All posts filed under: Essays

Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization

Today courses in Catholic theology are supposed to be characterized by the New Evangelization. My contention is supported by two basic lines of evidence. First, magisterial teaching strongly testifies to the necessity of teaching theology with an evangelical orientation, including Vatican II’s Gravissimum Educationis, several documents issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2008 address to Catholic educators. These sources demonstrate that professors working in Catholic institutions of higher education are supposed to explain the rationale for Church teaching in the classroom. Second, I briefly outline and discuss the results from a questionnaire that I sent out to at least one theologian at every Catholic college and university in the Unites States. The results of this questionnaire indicate some hesitations about my proposal. I exposit these challenges under five broad headings and offer rebuttals to their concerns in the light of Catholic teaching. Magisterium, Universities, Evangelization One of the most important documents for understanding the role of Catholic education in the modern world is Vatican II’s Gravissimum Educationis. This Declaration …

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Cultivating the Christian Imagination of the Child

Recently I was talking to a mother of two young children, who explained that she drops her youngest son off at childcare while she attends Mass because “he is too young to get anything out of it.” Implicit in her remark is the assumption that the child, particularly the young child, neither possesses within himself a hunger for God nor is capacitated for worship—that his age prevents him from meaningful participation in the liturgy. She primarily envisions worship in terms of utility. It exists in order for us to “get something.” Cast in therapeutic, moralistic, and individualist terms worship functions either to meet one’s subjective needs, to make one “feel good,” or to make one a generically “better person.” Such a view, both of the nature of the young child and of worship is deeply imprinted on the Catholic imagination in the United States. Children are seen as a distraction to adult worship—hence, the emergence of strategies to get kids out of Mass: “the cry room” and “children’s Liturgy of the Word.” In fact, there …

Toward a Monastic Notion of the Common Good

It is said that Christendom has fallen, and societies around the world have entered into a post-Christian phase. These conditions have been exacerbated by a caustic and divisive election season. How are Christians to enter into a society whose values and general framework seem hostile to those of the Christian tradition? Is it possible for Christians to find common ground with others in order to offer significant contributions to society’s development? This implies the need for Christians to develop a nuanced and intelligent response to the needs of a nation divided by political discord. Some propose that the only viable response of the Christian is either to prepare for battle against the tides of culture, or to retreat to the outskirts of mainstream society, both for the sake of preserving their heritage and convictions as Christians. Perhaps Christians and society at large would benefit more from an option that synthesizes the values that are found in both: offering a markedly Christian proposal that engages contemporary society that also maintains an ascetical dimension of detachment from …

The Deacon’s Wife: Exploring Her Role in the Catholic Church

“How wonderful the bond . . . one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service!” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], §1642) The identity of the wife of the permanent deacon exists in a uniquely uncharacterized, uncategorized reality. Examining both universal and national declarations and norms only validates the difficulty of finding any substantive (certainly, any consistent) theological understanding of this most particular relationship between Marriage and Holy Orders, wife and husband.[1] Indeed, while this most relevant dynamic has been addressed in part, it remains a lacuna within the theological tradition of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Whereas the husband in this marriage is ontologically changed by the sacrament of Holy Orders, which confers upon him “an imprint that cannot be removed and configures [him] to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all” (CCC §1570), the wife in this marriage does not in any capacity participate in this particular sacramental characterization. Even as husband and wife “are no longer two, but one flesh,” (Mt 19:6, …

Rediscovering Hope

Always be ready to give a reason for your hope. (1 Pet 3:15) As children of God, all Christians are called to proclaim boldly the truth of Christ. Far too often, however, Christians are reluctant to explain the Church’s teachings. We are found apologizing for or even watering down the truth, especially those truths relating to morality and man’s search for love. What is the reason for this reluctance? Perhaps modern man seems too faithless to receive the truth. Perhaps the Church’s teachings seem too difficult to accept. Or perhaps we have forgotten that to give truth is the greatest charity. Perhaps we have forgotten that with every invitation to virtue, God gives us the strength to achieve greatness. Perhaps, we have forgotten hope. St. Thomas Aquinas defines hope as a theological virtue by which man, relying on God’s strength, seeks an arduous but possible good.[1] In a fast-paced society of immediate gratification, man’s appreciation of the arduous or difficult good has fallen by the wayside. He prefers immediate pleasure to future greatness. The Church’s …

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 …