All posts tagged: ecclesiology

The World Was Made for the Sake of the Church

 A version of this paper, “The Baptismal Vocation in the Light of Vocational Discernment of Young People,” was delivered at the USCCB general meeting on June 14, 2017. Each mystery of the faith, like a rare gemstone, has many facets from which its beauty radiates out. It is tempting to try to treat them all at once, and yet sometimes it is better to choose one of these facets as a focus, and thereby to better appreciate the beauty of the whole. That is what I have chosen to attempt here with you. With regard to the baptismal vocation, I am sure you will all immediately recall that by Baptism we are given a share in Christ’s own vocation, in his priesthood, and in his prophetic and royal mission (see CCC §1268). Baptism is one of the sacraments that we say leaves an indelible “mark” or “character” on the soul. When I was a kid I tried to picture what this mark looked like, but, of course, it is not a literal mark, but an …

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 …

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. …

The Saint for a Troubled Church

With so many issues troubling the Church and world at large, it can often be a difficult to get a grasp on these problems and identify practical solutions. But there is a Saint who faced similar challenges in his own time who can help us realize the grace and peace that God has given us. Saint Bonaventure joined the Franciscan order and was an academic by training, but he was also a great preacher and confessor. Recognized as a man of wisdom and talent, at the age of 36, he was elevated to the post of Minister General of the Order, a position he held for nearly 17 years, before being named Cardinal. One of the Doctors of the Church, Bonaventure is an remarkable spiritual master and theologian, but also a fantastic administrator and leader, who can help us chart a path that both clings to the Gospel ideals of Jesus, but also recognizes the importance of moving in the direction of the current times of the world. He is a great exemplar for us …

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 …

Dissecting Jesus

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ . . . and the Mystical Body of Christ is the Church. I cannot remember the number of times I had to explain this to my ecclesiology classes: “The Church is . . . ?” (Without alacrity) “. . . the Mystical Body of Christ.” While this was our hymn in ecclesiology, I hoped that my students would find themselves saying this as they did their homework, prayed, or most especially, when they had the opportunity to evangelize. But an oft-repeated statement reared its proverbial ugly head every month or so: “I don’t need the Church to be close to Jesus.” (On one occasion I quipped, “You don’t need a parachute to jump out of an airplane, but it helps.”) In our globalized society, we are used to a brisk work or school environment, fast food, and virtually unbridled capitalism. In our free market of ideas, we have the option to pick and choose what appeals to us. Especially in a post-modern context, the unchangeable Truth which …