All posts filed under: Theology

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 …

The Liturgy: Work of the Holy Trinity

It is well known that the reforms of the liturgy associated with Vatican II had as their goal greater participation on the part of all. Many things changed in the external celebration of the rites designed to facilitate this, and those changes have borne abundant fruit. But the renewal of the liturgy also wished to provide a fresh understanding of the meaning of the rites, a deeper theological grasp of what the words and the signs mean. And ultimately of what God does, what God accomplishes when the sacred liturgy is celebrated. Deepening this theological grasp is of immediate pastoral relevance, for it means greater interior and conscious participation in the rites themselves. This theological renewal is a work that we can take up anew, a question that continually needs our attention. This is the approach that The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes, and here I would like to show how useful some of its formulations are for a deepened understanding of the liturgy. After ten brief paragraphs that deal with preliminaries (CCC §§1066-1075), …

“Verbum Domini”: Preaching and the Personal Encounter with Christ

The Synod on the Word of God in October 2008 represented a theological and pastoral preparation for the Synod on the New Evangelization in 2012. Pope Benedict XVI begins the apostolic exhortation deriving from the former by expressing his desire “to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal” (Verbum Domini, §1). In the opening paragraphs he describes the experience of the gathered bishops as “a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.” From that vantage point he proceeds to “encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life—communion—can spread ever more fully throughout the world” (VD §2). Not surprisingly, these aims correspond directly to those of the New Evangelization. As Pope John Paul II made clear in an address to a group of German bishops: The new evangelization begins with the clear and emphatic proclamation of the gospel, …

Preaching as Worship: Progress and Ongoing Issues in Roman Catholicism

Introduction: The Catholic Turn of the Word The year is 1961. Father Smith, longtime Irish pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, has just concluded the reading of the Gospel—in Latin, of course. The people are seated, and Smith begins the announcements. “The Knights of Columbus will be having their monthly Fish Fry this Friday. . . . The Ladies’ Sodality is collecting canned goods for the poor. . . . Don’t forget the Rosary after the 6:30 a.m. Mass every Wednesday.” A long pause. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Another pause. Then the pastor launches into the sermon, the last of a series on the Ten Commandments, this one covering the Ninth and Tenth Commandments. Excoriating the materialism and acquisitiveness of modern American society, the priest works in a story about a Catholic high school boy with a pinup picture taped to the inside of his locker, leading to a stern reminder of the importance of regular Confession to cleanse sin from the soul. He …

Augustine’s Homiletic Meteorology

Augustine was a fantastic preacher. How do we know that? We get a glimpse of his popularity as a preacher from some of the asides that he addresses to his congregation. At the end of his “exposition” or sermon on Psalm 38, which runs twenty-five pages in English translation and would probably have taken about an hour to preach, Augustine tells his congregation, somewhat bluntly, “Well, brothers and sisters, if I have burdened and wearied you, put up with it, for this sermon has been hard work for me too.” Then he adds, “But in fact you have only yourselves to blame if you feel overworked, because if I felt you were getting bored with what was being said, I would stop immediately” (38.23, III/16, 193). We know that Augustine’s church often rocked with applause and cheers, and sometimes tears. Augustine’s hearers looked forward eagerly to his preaching. At the beginning of a twenty-seven page sermon, he remarks, “Indeed, I see that you are all agog, eager to understand the mysteries of this prophecy. Anything …

“Laudato Si'” and Environmental Works of Mercy

I am going to start at the section of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ that I found most troubling and work up from there. I must say that since there are a lot of troubling sections, it was hard to choose, but that being said, here is my pick: People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air conditioning. (§55) This is troubling to me because it corresponds to me exactly. I think it is fair to say that I have a “growing ecological sensitivity,” yes, even me, and yet I feel absolutely addicted to air conditioning and my addiction “appears to be growing all the more” as I get older. No passage impressed itself on my reluctance to change as much as this one. It made me feel the “summons to [the] profound interior conversion” that the “ecological crisis” represents (§217), …

Approaching a Theology of Womanhood Through the Door of Empathy

What does it mean to say, as Pope Francis did in 2013, that “we need to work harder to develop a more profound theology of the woman”?[1] For that matter, what would it mean to say that we need a more profound theology of manhood? For many in the Church today, particularly in the United States, this is a moot question, as even implying that there are essential differences between women and men is enough to spark a heated debate. Too often, however, a just advocacy for equality between men and women becomes a misguided quest for uniformity, resulting in articulations of difference and complementarity (to say nothing of gendered language) being stricken from the record in favor of a kind of neutered theological discourse. The problem with such an approach within the context of the Church is that it presumes that a person’s encounter with God is something that can be experienced, interpreted, and lived out apart from the body. However, whether we like it or not, we human beings are embodied creatures; therefore, …

Asceticism as Healing Art

Healing takes many different forms because it is a response to many different kinds of threats. A cut and a broken leg are each healed differently because the damage is different; nevertheless, the same end is sought in both cases. The root of the word “heal” in old English (haelan) means to cure, to save, to make whole, sound, and well. That must further explain why we can apply the word metaphorically to matters other than the physical body. We can say that both a heart attack and a broken heart must heal, although one is physical and the other spiritual. The sense that healing is required arises when we have the sensation that the whole is not sound, an integrity has been lost, a quality has been lessened by some damage. We are not wholesome. I am going to claim here that asceticism, as it is practiced in the Christian tradition, is a healing discipline. I am going to do so because asceticism also arises from the same sensation that something is not sound, …

Thomas More: Saint in a Time of Political and Cultural Crisis

Saints are lights; lights flash and flare, sometimes in their own time, and sometimes later as what was hidden comes to the light. The acceptance of this light is no more automatic than the acceptance of the most effulgent light of all, the Light of light who came into the world and shone in the darkness. When John says in the fourth Gospel that “the world knew him not” (Jn 1:10), he doesn’t mean literally that the world didn’t know him; he means rather that the world did not judge him properly, place the value on him that it should have. He is in fact saying that the world chose something other than the light, chose the routine in which we remain comfortable, accepted the low ceiling for our individual and social behavior. This is what darkness is; this is what ‘world’ is in John, not the Kingdom in which we behold beauty bathed in the light of the One who makes all things beautiful. To read the Gospel of John is to come to …