All posts filed under: Theology

Catholic Disagreements and the Catechism’s 25th Anniversary

This year marks the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s 25th anniversary, and I believe its silver year is one worth celebrating. I realize that my estimation is not shared by all in pastoral ministry nor in the academy. The word “catechism” elicits disdain for some, evoking preconciliar memories of rote memorization of endless questions and answers, an overly cognitive approach to religious education, and days marked by clericalism and passivity in the laity. Underlying these are problems more theological in nature: a universal catechism seems incongruent with a world marked by cultural relativism, and it manifests, or so the claim goes, an ill-conceived and outdated understanding of revelation as static and propositional. Isn’t the “universal” a Platonic leftover from earlier days, now understood only to be manifest in the particular? Or, more extremely, does universal truth even exist at all? Furthermore, isn’t truth subject to praxis, the only way of semi-empirically verifying the claims of any person or authority? These concerns are legitimate in the sense that those who voice them often do so from …

The Body in Early Monasticism

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” It was with the inspiration of this Gospel passage that St. Antony the Great took off to the deserts of Egypt to begin a life of arduous asceticism. Antony, who is commonly attributed the title of “founder of Christian monasticism,” and his legacy have continued to provoke new questions over the past seventeen hundred years. What exactly motivated him to move out to the desert? Who had preceded him, both before the coming of Christ and after? To what extent did later monastic fathers and mothers follow his example, and to what extent did they diverge from it? And ultimately, were his motivations and lifestyle choice authentic to the Gospel? Many critics of early Church monasticism will point to Manichean and dualistic tendencies in the teachings and practices of these desert fathers and mothers. The shift from eremitic to cenobitic monasticism after the time of Antony, initiated by figures like Pachomios and Basil, …

Building the Theandric City: Liturgy and the Consummation of Humanity

In the beginning, God placed human beings in the world and commanded them to build a city. Before the Fall, that city had already been born. The city is the mode of humankind’s communal, liturgical, and economic life in the world, and its essence was contained in the telos given by God to humanity—to rule and to use the world justly, to tend the garden, to name the world, and to fill it with images of God. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28)—these are God’s first words to humanity, the exordium of the blessing that gave to them the entire world.[1] All the just elements of the village, the town, and the city are simply an unfolding of this primordial mission. God made human beings a political animal, ruling and using the world in community. As creatures of both body and soul, they were also the mediators between God and matter. This was to be a priestly polis. By craft, speech, and relationship, humankind would integrate all people …

“That All May Be One”: Cultural Unity in Shared Parishes

The Catholic Church of the United States has always been diverse. Ever since the conception of this country people from many different lands and cultures have come here to begin a new life. America became known as the breeding ground for an encounter of cultures because never before in human history had so many different people come into contact with each other in one country. Certainly, this diversity spread into the Catholic Church. The Church, too, became the grounds of cultural encounter, and it was the work of the Church that helped these encounters take place. We find ourselves in no different of a situation today in our country. With the influx of Latinos all throughout the U.S., parishes once again are the places of interaction between two cultures and the Church will have to wrestle with how to allow this interaction to happen. The following is my attempt to offer some suggestions to help think about how Latinos and Anglos can better interact together and form a better unity in the U.S. Church, a …

Actualizing Baptism: The Font of Lay Authority

It seems the common experience of most lay people today in the United States Catholic Church that they are disengaged from the liturgical celebration unless made a part of an active ministry (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Lector, Greeter, etc.). Yet, the documents of the Second Vatican Council point to the essential activity of the laity, whether part of an active ministry or not. The laity seem to have lost a rightful sense of authority when celebrating the liturgy. They see themselves as passive participants instead of active members of a Church communio. The decline in Mass attendance or engagement may be connected to this shallow self-understanding of lay identity that has seeped its way into the consciousness of so many Catholics. The rich rights and obligations of the laity articulated in the Code of Canon Law (CC 208ff.) spurred this essay, which seeks to flesh out a rightful authority of the baptized at liturgical celebration as baptismal priest and suggest a catechetical method for actualizing this authority. Baptismal Theology In Lumen Gentium, The Constitution …

Cruciform Beauty: Icon and Pattern of Self-Giving Love

Of the many images that have found artistic expression in Christianity, the Crucifixion of Jesus is perhaps the most powerful. Representations of the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Madonna and Child have the capacity to inspire awe-filled contemplation of the Incarnation; however, few images in these categories can utterly arrest the gaze of the viewer in the same manner as the image of Jesus on the Cross. The image of the Crucifixion in all its awful glory invites and even demands the viewer to pause for a moment to consider the weight of human sin and the depths of divine love that fastened the God-man to the Cross. It is the paradox of the Cross—the mystery that the Son of God dies so that we might have life and remains glorious as God even in his horrific death as man—that has inspired artists for centuries, and each artist in his or her own way must grapple with how they will portray this pivotal moment in human history: does one emphasize the unimaginable physical sufferings of …

Holy Fools and Clowns: Artistic Re-imaginings of the Humbled-Exalted Christ

God descended into the world to overcome what it had become by the fall of human beings; by this descent into creation, the Son—all powerful God, all knowing Divine—humbled himself so to be made empty according to the human condition he assumed. The biblical source of early Christian reflection on the kenoticism of Christ, likely in the medium of a creedal hymn, is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The apostle instructs the Christian community at Philippi to imitate Jesus Christ by remaining ever in the very same mind (φρονεῖτε) as that of “Christ Jesus. . . . . . who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that …

Marriage as Mission: The Implications of the Charism of Marriage

The role of the Holy Spirit in the nuptial union of a couple can be understood in light of the charism given to the couple by the Spirit. It is this gift that the couple is called to give back to the Church through participation in her mission. Grounded in the baptismal identity of all Christians, the charism of marriage implies that the baptismal vocation will be taken up in the nuptial and familial life of the couple. Practicing this form of participation in the mission of the Church includes the call to evangelize in real ways, concretely through the social doctrines of the Church. Thus, the charism of marriage should be considered in marriage formation as couples learn to foster their charism and discern its implications in their own lives. We can then consider: If marriage formation was approached as a fostering of charism, how might the identity and role of married persons and their families in the Church evolve? As the charism of marriage implies a mission in marriage, how might this new …

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 …

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 …