Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

September 17, 2010

10 Challenges for the Church of the Twenty-First Century


How can you help teens have handle on some of the large issues facing the Church today while also considering ways to participate in some solutions for change? Share with them these 10 Challenges for the Church of the Twenty-First Century. Assign each student one of the issues and have them break it open with a semester-long research project or term paper than incorporates some possible responses to the questions.

  1. Ecumenism. How can the Church reach out to people of other faiths, including Islam?
  2. Gospel witness. How can American Catholics remain true to the vision of Jesus in a pluralistic and increasingly secular society that accepts as “normal” behaviors and lifestyles contrary to the Gospel? How can the Church best remind people of the reality of sin and the need for conversion? How can the Church challenge national leaders to work for peace in just ways in the midst of a world besieged by terrorism? How can the Church best use her material resources (for example, her sponsorship of health-care facilities and social services through Catholic Charities) to help the poor and needy?
  3. Immigrants. How can the Church best embrace the fast-growing number of Hispanic-American Catholics? Will an English-speaking Church impose her customs on them? Or will she respect the cultural and linguistic diversity of this important Catholic community? How can the Church help other Catholic immigrants adjust to American society? How should it better embrace the contributions of African-American Catholics?
  4. Leadership. How can the bishops strengthen their credibility among the laity? How can they exercise their authority in a consultative and collegial way? How should they deal with dissenting theologians and politicians who undermine their teaching authority? How can they most effectively share the best of America’s cultural and societal values with the universal Church?
  5. Parish life. How can the Church reanimate the person in the pew through a better appreciation of the Eucharist? How can the Church better support lay people in their family and work lives? How can she affirm life and family issues more effectively and teach a respect for the beauty of human sexuality?
  6. Religious education. How can the Church most effectively reach out to disaffected Catholics, those who have dropped out, particularly young adults? How can the Church appeal to Catholics who subscribe to the American values of individualism and consumerism in contrast to Christ’s call to community and responsibility? How can the Church win over the minds and hearts of those Catholics whose attitudes toward abortion, stem-cell research, cloning, and sexual issues mirror those of their non-Catholic fellow citizens?
  7. Schools. What is the future of Catholic schools on all levels—elementary, secondary, and collegiate? What is their specific Catholic identity and mission?
  8. Vocation crisis. How can the Church call and train priest leaders to provide vision for the laity who will assume even greater roles of leadership? How can the Church form priests to lead worship and preach God’s word most effectively to an educated and increasingly secularized laity? How can the Church mobilize the laity to support those in religious life and priests in their difficult ministries?
  9. Women. What role should women have in the Church? How best meet their needs and desire for service to God’s people?
  10. Self-identity. How does Catholicism in America remain faithful to the Roman Catholic Church as she continues her life and witness in the pluralistic American culture? How can the Church in America be American and yet Catholic? How can the Church in America best be the servant of Jesus Christ? Once and for all, Catholics must answer these questions: In the quest to become acceptable to Americans, has the Church lost its soul? Is the Church too materialistic, too rich, too concerned with numbers and buildings?

These questions come from This Is Our Church: A History of Catholicism by Michael Pennock.

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