All posts filed under: Theology

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 …

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, …

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 …

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 …

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 …

The Saint of Calcutta: Mother Teresa and the Pain of Joy

On September 4, 2016, the woman who claimed that if she ever became a saint she would “surely be one of ‘darkness’”[1] will enter the canon of the Church in broad daylight, for all the world to see. Till the end of the age, the universal name of charity that was “Mother Teresa” will become “Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” With the possible exception of St. John Paul II, no saint in the history of the Church has been known by so many people at the time of canonization, which makes the holiness of this saint both more available for observation and more difficult to discern. Knowing more about someone is not the same as knowing them well and in coming to know Mother Teresa as Saint Teresa, we are asked to deepen our knowledge of her according to her holiness, which her very public persona both hides and discloses. If she is a saint of darkness she is also a saint of joy. Yet, knowing her as the one in darkness and the one in …

Augustine: Saint of Suspicion

Saint of Suspicion! Wow! It’s kind of a suspicious title! Does it actually mean anything? I have my suspicions, and perhaps you do too, but we will have to put them on hold for now, laying aside the hermeneutic of suspicion, which is never to be applied to the one making claim to it, after all, and replace it with the hermeneutic of trust, until the appropriate time. This presentation is actually about the meaning of life. Yes, I am actually going to reveal the meaning of life, in a simple, declaratory sentence, without any admission fee, tuition, or other compensation. Perhaps you are suspicious of that claim! Both the claim that I can reveal the meaning of life in one simple sentence, and also the claim that I am doing it for no compensation at all. Perhaps you are thinking, true, he isn’t charging admission or looking to be paid, but perhaps he is hoping we will praise him, clap for him, cheer and acclaim him for such an accomplishment. After all, just as it’s …

Moral Virtue, The Grace of God, and Discipleship

Moral theology has traditionally explored how people act in the world (“moral”) in the context of their faith in God (“theology”). This volume purposely examines morality in the context of Christian belief. What difference does faith make in how a person lives his or her life? Surely a person of faith engages in certain distinctive activities, such as going to church, praying, and reading the Bible. But what about the myriad of activities that all people partake in every day, such as eating, facing difficulties, exchanging goods, and making decisions? Does the person of faith engage in these activities with the same “morality” as everyone else? As is already clear, a life of discipleship is not simply about performing certain types of actions. It is a vocation, a transformation of one’s very self. Such a transformation of course impacts how we act. The primary question for this chapter is, how does discipleship, a life of following Jesus, transform not only who we are but also how we act in this world? The ancient notion of …

On Teaching Christianity

Did you ever wonder how the Apostle Paul might have been evangelized? He gives us a hint in a famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3–5) Paul here talks about what he “received”—you might say, the “information,” the basics of the Christian proclamation. As he says, he also “delivered” this or “handed it down” to the Corinthians in evangelizing or catechizing them in turn. This little catechetical formula is the basis for Paul’s long reflection and exhortation in 1 Corinthians 15 regarding the resurrection of the dead. Faith in Christ’s Resurrection implies hope for a resurrection of our own, for Christ is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:20). After reflecting with them on the hope implied …