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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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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Holy Saturday and the End of All Things

Holy Saturday has always been for me a day of subdued joy. It is not yet the day of resurrection, but we are past the time of agony; the contest has been decided, but the victor not yet announced.

The Christian’s life is one of following Christ’s pattern. Even though he was the Son of God in person, he took on himself weakness and weariness, a life of loneliness and wandering; even though we are baptized into the Trinity and have become adopted children of God, freed from the sin of our parents, we live this life in frailty and sorrow. Christ died as a sacrifice for the world’s sins, and then rose in triumph over death; we will all die in union with him, offering ourselves to God, and on the last day we will rise in the likeness of his risen glory.

But between our bodily death and the day of judgment, we will live in Holy Saturday. The world will be unaware of our victory in Christ. Our agony will be over, the time of weakness and loneliness gone, but our triumph will not yet be apparent.

Easter is when we pre-live the end of the all things. This may be one reason why so many people feel more emotion at Christmas time, which has become wrapped up with family and gifts and wreathes and trees and on and on: Christmas is more in this world, because recalls the entering of God into this our vail of tears, and it brings us the solace of Christ here with us now. Easter is more glorious in itself, and of course it commemorates something that has already happened, but Easter is more about the future. Right now we are alive in the spirit, but still dead in the flesh, as Christ was during his earthly life. Of course the risen Christ is brings the resurrection of our souls, but the fact is that our ultimate conformity to the risen Christ will come on a day whose glory we cannot yet comprehend, with a joy we cannot yet comprehend.

Today, we contemplate the end of everything familiar to us and the expectation of unimaginable glory. It is not quite sad, but not yet the exhilaration that awaits us—a few hours from now.

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Christ on the moral eye

As I prepared for my PEAK classes earlier this month, I was struck by how rich a fare the Sermon on the Mount offers in comparison with the homilies I have heard about it.  One good example is the saying about the speck in a brother’s eye (Matt 7:3-5):

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Every homily I have ever heard on this saying reduces it to one simple point:  we tend to notice others’ faults and not our own, so we should pay attention to our own faults instead of the faults of others.

True to the point of truism.  But the Lord’s words are denser than that.  I can spot at least three amazing truths tucked away in this short saying that go beyond the standard homily. Continue reading “Christ on the moral eye”

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The Structural Demands of Subsidiarity

One of the pleasures of teaching in a comprehensive theology program is that I often have to teach outside of my zones of specialization.  This spring I taught a senior-level course with lots of Catholic Social Teaching, a topic that somehow never came up in all my years of theological training.  It was only my second time to teach the course, so in many ways I was learning along with my students.

This time around, I saw more clearly the many implications of the famous “principle of subsidiarity,” classically defined in Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno:

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

Continue reading “The Structural Demands of Subsidiarity”

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A sensational account of heaven

In politics and other news, the world seems beleaguered and bleary.  It’s a great time to talk about heaven!

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The truth about elephants

We’ve all heard the story about the blind men who investigate an elephant.  But the story doesn’t mean what people think it does….

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How the Mass is a Sacrifice

This semester, students at WCC set their theology teachers a theme:  the liturgy.  Teachers chose topics within the theme, and students arranged the topics into a semester-long series.  Just like that, the students gained for themselves a full “practicum” on the liturgy, while each teacher has only to give two or three talks.  It’s a great arrangement!

Recently, I was tapped for a talk on “the theology of the Mass” or “how the Mass is a sacrifice.”  You can download it here, or listen online:

Students loved the talk, but they seemed especially excited about the explanation of transubstantiation in the Q&A.

By the way, I’m wondering whether I should post more of these recordings or even start a podcast.  Your feedback would be helpful.

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