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Issue Date:  April 18, 2008

From the Editor's Desk

Catholicism, Texas style

Imagine not being able to attend Sunday Mass because the church won’t hold everyone.

I’ve never had this experience and I suspect that many of our readers haven’t either. But according to Fr. Robert Williams, the pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland, Texas, this is the reality in many parishes in his state. Catholic church membership in Texas is growing so fast that parishes can’t keep up with the numbers.

Our cover story this week presents a huge anomaly that jars our American Catholic sensibilities. I’ve become so accustomed to using the words “decline” and “Catholic” in the same sentence that anything to the contrary seems strange. Pam Schaeffer, NCR executive editor, approached me close to press time to say jokingly that she had a concern -- for a story about church, this one was uncharacteristically upbeat. Could this be possible? Editors rightly raise many cautions about stories, but this isn’t often one of them. (See story)

I was only halfway through reading the story when I wanted to experience the Texas phenomenon for myself. And that’s when it hit me that my Catholic sensibilities were being moved by this story in a way I had almost forgotten. Forget cynicism, so common in much of what we read regarding church. I want to go to Texas because it resonates with my deepest longings for the church. I want to see the Resurrection in action! I want to be part of vibrant, growing communities.

We’ve become a church hungry -- starving in many ways -- for any sign that the compassionate, inclusive, joy-filled, justice-embracing Jesus of the Gospel is truly with us. And with good reason. We’ve been so conditioned to be disappointed in church leadership and the lack of a sensitive institutional response to the reality of people’s lives. Controversies facing our church -- women’s ordination, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, questions about celibacy in relation to the priest shortage -- cannot be resolved by just restating doctrinal positions in language from another age.

Catholicism, Texas style, will need to address those issues too. There is no escape; these matters, common to our human experience, prevail across cultural and ethnic boundaries. Still, we must not allow ourselves to fall victim to pessimistic thinking that suggests nothing good can happen. This story about a booming Catholic church -- a new Catholic frontier -- offers a view of Catholic rejuvenation.

Too simplistic and naive?

No, because at the end of the day our greatest fulfillment as Catholics is a sense of community and belonging, whatever baggage and differences we carry with us. It’s not about rules and whether we’ve passed a litmus test for membership. It’s about making room for everyone under a very big tent. Catholicism encompasses all types of people and has always harbored as much ambiguity and inconsistency as reality itself. That’s why I love it.

~ ~ ~

Also, between this issue of the paper and the next, Pope Benedict XVI will have visited the United States. Go to our Web site at for full coverage of his trip, including daily commentaries from John L. Allen Jr., NCR senior correspondent on Vatican affairs.

Contact me at

-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2008

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