All posts filed under: Essays

Domus Dei, Domus Ecclesiae: Sacred Space and the Liturgy

We can convey a lot by how we choose to decorate our homes. Growing up, guests to our home could learn (at least on a surface level) that my family was Catholic, that we were Mexican-American, and that we were huge Notre Dame football fans simply by looking around our house. Visitors to my apartment now can learn about my interest in reading, my love for icons, and that I have a significant other without my even telling them—it’s written all over my walls. We are very deliberate with how we construct the space around us, and we try to foster certain experiences—comfort (how we organize our couches and chairs), hospitality (do we have refreshments sitting out?), a sense of importance (that display of trophies, medals, and awards in our sitting room)—and communicate certain aspects of our identity to those we welcome into these spaces. Space is important for worship, as well. This should come as no surprise, yet it often seems counterintuitive to people: are we Christians not the “true worshipers” who worship “the …

Abstraction, Contemplation, and the Architectural Imagination

The Question: “The Story at the Heart of Faith: Can abstraction call the person into the fullness of humanity?” The Working Definitions: Contemplation/Contemplative Imagination: The total imagination involving all of our faculties: thinking, feeling, remembering, hoping, believing, perceiving, abstracting, conceiving and interpreting. It is the conditional ground for our reception of reality, and hence truth, thereby leading us into the fullness of our humanity. Analogical: Proceeding according to a proper proportion or measure. It is the principle of unity in difference between the part and the whole, the particular and the universal, essentia and esse, becoming and being, the finite and the infinite, where the contraries are so integrated and mutually dependent and informing that to preference one to the expense of the other is to distort the way we contemplate, create, and live in the world. The Response: The titular question as it relates to architecture, specifically sacred architecture, possesses a rather enigmatic character because architecture is an essentially “abstract” art, at least in any strict use or “icon”ic sense of the term. In …

The End of All Our Exploring: The Entrance Rite

“Could I bring some home?” “Sure, is that enough?” “Could I have some more? He has a big forehead.” Last Ash Wednesday I spent six hours distributing ashes at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The Cathedral staff estimates 50,000 people come through St. Patrick’s on Ash Wednesday. “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” “Wow . . . thank you.” St. Patrick’s has a strange effect on the people who walk by. Every day of every year all sorts of people come in. It’s hard to imagine a squat building drawing much attention at all in this city of skyscrapers. Of course skyscrapers are, as so often diagnosed, the product of striving, materialistic, anthropocentric, Pelagian capitalism. But I think those towers say something else. They show we haven’t lost our inertia. There’s something we still want. We just don’t have it yet. St. Patrick’s gives people a little momentum. This is a city where buildings and people scramble over each other, rat-racing like vines to get higher. St. Patrick’s teaches …

Forgive Us Our Debts: A Catechesis of Mercy in the Early Church

Matthew and Luke’s Gospels chronicle Jesus’ instruction to the Apostles concerning genuine prayer (Mt 6:5–15; Lk 11:1–13). The words of the Our Father—Jesus’ archetype of prayer—represent the unique liturgical usage of the prayer of the evangelists’ contemporary communities.[1] The theology presented therein was assimilated by the succeeding post-apostolic generations towards a catechetical formula of instruction (traditio) and recitation (redditio) in preparation for the Christian rite of Baptism.[2] This pedagogy of spiritual instruction was meant to form within the soon-to-be Christian a recourse to God, requesting that she might remain faithful to her promises to be made in the creed in the face of her own debts (sins) and a world hostile to the Gospel; by practicing the petition “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” the catechumen was formed in the experiential truth of Christ’s reconciling act.[3] She was grounded in what Pope Francis has linguistically constructed as misericordiando—the “mercy-ing” of the Lord.[4] This catechesis of mercy is central to the exegesis and theological writings of the early Church concerning this primary attribute …

Man, Woman, and the Mission of the Laity

Many of us living through this period of history look on with confusion and concern as we watch while our culture appears to unravel before our very eyes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to gain any traction for our efforts to defend our families and our communities from forces that seem determined to undermine the traditional understanding of the moral life that has governed Western culture for centuries. We find ourselves increasingly marginalized in public discourse about issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be human, let alone Christian. The controversies extend across many fronts, from religious liberty to women’s “rights,” from the breakdown of the family to same-sex unions, from local economic realities to the sometimes dubious benefits of globalization. As lay Catholics, we rely on our faith in the promises of Christ in the face of this situation, and rightly so. We renew our commitment to prayer and regular reception of the sacraments. We keep our families close and do our best to guard our children from the toxic …

Erasmus and the Second Vatican Council

John Courtney Murray referred to the development of doctrine as the “issue under the issues” at Vatican II.[1] Whether the Council Fathers considered changing the practice of liturgy, the teaching on religious freedom, or the teaching on revelation, they confronted the challenge of expressing the unchanging Truth to a changing world. Of course, this was not the first time the Church had found itself in this position. Most notably, over 400 years earlier, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and others broke with Rome to found new Christian communities that they felt better expressed the Truth and witness of Christ. Prior to and during the early stages of the Protestant Reformation, Erasmus of Rotterdam emerged as an influential voice of reform who advocated change without breaking the unity of the Church. At the beginning of the Reformation, Luther and Erasmus were cautious allies, but “by 1521 it was clear to Erasmus that Luther did not intend a gradual reform within the old faith, but a fundamental recasting of traditional doctrines and practices.”[2] Erasmus’ vision of gradual reform …

Motherhood as a Path to Sainthood

Saints throughout the ages have lived lives of heroic virtue in every imaginable context, as martyrs, missionaries, and mystics; doctors, lawyers, and teachers; workers, cloistered contemplatives, and itinerant beggars. There are also plenty of canonized saints who were married, at least for some part of their life, and many of them were mothers and fathers. One cannot help noticing, however, that the life circumstances of these married saints look rather exceptional in comparison with the mundane reality in which most Christian parents are called to holiness. To become a canonized married saint, it would seem imperative to either found a religious order later in life (St. Elizabeth Anne Seton, St. Bridget of Sweden), die under especially painful or tragic circumstances (St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Bl. Elisabeth Leseur), or be of noble birth and from a family of wealth (Bl. Elizabeth Canori Mora, St. Frances of Rome). The most notable exception to these rules would be Sts. Isidore and Maria of Spain, simple peasant farmers and faithful spouses, but their choice to live a celibate marriage …

Speaking to the Heart

“I want a mess. I want to see the Church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools, or structures. We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel. It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away. Go and look for them in the nooks and crannies of the streets.” —Pope Francis, World Youth Day Address (2013) Pope Francis wants a mess. He urges us to get out of our parishes and take the Gospel to the streets. While this call to evangelization has rung out from the Church throughout the centuries, it cuts especially to the heart now. This is because “more Americans today than in the past are not remaining in the …

Catholic Apologetics and the New Evangelization

Today apologetics has a questionable reputation among many Christian scholars, laypersons, and clergymen. Because Christianity is a matter of faith, the critics say, apologetics must be taken as a curious example of modern-day fundamentalism.[1] Despite the decline of apologetics after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the discipline seems to be making a steady comeback in certain quarters of the Church. As Avery Dulles espies, the Church is witnessing the “rebirth of apologetics.”[2] He says that a newer approach should be shaped under the theology of Vatican II. This vision of apologetics still needs to be nurtured by theologians and other intellectually engaged laypersons in the light of other prevailing activities and attitudes in the Church, including the following: “dialogue instead of apologetics,” “practical relevance instead of apologetics,” “love instead of apologetics,” “holiness instead of apologetics,” “ecumenism instead of apologetics,” “justice instead of apologetics,” etc. None of these aforementioned attitudes should negate or weaken the perennial enterprise of apologetics which can help foster the Church’s mission to evangelize the world. On the Need for Apologetics Before …

Forming Adults in Faith Through Fiction

The National Directory for Catechesis and Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States both name the following three goals of adult faith formation: to “invite and enable ongoing conversion to Jesus in holiness of life,” to “promote and support active membership in the Christian community,” and to “call and prepare adults to act as disciples in mission to the world.”[1] Offering a model of lifelong growth in faith, adult faith formation is the principal form of catechesis in the Church and the model upon which all other catechetical efforts are to be based.[2] Thus, adult faith formation can be summarized as a ministry of connection, fostering an adult’s relationship to Christ, to the Church, and to a missionary vocation in the world. This vision of three-fold connectedness stands in stark contrast to the reality of many adult Catholics today. Pew’s 2008 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” revealed that one-third of self-identified adult Catholics believe in an impersonal God; this statistic reflects a startling disconnect between these …