All posts filed under: Theology

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 …

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 …