All posts filed under: Church Formation

Does the Mass Say Christmas Is About Justice?

Is Christmas about justice? B. D. McClay’s recent column in Commonweal, “Christmas is a Time for Justice” seems to suggest that Christmas is about justice, divine justice. She argues in an “admittedly lighthearted way” that the movie In Bruges is a Christmas movie because in some sense it is about justice and “accounts beginning to come in.” The movie is about an Irish hit man, Ray, who accidentally kills a child. For this mistake his boss Harry insists he must die to settle the account—justice demands it; Harry sends Ray to Bruges along with Ken whom Harry has ordered to kill Ray. It is in fact a wonderful though violent movie with a twist at the end very much worth watching. The movie’s theme functions as a metaphor for Christmas. So if the theme of the movie is about justice and accounts coming due, it seems that Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation and birth of Christ, is ultimately about justice because our accounts have come due. I cannot help but think that McClay is …

Conscience and the Christ Child

Parenthood is central to the Nativity story. Birth and infancy cast Christ the King most of all in dependence. God so humbled himself not only to become man, but also to be dependent upon man, particularly upon two parents, Mary and Joseph. God did not only come to mankind to be sacrificed, but also to be nurtured, to be loved and cared for by woman and man, to communicate his needs and to make requests to his parents as they bring him to adulthood. As we enter into the Christmas season, Christians would benefit from reflecting upon our own experiences of parenthood. What might we learn about the nourishment of the Christ Child and attentiveness to him? Christian teaching can never be an impersonal dictate, but is rather a wellspring of life integrating into man’s experience. Likewise, experience should always be an opening into the life of Christ and his Church. So let us consider the experiences of parents and what we might learn as we observe those experiences in light of the Christ Child. …

Love Is Always Conditional

 We want to say that love is unconditional. It seems right. It is equal parts comforting and challenging. It is comforting because if I am loved, then there is nothing I can do to lose that. It is challenging because in order to love, I have to will to be untroubled by obstacles. We do not want to say love is conditional because we fear submitting love to the twisted logic of relationship terrorism: if you do not meet my demands, I deprive you of what is good for you, or vice versa. We think of conditions as qualifications and we do not want to attach qualifications to love. So we say love is unconditional. But that is wrong. Love is always conditional. The conditions of love are not a list of demands but the ways in which love is demanding. If, as Aquinas teaches, “to love is to will the good of another,”[1] then what makes love demanding are those conditions in which I have to figure out how exactly to will your good, …

The Four Waves of the U.S. Catholic Abuse Crisis

  Where We Are  For many of us, the Catholic Church is our extended family and the center of our daily lives: the community within which we celebrate the sacraments, worship God, teach our children, serve the poor, cheer our kids’ CYO teams, build lifelong friendships, and so much more. Given that context, it is no surprise that over these past months American Catholics have been devastated and angered by revelations regarding sexual abuse and abuse of power in our Church. As we think about how to move forward, I would like to give an overview of our current moment; a brief review of how we got here; and finally, a description of what might lie ahead. This latest iteration of the clerical abuse crisis began with revelations regarding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of children and predation on seminarians as he was protected by a culture of clericalism that looked the other way at every turn. It soon moved on to the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and its horrific accounting of decades …

The Sham Practice of Christmas

As one of the great festivals of Christianity approaches, the malls are decked with holly, sales, and “Santa Baby.” Human beings are wired for festivity but could most of us even define what a festival truly is? And does our commercialized bastardization of Christmas still qualify as one? When I picked up 20th century German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, I realized this seemingly familiar idea of festival was more elusive than I expected. Did I not know what festivity was? Apparently not. The short treatise begins with a quote from St. John Chrysostom: “Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivas” or “where love rejoices, there is festivity.” Like “love,” a word that we often use and yet may struggle to define, festivity is an idea we have trouble getting to the heart of. In addition to Pieper, I would like to recruit a well-known guide for us in our search for the meaning of festivity: the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous old sinner” turned grateful philanthropist, …

Hildegard of Bingen’s Vital Contribution to the Concept of Woman

When I was an undergraduate at an Evangelical university and beginning to think more deeply about gender, there were two basic paradigms on offer: egalitarianism and so-called complementarity. In those days—the early 2000’s—the pop-Christian livre de jour was a book called Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by Jon Eldredge. This bestseller, ubiquitous in evangelical circles, provided a dizzying mash-up of fairy tale tropes, pop culture references, and bible verses, in order to unlock the hidden mysteries of the masculine heart. The basic premise of Eldredge’s book is that God creates men to be chivalrous Beasts with a hunger for adventure, a need to fight battles and rescue a Beauty. And a woman’s telos, conversely, is to be that Beauty who is rescued and swept up in the man’s heroic adventure. Eldredge presents men and women as two partial reflections of God: “There is a masculine heart, and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.”[1] These two “hearts” are not so much …

The Virgin Mary as “Eternal Woman”

The holier a woman, the more she is a woman. —Léon Bloy To call the Virgin Mary the “Eternal Woman,” as I do in the title of this essay, is, of course, to allude to the title of Gertrud von Le Fort’s famous book, The Eternal Woman, first published in German as Die Ewige Frau in 1933. In Sister Prudence Allen’s magnum opus, The Concept of Woman, she devotes two pages to a brief discussion of Le Fort (1876−1971), highlighting her personal and intellectual kinship with Edith Stein (1891−1942), whom Le Fort visited in the Carmel in Cologne and with whom she exchanged letters. Sr. Allen excerpts the following passage from one of Stein’s five extant letters to Le Fort, dated January 31, 1935: Dear Baroness, Our retreat ended this morning. A retreat in Carmel—all that’s lacking to make it heaven is one’s own holiness. My spiritual reading those days was your new book. I could not get to it earlier. Now at last I can thank you for this beautiful Christmas gift. I would …

Advocata Nostra and the Devil’s Due

The Season of Advent could quite rightly be understood as the season of Mary. The Christian community prepares for Christmas and waits with Mary for the birth of her firstborn son. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Church places two great Marian feasts during this time of hope and expectation: the celebration of her Immaculate Conception and the veneration of her apparition in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1531. While the Church has always venerated Mary, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a particular increase in the devotion to her cult and in Mariology more generally. In a theologically rigorous essay from the collection Mary: The Church at the Source, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger provides some “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine and Piety in Faith and Theology as a Whole.”[1] He begins his reflections with a brief history of the development of Marian devotion in the years between the end of World War I and the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Ratzinger describes two charismatic movements that characterized the Catholic Church …

Solovyov’s Russia and the Catholic Church

Vladimir Solovyov’s thought and writings dominated the literary, philosophical, and theological currents of late 19th century Russia. His death in 1900 did not put an end to this influence.  In 2003, the Ukrainian Catholic University held a conference on the theme of his book Russia and the Universal Church. This commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Solovyov’s birth prompted Pope John Paul II to herald the participants of this conference with a Vatican address wherein he noted the significance of this man and his work. John Paul II considered Solovyov to be a giant in terms of moral and political philosophy, theology and spirituality—a view he had also expressed five years earlier in the encyclical Fides et Ratio. Since Solovyov’s life was indelibly marked by the thirst for divine wisdom, it is no surprise that he also desired to see that wisdom most perfectly embodied in the world. This was the deepest motivation for his lifelong attempt to bring the Eastern and Western churches back into full union. As John Paul II stated in his …