All posts tagged: spirituality

An Academic Program for Exploring the Divine Healing Touch in Medicine

The greatest challenge facing the academic health center community is to restore the marriage between humanistic concerns and scientific and technical excellence in health care delivery practices. —R.J. Bulger, The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2000 I came across this quote from Bulger in his article “The Quest for a Therapeutic Organization” while teaching an undergraduate seminar at the University of Michigan, where I am currently a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Bulger’s words so moved me that his declaration has since become my professional mission statement. Bulger’s choice of words like “restore” and “marriage” invokes a sense of something sacred which has been broken. “Humanistic concerns” bring to mind a sense of the divine’s presence in mankind, which has been long forgotten. The undergraduate seminar I taught was called “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Themes of Medicine in the Old and New Testament.” The title of the course was taken from Psalm 139 where David expresses awe for his maker, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my …

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 …

Alexander Schmemann’s Rejection of Orthodoxism

Alexander Schmemann’s writing is responsible for the structure of my discussion. I do not mean he spoke to me in my sleep or met me over the Ouija board, I mean that I have long wished to explore one of his clearer statements about what liturgical theology is, and am grateful to this forum for the opportunity to do so. I began by re-immersing myself in his thought by reading articles I had not previously read when I was more narrowly focused on my dissertation topic. It was a risk to return to an author who was so important to me over three decades ago—will I find him passé? Will my interests have moved on? I am happy to report that Schmemann is as stimulating and fruitful as he ever was. Schmemann tells us himself that the most characteristic thing about his thinking is the reunification of liturgy, theology, and piety. When the latter two are divorced from the former one, then theology “is imprisoned in its own ‘data’ and ‘propositions,’ and having eyes does …

The Post-Liberal Spirituality of John Rawls

The discovery and publication of John Rawls’s senior thesis can be compared to the impact of the early writings of Karl Marx. It was only with the appearance of the latter that readers could gain an appreciation of the humanist roots of Marxian thought that, in its mature formulation, was centered more narrowly on economic theory. A similar pattern applies to the ever more rigorous elaborations of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice that, despite their prolixity, never quite capture the inspiration from which his thought springs. The relatively recent publication of A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith[1] enables us to glimpse the long submerged origin in one of its most touchingly unguarded moments. We are led into the inner hidden Rawls, and begin to see a whole new way of perceiving this emblematic figure of contemporary liberal political thought. Of course this is not to suggest that the “discoverer,” Eric Gregory, or the editor, Thomas Nagel, have let us in on a secret that ought not to have seen the light …

I Will Not Leave You Orphans

Even as our days remain filled with many activities, we can still remain close to God, we can still “abide” with him (Jn 15:4).To remain with him we need to develop a habit of love: hospitality toward his coming in love throughout the day. Of course, we need to go to the Blessed Sacrament to pray, but we also need to learn how to receive his love throughout the course of a workday or during family commitments. In order to receive his love, we need to be affectively vulnerable toward him and become adept at noticing when he comes to us within these affective movements of love. How do we maintain our availability? Married couples will oftentimes fill their workplaces with photos or reminders of their spouse so that, throughout the day, they can emotionally connect with one another by glancing at these icons, even if only for a short moment. The heart in love wants to stay connected with the one it loves. God loves us and so he too wishes to initiate an …

Abp. Fulton Sheen’s Eucharistic Spirituality

Perhaps no other prelate in the history of the United States could rival the positive impact of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979) upon the work of evangelization in the United States. A household name in Catholic and non-Christian households alike, Sheen authored approximately 70 books in his lifetime, and he captivated millions of Americans through his newspaper columns and broadcasts on radio and television in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. It was not unusual for the mail he received to average 15,000 to 25,000 letters per day,[1] and it was estimated that thirty million people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, tuned in to his programming each week.[2] His message was both simple and profound: Jesus Christ must be at the center of everything. To what can we attribute Sheen’s success in proclaiming the Gospel in his work toward revitalizing the religious landscape of the United States? The key to Sheen’s success was his profound Eucharistic spirituality. We will focus on two things: 1) providing an introduction to Sheen’s Eucharistic spirituality by demonstrating the central …

Why Would Young People Want to Remain Catholic?

“This was like the synod for the American Church.” This remark came from one of the more than 20 bishops[1] during a closing conversation for the Cultures of Formation conference hosted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life and cosponsored by the USCCB committee on doctrine. It was a breathtaking three days. Some 550 registered participants and a few hundred more unregistered attendees considered the profound issues, the pressing needs, and the most ambitious hopes for what Pope Francis has asked the whole Church to focus its attention: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” While those of us who were in attendance will be unpacking what we heard and discussed for months and years to come, those who were not able to attend can sign-up for free follow-up resources, including a forthcoming digital conference, on the conference webpage. Since a comprehensive rundown of the whole conference would likely require at least an entire book if not a multivolume series, I would like to offer six initial reflections both to remind those of us who …

The Very Human Fears of the Saints

“Am I to stay here alone?” This question, posed by Servant of God Lucia Santos to the Blessed Mother during a 1917 Fatima apparition, introduced a raw, intimate urgency to their dialogue. Having just been informed that her two cousins and fellow seers, Jacinta and Francisco, would soon succumb to illness and pass into communion with God, Lucia learns of her own mission to remain on earth, continuing a hidden life of prayer and evangelization. Her immediate, reactionary question reveals a fundamental human, and particularly Christian, insecurity.[1] Created for communion with God and with one another, the fear of abandonment—of being left to face our existential realities alone—lingers in the recesses of the human heart, surfacing during times of insecurity, transition, and uncertainty. It is tempting, at times, to convince ourselves that saints like Lucia were somehow exempt from these human insecurities. Perhaps the saints were granted a sort of supernatural clarity to dispel crippling doubts and inhibitions, or a keen sense of spiritual sight that allowed them to identify and respond to human need, …

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 …

The Body in Early Monasticism

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” It was with the inspiration of this Gospel passage that St. Antony the Great took off to the deserts of Egypt to begin a life of arduous asceticism. Antony, who is commonly attributed the title of “founder of Christian monasticism,” and his legacy have continued to provoke new questions over the past seventeen hundred years. What exactly motivated him to move out to the desert? Who had preceded him, both before the coming of Christ and after? To what extent did later monastic fathers and mothers follow his example, and to what extent did they diverge from it? And ultimately, were his motivations and lifestyle choice authentic to the Gospel? Many critics of early Church monasticism will point to Manichean and dualistic tendencies in the teachings and practices of these desert fathers and mothers. The shift from eremitic to cenobitic monasticism after the time of Antony, initiated by figures like Pachomios and Basil, …