All Saints: A Public Feast

On the Solemnity of All Saints, we stop to remember that salvation is not something that belongs primarily to me or to you. Salvation belongs to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the City of God, and we are saved by joining that august community. Even though my friendship with Jesus is closer than any other, still my union with him is union in his body. Consequently, the Solemnity of All Saints resists being a merely private affair.

This is one reason why I love our yearly public procession. Students, faculty, and staff of Wyoming Catholic College gather downtown and parade through Main Street and up to the parish church with the Eucharist in the lead. We sing songs and walk, old and young, big and little. Continue reading “All Saints: A Public Feast”

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An Introduction to the Gospel of John

Over the past few months, I have been using thinklikeaquinas.com to post content for my undergraduate theology students.  So far we have been working our way through Aquinas’s Compendium of Theology, and I have posted short introductions to the chapters. 

Our past two classes have been devoted to particular themes in the Gospel of John.  Today, I posted a half-hour lecture offering a general introduction to John’s Gospel, together with a .pdf of my outline of how I think the text is organized.  Some of you may be interested, so I thought I’d link to it from this, my main blog:

One and Triune God
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A first look at Charles Taylor

Some friends and I have begun a series of conversations about Charles Taylors’ enormous book, A Secular Age.  Taylor first defines “secularity” in terms of the “conditions of belief,” that is, what made it hard not to believe in God 400 years ago as compared to what makes it hard to believe in God today.  He begins by describing the pre-modern consciousness and contrasting it with the modern consciousness, and then spends about 600 pages (practically a page per year) narrating the change from one to the other. Continue reading “A first look at Charles Taylor”

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Hands blessed for blessing

A crack runs through the sanctuary of God,
     a crevice across the floor,
     spewing smoke from under the altar;
The crack widens into a chasm,
     the crevice into an abyss,
     belching clouds to hide the heavens.
From the blackness emerges a scorpion,
     a locust with sting in its tail,
     and takes its stand at the altar;
From the deep creeps a face like a man’s,
     a head with hair like a woman’s,
     and presides over the mystery of ages.
Locusts swarm over locusts,
     the mass of scorpions writhes,
     it kindles a coarse fire.
Locusts entangled with locusts,
     scorpion legs around scorpion tails,
     in a fire that burns but does not warm,
     a fire that consumes but gives no light,
          and they smile with teeth like a human’s.
The people shuffle into the Temple,
     they drag their feet into the sanctuary;
     they are obliged to Mass every Sunday.
They come like lambs to the slaughter,
     they breathe the smoke and the ashes;
     there is no other path to communion.

Lord, Lord, if I could only look away. Continue reading “Hands blessed for blessing”

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Basic Catholicism in a Crisis

As the crisis surrounding Cardinal McCarrick and the Vigano letters unfolds, I have not said much.  For the most part, my thoughts have already been put out there by others, and to be honest, I’m too tired most of the time to write something fresh. But as I see more evidence that Catholics in the trenches are feeling their faith shudder under the impact of cascading revelations of corruption among Church officials, I think it might be good to review just a couple of basic points of Catholic belief.

Now, let’s be clear: I think the crisis is big. In fact, I am personally inclined to think that a tremendous punishment is looming over the Church, and I am inclined to think that the current crisis is the tip of that punishment.  Preparation for next week’s classes required that I re-read the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, and I felt chills run up and down my spine.  But still and all, we have to keep our heads.  So, two basic points:

1. The validity of a sacrament does not depend on the personal holiness of the priest. 

This was hammered out in the Donatist crisis way back in the time of St. Augustine.  Jesus has given us the sacraments as channels of grace, and he was not so stupid as to make the efficacy of the sacrament depend on whether the priest is in a state of grace or not.  If the sacrament of Baptism depended on the priest’s personal state of grace, for example, then no one could be sure of being baptized.  You just can’t know from outward appearances whether a priest is in a state of grace–as we are re-discovering in a rather dramatic fashion.

So even when Cardinal McCarrick was abusing seminarians and doing whatever horrid things he did, the sacraments he celebrated were real sacraments.  He himself increased his own guilt by celebrating them, but the people who received the Eucharist from him really did receive the body and blood of Jesus.  (I received the Eucharist from McCarrick, so this is not an abstract statement for me.)

2. The pope’s teaching authority does not depend on his personal holiness. 

Whatever you think of Pope Francis, to the degree that he engages his papal office, to that degree his teachings have authority.  There have been some truly stinky popes in history who nonetheless left us authoritative teachings.  Jesus was not so stupid as to make the authority of the Magisterium depend on the state of grace of the bishops.

So yes, Pope Francis has taught some things with real authority.  As annoying as it is that Cupich seemed to rank environmental concerns over care for abuse victims, still and all, Pope Francis’s statements about the environment mostly continue and confirm statements made by the two previous popes.  The fact that Pope Francis devoted an encyclical to the issue gives real magisterial clout to the Church’s position on the environment.

Surprisingly, Pope Francis has not engaged his authority to any great degree on a lot of divisive issues.  Amoris Laetitia has a low rank among magisterial documents, and is easily overshadowed by previous documents.  Even the change to the Catechism on the death penalty is a low-level intervention, technically speaking.  In theory, Pope Francis could have issued a papal bull with “I define, declare, and decree” and so on and so forth on any issue he wanted, so it is remarkable how little he has actually engaged his authority in this stormy pontificate.

Amidst the real calamity, let’s keep our heads.  The crisis does not trace back to Pope Francis: Our Lady of Fatima was warning people to do penance for sexual impurity way back in the nineteen teens.  And Jesus knew these kinds of times were coming.  Worse times are probably still to come.  But let’s keep on frequenting the sacraments and reverencing the authority of the Magisterium.  Just because the world has gone crazy doesn’t mean you have to.

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Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate

Catholics debating the death penalty generally do a bad job with Scripture.  One side of the debate cites isolated texts, leaving themselves open to the accusation that they cannot see the texts in relation to the whole thrust of Scripture.  The other side of the debate refers vaguely to “the Gospel” as a way to avoid dealing with any particular text of Scripture at all.  Neither side appears to have a living relationship with God’s word.

I can’t work through all the relevant texts on this blog, but I would like to offer an example of what’s possible by dealing with the big text everyone mentions:  Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”  I have already dealt with the context of this verse at greater length elsewhere, but I was not talking about the death penalty then.  Here I’ll condense the discussion to highlight what is most relevant to the death penalty issue. Continue reading “Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate”

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Dr. John Joy on the new Catechism text

Dr. John Joy has written such a fine piece on the Catechism controversy that I wanted to dedicate an entire post just to linking to it.  He tracks my own thought quite closely:

It is hard to avoid the conclusion, therefore, that this text suffers from serious ambiguity (inasmuch as it seems to be open to multiple interpretations) or even incoherence (inasmuch as it seems to assert contradictory propositions).

Do read the entire article: The Magisterial Weight of the New Text of the Catechism on the Death Penalty.

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The Church’s merely prudential judgments

One thing I just love about Pope Francis is that he makes us think about how the Magisterium works.  I have seen more claims this way and that about what is or is not magisterial or authoritative since he began his pontificate than in the decade previous.

With regard to his recent change to the Catechism, my old classmate Alan Fimister has argued this way:  if it is not a change in doctrine then it is merely a prudential change, but if it is merely a prudential change then it is outside the purview of the Magisterium: Continue reading “The Church’s merely prudential judgments”

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How standards of justice can change

In a previous post, I said that what was not an attack on human dignity in one situation could be in another. I further claimed that such could be the case with the death penalty. I think I owe it to anyone reading to go back and flesh out what I had in mind.

St. Thomas has an interesting perspective on the purposes of punishment in any human community (thanks to Fr. Joseph Bolin for collecting these texts): Continue reading “How standards of justice can change”

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Justice and Punishment

A few thoughts occurred to me last night about the death penalty debate. Leaving open the ultimate prudential question of whether the death penalty can be morally used in our time, I want to examine the arguments used in the CDF’s letter explaining the recent change to the Catechism. (Please see my last post for context.)

The central thread in this debate is justice.  Now, justice only exists between rational creatures, i.e., creatures made in the image of God.  We don’t seek to restore the scales of justice against a tree that fell on someone. We try to prevent animals from stealing, but we do not incarcerate them for it.  Justice has to do with the relationships between persons as such. Continue reading “Justice and Punishment”

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