A. ORIGINS AND ETHOS OF SPIRITUALITY IN THE PUB
1 An Experience of Church
In July 1994 a small group of Catholics gathered in Sydney to discuss their role in the Church and the world. A variety of factors brought us together. One seemed to be of particular significance - a strong desire to be part of a Church that is good news for our world.
It seemed to us that many were feeling frustrated in their attempts to participate effectively in the life of the Church. Many simply stopped trying to participate. None of us within the group particularly wanted to leave the Church, since we regarded the Catholic Church as our spiritual home, tragic flaws and all. We shared a deep appreciation of the rich tradition out of which the Church had emerged and which is kept alive in and through the Church in every age.
2. Catalyst for Renewal Incorporated
Before the end of 1994 we decided to do whatever we could to promote renewal within the Catholic Church through conversation. We called ourselves Catalyst for Renewal and this is our mission statement:
We are believers who are attempting to establish a forum for conversation within the Catholic Church of Australia . Our aim is to prompt open exchanges among the community of believers, mindful of the diversity of expression of faith in contemporary Australia . This springs explicitly from the spirit of Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.. "Let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is unsettled, and charity in any case" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 92).
Catalyst for Renewal is incorporated as an association in New South Wales .
As can be seen from the mission statement we have a simple intention. We will do what we can to promote an atmosphere in the Church in which vigorous, loving and honest conversation is the norm. In this way we can help develop a culture of conversation. It is our conviction that good conversation is an essential constituent of renewal. No matter what the circumstances, if we are willing and able to engage in good conversation, there is reason to hope.
3. A Shared Faith
We share both a faith in the Incarnation and God's promise to dwell with us, and a concern that Church should play the life giving role in society which is its privilege and responsibility. The Church's effectiveness as a sign of God’s liberating love and goodness seems to be diminishing – a development we cannot simply blame on a 'materialistic world'. With the Second Vatican Council we acknowledge that "believers themselves bear some responsibility (for this situation)"(Gaudium et Spes, n. 19).
We also share Pope Paul Vl's perception that "we live in the Church at a privileged moment of the Spirit" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75). We therefore want to listen intelligently to the signs of the times and respond generously to the call of the Spirit, to participate in the life and mission of the Church as Christian faithful, accepting both the rights and responsibilities that come with our baptism. We want the spirit and vision of the Second Vatican Council to flourish in our day so that the Church can be a sign of hope in a world that cries out for such a sign.
Furthermore, as a people who are confident that the truth liberates (cf John 8:32) – no matter who speaks it, no matter from what quarter it comes – we are profoundly concerned with any and all manifestations of denial and refusal to face what must be faced. We believe that, just as the refusal to engage in good conversation suggests a lack of faith, so the willingness to engage in good conversation is a sign of faith.
4. Being a Pilgrim People
The times in which we find ourselves present us with questions and issues that demand the most serious attention. No responsible adult can stand by and leave the necessary conversations and decisions to others. We believe that we all must, to the best of our abilities and opportunities, join with the Church in her struggle to find new expressions of the Gospel at this time.
We are mindful of the temptations of perfectionism, of expecting more of the Church and her human representatives and structures than is realistic. We cherish the compassionate and realistic vision embodied in the thought of the Second Vatican Council:
Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to all. Christ Jesus, "though he was by nature God...emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave" (Phil 2:6), and "being rich, became poor" (2 Cor 8:9) for our sakes. Thus, the Church, although it needs human resources to carry out its mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice. Christ was sent by the Father "to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart" (Lk 4:18 ), "to seek and to save what was lost" (Lk 19:10 ). Similarly, the Church encompasses with love all who are afflicted with human suffering and in the poor and afflicted sees the image of its poor and suffering Founder. It does all it can to relieve their need and in them it strives to serve Christ. While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (2 Cor 5:21), but came to expiate only the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17), the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal. The Church, "like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God"(cf St Augustine ), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26 ). By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).
5. Working in Communion with our Bishops
Our desire is to work with and in this historical, institutional Church, freely, honestly and compassionately. We desire to be part of the ongoing conversion and renewal, part of that growing energy within the Church that is inspired by and subject to the Spirit of Christ. That Spirit, apart from being revealed in and through Sacred Scripture, is also revealed in and through the actual historical institution and the social-cultural circumstances of the tradition and the issues and questions of the day.
In practical terms this is manifest in a practical desire to, at all times, make every effort to build and maintain good relationships with our bishops. We recognise the critical and difficult role of our bishops and intend to support them in their service of the people.
6. The Paschal Mystery as Central
The central dynamic and defining reality for any such endeavour has to be the Paschal Mystery. The Church – the community of the baptised – lives the death and resurrection every day in every age. The baptised must submit willingly to the dying that alone can bring life. If we evade the dying we will not know the rising. In Him, with Him, and through Him, we pass over from death to life, continually. Apart from Him we are nothing (cf Jn. 15.5). In us, with us and through us He finds access to the world.
7. Launch into the Deep
At the close of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, Pope John Paul II sent his Apostolic Letter, Novo millennio ineunte, to the faithful throughout the world. In that Letter, promulgated on January 6, 2001 , the Pope recalls the words of the Lord and finds in them an energy that both challenges and inspires:
Duc in altum! (“Launch into the deep!” – Luke 5:4) These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb 13:8).
Genuine conversation is always a “launching out into the deep”. Furthermore, it is our experience that good conversation among the faithful helps us “to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence”. It ought not be a surprise to discover that, when good conversation is engaged, it is at once an act of faith and a process of conversion.
8. Conversation as Conversion
The very word “conversation” is evocative, a word rich in meaning and implications. It shares its etymology with the word “conversion”. The Latin roots of that word literally mean “turning together with”. Conversion, according to its Latin roots, thus implies at least three things:
Ø Firstly, when conversion is experienced, life changes direction, for it is a “turning” – no matter how significant or insignificant the “turning” might be. This will necessarily include, in some measure, seeing and perceiving differently and deepening, developing or even changing one’s sense of what is valuable;
Ø Secondly, that new direction involves a movement into new or improved relationship. It is “together with”. It is not a solitary or merely private event, but, of its very nature, a communal and social event, though it may also be a deeply personal one. The “new or improved relationship” will affect, no matter how minutely, relationship with God – however God is named – with self, with other people and with the world at large;
Ø Thirdly, this process of “conversion” – indiscernible as it may be most of the time – implies a submission to the “something more” than any of us. It is a being drawn out of self, a shift in the centre of gravity from ego to “the more than”, from mastery towards mystery. Conversion is a coming home to oneself, a movement towards what is true in a journey that is always subject to missing the point.
The connection in the English language between “conversation” and “conversion,” surely is no accident. We believe that the connection actually points us back to the heart of good conversation. We also believe that the connection has much to do with renewal in the Church. Pope John Paul II, in his extraordinary encyclical calling for a deepening of the ecumenical dialogue, implies the close connection between conversation and conversion:
The capacity for "dialogue" is rooted in the nature of the person and human dignity. As seen by philosophy, this approach is linked to the Christian truth concerning the human person as expressed by the Council: the human person is in fact "the only creature on earth which God willed for itself"; thus human beings cannot "fully find themselves except through a sincere gift of themselves" (Gaudium et spes, 24). Dialogue is an indispensable step along the path toward human self-realization, the self-realization both of each individual and of every human community. Although the concept of "dialogue" might appear to give priority to the cognitive dimension (dia-logos), all dialogue implies a global, existential dimension. It involves the human subject in his or her entirety; dialogue between communities involves in a particular way the subjectivity of each. This truth about dialogue, so profoundly expressed by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an "exchange of gifts"(Lumen gentium, 13).
The most fundamental pre-requisite for good and genuine conversation – conversation that renews – is at least the openness to “conversion”, preferably the desire for conversion through an encounter with others. Good conversation always transforms; it expands our horizons and builds relationships; it enlightens and enlivens. Good conversation reconciles and heals; it encourages reflection and allows the participants to be drawn more deeply into the truth. Good conversation is also a reminder of the simple things that make life work, things like listening and respect, patience and generosity, gratitude, care and simple courtesy.
Conversation, in the sense in which it is promoted by Catalyst for Renewal, is not to be confused with other forms of legitimate encounter – eg “small talk”, “debate” or “discussion”. And it is certainly not to be confused with “confrontational” or “win-lose arguments”.
Good conversation may, at times, raise content that is difficult and even confronting. The manner in which that content is dealt with will make all the difference – there is a conversational manner and there is a confrontational manner. It is the former that we desire to promote.
In good conversation, process serves content. We may, for example, have good conversation about truths of the faith or teachings of the Church that are “non-negotiable”. In such instances the conversation, observing all that has been said above, facilitates a deeper appreciation and understanding of that truth or teaching, at the same time as it facilitates a deeper appreciation, by the participants, of each other. Both parties must, of course, be willing to enter the encounter with the desire for some measure of conversion.
If the truth be told, the ideal of good conversation, as envisaged here, remains an ideal approached only more or less well in any given forum. Sometime the participants may in fact fall far short of good conversation. How well the participants actually achieve the goal of good conversation in any particular forum, however, is secondary to the fact that the goal is pursued intelligently, generously and persistently. The ideal should not be abandoned simply because it cannot yet be achieved to our satisfaction or the satisfaction of others or because the participants have failed on this or that occasion.
The renewal of the Church, demanded by the Second Vatican Council, requires assiduous work to develop a rich culture of conversation. There will, quite simply, be no renewal without a serious commitment to good conversation. Where such a culture does flourish, even when so much in our circumstances seems to suggest doom and gloom, we have every reason to be hopeful.
9. Conversation and the Spirituality of Communion
At the centre of Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Letter, Novo millennio ineunte, is an inspired reflection on “the spirituality of communion”. It is worth quoting at some length as it is not only a powerful text in its own right, it is a powerful and clear statement of the context for the conversation we want to see thrive in the Church:
To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings. But what does this mean in practice? Here too, our thoughts could run immediately to the action to be undertaken, but that would not be the right impulse to follow. Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up.
A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us.
A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as "those who are a part of me". This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship.
A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me".
A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to "make room" for our brothers and sisters, bearing "each other's burdens" (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, "masks" of communion rather than its means of expression and growth.
In the next paragraph the Letter goes on to speak of the serious challenge that lies before us in this regard:
Consequently, the new century will have to see us more than ever intent on valuing and developing the forums and structures which, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council's major directives, serve to ensure and safeguard communion.
The Apostolic Letter then names some of the practical developments that must be fostered if our talk about communion is to have any weight:
Communion must be cultivated and extended day by day and at every level in the structures of each Church's life. There, relations between Bishops, priests and deacons, between Pastors and the entire People of God, between clergy and Religious, between associations and ecclesial movements must all be clearly characterized by communion. To this end, the structures of participation envisaged by Canon Law, such as the Council of Priests and the Pastoral Council, must be ever more highly valued. These of course are not governed by the rules of parliamentary democracy, because they are consultative rather than deliberative; yet this does not mean that they are less meaningful and relevant.
The theology and spirituality of communion encourage a fruitful dialogue between Pastors and faithful: on the one hand uniting them a priori in all that is essential, and on the other leading them to pondered agreement in matters open to discussion. To this end, we need to make our own the ancient pastoral wisdom which, without prejudice to their authority, encouraged Pastors to listen more widely to the entire People of God. Significant is Saint Benedict's reminder to the Abbot of a monastery, inviting him to consult even the youngest members of the community: "By the Lord's inspiration, it is often a younger person who knows what is best". And Saint Paulinus of Nola urges: "Let us listen to what all the faithful say, because in every one of them the Spirit of God breathes". While the wisdom of the law, by providing precise rules for participation, attests to the hierarchical structure of the Church and averts any temptation to arbitrariness or unjustified claims, the spirituality of communion, by prompting a trust and openness wholly in accord with the dignity and responsibility of every member of the People of God, supplies institutional reality with a soul.
10. Catalyst Forums for Conversation
In the various forums set up to facilitate this, we will encourage adults who share our concerns and intentions to listen respectfully and intelligently to each other, to learn from that experience and thus participate more effectively in the renewal of both Church and society.
Catalyst for Renewal has a number of forums for conversation, including:
* Catalyst Dinners - an evening of conviviality and serious conversation over a meal. Topics have included The Role of the Laity in the Church, Women in the Church, Men in the Church, The Priest in the Church, Reconciliation, Tradition: Reading the Signs of the Times and Rome and Australia : Reflections on the Statement of Conclusions.
* Reflection Mornings/Evenings - a quiet time for prayerful reflection and conversation about things that touch us deeply. Topics have included The Church and Change; The Role of Tradition. We are in the process of developing a style of reflection that takes place within the context of an extended celebration of the Eucharist with opportunity for private and shared reflection on the Word.
* Forum for the Future - a conversation stimulated by presentation of substantial paper from one or two speakers on topics relevant to the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. Topics have included The Future of the Church, The Future of Women in the Church and The Future of Faith and Reason.
 John Paul II, Ut unum sint, (May 1995), 28. The Latin word translated here as “dialogue” is “colloquium”. In Latin this word is more often translated as “conversation”.
 John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte, 44.
 Op cit, 45.
B. WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY IN THE PUB (SIP)?
Spirituality in the Pub is one of the forums for conversation instituted by Catalyst. The first SIP event was held at Paddington (Sydney) in May 1995. The number of venues continues to grow – in 2008 there were approximately 30 venues at various places throughout Australia .
As indicated above, the purpose of all these Catalyst forums is conversation for the sake of renewal.
We seek to include in the conversation - at least implicitly - the foundational values of our faith as disciples of Jesus. Thus conversations are geared around what is actually happening, as distinct from what we might like to think is happening. These conversations seek to probe both the secular and sacred dimensions of our lives today.
There is usually an overall theme selected for the year’s meetings. The topics for each evening are then selected in relation to that theme.
We do this by the careful selection of themes, topics and speakers.
We choose a venue – usually a welcoming pub – that will be open to such a conversation for all searchers, not only for those comfortable within traditional structures.
The format of the evening is simple:
· It begins at a designated time, say 7.30pm .
- There are usually two speakers who address the topic set for the evening.
- Each is given up to 15 minutes to present a point of view.
- The presentations are then followed by a break of about 5-10 minutes in which people speak with one another or get another drink.
- There is then open forum in which the people are invited to ask questions of the presenters or put their own point of view.
- The formal part of the evening ends an hour and a half later, say at 9pm .
The guests generally arrive 15-30 minutes before time so they can get a drink, find a seat and talk with their friends. Someone acts as MC and welcomes the people at, say 7.30pm , sharp. The introductions are kept to a minimum to allow maximum time for the conversation.
Generally we avoid using the forum as a place for advertising as it can distract from the conversation. (Advertising can been done by leaving fliers in an appropriate place.) The MC concludes the formalities at, say 9pm , sharp to leave people free to continue the conversation informally at the bar or wherever they choose.
In view of our desire to work for renewal from within the Church as we find it, we believe it is important to keep the relevant authorities informed. While there is strictly no canonical requirement to seek the permission of the local bishop, we strongly recommend that the organisers meet with the local bishop (or his representative) and inform him of what is being done. In this context, care should be taken to promote Spirituality in the Pub in a way that complements, rather than competes with, other programs organised within the diocese. When speaking with the bishop, emphasis should be given to the fact that it is a forum for conversation – not teaching.
C. SIP WORKS ON DIFFERENT LEVELS
1. SIP is an Opportunity to Participate
These forums give people an opportunity to speak and be heard. Even if they do not speak, they know they have the opportunity to do so. Or they might find voice vicariously through another speaker who expresses their thoughts and feelings. There are not too many places in our society - the Church included - where people can speak about things that matter to them and know they will be taken seriously and listened to respectfully.
This goes to the heart of the issue of power. People need to feel as though they are a factor in the equation and when they feel excluded they quite rightly become distressed. While we should not expect SIP to resolve all the issues pertaining to power, it can make a modest contribution towards people feeling that hey are part of something life-giving.
2. SIP Lets Speakers of Quality be Heard in the Community
The organisers go to a lot of trouble to find speakers who share some sense of spirituality and have something to say that is worth listening to. People know that participation in these forums will give them a stimulus, leave them with something to think about.
This goes to the heart of the issue of content. The conversation about which we speak is more than just letting everybody have a say. That could be just pooling ignorance. There must be a definite effort to introduce solid content. Scholarship and good research, as well as simple honesty and awareness of our world are necessary. Without in any way diminishing the need for sound knowledge, there is probably no content more compelling than a human story told with honesty and insight.
3. SIP Addresses Issues that Might not Otherwise be Addressed
The participants also know that many issues and questions that may not be dealt with anywhere else, or adequately dealt with elsewhere, will be at the very least acknowledged and discussed here.
This goes to the heart of the issue of process. Secrecy and operating “in-house”, behind closed doors, contributes to people feeling disenfranchised, not taken seriously, as if they were not part of the equation until the decision is made. This also contributes to some bad decisions. Transparency in organisation and government is promoted by good conversation. Both in the SIP forum itself as well as in the way SIP is organized, good conversation is of the essence. It helps to model the way ahead for Church.
4. SIP is a Radically Religious Event
The forums are genuinely religious events. They provide an opportunity for the many people who want to find creative and life-giving ways to express the religious spirit and be with others in doing that. SIP is also a Catholic initiative - a Catholic “thing” - and there are not a lot of Catholic initiatives that seem to be so innovative, so life-giving, so able to engage the market place, yet so thoroughly within the Church. This may in fact be for some people their only contact with the Church that they have, in all other respects, come to see as irrelevant to their lives.
This goes to the heart of the issue of a human need. Human beings seek the Transcendent in some form or other. We are, if you like, condemned to be religious. If human beings are not given the opportunity to express that need in some creative and constructive way, the chances are at least some will move into some kind of destructive expressions of it. These modest gatherings in the pub, may in fact offer a creative outlet for the religious spirit in some – at least initially – and may also save some from destructive alternatives.
Andy Hamilton Reflection
Spirituality in the Pub
You have asked me today to help you reflect on the large questions which you address in Spirituality in the Pub: the issues, topics, reasons, and contexts. Let me begin with an uncontroversial statement Spirituality in the Pub is a voluntary activity. It is not like Sunday Mass. In traditional language, it is not a sin to fail to attend. If you are urged to go, it will be in the notices and not in the sermon. And if it is an optional extra, you go along because you want to.
If that is the case, two questionsnaturally arise. First, what gives you life in your association with Spirituality in the Pub? And second, what encouragement do you find there for your day to day life? These questions are natural because, if you found no life in the enterprise, you would not stay with it. And in the same way, if it did not make some small difference to the way you live, you would soon drop it.
So those are the questions I would like to explore with you. My own thoughts have no benefit of expertise. I have had little experience of Spirituality in the Pub: I have spoken at three or four venues, have attended a couple of other sessions, and have come to know and value many of the organisers. But you know it more intimately than I do. So, I hope you will listen critically, and for my part I shall tell you how I see it, and you must ask yourselves, if it isn't like what I describe, what then is it like?
In my talk, too, I would like to focus less on what you say in your sessions in Spirituality in the Pub, and more on what you do. I find the symbols involved in what you do, where you do it and how you do it, to be quite illuminating.
1. What gives life?
1. In the Pub
The most striking thing about Spirituality in the Pub is the place in which it is held. Why does meeting in an Australian pub give you life? For there are other, very different places where you could meet. A pub is not a church, for example. For most, it is not a home. Nor is it a school. It is neither a church hall nor a town hall. Nor is it a cafe. But the Australian pub is also different from an English pub, and certainly from a New York bar. But, I suspect, for you the pub's greatest attractions is that it is not a church. Why is this attractive?
First of all, a pub is not hierarchical. In a pub the lord of the manor is served no more quickly than the servant. It is a democratic place, where you use first names and not titles. It is also local, and so distant from the hierarchies located in Parliament House or the Cathedral. The pub belongs to its suburb, to its street, to its surroundings, and no pub is the same as other pubs (except the execrable franchised Irish pubs)! A pub, too, is a slightly bolshie place in which to meet and one which in earlier life it would have been a little adventurous to go. It marked the transition from childhood to adulthood. When we meet for Spirituality in the Pub, most of us would feel with some satisfaction that this is not a place in which our parents’ generation would have approved us meeting.
Second, pubs blur boundaries. I have mentioned the boundaries of class and of authority. The pub is inherently a worldly place where one person's opinion is as good as another's. But to hold spirituality in the pub also blurs the boundaries between sacred and secular, and the boundaries between religious language and the common public language, the staple of pubs. That democratic character of pubs, I would imagine, is integral to what gives you life.
Third, a pub speaks of community more than it does of institution. In the pub, the test of activities is enjoyment and not efficiency. In a pub, you look for affirmation and hope for convivial conversation and easy relationships. So pub cricket teams are always companionable and convivial, but rarely win too many games. Winning takes planning and requires a strong institution. And is Spirituality in the Pub Me giving because of the tone of the conversation even more than because of its logic?
2. In spirituality
Spirituality also has its own symbolic value. You can catch it if you change spirituality for other words. Try Theology in the Pub, for instance, Magisterium in the Pub, Eschatology in the Pub, Pastoral Planning in the Pub or Gender Study in the Pub. Each title will have a different feel. And equally, the pub will color each making some sound ridiculous. So, what is it about spirituality in this context that gives life?
The way you shape your sessions suggests that you respond to a spirituality based in experience. You invite speakers who can talk out of their lives, and not confine themselves to ideas. Furthermore, you often invite two speakers, not for the sake of debate but to guarantee different perspectives based on different experience. Furthermore, the talks are ordinarily not followed by questions, as they might be if you offered theology in the pub, but by shared conversation. In this kind of conversation, because experience is an authority, although not the only one, everybody has some authority.
The spirituality that gives you life is also Catholic. While you are open to people from all churches, and the choice of the pub as a venue shows your desire to be inclusive, you speak out of a Catholic centre. You are very happy when priests and religious attend, you try to gather people from different parishes, and you would be offended if you were accused of being disloyal. So, if you see yourselves as a bit bolshie, it is the respectful irreverence of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition that you emulate, not the revolutionary zeal of the Bolsheviks,
Third, your spirituality is that of a particular group in the Catholic Church. For most of you Vatican II was a time of discovery, of freedom, and of the discovery of a richer way of being church than you had previously imagined. So the spiritual themes which animate your conversations are the great ideas of Vatican II. They include questions of conscience, of accommodation to culture, of participation in the church and of social justice. These issues map the changes which Vatican II brought into Catholic life.
3. What kind of encouragement?
On the basis of this exploration of the symbols of Spirituality in the Pub, I would guess that it would be important for you as a result of your meetings to find your experience and personal spirituality affirmed. This affirmation is given at different levels. It comes out of the style of conversation, where no one is put down and personal experience is valued. It also comes through the gathering of people with a similar tale on being Catholic. At times, when confronted with the vagaries of life in world or church, we all find ourselves asking whether we are mad, or whether the others are. Here we can find friends who can reassure us that we have not lost our senses. We have the reassurance of knowing that there are many good and intelligent people who share our perspective. This helps us live through times of discouragement and times when views opposite to our own are popular.
I would expect that you will also find in Spirituality in the Pub encouragement in maintaining your faith and hope in the church. The sessions do this not principally by what is said about the church but by what you find' embodied there. Spirituality in the Pub enacts some of the qualities we would like the Church always to show. It represents a convivial, respectful, confident and imaginative church that can laugh at itself. It is also, of course, human and imperfect but it represents human ways of being a virtuous community.
And finally, the talks given in Spirituality in the Pub and the conversation that follows them offer us the opportunity to reflect on issues that nag away at us. It can also encourage us to engage actively in important public issues. I do not believe that this is what you look for most centrally, but it is an important fruit for daily living.
Let me summarise what I see as central within Spirituality in the Pub. You have found it helpful to move beyond authority relationships, formal teaching relationships, institutional claims. You want to relate your Catholicism to your life, and to move beyond churchy language. And you see yourselves as just a little bit maverick: your enterprise, if not wicked, is just a little naughty. These preferences express a reverence for the way God speaks in personal experience, and consequently for good conversation. They also reflect your commitment to a participatory church inspired by the great ideals of Vatican II. In meeting, you find encouragement in discerning your personal path and in your longing for a modest, trusting church. What follows from these emphases, which are your strengths??
First you are one group among many in the Church, with a coherent agenda. There are other groups with quite different agendas, and some of them would like to take the church in directions you would oppose. So, you will not always be flavour of the month for everyone and the more popular your venture becomes the more criticism you should expect to receive from those who, disagree with your agenda. Apart from paying your critics the usual courtesies of listening and being polite, I would not worry about this kind of criticism. You cannot be all things to all human beings, and it would be a mistake to cen6or what you are doing to win the approval of your critics. And anyway you are invulnerable to the kinds of pressure that can be brought against groups that associate in churches.
Second because the things that give you life are about community and conversation rather than institution, I would resist any pressure or inclination to have a formal institutional role in the church. This would be inconsistent with all that 6publ stands for. That means, of course, that you will not be able, as Spirituality in the Pub to influence the policies and practices of the Church by taking part in enquiries, having formal connections to Bishops' Committees, etc. But I presume that your friendships and association there might lead to other initiatives and the formation of other groups that are political in this very broad and proper sense.
Third, because your agenda is so bound to Vatican II, I wonder how you will draw other, younger people into your events, or encourage them to follow your lead in similar forms of conversation. The participants at the meetings in which I have been involved symbols are mostly from the Vatican II Generation. Younger Catholics simply take for granted what was given through Vatican II, and their agenda commonly has little to do with its themes. But their need for places of free and deep conversation is no less real I have no suggestions to make on this point But I suspect that tie way to address the question is to explore the nature of your symbols and of the symbols that speak to other groups
Fr Andy Hamilton Sj