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There is an intriguing sign of contradiction in the Catholic church at this time.

During a period when the Vatican is desperately trying to bolt into place what Catholicism is, young Catholic scholars are bursting into print and debate, saying: Hold it. Maybe this is what it is, was, ought to be and yet might be.

What the U.S. church is seeing is the early flowering of the staggering numbers of young Catholics who have committed themselves to the deepest involvements in the church as theologians, religious studies scholars, historians and social scientists and observers.

Frankly, we at NCR are fascinated. And it’s simultaneously fun and serious being challenged by the words and directions of people like Michelle Lelwica and Tom Beaudoin, with whom we open our new series on the rising generation of scholars.

Arthur Jones, formerly of Washington and now of Los Angeles, has been busy in recent months searching the academic world for the new thinkers, and spending long hours working to bring their thought and interests to a wider audience. As we settle into the series, we’re taking some liberties with the word “young,” for now it covers scholars and thinkers anywhere from their late 20s to early 40s. We’re exploring, too, but mainly we’re opening yet another conversation in NCR’s pages.

Join in. We’re not sure who’s going to be saying what, but it’s certainly getting livelier around here as these younger thinkers tackle the questions of the ages as well as the difficult issues of this age.

Speaking of joining in, thanks to you who passed along your comments and musings on the essays in two previous issues (Jan. 26 and Feb. 2) by the young women on why they are Catholic and on the cover story on spirituality for the piety-impaired (Feb. 2), the story of Greg Pierce’s spiritual tips for the workplace. On the matter of why women stay in the church, the comments have been sobering, challenging and charming. They’ve also been surprising in the resolve some women have to stay, in the face of teachings and attitudes they deeply oppose.

Many of you wrote to Pierce and then granted us permission to use some of those comments. I found the messages inspiring and at the same time comforting, for they let me know there’s a host of kindred spirits out there, people in the workplace looking for spirituality that can flourish in the nitty-gritty of every day life, one that sees God’s presence in life “whether bidden or unbidden,” as Pierce puts it. On both the matter of women staying in the church and that of spirituality in the workplace, we’ll be publishing many of your words in upcoming issues. Thanks for sending them on to us.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2001