Catholic Activism Today

Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice

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Maureen K. Day
Religion and Social Transformation
  • New York: 
    New York University Press
    , June
     2020.
     320 pages.
     $39.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781479851331.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Maureen K. Day’s Catholic Activism Today: Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice is an academic study focused on Catholic civic engagement and contemporary American life, and at the same time, a practical resource for a vast number of audiences.

Drawing on three years of research, the study, Day writes, is “based on interview, survey, and participant-observation data gathered over roughly sixty-one semi-structured, in-depth interviews with program graduation and JFM (JustFaith Ministries) staff” (5). Day states a thesis: “while JFM and other discipleship-style organizations are largely successful in attracting Catholics (and others) to their programs and effecting change in participants’ lives so that their faith and lives in the world are integrated, discipleship organizations are significantly less successful in fostering the ultimate aim of attaining social justice activism” (4). In addition, Day highlights that this may reduce the authority of the Catholic Church in the lives of Catholics living in America, in particular. Her focus on transformation and the need for compassion and empathy is threaded throughout the book, creating a book that offers deep insights for learners.

Day proposes ways in which individuals and groups can explore and embody practices to help bridge the gap between Catholic civic engagement and American life. Day notes that Catholicism “must expand notions of Catholic morality—which it has done within official documents—as well as responses from the laity” (231). Day also highlights other (perhaps more radical) practices that are distanced from the “days of an obedient and less educated flock” (232).

What are the two most intriguing parts of the book? First, the writing is clear with deep reflections on Catholic social teaching principles, and includes scholarly references, data, and intimate stories of personal experiences. Day’s presentation of her research at the beginning of the book was one of the most defining moments. Second, the insights and data brought to light deserve the attention of scholars, laity, teachers, ministers, and so on.

This book, then, can be a resource for practical uses in many areas of ministry. I found myself reflecting on my own ministry as a teacher of Catholic social teaching. When Day states in the conclusion, “given the findings discussed in this volume, a wise pastoral move may be for a bishop to be less singled minded with his own civic priorities—be those immigration, abortion, poverty, capital punishment, same-sex marriage, peace, or others—and simply to encourage every parish and individual Catholic to promote the church’s mission in the world as they are called” (233). Teachers have a unique opportunity to inspire young Christians and others to engage with God’s action in the world. This helps encourage students and teachers, in particular, to listen to the unique ways in which God calls them to be participants.

Despite the “absences of Catholics of color in the study” (235), Day’s book encourages engagement in the world. More importantly, perhaps, is that the book inspires approaches that help people challenge structured inequalities, motivates readers to explore the implications of

Christian individualism contextually, and emphasizes the power of hope, community, and compassion within this journey.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jane Curry has a PhD in practical theology from Saint Thomas University, Florida.

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Maureen K. Day is assistant professor of religion and society at the Franciscan School of Theology and a research fellow at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). She is the editor of Young Adult American Catholics: Explaining Vocation in Their Own Words.

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