Thursday, November 20, 2008

Opting into the future

Usually around Homecoming each year, for some reason I come in contact with an Aquinas Yearbook. I know, an Aquinas yearbook itself sounds foreign enough, but the novelty of the experience is the certain atmosphere found between the covers.Some time ago, Aquinas was a different place. The pages evidence classrooms filled with students taught by Dominican friars clad in white robes tied with rosaries. In each yearbook, certain significance is given to a yearly crowning of the Marian shrine. And graduation was celebrated in the second floor of the Fieldhouse, now known as Bukowski Chapel. Student life was different in many respects.

Though certainly things change with growth and the past usually gives way to the future, it is hard to ignore the somewhat atmospheric change which is occurring at Aquinas, and numerous other Catholic colleges throughout the United States, due to the dwindling amount of vowed religious belonging to orders such as the Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits.

These numbers reached their apex in the early 1960s and began to fall through the completion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

The College’s question of identity sitting ominously in the distance is what will happen with Aquinas College if the Marywood Dominicans cease to provide a religious presence to the campus? Can the Dominican tradition be preserved without Dominicans? And if so, how?

Although it is possible to support the traditions and values of an absent religious order, it seems that the efforts of a Catholic College would be futile if they are not supported directly by the Church, whether through the diocese or religious order. To be Catholic means to be supported and to support; there’s nothing Catholic about a rogue college.

Other Catholic colleges and universities are addressing similar issues. Georgetown University’s resident religious community has shrunk from 100 in 1966 to 60 this year. Searching collegiate newspapers, it is easy to find editorials asking, “Are we Catholic?” As Scott Appleby, a professor of history from the University of Notre Dame, noted, there seems to be “a crisis looming within American Catholic higher education.”

Following the dramatic pause, also insisted by Appleby, he prescribes three steps to regain the beginnings of hope for American Catholic administrators. Appleby recommends that institutional leaders “stay the course, continue to adjust the course and be good to one another.”

I am so glad he didn’t recommend trying to single-handedly fix the vocations problem, overturning the Church’s mandate of celibacy to increase the number of priests or simply ignoring the impending situation. Realistically if we have any type of faith, most of the answers to these problems will not come from our end of the spiritual correspondence.

Along the lines of staying and adjusting the course, we must know what our course headings currently point toward. Aquinas supports a thriving Campus Ministry Department, philosophy and theology majors, a Catholic studies minor, theology as a general education requirement, a Catholic Studies Club and on-campus liturgies.

These facts evidence Aquinas’ recognition and appreciation of the Catholic tradition, and numerous other campus clubs and activities confirm the student support for such values.

Then, how can the College solidify and empower existing programs and activities to enrich the greater Aquinas community, whether Catholic or not? I humbly suggest perhaps filling the room for growth in the philosophy and/or theology departments and strongly considering the importance of a resident chaplain. I’m sure that my peers have other suggestions.

Whatever the answer happens to be, our idea of a Catholic University cannot merely cater to Catholics, and similarly the Catholic Church must enter, though sometimes apprehensively, the outside world. To paraphrase Donald W. Wuerl Archbishop of Washington, the truly Catholic university should work to nurture respect in its interactions, while in its actions remain faithful to its heritage and traditions.

I doubt the answer to the problem will involve either building walls or relativizing distinctions, but I hope (whatever it is) we can bring everyone along.

(Published in Nov. 19 edition of The Saint)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Open Question

I'd like to hold a modest experiment. If people participate, this could be interesting.

What are the challenges that a Christian faces in relating to this world, this time in history?

Please, comment at your leisure.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Voting Catholic, frustrated

For Catholics, the process of voting should not be simple, and it's even worse if you're voting absentee. Casting a vote is simple-just punching a card. Leading up to the card, however, the voting process asks much of the Catholic. (Although this is ideally both, this term means more broadly "catholically minded," instead of sacramentally formed.)

It would be easier if the Church or the Pope would tell everyone which candidate gets the "Catholic vote." Thankfully, this is not how the Church works.

The process would be simpler if Catholics were able to be simple-issue voters. Perhaps, a single issue could consume the whole of their political and ethical decision, irrespective of the totality of their choice. On this subject, the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith writes, "a political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church's social doctrine does not exhaust one's responsibility towards the common good."

An even easier situation would be if Catholics could simply give the finger to the whole political establishment, saying, "You have done nothing for us; your game is not fair, and we want out."

Catholics can do none of the above. They are "bound to promote the true common good" through "civil authority and laws that uphold moral precepts for the common good," which should constitute an autonomous decision informed by rational scrutiny applied to possible choices. In other words, Catholics can neither hide in political idleness nor in ideaological closures to the reality of affairs.

From their point of view, no candidate seems good enough. In the Bush-Gore election, Gore was ahead by three percent with Catholics. Then in 2004, Bush led among Catholics by seven percent to Catholic John Kerry. Currently, McCain leads among white non-Hispanic Catholics 48 to 41 percent.

Simply put, the Church's teaching does not line up with either party. On one hand, the Church cherishes the right to life, especially unborn life. But also, the Church respects the dignity of the human person, the social implications to avoid war, the responsibility to help the poor and the regulation of working conditions, whether on a personal scale or to the economy as a whole. The Catholic should work for all these things and, when necessary, must seemingly choose one or the other.

Catholic morality says quite candidly, it is wrong to support a candidate or law which entail an intrinsic evil "opposed to the authentic good of persons" such as abortion, euthanasia, torture, racism and ignoring the "moral imperative to respond to the needs of our neighbors."

When both candidates support such a policy the Catholic "may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods." Whether Catholic voters realize it or not, most recent presidential elections fall into this category.

This is what makes Catholics want to write in their dog's name on the ballot. This is why politics seems like a badly formed game. To have to choose the rights of an unborn child over the rights of an innocent victim of an unjust war, is unfair, to say the least.

Not only does the power to participate in the formation of government implicate the Catholic in the direct effects of his or her choice, whether war or peace, prosperity or hardship, but the choice should come from an authentically formed auto-nomy (self-law) and should be an expression of a certain amount of wrestling with issues, candidates and God.

Catholics who vote should go to sleep on the Third of November with some sense of peace, knowing that their decision is neither uninformed nor narrowly informed by one issue. That peace, however, should not overshadow the clear dissonance which is evident when the idealist hope of faith enter the realm of politics.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A mentionable thought

It is a luxury of the academic world to be able to have "cocktail conversations" about life, love and other questions that usually, as Tennyson wrote, "rust unburnish'd" without timely buffing and rumination.

These big questions of a higher nature are not detached from the truth of our lives, our daily preoccupations and scurryings about. Rather these questions, these higher questions begin to augur into the foundation of each "Why?" or "How?".

A few days ago, a friend noted that for once he understood the lyrics to a popular song. I think many of us have had this experience. A popular song with catchy words gets lodged as a constant repeat in your head. The words pass by with the notes, but they don't go quite deep enough for you to think about them, to understand their meaning. Occasionally, however, a well-written phrase may fall between the superficial cracks in you mind, and the depth is astounding.

The particular phrase my friend noted was "live like today never happened before". So, together we considered the possible meanings/implications of such a message.

"I just love the outlook it invites," I said. "It asks the listener to allow each day to be new, unique and inviting."

"Yeah and if you apply it to relationships," my friend responded, "It tells us that we should let each person be who they are, not forcing them to be who they were to us yesterday or the last time we spoke with them. We should approach each interaction expecting to be surprised by the newness of each person."

This is how such conversations usually begin. How they end is sometimes equally gripping.

Once after a conversation, my dialogue partner responded, "I shouldn't say this, but this was like one of those conversations you have when you are high, and you confuse yourself with your own words."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Virtue and Uncertainty

Around a table with a number of other theology students, as was customary for a Thursday night, we were about begin a discussion. This Thursday night tradition was coming to an end as the school year closed, and for the last week our topic was, the interconnectedness of things. As an example we began with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love.

The first two encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI curiously concern two of the theological virtues, love and hope. As a prediction, I would expect to see a third encyclical on faith.

Thomas Aquinas found that there was a necessary relationship among the virtues but a certain preeminence given to love (charity). Love, in this sense, enables the virtues. Considering this relationship, hope and faith cannot function, cannot have life, without love. But perhaps pushing further, can we have love without hope or hope without faith? Aquinas would say, no.

Faith (believing in what is not seen), hope (looking forward to what cannot be certain) and love (giving of one's self with no certainty of return) all seem to rest on a lack of certainty. Then when faith is made certain through sight; hope is fulfilled; and the return of love is granted. Likewise, we hope for the return of love and have faith that it will return even when we cannot be sure through sight.

This may all seem confusing, but the sure conclusion (however disconcerting it may be to some) is that being a Christian means being uncertain. It means living in faith when the returns of love are hidden. It means hoping beyond what seems probable. It means loving when faith and hope are all that is left.

It can also enable us to appreciate how much of our lives are build on a lack of certainty. An uncertain-ness that continues to call us to listen, call us to realize that the path may not be visible for us. In this uncertain-ness, however, we can rest knowing that we are cared for by a Loving Hand.

And if we seriously resign ourselves to this Absolute Care, we have no reason to fear uncertainty.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Answers and equations

When we begin to think about the current priest situation faced by Catholics in the United States and the Western world in general, it is necessary to consider the various sides of the problem and the implications afforded by the many solutions.

The statistics show that from 1970 to 2007 the number of diocesan priests fell from 36,005 to 27,971. Including religious priest the numbers fall from 59,000 in 1975 to about 41,500 last year.

Listed as causes for the drop are: trends of smaller family sizes; a sexualized culture where celibacy seems like an impossibility; negative views of the priestly ministry following the sexual abuse scandal; a culture that overvalues wealth; the audacity of a lifelong commitment to a single occupation. The one, however, most considered is celibacy.

Parts of the Church clearly call out for a married priesthood. Numerous theologians argue that a married priesthood is the stimulus needed to solve the "number problem". Rev. Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University said in an interview,
I think celibacy is a great gift, and it's wonderful for people who have the grace and the gift and the calling, but it can be a very difficult situation for men who feel called to the priesthood but not to celibacy. Over the past half dozen years, I've asked probably two dozen men if they've ever thought of being priests, and every one of them has said yes, they have thought of it, but then they add, "I really feel also called to the sacrament of marriage, I'd like to be a husband and a father."
Though a consensus concerning celibacy appears far off, the demographic issue will continue to affect the life of the Church. It surprises me, however, how many commentators tip-toe around the main question. Why? More specifically, what are the underlying foundations for arguments on both sides?

The approach which values both tradition and the status-quo states that a male-celibate priesthood is the proper order given to the Church. Relying on centuries of precedence the reasoning holds well. Even though the celibacy of the clergy is not dogma, and can change, there are theological knots to untie with a married priesthood.

If the priest's vocation is to be one person for many, and a married person's vocation is to be one person for his or her spouse, the lines cross quite clearly in a married priesthood. Can a man give himself totally to a spouse and at the same time give himself to a priestly ministry? If the love of a priest is to mirror the love of Jesus Christ in an analogous way, as one for many, is a married priesthood adding insult to injury when priests are currently overworked and suffering burnout?

The second approach which calls for change does so in clear response to a certain more contemporary phenomenon. The obvious drop in numbers presents a clear dilemma and has been mentioned already.

Without denigrating the gravity of this situation, a few things should be understood. First, priest shortages have happened previously; this is not the first, and this will not be the last. Although distinct historical circumstances should be considered distinctively, the Church should not be quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater due to a singular event.

Second, and perhaps more weighty, to what extent should an issue such as priestly celibacy be an answer to a simple numbers problem, a pragmatic answer? Should the Church immediately change because she is faced with a problem? Inundated with such ideas as natural selection, we hastily choose adaptation for survival over hope in order.

Arguing against pragmatism in Church politics can go either way. My hope for the Church is for Hope. The celibate priest may be a symbol of something quite foreign now in the days following a sexual abuse scandal and in the midst of a highly sexualized culture, but the impetus for change cannot be merely a survival ploy or a number crunch. If we change our understanding of the priesthood it must be for the good of a Church that is everywhere, that is past, present and future.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

To be free

As Christians and People of God, one of the goals of spirituality is freedom. We seek to be free from poverty, free from oppression, freedom from the forces in society that turn us away from God and the good found in others. We seek freedom from our carnality and pure emotionality that is irreverent of the providential goodness of God. Paul writes, we seek to be free from the slavery of sin and fear of death (Rom 7:14; Heb 2:15).

Freedom is by all means an important thematic element in the spiritual journey, but are their currents within Christianity and culture that view freedom as absolute, freedom idolized perhaps?

Sadly, yes. Most clearly in culture, freedom has become synonymous with whimsy and caprice. The free person is the self creating person, the person who seemingly floats free of influence and heeds the call of no one. The free man can say what he wants, without considering the reception of others. The free man can become what he wants, without care of who is taken advantage of. The free man is a sort of existential ideal, living in a situation Heidegger calls "fallenness," a hermeneutic employed by Heidegger and espoused by Jean-Paul Sartre which calls each person to realize his responsibility and freedom following the awareness of the "death of God".

Because of the failed Enlightenment project we know that man, in fact, has a deal of limitations. Thus in accord with these limitations man cannot become his own creator. For instance. human rationality has a limit, and in the face of this limit, the conception of man seems intuitively inadequate. Or considering the various instincts and emotive influences that man is forced to deal with on a daily basis, it is clear that the supposed death of God does not necessitate the responsibility of the self-creating project.

All of these points revolve around the question of the proper use of freedom. Further, the value and proper use of freedom is either an end in itself or freedom is a subordinate end or means to a greater end.

The first possibility endows man with an absolute freedom and equally absolute responsibility that man cannot adequately fulfill and be held responsible for. The previously mentioned self-project cannot be the sole responsibility of the person, if only for the reason that the person did not initiate it. Man is gifted with the prospect of personhood and is so condemned (according to Sartre) to the responsibilities to that personhood.

Rather, freedom to participate in the self-project which was initiated by Someone else must point to a freedom beyond mere whim or caprice, beyond the care of a single person. Freedom is, in a sense, the self-project as participation rather than condemnation. Freedom is a participatory experience. As Karol Wojtyla writes,
Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom -- it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one's freedom on behalf of the other. Limitation of one's freedom might seem to be something negative and unpleasant, but love makes it a positive, joyful and creative thing. Freedom exists for the sake of love. If freedom is not, is not taken advantage by love it becomes a negative thing and gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfilment. Love commits freedom and imbues it with that to which the will is naturally attracted -- goodness. (Love and Responsibility, 135)
Freedom ends in love. Perhaps the loving acknowledgment that we are not our own gods; that though we are utterly responsible for our actions, we are not alone in them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

With Christ

For this post, I compiled a list of verses that center on the theme of living with Christ. The importance of this particular theme, most clearly expounded in the epistles, is especially important when considering a distinctly Christian approach to life.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:4)

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Rom. 6:8)

...and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:17)

...because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. (2Cor. 4:14)

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. (2Cor. 13:4)

...and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph. 2:6)

...when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, (Col. 2:12)

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1)

...for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (Col. 3:3)

The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; (2Tim. 2:11)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Consecration in the East

An interesting article on the website of America the magazine stirred up a few thoughts on those churches of Eastern rites.

Before I began the article, I thought of the strife which is quite commonplace in the geographies of these churches. Iraqi Archibishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was murdered this year in the middle of March. Between restoring a country after the Communist Era and the warfare that stretches through the West Bank and into the Middle East, the faith communities in those areas experience life through a different lens than I.

The article itself addressed the question of a "Mass without consecration", which a prima facie is a utter contradiction. The issue, instead, is the situation shared by Chaldean and Assyrian Christians whose abilities to find ministers of their own rite are severely limited due to military situations or diaspora.

In October of 2001, the Vatican approved members of the Assyrian Church of the East to celebrate Eucharist with Chaldean Catholics. In short, the issue with this is that the Assyrian's Eucharistic Prayer, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, does not include an Institution Narrative.

The committee approving this practice writes, "the words of Eucharistic Institution are indeed present in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in a coherent narrative way and ad litteram, but rather in a dispersed euchological way, that is, integrated in successive prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession." The writers, however, also note that according to the Council of Florence, "The form of this sacrament are the words of the Saviour with which he effected this sacrament. A priest speaking in the person of Christ effects this sacrament. For, in virtue of those words, the substance of bread is changed into the body of Christ and the substance of wine into his blood.”

Further it is important to note that in the Eastern liturgy there is no single point of consecration; instead, the whole prayer is the point of consecration. Some scholars attribute this sort of mysticality as an effect of the absence of scholasticism.

The text offers three reasons to permit the Anaphora without the Narrative. First, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari is one of the oldest anaphoras, and "it was composed and used with the clear intention of celebrating the Eucharist in full continuity with the Last Supper, in obedience to the command of the Lord, and according to the intention of the Church."

Secondly though the Assyrian Church of the East is not in full communion with Rome, the Assyrian Church is recognized as a particular Church with apostolic succession and orthodox faith.

Finally, as stated earlier the Anaphora seems to circle around the action of Christ's Institution without clearly stating the words.

As the Catholic Church continues to open itself to the world (though carefully) and minsters to the situations of the world, Christians should continue to serve one another while serving beyond the seeming limits of the Church. I believe that actions such as these will help the Church realize its place and mission in the world.


"Vocations are born in silence"

"Your vocation should be understood as a conversation with God rather than a guessing game, in which you have to try to read God's mind. The latter picture of God is not too positive."

"Vocation is the spine of existence"

Realizing a vocation is a process in which a person accepts that God is part of his personal creation, his personal situation, and his personal future. This, however, is not always an easy process, perhaps not ever an easy process.

The challenge of vocation, when accepted and begun, opens each person to himself while at the same time opening each person to the world. The beginning of this challenge is also a form of opening. In accepting the reality of vocation, each person must open themselves to God, and once opened to God each person realizes a few things.

1. God is interested in me, and he cares for me and my future.
2. God has created me with gifts, and these gifts should be used for a certain end.
3. The world has certain needs, some of which could act as ends for my gifts.
4. God's care for me will help me realize my place in the world.

Thus, realizing a certain vocation is a process of searching for gifts in yourself, searching for needs in the world and listening to where you fit in those needs. Realizing a vocation is not simply a task of triage, wherein you choose to offer yourself to the highest need that you see. Rather relying on the vision of God, a vocation is attentively listening to where God opens a space in the world for you.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Little of the World

Photography, as a hobby, can become an interesting passageway to past memories and hopefully something more than a mere record of history. As photographed events are surely true (in that they happened), in my humble opinion they should also express beauty. To say beauty is not to say, that kind of beauty "that lies in the eye of the beholder", but beauty that pulls a person, sometimes violently, out of themselves and into something beyond themselves.

Some of the images below have that effect on me, and though I have the benefit of additional memory with these scenes, I think that they say something more than what was experienced at one time by one person.

An interesting moment in Agua Caliente, El Salvador

A door in Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge, 2007

Statue of Saint Francis in an open walkway of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in which doves have nested from "times immemorial"

Cassock of Archbishop Oscar Romero, University of Central America San Salvador

Monday, April 28, 2008

Beginning a Journey

To inaugurate the beginning of this blog, I made time to read the Chronicles of Narnia. This was the first time I have read the books, and I hope to read the whole series this week. This blog, then, will consider an image within The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, namely the statued lion that was given a penciled mustache by Edmund in the Witch's castle and was revived by the breath of Aslan.

Lewis writes of the restored lion,
"The most pleased of the lot was the other lion who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy but really in order to say to everyone he met, "Did you hear what he said? Us Lions. That means him and me. Us Lions. That's what I like about Aslan. No side, no stand-off-ishness. Us Lions. That meant him and me."
This image sets a few things quite straight: our restoration comes from without us, not within. Whether we are statues or just on the wrong side of the battle, we would never be able to "fix" our situation without a deal of outside help. Secondly, the restoring breath neither comes from some distant reality with which we cannot relate nor comes from a normal lion like ourselves. Rather the breath comes from an empathetic friend whose power reaches far beyond ours. Finally, once we are restored his action is not finished. The lion was called by Aslan to carry "three dwarfs, one dryan, two rabbits and a hedgehog" to the battle.

The wonder of being part of an Us, which totally renovates, restores and finally elevates us to something beyond our own imaginations is the beginnings of a participatory understanding of Christianity. It is this participation that is the basis for a theology and spirituality which asks us to change the world and be changed in the process