nothing more than “triggering the libs”? Before exploring a better way forward, these conservatives must realize the gravity of our current situation and how we got here. Otherwise, they may continue to entertain the delusion that the Trump Era is opening the door to a better conservatism.