From the Sacred Heart to the heart of the sacred: The spiritual journey of Australian Catholics since the Second Vatican Council


Cashen, Paul William. (2005). From the Sacred Heart to the heart of the sacred: The spiritual journey of Australian Catholics since the Second Vatican Council [Thesis].
AuthorsCashen, Paul William
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This study was undertaken to investigate and to propose a solution to the pastoral dilemma that faced the Catholic Church in Australia the 1990's. The pastoral dilemma contrasted two opposing pastoral responses to the significant changes in Catholic life since the Second Vatican Council. One response reacted to the changes by interpreting them as 'crises of faith'. This response determined that the decline in mass attendance, the fewer vocations to the priesthood and religious life and the disregard of the teaching authority of the Church was the result of a loss of faith. Consequently, it prescribed a return to previous values and behaviour. The other response was more difficult to determine and has been the principle work of this thesis. The second pastoral response was identified in the search for the sacred in the daily lives of the people. This search linked the changes in Catholic life to the ongoing journey of faith that has taken place. A pastoral response based on this understanding of the changes in Catholic life was seen to provide an opportunity for 'all who invoked the name of Christ' to enter a deeper relationship with him and each other. This response embraced the spirit of renewal proposed by the Council. A review of religious literature published in Australia since the Council was conducted to provide an overview of the journey of Catholic life. It identified four categories of literature that displayed the most interest in the changes. Whilst the review had a particular focus on Catholics, it included other traditions. Of the four categories initially sociology of religion which attracted most interest, followed later by theological reflections and interpretations, and ultimately an interest in spirituality, or the 'spirituality revolution'. The historical and biographical studies reviewed recounted the changes in Church life and remained at a lesser, but constant expression of interest. An examination of the research of sociology of religion in Australia established that the changes in religious belief and practice were influenced by environmental factors and, for Catholics, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The methods of sociology identified the significant areas of change, but their limited explanations of the changes did little to assist church authorities to resolve the tensions and difficulties. The limitations of statistical information about religion contributed to the pastoral dilemma. The findings of sociology increased interest in theological reflection about the influence of the changing context of society on Catholic life. These reflections endeavoured to explain the reforms of the Council, the relationship to the changes to the reforms and led to 'contextual' theology which was embraced by the 'Discovery of an Australian Theology'. Spirituality by the 1990s had become a popular response that purported to take the place of 'organised religion' in the community. The interest in spirituality also became the key factor in the Catholic search for deeper values, and inspired a renewed sense of the spiritual in ordinary everyday life. The popular interest in spirituality was located in the tradition of Christian spirituality, and the thesis concluded that this tradition embraced the personal experience of God, as expressed in the lives of Catholics in Australia. Such personal experiences were identified and discerned to benefit of the individual and through dialogue transformed the community. The transformation, thus begun, continued in further dialogue, engaged the community, and inspired others beyond the community of the Church to believe. Therefore, the personal experience of the spiritual was authenticated by its place in the developing tradition of the Church. The Council called for individuals and communities in the Church to identify the 'signs of the times' as the opportunities for renewal, and personal renewal was closely linked to communal renewal. The 'search for a soul' expressed an Australian 'sign of the times'. The search provided the opportunity for many people to embark on a journey that led to personal and communal renewal or transformation. Consequently, pastoral responses to renewal based on rule and regulation, or expectations of the past, lacked the personal spiritual dimension. Thus, the title of the thesis figuratively describes the spiritual journey of Catholics from a devotional religious experience to one that seeks to find the sacred in the core values and experiences of life.

KeywordsChristian life; religion and sociology; spirituality
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
Final version
Publication dates04 Jun 2005
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