All posts filed under: Essays

Sacramentality of Time and Pastoral Asceticism of Presence

“Time is precious.” “My time is valuable.” “Time is money.” “Do you have any free time?” We have commodified time. We “spend time,” “save time,” “make time,” “waste time,” “kill time.” Time is the water we swim in, the air we breathe, and so we take it for granted. We forget that it is granted, that it is entrusted to us as a gift that we are to steward and return to our Giver. We have forgotten that the economy of time is woven tightly together with the economy of salvation, “as if,” in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “you could kill time without injuring eternity.”[1] Pastoral ministers of the Church, of all people, should know that we are made for eternity—that, though in time, we are not ruled by time. Yet we, too, live under what Charles Hummel calls “the tyranny of the urgent.”[2] Robert J. Wicks, author of Availability: The Challenge and the Gift of Being Present, writes: Some of us are ‘too available.’ Thus, true availability becomes watered down. We become …

The New Evangelization in Suburban Detroit: A Sociological Case Study

In response to Pope John Paul II’s call for Catholics to implement a New Evangelization (NE) in order to revitalize the Church, parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit have been attempting to implement the NE through the day-to-day efforts of parishioners, lay leaders, and pastors. In particular, beginning around 1992 and gaining momentum from around 2005 to at least 2012, evangelization committees increasingly have been formed in Detroit parishes as part of the broad push of the Catholic Church’s efforts at the NE. Among church leaders, professionals, and academics, it is often taken as common sense that if new ideas or policies need to be implemented, then they should set about the task of informing people through educational efforts. Yet field observations and the theorists I draw upon point in another direction. Rather than educational or implementation efforts guided primarily by rational communication and bureaucratic procedures, I observed affective/emotional communication and practices as more accessible, more widely shared, and as a more effective means of evangelization. In the case study that follows, participant observational methods …

Her Spell on Them Remains: A Father, A Son, and Notre Dame

In the year 2000, I took part in the Universal Notre Dame Celebration on a warm May morning in Washington. It began with the celebration of Mass in a function room of the Capitol Hill Hyatt and followed with brunch and an enthusiastic talk by assistant to the president Lou Nanni. I was surprised that the event concluded with the singing of the Alma Mater. The singing was a bit ragged, but everyone knew the words well enough to sing and I found myself deeply affected by the words and melody, as I always am. We sang the Alma Mater at my father’s funeral in December of 1993. I did not know for sure at the time that Notre Dame had an Alma Mater, one that was still in use, at any rate, but when I received word of Dad’s death, I knew that he would want it sung, if it existed, on this occasion. So I walked over to the house owned by the Congregation of the Holy Cross in the Berkeley hills to …

How to Talk to Young People about the Dangers of Pornography

As pornography becomes increasingly pervasive, the distinct divide between sacred image and profane picture is threatened; increasingly erotic images have less and less shock value. The previously middle ground between the two poles has been hijacked by “soft-core” pornography, which according to society, should no longer offend.[1] The day-to-day life of the modern person is fraught with pornographic images, as sacred or beautiful images, along with neutral images, are pushed out of the mind. What effect does this change in vision’s scenery cause in the human person, especially in the young child and adolescent? How can today’s parents, educators, and catechists properly form young children so that they might not fall prey to pornography? Theologians from Christianity’s beginnings have expressed the power found in viewing both icons and idols, and have much to say to today’s modern situation. A Christian understanding of idols, icons, images, and the transformative power of vision can uncover new tools for catechizing on pornography by closely examining the unique role that vision plays in the formation of the human self. …

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 …