Blog Template Theology of the Body: March 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week

No blogging here this week.

It's a time for confession. A time for silence and stillness. A time for waiting for an assured rejoicing. It's the final stretch on the road to the resurrection; it's just a matter of time.  

"We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicably hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us. ... not because of any works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy... through the waters of baptism and the renewal by His Holy Spirit." Titus 3:3-7

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ecumenical Acumen: The Church Triumphant

I have been stewing this week over a line which I recently read.  It goes like this:

"I am not persuaded by that account of Roman Catholic ecclesiology which could fairly be called triumphalist, in contrast to mainstream RC ecumenical literature -from Congar to Bea to Willebrands to Kasper, and many others, including Pope John Paul II. For those to whom ecumenism is not really interesting (though conversion in the sense of "submission" is!), the best antidote to this that I know of is John Paul II's Ut Unum Sint."

The "triumphalism" mentioned here is a common term of reproach leveled at the Catholic Church for the claim that she has the fullness of divine revelation and the right to pass judgment on the personal and social obligations of humankind. This "triumphalism" might be most easily contrasted with the proposal that it is right and proper for the Body of Christ to be disseminated by schisms, such that she shows forth to the world the wounds of Her Savior rather than the seeds and presence of His immanent Kingdom, and that the Church thus ought not to proclaim propositional truths about herself and her people; rather, she and her members ought to commit themselves to the sort of ecumenism that perpetually seeks to re-construe an identity, in the kind of irenical group-grope that I have described as a telling of riddles in the dark, or at worst, a confused whine for attention.

I have a few responses to the statement repeated above, and you may have to read them here as time permits; but my first response is that the Church is Christ's, and He is not one to equivocate. The Church has no subsistence apart from Him; her doctrines and disciplines have no grounding other than what He established.  She is no covenanted community of like-minded individuals, which serves as a resource for their mutual self-actualization, on the model of a neighborhood YMCA. She has no life apart from His; and it is by reason of this utter dependence on her Lord that Christians from the very beginning have recognized a mystical identity between the Lord and His Church, to whom He has joined Himself, "in one flesh," as St. Paul tells us.  The Church must be one with Christ, because she has no existence otherwise. And thus what we confess about Jesus, we properly say about the Church; there is nothing else to say about her. 

(And if we shy away from speaking about the Church as we speak about the triumphant Christ- perhaps in the laudable attempt to be humble about her- then we will only succeed in talking about her as though she were our own creation, not His; and that is to make much more of ourselves and the Church than we ought)

And in this regard, let us note that Christ is either the Son of David, of whose Kingdom the increase shall have no end, as the Angel said to Mary, or He isn't; He is either the victorious Bridegroom, or He isn't; He is either the Lord who leads us in triumphal procession (I Thessalonians somewhere) or He isn't. And yes, this Lord was meek and merciful, a servant, the one broken for our offenses; the same one is still Lord. And if we are willing to confess these things about Jesus, then we must be willing to say also that if the Church is the Church, she will share in His Kingdom as a spouse shares, she will lead the triumphal procession with Him, and in meekness, mercy, and service, she will stand in time and space for His dominion. Her members will fail, as we see time and time again; but beyond them, beyond me, beyond us, she is that body who subsists not in our frail flesh, but only in her Lord's triumphant, risen self.

And another thing- those who want to quash the Catholic triumphalism which annoys them must both deny the Church's mystical identity with her Lord (as though she had an existence of her own) and the presence of His Lordship in the visible present; they must insist instead that the Church exists invisibly, somewhere in the nebulous ether, hoped for but unidentifiable here and now. Yet the Church's Lord did not live among us nebulously or spiritually; thus, neither does His Church. He was and is fully man, and in such unequivocal ways.  He lived the life of a poor man, a working man, undefended and undefined by the structures of wealth and social position that sometimes mask a mere human person and make one seem to be nebulously other than one really is.  His death by public execution left no room for doubt as to the actual death that He suffered with respect to His humanity. He confronted doubts afterwards by asking His disciples to touch His wounds. When He wanted to found His Church, He turned to another sweaty working man and told him to stand for Jesus in the world, concretely. This Lord is not one to confuse His people by equivocal appearances; and, for those who live on their persuasions, He is no rhetorician either. This is the Lord, who founded a Church, to whom we are called to submit.  Unequivocally.

(As for "mainstream RC ecumenical literature" and the magisterium's Ut Unum Sint... till next time)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Aquinas on the Meriting of our Salvation

"Now it is clear that between God and man there is the greatest inequality; for they are infinitely apart, and all man's good comes from God... hence man's merit with God only exists on the presupposition of the Divine ordination, so that man obtains from God, as a reward of his operation, what God gave him the power of operating for... God seeks from our goods not profit, but glory, i.e., the manifestation of His goodness; even as He seeks it also in His own works. Now nothing accrues to Him, but only to ourselves, by our worship of Him. Hence we merit from God." Summa Theologiae I-II. 114.1, corpus and ad 2.
...Do you see how there is nothing of "earning" our salvation here?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Scott's Spiritual Direction Blog

My spiritual director, Br. Scott Kallal, is a member of a relatively new religious order called The Apostles of the Interior Life; I spent some time discerning a potential vocation with them a few years ago.  When Br. Scott contacted me about spiritual direction, I felt that I had been given one of the biggest and best undeserved blessings of my life. Br. Scott has decided to make his excellent devotional thoughts, currently being formed in his seminary training in Rome, available on his new blog! You can read it every day, here. Enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Saint Anne

(You will all have to forgive me if I seem a little obsessed with maternal saints lately)

St. Anne is the mother of Mary and the grandmother of our Lord.  Perhaps of all the saints in the Christian assembly, St. Anne stands out to me as definitively Mother; true, our Lady is primordially and ultimately the Mother, but she is such because she is the mother of the one who is also God, and as such she is not only known as mother, but by all of the other attributions that are appropriate to her: the Immaculate Conception, the Door and Ark of salvation, the Holy of Holies.  Mary's fully human womb, once fully inhabited by God Incarnate, is no ordinary place. But St. Anne is just a mother- unlike her daughter, she is a mother without the supernatural gifts of conception by the Holy Spirit, angelic annunciation, a host of corroborating prophecies. And yet historians say that most of the great domes of European Churches were modeled as tributes to St. Anne; they are shaped like a great, maternal human skirt, under which the Tabernacle of the Lord and the Lord Himself could dwell, sound and secure and heralded on the horizon by merely human things.

Today- especially today, after yesterday's maddening vote in the U.S. House of Representatives-our culture needs "just mothers." Our laws cannot provide them; our government will not enforce the natural law that mothers remain and act like mothers towards their offspring. As of today, our legal system has once again given  up on child abuse, infanticide, and the state- and commerce- sponsored murder of a particular class of persons; all of this in the name of a nebulous "right to privacy" that was coined in 1965 to legalize contraception, and all the grisly forms of contraception that would follow.   

But we don't need new and tighter laws, ultimately.  We need a reform of conscience.  We need a celebration of life, at every stage of its development, as the good and holy gift of the God who (always) rejoices in His own creation. We need to imitate the God who reaches and flies to tend to the weakest. We need a culture of mothers.

Edit: I loved this post on the spiritual motherhood provided to young seminarians by a group of Dominican sisters. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Joseph, Custodian of the Lord

On today's feast of the foster father of God incarnate, the Church turns her mind to the quiet obedience and custodianship of the chaste carpenter to whom God entrusted Himself. 

It's this theme of custodianship that stands out most to me; St. Joseph is the patron saint of the dying, but his role as caretaker of Jesus and Mary- a Son who was not his own, and a woman espoused not to himself, but to the Trinity- instantiates the underlying theme of our living too. We are a people who ultimately control and own nothing of our own; all those things for which we care merely pass through our hands until our days are over, to be handed on as the fruits of stewardship to those who will take over next. Whether our Creator is honored  by our temporary handling of His life in us is all that really matters. And to embrace this understanding is a humble thing, on the model of Joseph's own anonymity and humility. 

But there is another side to our humble story too. We are a people entrusted.  Against the late 17th century innovation of monergism, we recall on feast days like today that due attention to God's Incarnation requires that we acknowledge all that He deigned to receive from His creature, and from whom He received. The all-sufficient Creator of the universe, who needs nothing, responding to no exigency, made it the case that He was nourished by a woman and protected by a man. And so it is for all the baptized that we too are a people to whom God has entrusted Himself for nourishment and protection, in the persons who are weaker and more in need than we are, and in all the persons to whom we owe our care; as St. Benedict put it in his explanation of why strangers are owed hospitality, "Christ, who is received in you, shall now be adored."
And in this way, God honors us greatly.  May St. Joseph pray for us as we too care for our Lord, in His people.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ecumenical Acumen: St. John Henry Newman

"Truth," he says, "has the gift of overcoming the human heart, whether by persuasion or compulsion; and, if what we preach be will make itself popular." Newman, Preface to the Third Edition

The Vatican confirmed this week that the canonization of Bl. John Henry Newman will take place in September. Newman was a leader of the Anglican Tractarians, a gloriously profound author, a convert to the Catholic Church, priest, and cardinal. You can learn more here

I have always owed a profound debt of gratitude to this saint, since his The Idea of a University was one of the first texts to strike me in its gentle, wise allusions to the unchanging Church while I was an undergraduate.

Various pundits have been quick to point out this week that there is something significant about this immanent canonization of a convert from Anglicanism juxtaposed against the Church's recent generosity towards Anglicans and Episcopalians who seek reunion with the Church that Christ founded. I think that these hints about a meaningful connection must be true, because in a time of tired failures in ecumenical efforts, and in a time wherein the ecumenical conversation has become muddled beyond comprehension, the Church's recognition and promotion of her martyrs and models of holiness leaves no ambiguity as to Christ's calling for each and every one of the baptized.  The lives of St. Margaret Clitherow and the hundreds of Catholic martyrs of the English Schism outline the relevant distinctions with sobering clarity: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

In other words, with the canonization of Cardinal Newman- the one who attempted to live as a "catholic" while within an Anglican community separated from the Catholic Church, until he repented- the Church gains a reference point against a few of the utterly confusing statements of our day. You have probably heard them. In 2001, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Prefect of Vatican Council for Promoting Christian Unity, stated that“… today we no longer understand ecumenism in the sense of a return, by which the others would ‘be converted’ and return to being Catholics." (Adista, Feb. 26, 2001) In 2005, Pope Benedict made a statement which has been drastically misconstrued when he stated that “and we now ask: What does it mean to restore the unity of all Christians?... This unity, we are convinced, indeed subsists in the Catholic Church, without the possibility of ever being lost (Unitatis Redintegrationn. 2, 4, etc.); the Church in fact has not totally disappeared from the world.  On the other hand, this unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history.  Absolutely not!”(Benedict XVI, Address to Protestants at World Youth Day, August 19, 2005: L’Osservatore Romano, August 24, 2005, p. 8.) 

The Pope's words- which affirm the fact that those who do enter the Catholic Church find that they have to renounce nothing of the truths of Christian doctrine which they previously held-  have been used by many Anglicans to insist (falsely) that the Church's ecumenical efforts have "moved on" from the clearly stated, definitively taught, and repeatedly affirmed mandates of Apostolicae Curae, which unequivocally call Protestants home: speaking to those who have at heart the Church’s desire for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, Pope Leo XIII states as follows:

Let them be the first in joyfully submitting to the divine call (to the Catholic Church) and (obey) it, and furnish a glorious example to others. And assuredly, with exceeding joy, their Mother, the Church, will welcome them, and will cherish with all her love and care those whom the strength of their generous souls has, amidst many trials and difficulties, led back to her bosom. Nor could words ever express the recognition which this devoted courage will win for them from the assemblies of the brethren throughout the Catholic world, or what hope or confidence it will merit for them before Christ as their Judge, or what reward it will obtain from Him in the Heavenly Kingdom.


...When asked whether the Catholic Church "really wants" faithful Anglicans and Episcopalians to convert, the Church's people will not have to scramble to find just the right clever statement to present to those interlocutors who don't buy the Church's authority to authorize statements anyway. We will only have to point to the vividly real lives, deaths, and corroborating miracles of Anglican converts like St. Elizabeth Anne Seton and St. John Henry Newman, and say simply- as they did- "yes."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bishop Chaput, Homosexual Parents, and Who We Really Are

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput made the courageous decision this week to prevent admission to Catholic schools for the children of couples who flagrantly live a lifestyle contrary to the Church's teaching on sexuality. 

The archbishop carefully explained that the parochial schools list among their entrance requirements that their families must live in full cooperation with the mandates of the Catholic Church; such a requirement provides for an atmosphere of coherence, harmony and progress in comprehending the tenets in which the Catholic families of Denver have chosen to raise their children. As the Archbishop explained further, the presence of children from dissenting families would inhibit the ability of Catholic teachers to explain the Church's moral teaching freely in their classrooms, and would risk exposing such children from dissenting households to a sense of confusion and derision. One version of the story is available here. The relevant statements made by both the Archbishop and the director of the school in question are available here.

At first glance, the Archbishop's decision will seem garishly counter-cultural; it might even provoke some to worry that the Archbishop is ignoring the Magisterium's stern warning that all forms of social prejudice against homosexual persons are to be avoided (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357-2359).  In response to such attacks, we recall that the Church recognizes that the disorder of practiced homosexuality is, with all forms of unchastity, a sin against the Church's members and the Church's God; to assert and enforce this recognition is a thing entirely different from exercising unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. And on a civil level, it is incumbent that the public recall that it is the natural, proper, and Constitutional right of a privately funded, self-directed institution to limit its membership according to its determination of appropriate behaviors. 

I applaud Bishop Chaput because I have been thinking this week about America's allegedly greatest theologian, Stanley Hauerwas. Stanley has a provocative little 1993 article entitled "Why Gays (as a Group) are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group)." In this article, Stanley points out that the American gay community has a stronger sense of identity, coherence, loyalty, and ethos than most American Christians. They have a clearly defined moral compass and agenda. For what they believe and do, they are frequently rejected by conservative elements in our modern culture. And, they have been willing to suffer for what they stand for. Stanley's point is that the same can hardly be said for the larger community of American Christians, whether it comes to our position on sexuality or war or education, and he lambasts us for it.  

It is American Catholic bishops like Chaput who prove that this is not necessarily the case, and that Christians (as a Group) can (in the Catholic community at least) demonstrate that we believe in something, that we can and will act in certain ways, and that if necessary, we will suffer for it- perhaps as well as our homosexual fellows in this weary world have done. The Church stands for something; good Bishops like Chaput will not let us forget it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Theology of the Body

I notice that a Catholic site that lists my blog has TWO blogs entitled "Theology of the Body." Our title is a poetic extension of John Paul II's term to the corporate Body of the Church, which is constituted by embodied persons who must live out their allegiance to Christ in mind, heart, and body; the second blog of the same name deals with the Theology of the Body per se. Written by a religious sister, the blog invites readers to "Be amazed by what the Catholic Churchreally teaches about gender, sexuality, marriage, birth control, relationships...and the Trinity.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


"I cannot think of a more conformist and suicidal message in modernity than that we should encourage fellow Christians to make up their own minds. That is simply to ensure that they will be good conformist consumers in a capitalist economy by assuming now that ideas are but another product that one gets to choose on the basis of one's arbitrary likes and dislikes. To encourage Christians to think for themselves is therefore a sure way to avoid any meaningful discourse..." Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom

I love the decidedly Protestant Stanley Hauerwas. When I was sorting out what it meant to be a Christian really, It was Stanley personally, and his prolific work, which called me to try to be serious about what it meant to follow Jesus- not the culture, nor the state, nor my friends and family, but Jesus. It was Stanley who insisted that to follow Jesus is impossible outside of the Church; it was Stanley who explained to me that the Church is called to be the Church, in and against and yet for the world, and within that simple statement lies the fullest description of the Church's vocation and of the vocations of those who live within her. It is largely because of Stanley that I was able to discern that the only way to do all of these things completely is within the Church Catholic, and not in one of her fragile derivatives. 

(These opinions are no doubt shared by my revered friend Joshua Whitfield, whose recent book Pilgrim Holiness: Martyrdom as Descriptive Witness and decision to enter the Catholic Church also reflect his studies under the great Hauerwas. You can hear Josh's impressive conversion story here).

Monday, March 08, 2010

Our Lady of Tenderness

My husband and I recently had the joy of discovering that God has blessed us with a little one, whom we will welcome in late October.  To celebrate, some dear friends presented us with an icon of the Marian image that is similar to the 0ne shown above.  We love it; as we venture forward in our vocation as spouses and parents, there is no clearer reminder that the Church's greatest saints, and our Lord Himself, lived a family life, and that to consent to this calling is to be nearer to who He is.

Today is the feast of St. John of God, a sixteenth century soldier who founded a religious order; and it is perhaps in juxtaposition to such a calling that I often felt perplexed about the meaning and value of family life.  After all, the family vocation is ideally centered around such cozy, comfortable themes as the hearth and the table, the abundance and stability that are so often not possible for so many in our wounded world. And it would often seem to me that the only way to live the Christian life in its proper radicality was through the renunciation of hearth and home, and I spent a lot of good time in prayer and reflection as to whether I should be a nun instead of a wife and a mother.  In God's grace, the understanding only deepened that the baptized are not called to renunciation or militant expansion of the Kingdom ipso facto; we are called to be the true members of the true Church, which is a family. Yes, she is an army terrible with her banners; yes, she is a sentinel who stands guard over the truth, armed against invaders.  But in her first member, our Lord's own mother, the Church is foremostly the nurturing place where the creation is re-born for the glad things that the Father intended in the first place, and as such she is the life of a family, who lives her life in her various families. And as such, in the humility of a family, she bears witness to the truth that her life is not a matter of mission merely. Rather, the Church is in herself, in her very existence, witness to the great consummation of all things, of the provision of the life, the joy, the bounty that constitutes Heaven and the grace of being that our God began. The appointed Kingdom has been given to the Son, and He hands it on to His Church, here and now; and perhaps there is no greater instantiation of the absolute givenness of this joyful truth than the audacious, humble, human act of forming households (whether domestic or religious) and welcoming children (whether through birth or through spiritual formation). To form a family in a seemingly war-torn environment is to say boldly  in faith that, appearances to the contrary, our battles are won, our work is accomplished, the joy to come is given already, and it has only to grow. 

In this way, there need be no dichotomy between the Church's invasive battles and the nurturing life of the family in our times, because as the saints remind us, the Church's territories are not marked and defended in terms of space and time; rather, the frontiers of the Church pass through ourselves. It is through mothers and fathers, sons and daughters that the lines which divide good and evil pass; these borders, and not those of an alien territory, are the lines which separate the "with God" from the "without God," the "for God" from all that is against Him, as the servant of God Madeleine Delbrel put it.  It is in ourselves and through one another that we open up space for God's life to pass through; nothing else will carry us into the inner reality of the Church, and nothing else will extend God to the waiting world. For His life within us, we ought to be waiting- with a hearth, and a table, and the attitude of nurturing kinship.  Our Lady of Tenderness, pray for us.