Why the Last Supper Was Not the First Mass

March 26, 2013

Jesus-Eucharist-MassThe purpose of this post is to follow up my last one on why the Last Supper was not the First Mass.  The next post on Holy Thursday will try to explain exactly what it was: An eschatological banquet enacting a surrogate for sacrifice.  But first things first.  Four points:

1.  A Mass requires the whole Paschal Mystery.  The Mass is an anamnetic moment.  It is a moment in which the believing community is brought back to the dynamic movement of the Paschal Mystery so as to enter into that moment and imitate the loving self-sacrificial actions of Christ.

Side note: There has been a danger in post-Tridentine theology to speak of the Mass as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ.  But this interpretation both fails to take the book of Hebrews seriously and also misunderstands the Jewish concept of “remembrance,” azkarah.  Jewish remembrance does not mean that the past event is brought into the present and enacted again.  Rather, it means that those who partake in the ritual action are themselves re-presented to the past event.  At the Mass, the community of believers becomes present to the Paschal Mystery.  Christ is not re-offered or re-presented on the altar of the priest.  Rather, the believing community is re-presented to the sacrifice of Christ and, through the power of the Spirit, made part of that self-offering to the Father.  Side note over.

The Mass is a memorial of the Paschal mystery.  But without that mystery, there could not be a Mass at the Last Supper.

2.  A Mass requires the Resurrection. Read the rest of this entry »

Prologue: A City “Beyond” Religion

January 30, 2013

Ironically for a trip that was meant to focus on the interaction of various religions with one another, particularly Hinduism and Catholicism, the first place we visited was a small city/state called Auroville and had little to do with religion or Hinduism.  Ironically, because Auroville claims to be a spiritual community that lives “beyond” religion.  It is the Disney World of “spiritual but not religious.”  We were taken around the place by a woman named Lisa, a woman of German descent (with blonde hair in the picture) who had been born in the Auroville community. 

310006_4344429054158_55847313_nYou can read all about Auroville, its founding by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, its split with the Aurobindo Ashram and the technicalities of its functioning all online. What I would like to reflect on is this claim of being a community beyond religion.  In essence what this means for the community of 2000 plus who live in the city – a city that is under construction for 50,000 – is that no religion in particular is taught in any of the classes.  Children can opt to go to workshops about religions, but none of them are mandatory.  There are no rituals.  Everyone experiences the Feminine Spirit in whatever way that they feel free doing.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Prayer for Discernment

January 24, 2013

Over the next several weeks, I would like to share with you all some of my reflections on the three weeks that I recently spent in India on a theological immersion into Hinduism.  These reflections are both spiritual and theological, personal and social.  The purpose is to clarify my own very undeveloped thoughts on many of these matters, so I wholeheartedly welcome comments and dialogue for clarification.

I applied for this course along with the trip to India for one reason: to reflect academically and spiritually on the presence of God, on the “rays of truth” as Nostra Aetate puts it, that are to be found in the Hindu religion.  I went to India convinced that discernment of those rays is no mere academic exercise.  Unless one is willing to pray with those of other religions, one will never be able to discover the presence of God within them.

And yet I went with some trepidation as well.  Although I have studied Islam briefly previously, I really have very little experience of other religions.  And while Islam worships the historical God of Abraham, Allah, to whom I’ve never had any trouble praying, the Hindu pantheon of gods presents to me a greater challenge.  What I needed was wisdom and discernment, and for this throughout the trip I prayed.  Read the rest of this entry »

Asking To Hold the Baby Jesus

December 24, 2012


I couldn’t wait till midnight.  I was on my first 30-day retreat as a Jesuit in the Novitiate, and tonight at midnight I was going to ask Mary in my imagination while doing Ignatian contemplation to hold the baby Jesus in my arms.  I was so excited.  I had been waiting a long time for this.

Finally the moment came, and I asked her if I could hold Jesus.  And she said… “no.”  Sort of stunned I asked, “why not?”  She answered, “because you’re not gentle enough.”  That answer has stuck with me over the years and has taken on new meanings in each new ministerial context.  How am I called to be gentle, to be an appropriate comforter with gentle arms for the child Jesus in each new person I meet?

Maybe this Christmas can be a good time for you too to ask Mary if you can hold her baby in your arms and see what she says.

(BTW, this picture of of Mary, Joseph and Jesus is my favorite Nativity picture)

Benedict’s Book: An Appraisal

December 20, 2012

imagesNow that the secular media has completed its rants about how Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) destroyed Christmas, the time has come to engage more seriously the accomplishment of Ratzinger in his new book The Infancy Narratives.  What is the overall merit of his project?  Let me begin by saying that the spiritual reflections Ratzinger offers throughout the book are well worth anyone’s read.  I was deeply moved, for instance, by his reflections on the Annunciation, and by his insightful commentary on the fact that while, in Mary’s society, women were not allowed to express their own consent to betrothal, God asks of Mary her consent to be the Mother of God.  Yet at the risk of being labeled one of those Scripture scholars who happily point the Magi towards their destination but do not deign to follow themselves, as Ratzinger comments on the Jewish Scribes in Matthew 2:4-9, I feel it necessary to offer my critique of Ratzinger’s project as a whole.  Read the rest of this entry »

Mary: Our Voice, God’s Voice

December 13, 2012

Having completed two of my favorite Marian days of the year, the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I can take a moment now to pause and reflect on what they mean together.


In the Immaculate Conception, Mary speaks for humanity.  That, I believe, is the deepest meaning of the Immaculate Conception.  Not freedom from some kind “stain” of original sin, but the completely free capacity to speak a full and resounding “Yes” on behalf of the human race.

Narrative criticism has helpfully illuminated this point in its re-readings of the Genesis 3 myth.   According to Genesis 3:20, Eve is named havva, But as Reuven Kimelman points out, hayya is the word that means “life-bearer.”  This verse is totally out of place where it is unless there is more to it, coming as it does at the climax of story.  And sure enough, havva is chosen because of its double meaning as “speech” and because of its etymological connection to the word for serpent, hivya.  Havva  is a neologism created by the author to combine the words hayya and hivya.  Eve becomes, at the end of the story, the speech of every human being influenced as it constantly is, by both the voice of the serpent and the command of God.  Eve bears within her both serpent and mother, and as such her speech represents the whole human race. We are all Eve.

What makes the Immaculate Conception so meaningful is that Mary, traditionally called the New Eve, speaks a pure speech, a speech untouched by the serpent that is inside of each one of us. Read the rest of this entry »

Some Theories of Atonement, or Love, not Honor or Substitution

September 14, 2012

Today is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.  Yet many of us have no idea what that triumph means, or what exactly the mechanism of that triumph was.  Without going on too long, I want to lay out briefly some theories of atonement.  But first I want to say one thing quite clearly: The New Testament never speaks of God’s anger in the context of the passion of Christ.  Never.  So nor should we.  The motive for God’s action in Christ was love, not anger.  More on that later.

Let me lay out three positions.

The first theory is that of Christus Victor.  This is an ancient theory, found particularly in the Fathers of the Church.  Here the dialectic is between Christ/Life and Satan/Death.  According to this theory, the Resurrection is the real salvific moment, the soteriological moment par excellence. This made more sense in the early centuries of the life of the Church because of the popularity of well known myths of resurrection such as surrounded Hercules, Apollo, Dionysius, and so on.  Either way, the focus was on Jesus conquering Satan and death by his death and resurrection.  Gregory of Nyssa’s The Catechetical Oration, for example, describes Christ as the bait on the hook that Satan the fish took, thereby destroying himself.  Or in Augustine, the cross of Christ is like a mousetrap that the devil bites into and is destroyed by.  In the East, this continues to be the main model.

The second theory is Anselm’s well known Expiation Theory of Atonement. Read the rest of this entry »

Australia Interview

September 12, 2012

I would like to share an interview from my time in Melbourne, Australia this summer.  You can learn a lot about my upbringing and some interesting things about my ministry as a Jesuit so far.  Enjoy!

Evangelizing Australia

September 2, 2012

Here is an article about the recent trip that my family and I took to Australia.  I will write more personal reflections soon, but in the meantime, take a look!

Voting and Intrinsic Evils

August 28, 2012

Archbishop Lori’s comments on voting for a politician who supports intrinsic evils have created quite a stir.  He stated:

For Catholic voters in November, Lori advises, “The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”

Three thoughts on this matter.  First, that means that it was unacceptable for Catholics to vote for John McCain, since he supported embryonic stem-cell research.  And for that matter, Romney has said that he supports abortion in situations of rape and incest.  That is an intrinsic evil.  He has also been unclear on torture.  So it seems that we cannot vote for him, according to this logic. But this seems not to be the case according to then Cardinal Ratzinger’s memorandum in 2004 to Cardinal McCarrick:

“A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia…When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

Second, one of the problems with using the category of intrinsic evil this way is that it conflates “intrinsic” with “grave social evil.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spiritual But Not Religious

May 25, 2012

The following is a reflection on Robert Fuller’s book Spiritual But Not Religious by Joe Hoover, SJ.

            In a religious and political climate today that fiercely grapples for position on precisely what American values are and where they are rooted, it is helpful to realize in more depth what American religious pursuit has traditionally been about. Though it came out more than ten years ago, the historical survey Spiritual But Not Religious makes a timely contribution to this discourse in pointing out that a strain of independence has been running through American spirituality for a very long time. Those who think that the United States was founded on the same kind of church-going faith that we have today, for instance, are mistaken. As author Robert Fuller points out, only a small number of colonialists were churchgoers. By the time the Revolutionary War came, a mere fifteen percent of Americans belonged to any church. Most of them practiced religion, but not solely rooted in Christianity. Early America was rife with “fortune telling, astrology, folk medicine, witchcraft and divinization.” He goes on to note that “[f]rom the outset, Americans have had a persistent interest in religious ideas that fall well outside the parameters of bible-centered theology.”

          The freedom embodied by those without religion–then and now–is mirrored somewhat by those with religion. “A sizable percentage of church members have little loyalty to their church’s theological traditions,” writes Fuller, speaking of today’s Christians. In America, the market reigns, not just in economics but in the culture as a whole, including the spiritual. Read the rest of this entry »

The Current Crisis of Catholic Feminism

May 13, 2012

My good friend Jim Keane has written a stirring encomium to the religious sisters who are members of the LCWR at In All Things.  The pastor at my parish this morning referenced the tremendous motherly role that many of those sisters have played in our lives.  On this Mother’s Day we do well to remember them.

Yet the pastor also reprimanded the Vatican for its importunate “attack” on those same sisters, as he called it.  Also on this Mother’s Day, I think it well to reflect on a part of this discussion that is often left out.  That is on the current crisis of Catholic feminism in the United States.

In her excellent sociological analysis of nuns and feminism, Visual Habits: Nuns, Feminism, and American Postwar Popular Culture, Rebecca Sullivan notes that in the post-war era, nuns became the blank slate upon which many feminine dreams were written.  They were deemed acceptable as such a slate because “they fired up dreams of feminine independence while smothering any possibility that the flames might spread out of control.” Eventually, of course, nuns reacted strongly to playing this role for American civil society and instead embraced a more radical form of feminism. Read the rest of this entry »

Rhetoric, Action, and Cooperation

May 1, 2012

On this feast of St. Joseph the Worker, it is time to tone down the corporate language of cooperation in evil and instead begin to take personal, active measures towards cutting out in significant ways our own material ties to evil.

Let me say this first: I am proud of our Bishops.  I am proud that they have made a statement about freedom of religion and the requirement that the government not infringe on that freedom, as I have expressed already here.  The government has stuck its head into the right of religious liberty, mostly especially of Catholics and Muslims, and it is time for it to back off.

But the rhetoric of “cooperation with evil” got out of hand.  Cooperation is one of those things that is very much a matter of personal discernment.  There are “objective” principles to take into account, but the judging of them is highly personal and complex, and many have gotten it wrong.  For example, a well known prelate, in a statement of personal opinion, explained in an interview: Read the rest of this entry »

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!

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 »

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 »

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 »

The Hunger Games

March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games are a tragedy.  (As a spoiler alert, if you haven’t read them, then don’t keep reading). They are a harsh look at what happens to people when they think they must make war on one another.  Perhaps the best summary of the thesis of the Hunger Games comes from Hermann Goring’s famous quote from the Nuremberg interviews:

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship….  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Goring was onto something: there is little difference in the end between people on both sides who become intent on killing one another.  And Collins’ book makes one thing clear: it is not that hard to convince people that this is what they must do.

In the end the books are a tragedy because just about everyone is corrupted.  All of the leaders, both of the Capitol and of the Rebellion are evil.  Gale, Katniss’ best friend is transformed into the image of those he hates.  He becomes the new murderer, a Peacekeeper himself, just like Coin and most of the other rebels, even though he had been scourged to an inch of his life by a Peacekeeper.  Plutarch just switches sides, but he continues to be a Game Master, playing with lives that do not matter.   Read the rest of this entry »