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.
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.
I recently received some questions about how the family is an image of the Trinity. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously mapped the relationships in a family onto the relationship within the Trinity, such that the child in a family is seen as the proceeding love of the husband and the wife and so corresponds to the Holy Spirit who proceeds as the love of the Father and the Son. Scott Hahn picked up that outline in his popularization of Trinitarian theology. Is this a good way to talk about the Holy Spirit?
It can be difficult to dispute Trinitarian theories, because the Trinity is the deepest mystery of our faith. And within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is arguably the most mysterious of the three persons: What does God’s “breath” or “wind” actually mean? Scripture tells us so little about him!
But our scarcity of information about the Holy Spirit is one reason I would resist describing the Holy Spirit in terms of the child proceeding from a husband and a wife. We have so very few things that we can say for certain about the Holy Spirit that each gleam of light is precious. One of the very few solid things the Church has defined about the Holy Spirit is that he does NOT proceed as a son.
When we speak of the child as the proceeding love of the husband and the wife, I think we get into difficulties on the side of marriage as well. Although beautiful and noble in itself, the union of husband and wife ultimately finds its goal and completion when it is subordinated to the good of children. Speaking of the child as though it WERE the union of husband and wife confuses the two ends of marriage to allow union (the lesser good) to gobble up children (the greater good).
All things considered, I think it best to follow the example of John Paul II. He spoke of the family as an image of the Trinity, but he kept his comparison at the level of “communion of persons.” The family is the first natural communion of persons, and so it points to even more primal Trinitarian communion. John Paul did not attempt to make the Father line up with a husband, the Son with a wife, and the Holy Spirit with a child. When you press the likeness that far, you end up in difficulties.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord!” cries the Psalmist repeatedly (Psalm 107:1; 118:1; 136:1; etc.). “All your works shall give you thanks!” (Psalm 145:10). “Give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul commands, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thess 5:18).
It turns out that giving thanks to God is not only good but good for you: with the success of clinical trials, gratitude exercises and gratitude diaries have become standard in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Books like One Thousand Gifts have popularized the benefits of gratitude.
“It is great and worthy of admiration that on Sunday, which is the first day, on which God began to be engaged in the creation of the world, the Savior enters into the labor of his Passion, and on the seventh day, having been engaged in our salvation throughout this week, which is called the ‘Greater Week,’ he ceased and rested in the sepulcher.”