Von Balthasar and Theological Freedom

April 30, 2012

As the magisterium continues to try to do its job, something for it, and us, always to remember.  Von Balthasar speaks to the need for allowing the necessary freedom for theological reflection to take place:

Heresy is an analogical concept.  Even if a sharp boundary line is drawn between those heresies that have earned an express judgment of condemnation and those that never met with such a condemnation and thus continue to claim a part of the Church’s heart, still we should consider how much objective distortion was held in the course of time by the most important Doctors of the Church, how much was lost out of sheer accident or as a necessary adjunct to an express condemnation, how many erroneous and inexact views float around in the heads of nearly all believers!

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B: The Shepherd and the Wolf

April 29, 2012


Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

We’ve perhaps become so familiar with the tender image of the Good Shepherd carrying a lost lamb on his shoulders, that we might easily overlook the urgency of its message.  The Shepherd and the sheep, if you recall, are not the only actors in the fable.  Christ also mentions the presence of the wolf.  And though he doesn’t describe the wolf in any detail, its background presence points to an unsettling truth: humanity has an enemy whom he cannot match in strength and cunning; we stand before the power of evil as a sheep stands before a wolf.  Apart from the Shepherd and His flock, our prospects are not good.

As Christ presents it, in other words, the world is not a safe place.  It is the theater of a “high-stakes” drama.  If we take Christ at his word, then He and His Church are not simply optional extras for those who need the “crutch” of religion.  They are our hope of salvation.  Peter makes this teaching the center of his preaching, insisting, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”  He also describes Christ as a “cornerstone,”  implying the existence of a building—i.e., the “Church”—in which Christians seek refuge from the wolf.

Important questions arise.  How exactly does the wolf go about seeking to destroy us?  And how exactly does the Shepherd go about defending us? Read the rest of this entry »

Does God Directly Create the Human Soul? Part I/3

April 26, 2012

Whether in debates about evolution or  about pro-life issues, the language of the “direct” creation of the human soul often pops up.  Yet this language is very philosophically problematic.  The purpose of the next three posts will be first, to lay out the dilemma, second, to present theologian Karl Rahner’s solution, and third, to present theologian Piet Schoonenberg’s solution.

I have often heard this language of “direct” creation used in the context of arguments about evolution.  In his 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences on Evolution, John Paul II explains:

Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides non retimere iubet”). (Humani Generis)

I have also frequently heard this language used throughout my lifelong involvement in the pro-life moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Prophecy in the Church

April 23, 2012

I have no competence to speak to the recent document from the CDF to the LCWR.  Rather, I would like to use it as a springboard to discuss briefly the place of prophecy within the Church.  In one place, the document comments about prophetic activity:

Some speakers claim that dissent from the doctrine of the Church is justified as an exercise of the prophetic office. But this is based upon a mistaken understanding of the dynamic of prophecy in the Church: it justifies dissent by positing the possibility of divergence between the Church’s magisterium and a “legitimate” theological intuition of some of the faithful. “Prophecy,” as a methodological principle, is here directed at the Magisterium and the Church’s pastors, whereas true prophecy is a grace which accompanies the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and ministries within the Church, regulated and verified by the Church’s faith and teaching office.

So what is the role of prophecy in the Church?  Is it only to be directed ad extra and never ad intra?  Catherine of Siena may have something to say to this point.  In either case, prophecy without the utmost respect for magisterium of the Church must be carefully avoided.   Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B: The Pattern of Fear

April 22, 2012


Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Ps 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; 1 Jn 2:1-5a; Lk 24:35-48

It’s funny how the presence of certain people can shift our perspective on our fears and our problems.  I once heard a story about a meeting between the former Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Kolvenbach, and Pope John Paul II.  According to the story (which at least has the ring of truth), John Paul was by this point already quite diminished by Parkinson’s Disease.  Fr. Kolvenbach, then more than 80 years old, had come to ask for permission to step down as General.  John Paul declined his resignation and Fr. Kolvenbach accepted his decision tranquilly.  When he returned to Jesuit headquarters, his fellow Jesuits inquired about the meeting, and Fr. Kolvenbach observed rather matter-of-factly, “It’s very difficult for me to stand before this Pope and argue that I am too old and too frail to do my job.”  In light of John Paul’s own heroic perseverance, in other words, even substantial concerns and frailties came to seem rather manageable by comparison.

The presence of the Risen Christ seems to have had a similar effect on his first disciples—only more so.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hunger Games and Hermeneutics

April 13, 2012

Perry Petrich at the Jesuit Post has a very different interpretation of the Hunger Games than I do.  His piece begins: “The Hunger Games are all about hope.”  Mine: “The Hunger Games are a tragedy.”  I don’t have a lot to add to what I already posted on his article:

The Hunger Games are not about hope but rather a strongly cautionary tale about the very possibility of constructing human societies that are not built upon deception, manipulation and death. Collins thinks we actually cannot construct such a society. So as a dystopian series they are rather pessimistic. They do give more agency to the individual than most dystopias, such as 1984 and Brave New World, but each character at one time or another is forced to sacrifice their own morality and self. There is no hope in that.

I think the Hunger Games are a caution rather than a proposal. I don’t think Collins ever gets beyond that.

So I think they are really, indirectly, about the need for grace.

That leads to two points I would like to make.

First, why discuss the “meaning” of the Hunger Games?  Can’t they be just a fun series?  Yes and no.  We all construct meaning while we read.  Reading is not just the sequential linking of isolated words on a page. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Instances of Violation of Religious Liberty

April 12, 2012

The bishops of the United States have issued a list of 7 violations of religious liberty.  The list includes:

  1. The mandate for required contraception and sterilization coverage
  2. State immigration laws, such as in Alabama, that violate the basic dignity of human persons
  3. Laws that influence Church structure in governance, such as in Connecticut
  4. Discrimination towards Christian groups on university campuses
  5. Laws that discriminate against Catholic foster care and adoptive services, such as were leveled at Catholic Charities
  6. Discrimination against small church communities in the Bronx
  7. Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services for refusing to provide abortive and contraceptive services

The bishops have called for two weeks of prayer beginning on the eve of the memorials of St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Fisher and leading up to July 4.

Needless to say, Commonweal thinks that the bishops’ statement “vastly exaggerates” the problem. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for Easter Mass During the Day, Year B: The Feast of Feasts

April 8, 2012


Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; 1 Cor 5:6b-8; Jn 20:1-9

There’s an experience that the liturgy so often links to Easter that we almost take the connection for granted.  Our Psalm antiphon declares, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”  The second reading from 1 Corinthians reads, “Our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.  Therefore, let us celebrate the feast …”  The Gospel Acclamation echoes the theme, “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed; let us then feast with joy in the Lord.”  The experience so often connected to Easter, in case you haven’t guessed yet, is nothing other than festivity, rejoicing together.  The connection, of course, isn’t accidental.  Christians have always understood the Resurrection not just as a feast, but as the feast, as the source all genuine festivity in this world.  In the 4th Century, St. Athanasius observed that those without a share in the Resurrection “forever … remain without a feast” (Paschal Letters, VI).

Why is this?  I think the claim is easier to understand if we distinguish genuine “festivity” and simply “partying.”  Why is the atmosphere surrounding great festivals—Christmas, Thanksgiving, a wedding—distinct from the atmosphere surrounding night clubs, frat parties, or even greeting-card holidays like “Secretary’s Day”?  One of the great Catholic philosophers of the 20th Century ventured this answer: to keep a genuine festival is

to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole  (Pieper, In Tune with the World 30). Read the rest of this entry »

Freedom and Divine Violation

April 6, 2012

O Lord, You have seduced me,

And I am seduced;

You have raped me

And I am overcome. 

That is Abraham Heschel’s translation of Jeremiah 20:7, usually translated as “deceived.”  Heschel, possibly the most famous commentator on the Old Testament prophets, explains that the two Hebrew words, patah and hazak mean, in succession, “wrongfully inducing a woman to consent to prenuptial intercouse” and “the violent forcing of a woman to submit to extranuptial intercourse, which is thus performed against her will.”  

So how could Jeremiah accuse God of such horrendous, unspeakable things?  The question arises when we consider, not those evils that God allows to happen to us but does not intend, but difficult things that God seems to intend to offer to the choice of our freedom, even though they seem extremely painful at the time. Jeremiah seems to experience this Divine Violation in regards to his own vocation.  So what is Jeremiah getting at?   Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for Holy Thursday: “Sine Dominico, non possumus…”

April 5, 2012


There is a famous episode (often cited by the Holy Father) illustrating the devotion to the Eucharist in the early Church.  In the year 304, a group of Christians from the town of Abitinia in North Africa gathered on Sunday, in defiance of orders from Emperor Diocletian, for the celebration of Mass.  They were “caught” and promptly hauled into court.  When asked why they disobeyed, one of the worshippers, Emeritus, gave this simple and profound answer: “Sine Dominico non possumus” (“Without the Lord’s thing, we cannot …”).  Emeritus and 48 others eventually died martyrs’ deaths because they simply could not live without the “Lord’s thing,” that is, without the Eucharist.

A question naturally emerges: How did the Abitene martyrs come to regard the Eucharist as something they could not live without?  How did it become for them, not just an external duty, but an inner necessity?  The answer, briefly stated, is that they came to view the Eucharist much as the liturgy presents it to us tonight.  They came to see the Eucharist as 1) freedom to worship, and 2) as power to serve. Read the rest of this entry »