All posts tagged: ecclesial imagination

Recent Reports on Sino-Vatican Negotiations Raise Many Complicated Questions

In recent months Catholics in China had anticipated the upcoming February 1 implementation of the government’s new, stricter regulations on religion with a sense of foreboding, viewing them as the regime’s attempt to achieve two goals with regard to China’s divided Catholic Church: 1) to greatly increase its already strong control over the “official” (government-recognized) church, and 2) to eradicate the activities of the “unofficial” or underground church though fines and prohibiting their gatherings (presumably stopping them by force, whereas they had previously often turned a blind eye), with the goal of eliminating it altogether by forcing it to amalgamate with the official church. I should note at the outset that virtually everything in China is complicated, and government policies are not uniformly applied and enforced the same way in all circumstances throughout the country. Understanding these events requires some background which is beyond the scope of this article, but I have provided elsewhere.[1] Simply hearing that an “underground Church” still exists in China naturally raises questions for Catholics in the West: what is it …

Petrine Primacy: Who Can Speak on Behalf of the Orthodox Church?

Concerning the question of whether the Orthodox Church needs a primus, and especially at the universal level, I will appeal to a personal experience. In 2005, I was given permission to attend the deliberations of the International Joint Commission on the Theological Dialogue between the two churches, which convened, after a hiatus, in Belgrade. I remember how that experience led me to the paradoxical realization that the Orthodox churches cannot unite with Rome as long as they are not united with Rome. What I mean by this paradox is that the very absence of the authority that a primus would have exercised at the pan-Orthodox level hinders the efforts of remedying this institutional lacuna. In other words, the fact that the Orthodox churches today refuse to recognize a Rome-like primacy among themselves becomes the major problem in their dialogue with Rome. Episcopal Equality For one of the fundamental presuppositions of any dialogue, especially a theological dialogue, is consistency. The demand for consistency is related, in my opinion, to the question of authority. Who can speak …

The Fear of Catholic Contamination at the Heart of American Individualism

Gothic fiction, the fiction of fear, has long been identified as paradoxically central to the literary tradition of the United States. Early exhortative texts such as the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography clearly articulated an optimistic national narrative of rational, self-interested individuals escaping past tyranny to progress confidently together into an expansive future. By contrast, the Gothic fictions of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison have depicted nightmarish threats to national ideals, inherent flaws in those ideals and their implementation, or both—thereby radically challenging “America’s self-mythologization as a nation of hope and harmony.” Such is the critical consensus. What scholars have failed to recognize adequately is the recurrent role in such fiction of a Catholicism that consistently threatens to break down borders separating U.S. citizens—or some representative “American”—from the larger world beyond. This role has in part reflected enduring fears of the faith in Anglo-American culture. British Gothic fiction originated in the eighteenth century as what one scholar pointedly deemed Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition, …

The Myth of Original Christianity and the Holy Sepulcher’s Immovable Ladder

“The Holy Land”—the modern state of Israel and the West Bank—is a space sacred not for its singularity in relation to the rest of the globe, but rather for its iconic representation of the human drama, condensed into a pressure cooker of 27,736 square kilometers or 10,709 square miles. To provide a sense of scale: Texas is 268,597 square miles, New York State is 54,556 square miles, and Indiana is 36,418 square miles. Located in the heart of this Maryland-sized plot of land, the Old City of Jerusalem takes up a mere 0.9 square kilometers or 0.35 square miles. Within this city, whose area is one-fifth the size of the University of Notre Dame’s campus, there is a piecemeal basilica-church which occupies approximately 0.007 square kilometers or 0.003 square miles. Since Constantine reclaimed it for the local Christian community in the 4th century, that church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, has been a keenly cherished destination for Christian pilgrims. Just as Israel/Palestine is a crux for crises wrought by human frailty and power compressed …

Bestowing Charity Hastily

Mary of Nazareth is at once the Mother of God and the first, perfect disciple of her son. In her willingness to patiently await the arrival of God’s word in her life, and her subsequent haste in acting upon God’s word, Mary enfolds the pattern of receiving and responding to the Lord within her hidden life of grace. Those who devote themselves to Mary discover the beauty of this hidden life, learning to receive as she receives and respond as she responds. Two of the most beloved modern saints discovered their own sanctity in this Marian rhythm: Thérèse of Lisieux and Teresa of Calcutta. Childhood devotions to the Blessed Mother shaped the religious imaginations of both Thérèse and Teresa, resulting in a vivid comprehension of Mary as a living mother whose beauty calls for a response of the body and soul. Both proceeded to pattern their lives after Mary, maintaining a posture of generosity to the Lord, participating in the “hasty” bestowal of charity, and thereby experiencing a foretaste of the eternal joy of divine …

This Is What You Get When Politics Invades Our Ecclesial Lives

There are millions of Catholics who believe that abortion should be legally available and whose political ideology can only be described as contemporary American liberalism. Likewise, there are millions of Catholics who favor only minimal regulations on the market and reject economic redistribution and whose political ideology can clearly be identified as contemporary American conservatism. In both cases, the views of these Catholics are indistinguishable from non-Catholic Americans who share their respective ideology. Is it wrong to identify them as such? Does it undermine the fundamental unity of the Church? Does it place their political identity above their identity as a member of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church? I would argue that such labels are both accurate and useful, at least for those who study and write about politics. When politics invades our personal lives and we can only be friends with those who share our political orientation, then something is deeply wrong. Our political ideology occupies too much of our identity, and our emotional development has been blocked by obstacles we should …

What Can Catholicism Still Draw from the Wells of Ecumenism?

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began as the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908, eight days of prayer stretching from January 18 (Feast of the Confession of St Peter in some Anglican and Lutheran Churches) to January 25 (Feast of the Conversion of St Paul). Like all things in time, it has gone through many changes. It is fitting that the feast began with confession and conversion, because what I most hope for Catholics from the modern ecumenical movement is called confessional conversion. I want us to become more Catholic and more catholic. Confessional conversion is an ecumenical process that honors the distinctive gifts of each traditional strand of Christianity while working towards one visible church of Christ, diverse and one, like the Trinity. The Groupe des Dombes, an ecumenical movement that has been praying together for 80 years, has described this conversion in For the Conversion of the Churches. Jesus Christ is always calling to his people, and this call is realized at three inseparable levels: personal conversion, ecclesial conversion, and confessional conversion. Personal Conversion I didn’t grow up …

African Catholicism: The Birth of the Liturgical Vernacular in Igboland

Catholic missionary efforts on the shores of Nigeria began with an initial attempt by Portuguese missionaries in the 15th and 16th centuries. Though their first attempt was unsuccessful, these missionaries persisted and in the 19th Century, there was a successful expansion of Christian missions in Nigeria. [1]  By the 1800’s, various parts of Nigeria had a rooted Catholic Mission presence. In Southeast Nigeria, Igbo Catholicism began with the arrival of Father Lutz at Onitsha in 1885, and thrived with the efforts of Bishop Joseph Shanahan (1905-1931), and Archbishop Charles Heerey (1927-1967). The mission was dire, as these men had no knowledge of Igbo (the language the people spoke) and were unable to grasp the deep and sui generis religiosity embedded in the cultural life of the people. With resilience and perseverance however, the missionaries ultimately succeeded in sowing the seed of the new faith in the hearts of a people that have since become harbingers of Catholicism in parts far beyond Igboland. In general, the advent of Catholicism in Igboland is divided into three phases. The first phase …

Salvation Cannot Occur in Isolation

One of the most striking aspects of Pope Francis’s ministry is his constant insistence that “the Church must step outside herself,” and foster a “culture of encounter” with others.[1] The essential insight of this mission is the recognition that others “all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God.”[2] Pope Francis’s theological focus on dialogue and encounter presents a hermeneutic for interpreting and realizing the vision of the Church set out by the Second Vatican Council. In this regard, he is indebted to the theologians who preceded and shaped the Council, especially those who emphasized a return to the early Christian sources, a movement known as Ressourcement. Although he rarely utilizes direct quotations, Pope Francis’s words reflect the language and ethos of the ressourcement theologians. In particular, several key concepts and themes from the work of Henri de Lubac, a fellow Jesuit and explicitly recognized as a significant influence by Pope Francis, consistently reoccur in the pope’s theology.[3] According to de Lubac, humanity’s vocation is essentially communal. …

Whence Comes the Arresting Sorrow of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa?

At Jasna Góra There is David’s Ladder which Angels ascend and descend Holy envoys, reconciling man, With God.[1] Watching my three daughters during the Christmas season is not exactly a tranquil experience. What begins with an honest and innocent desire to play and re-tell the Christmas story using Playmobil or Fontanini nativity figurines ends up in a squabble over who gets to hold the kitschy statue of Mary and play with her (detachable!) veil, resulting in looks of self-satisfaction in the one who in the end possesses Mary, and tragic resentment on the part of those who are stuck with a dinky shepherd instead. Like my girls, I have been fascinated by this woman since my childhood. She has beckoned and drawn me, and waited for me, wherever it is that she has led me. When I encountered her in her home on Jasna Gora in Częstochowa at the age of nine, I knew she was my queen, my mother, my protectress, my patroness, and my advocate. But I did not know why. I found myself …