Blog Template Theology of the Body: June 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Considering Radner- and the alternative

In considering Radner, we consider one of the most formidable Protestant ecclesiologists of our day; and his proposal that the Church be understood on the model of a broken, dispersed Israel has its compelling features. One alternative, as emphasized by significant contemporary Catholic theologians, is to understood the Church in and by the young Israelite in whom the Church finds Israel's Holy of Holies- Mary of Nazareth, called from among the nations and from among her own to be God's chosen one and bear Him to the Gentiles, as though she were the most radical form of her nation Israel.

Protestant ecclesiologies who would converse with Catholic doctrines of the Church need to recall Charles Journet's emphasis in The Church of the Word Incarnate that the Church enjoys a present consummation with Christ, with regard to the present fecundity and maternity which is already realized in Mary, such that the Church need not be called "broken," but rather, "abundant" in the grace and presence of the Savior:

When (we) speak of fecundity (we) recall that the Holy Spirit…by the mediation and free acquiescence of our Lady, formed Christ to Him to the world… on the day of the Annunciation the Holy Spirit gave a mysterious fecundity to our Lady, making her the mother of Christ and consequently, the mother of all men. This fecundity He now communicates, in a different and analogical manner, to the power of order… so that it may bring the Eucharistic Christ into the world, and generate the Church which is His body.

Accordingly, Journet continues:

The collective grace of the whole Church is condense and intensified in the Blessed Virgin… this is the very mystery of the relations between Christ, on the one hand, and the Virgin and the Church on the other, of which St. Thomas speaks when he says at the moment of the Annunciation, the Virgin’s consent was sought in the name of all human nature…all the maternal and virginal dignity of the universal Church, all the joys and sorrows of her childbearing through the ages, are collected and brought to a supreme point in that precise moment of her pilgrimage when she, by the blessed Virgin, gives birth to a Son…(and) at the moment when Christ dies on His cross, it is coredemptive compassion of the entire Church… that is condensed and carried to a supreme point of intensity in the heart of the Blessed Virgin.

In this way, Journet continues that in Mary’s unique “nuptial” relationship to the Godhead, the Church finds the pattern of her espousals, such that the Church need not be called "estranged" from her full vocation nor even "scattered" with regards to her integrity; rather, viewed in a Marian key, she has been and is "gathered," in the fullest sense:

Mary is the supreme realization of the Church… more Bride (even) than the Church… she is Mother, Bride and Virgin prior to the Church and for the Church; ... it is in her, above all, and by her that the Church is Mother, Bride and Virgin. It is by a mysterious excellence that is diffused from Mary that the Church can truly be, in her turn, Mother, Bride, and Virgin.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Considering Radner: Is the Church a "Chaste Whore?"

Ecclesiologists and theologians who follow Radner would be prone to echo this term as a preferred mode of reference for the Church, with regard to the simultaneous reality of her total holiness even while her members persist in human sins. This fact is of course an important theological problem, although the Catholic Church does not view it as a paradox; rather, as Pope John Paul II puts it in a decree for the Jubilee of 2000, "the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters." (John Paul II, First Sunday of Lent "Day of Pardon," 2000). The Church's definitive summary here bears witness to her identity as the creature which subsists unceasingly in her Lord alone, such that en toto she always enjoys, participates in, and extends His holiness without hinderance; and while her sons and daughters do commit sin, she exercises the authority that is hers in her very essence as "bone of (Christ's) bone and flesh of His flesh" by interceding for them, representing them to their Judge to ask for pardon, and extending His remission of their guilt and punishment. In other words, sinners are within her; but she, by God's grace, stands over and above them in His own perfect righteousness.

However thorough the Protestant attempt to construe the holiness+sinfulness problem, the Protestant's persistent denial of the Church's authority and essential holiness before her Lord requires recourse to the paradox of two contradictory states with regards to the Church as a whole, such that she would be said to be, as Luther said of the individual baptized, "simul justus et peccator," at once justified and sinful- or, as Radner finds helpful, she might be said to be "a chaste whore."

Given the great reverence with which the Christian tradition has always treated the figure of the whole Church, regardless of the sins of her members, "the chaste whore" reference needs to be qualified much more carefully, particularly since Hans Urs Von Balthasar, as the only contemporary Catholic theologian to utilize the term, refers strongly to its contradictory meaning as being “blasphemous” on its face in his work Sponsa Verbi, "Bride of the Word." (There is some suggestion that Hugo Rahner may have made reference to this term as well, but I've not yet found it if that is the case)

There are in fact two Patristic allusions to the Church as a casta meretrix, "chaste whore," but these references do not relate to the problem of the simultaneous "sinfulness" and holiness of the Church. Both St. Augustine and St. Ambrose (In Lucam VIII) use the casta meretrix term with reference to the repentant Rahab, in order to illustrate the Gentiles' former status as idolaters, who have become a chaste body (and a whore no longer) in their reception of the sacraments, such that they have emerged from "whoredom" into espousal with their Savior, and as such, they constitute His Body in the world as His chaste bride; and all of this is read on the model of the just Gentile Rahab, who significantly provided her house as a place of refuge and protection for God's people, and who was incorporated into Israel in her repentance. Apparently, it was with regard to the Gentiles' transition in time- from "whores" prior to baptism and conversion, to saints afterwards- that Rahab was cast as a type of the Church by Justin, Clement, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Origen. By the 9th century, Rabanus Maurus clarifies that “we are not saying that the Church remained a prostitute, but simply that she used to be."

Taken in this way, it seems that these references do not directly pertain to the problem of the fomes of sin which remain in the Church’s structures and baptized members- and in light of Catholic theology’s post- Vatican II references to the Church as the present spouse of Christ, the “whore” language construed as a general reference seems... dialogically "unhelpful."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Considering Radner in a Marian Key

Ephraim Radner explains that he "likes figural images for the Church;" and while his point of reference for this idea is the great George Lindbeck's proposal that we regard Israel as the symbol of the Church, Catholic ecclesiology insists that there is something more to be said in addition. Fundamentally, the Church can only exist where Christ is, where He dwells; and He has dwelt, as Scripture instructs us, not primarily in tabernacles made with men's hands, but within His people, somewhat in the same way as the way in which He dwelt uniquely in the very body of His mother. Mary's relationship to her Son, in its ontological intimacy, shows us what it means to be the Church. This is the reason why the Catholic Church insists in some of its most important ecclesiological encyclicals that the Church is foremostly Marian in its character; and that is also why, when you step into a Catholic Church, one finds her portrayed all over the place. She is our point of reference for discerning what we are all about. The bride who comes down from Heaven in St. John's vision once lived in Nazareth; she is the new Jerusalem who explicates to us just how near our Creator has come.

If we look at Mary, and her self-description relative to her Lord, what might the Church understand to say about herself? More particularly, what would she say of herself contrary to certain contemporary Protestant proposals (of which we might use Radner as an exemplar)?

Rather than identifying herself as "an historical creature," the product of human trends and identities, she would say behold the handmaiden of the Lord.

Contrary to the noble Anglican Richard Hooker's suggestion that Christian communities ought always to be run by councils, which, by the fact of their frequency over time, will gradually rectify their problems, such that those who leave to seek solace in other communities are merely exemplifying "impatience," she would recall the immediate readiness of her response to the angelic annunciation that the Lord was with her, there and then, and let it be so; and the angel departed.

Rather than suggesting that the various movements of the Holy Spirit among Christian communities can be rightly reduced to explosions of self-conscious, democratic movemements towards individual self-realization, generally the product of environments which are plagued with poverty, social marginalization, and a need for political liberation, she would say with confidence that what has been unto her has been according to His word.

She would certainly frown gently on the idea that although we might confess belief in one holy apostolic church, this confession is merely a descriptive, explicative claim by which we ought to construe the more real historical givenness of a scattering of thousands of "churches;" she would instead proclaim victoriously that for her, at least, the mighty one has done great things in order to show His own humility, in His visible incarnation, to be exalted among the nations.

Rather than dismissing the Catholic and Orthodox claims to enjoy the fullness of the Church's life as mere suggestions held by two "models" of the Church among hundred of others, she would treasure and honor in her heart of hearts the givenness of God's sovereign work in the history of the world, and honor it accordingly.

She would not wring her hands over the seeming failures or absence of normative ecclesial structures, such that all that seems to remain are "different modes of ecclesial life" or "a range of possible emphases," which may be selected by believers according to historical conditions and trends of expression, such that the only really important thing is for Christians to be nice to each other while they determine for themselves "what the Church ought to be today;" she would say simply, as she did at Cana, do whatever He tells you.

And in response to the idea that Christian communion must refer to something much larger and more nebulous than you and me, such that the only open question remains how to concretize a unity yet to be realized, she would turn her gaze back to Calvary, where she stood with her dying Son and heard Him say, so simply: it is accomplished.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Considering Radner III: Is the Catholic Church "wounded" by schism?

In this week of considering Radner, I have corrected my earlier misunderstanding that Radner purports to speak as a Protestant theologian with a "catholic" mindset; in reality, it turns out that Radner is more of a liberal and thoroughly postmodern ecclesiologist. In that regard, we can let him off the hook somewhat. However, in as much as Radner and his following purport to approach ecumenism according to their own version of the Catholic Church's self-description, the corrective below remains important.

One of the most significant rejoinders given to Catholics who object to Radner's wounded ecclesiology is the reminder that the Catholic magisterium has itself described the Church as "wounded" by the departures and sins of her members; and in fact, although the Catholic Church does not refer to woundedness in any of her documents on ecumenism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does explain as follows:

"In fact, in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers."

The correct interpretation of this passage requires the reader to keep in mind several principles of Catholic theology. First, while the Catholic Church firmly holds that the fullness of the visible Body of Christ subsists within her own household, she also joyfully recognizes a certain sharing in Christ which belongs to every baptized believer. And it is with respect to these separated brothers and sisters that the Catholic Church is most aware of a real woundedness that harms those who remain separated from the fullness of grace available in the one Church. This principle was explained most recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2007:
"Despite this unequivocal recognition of the (Orthodox churches) 'being particular Churches' and of their salvific value, the document could not ignore the wound (defectus) which they suffer specifically in their being particular Churches...that wound is still more profound in those ecclesial communities which have not preserved the apostolic succession or the valid celebration of the eucharist."

It is in this way that the Catholic Church recognizes woundedness in the Body of Christ, with respect to Christ's members who are separated from the fullness of the Catholic faith.

In the same way, the dogmatic constitution on the Church of 1967 (Lumen Gentium) laments a certain woundedness in every member of the Church who falls into sin; and these wounds are healed by the Sacrament of Penance, which can be received by those who are in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Probably the most helpful interpretive passage for the idea of the woundedness in the Body of Christ is to be found in the declaration Dominus Iesus, which was authored in 2000 by Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger:

"The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the Church; not in the sense that she is deprived of her unity, but “in that it hinders the complete fulfilment of her universality in history” by the persistence of schism.

In other words, true to her conviction that the authentic experience of being part of Christ's Body is possible only in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church does not speak of herself as disfigured, wounded, or divided by the decision of numerous bodies to separate from her throughout history; this is because she believes that her purity and integrity come only from Christ, and are preserved by Him for Himself, regardless of what separatist communities may choose to do. Thus, any references to the woundedness of Christian communities- especially with regard to ecumenical conversation and Catholic self-identity- should keep these qualifications carefully in mind. It is with respect to such qualifications that the Catholic CDF described the following norm with regard to ecumenical dialogue just over a year ago:

"If (ecumenical) dialogue is to be truly constructive it must involve not just the mutual openness of the participants but also fidelity to the identity of the Catholic faith. Only in this way will it be able to lead towards the unity of all Christians in "one flock with one shepherd" and thus heal that wound which prevents the Catholic Church from fully realising her universality within history."

...Enough for woundedness. With regard to the Catholic Church's proper universality, I personally would echo a line from my favorite Catholic ecumenist, addressed to all non Catholic friends and readers: we have great need of you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Considering Radner II

Before his death in AD 258, St. Cyprian of Carthage interpreted such Scriptural descriptions of the Church as that found in Ephesians 5- "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless"- with the following language excerpted below.

St. Cyprian's exhortation seems relevant to Radner's theological claim that Christ's Church is inherently susceptible to blemishing by human causes:

"The Lord said I and the Father are one. And it is also written of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost- these three are one. Who then would believe that this unity, which derives from the very divine stability and homogenaity with the heavenly mysteries, could be, in the Church, torn and broken by the opposition of human will at variance with each other?"

...Who, then, is so wicked and faithless, who is so insane with the madness of discord, that either he should believe that the unity of God can be divided, or should dare to rend it—the garment of the Lord—the Church of Christ? He Himself in His Gospel warns us, and teaches, saying, “And there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” And does any one believe that in one place there can be either many shepherds or many flocks? The Apostle Paul, moreover, urging upon us this same unity, beseeches and exhorts, saying, “I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that ye be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

- St. Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae VI.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Awesome! Evangelical Catholicism is (has been) back

One of my favorite Catholic blog teams renewed their postings last year, and I've just re-discovered it today- check out Evangelical Catholicism, because the vibrant renewal of Christ's Church is everybody's business... enjoy!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Considering Radner I.

Covenant Communion?

De Lubac on

Incorporation in the Two Aspects of the Church

In Conversation with Protestant Construals

(The Splendor of the Church, 1986)

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas;" still another, "I follow Christ." …Is Christ divided?” I Corinthians 1:10-13

It seems that recently trendy Protestant ecclesiology is increasingly conducted in a Radnerian key, which (very loosely construed) seems to proceed from the following principles. First, the Church is viewed as fundamentally broken or “wounded.” Secondly, in as much as the evidence of this inherent woundedness is located in the sins of schism and division among Christian communities, the obvious alternative seems to be for Christians to get along by first blaming their problems on this indemic woundeness, and then to attempt to cohabit by the sheer force of willed commitment. Thus the primary work of the Holy Spirit will be to operate through human agents for the gradual re-constituting of the Church through the human mechanisms of binding agreement, such as diplomacy, bargaining, and covenants, construed in various ways.

On this rather sad view, it would seems that the broken world was merely handed another intrinsically sick body at Pentecost, whose total mission is to try to heal itself by inspired negotiations. Setting aside for a moment the depressing gloom of this description, as well as Barth’s severe warning on point, the above construal bears for this reader scant resemblance to the Biblical authors' contagious rejoicing at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and hearkens even less to Augustine’s breathless admiration for the immaculate bride-as-new-Eve born from the wounds of Christ on His Cross. On the contrary, it seems that the sincere penitent, on considering his salvation, might be driven to outright panic on Radner's description, when he considers the more basic principle, affirmed by the Fathers and modern theologians alike, that his salvation depends on his proper and full incorporation into this body, which, in the Radnerian key, is so wounded that the lone penitent might be always at great risk of falling through a crack. It has been suggested that the solution to this dire problem is for Christians to “covenant” together, in order to shore up the grace which is promised to all the baptized, for the outworking of their common mission. Putting such proposals in conversation with De Lubac’s resourcement ecclesiological theology might clarify fruitful questions for future dialogue.

It is true that the idea of securing grace through binding agreements or “covenants” is a very old one. In the thirteenth century, the scholastics Richard Fishacre and Robert Kilwardby proposed that the sacramental grace needed for salvation was “contracted” in the Church through the due enactment of authorized symbols. Gabriel Biel followed suit in his argument that God would show mercy to humanity in exchange for a sincere and adequately demonstrative performance of faith and charity. St. Thomas refutes these proposals in his victorious explanation of the unmerited nature of the grace which, in as much as it belongs to God alone, operates instrumentally and directly by literally touching the body and cleansing the heart of the recipient through the sacraments. When Protestant theology turned away from its foundation in the tradition compiled by the medieval schoolmen, it rehearsed the former trends with a new urgency; thus Calvin and his following reduced the life of Christian faith to a covenant, enacted in and through a covenant community, which appropriated salvation for its members through the covenantal symbols of baptism and the Eucharist; the communion of believers, joined by the invisible bonds of consensus, thus becomes a means and locus of engaging grace through the offer/acceptance dynamic of a covenant conducted among God and neighbor.

Against this modern proposal, De Lubac summarizes one of the most striking aspects of Catholic ecclesiology: rather than describing the Church’s emergence from the union of human covenanters, in which grace is secured by various authorized mechanisms, De Lubac echoes the more ancient teaching that the Church comes only from Christ. Thus she is herself simply “the sacrament of Christ, as Christ Himself, in His humanity, is for us the sacrament of God.” (De Lubac, Splendor of the Church 202) If we apply Thomas’ definition of a sacrament here, we would say further that in as much as the Church belongs to God alone, she exercises on the bodies of the people whom she touches a direct effect accomplished through the Divine institution, by virtue merely of her creation; there is no humanly intermediary covenant mechanism required. As the “last testament/covenant,” formed by the final assent uttered by humanity in Christ on His cross, after which there is to be no other, (204, 205) the Church is “that which we already have, not a heralding or a preparation more or less remote-” but here and now- “the whole coming of the Son of Man.” (ibid) De Lubac finds the ample foundation for his explanation in the writings of the fathers; but his extensive citation of their writings, in which the Church is simply identified with Christ, is summarized by a statement of the peasant saint Joan of Arc, which De Lubac deems adequate to summarize all the thought of the ecclesial Doctors: “it seems to me that it is all one, Christ and the Church, and it seems to me we ought not to make any difficulty of it.” (211)

It is in this regard that we find no mention of “covenant” in De Lubac’s ecclesiology as a fundamental descriptor of the Christian’s communion with Christ in the Church. De Lubac is eager to affirm the Church as creature of the context of the New Covenant, in which God has come to dwell with His people in the spiritual and human person of His body, the Church; but De Lubac has no sense of the Church as a spiritual reality emerging from the consensus of her members. In fact, on his insistence of “a relation of mystical identity” between Christ and His church, (209) De Lubac sternly rejects this sort of impulse as idolatrous; on his explanation, if modern ecclesiology construes itself as the product of a negotiated covenant among Christian members, we might find “the growing tendency toward a real homogeneity between (the) worshippers and the beings that are worshipped.”

Instead, De Lubac construes the worship of Christ by the Church, which is appropriated by her members, as involving two aspects, on the model of the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, from which the Church is also constituted “under two aspects.” (103) Here, de Lubac distinguishes the inseparable “active” and “passive” aspects of the Church, in whom both the voice that calls and the members assembled are united indissolubly, (ibid) in the one call of the Bridegroom who continually calls the world’s ungathered to His Body, through His Body. De Lubac insists that this construal is the only way in which the Church can bear witness to her Lord’s Incarnation- the hypostatic union of Logos with Jesus of Nazareth- and any attempt to divide the invisible, mystical, transcendent form of this ecclesial Body from its historical, visible boundaries and instantiations reduces the human aspect to such sociological considerations as those which apply to covenant making, and then shades the entire Gospel with the monophysite and Platonic slurs which deny that the Christ has come, in the flesh. (102, 105) As Christ’s Body, the Church has full divinity and fully humanity, inseparably.

Still, De Lubac is aware that in herself as recipient creature, the venerable Church should not be worshipped as her Head alone is to be worshipped, since she possesses of herself nothing of His divinity which she did not first receive. Thus, having established the principle of mystical identity between Christ and the Church, it is here that De Lubac qualifies his insistence on this relation of "identity” with recourse to a covenant framework. The covenantal framework invoked here is, however, not described in the sense of a product of ecumenical discourse arrived at between the Church’s human members as to how they will co-create a common life together; rather, De Lubac seems to envision a covenant which was once and for all engaged between the human Body and her Head to constitute the new flesh of “the great mystery” in an ontological, real nuptial union. Here, De Lubac’s punctuation of his ecclesial metaphors with the language of the Church as covenanted “Bride” and covenant-created “Household” is significant. De Lubac introduces the Church as the Bride who wields her Spouse’s authority and grace while at the same time benefiting from them, by virtue of her total union with her divine spouse. (107-109) Furthermore, “the Church (is) the House of Christ, in which Christ is given to us in a final and eternal alliance.” (211)

Thus, on De Lubac’s terms, there is indeed a covenant which constitutes saving union with Christ; but the covenant is not made with respect to the members of the Church, but with respect to the Church entire, as she is in her fullness. In De Lubac’s invocation of the nuptial imagery for the total union between Christ and the Church, we find implicit the notion of a total covenant. And if this is the case, De Lubac introduces a way of construing covenant in discussions of ecclesiology and soteriology. By its nature, a covenant requires two voices, one to issue an offer, the other to guarantee a response. Following on Calvin’s proposal that a saving covenant must be engaged between the individual and God at baptism, and that the Church thus emerges as the covenant communion of covenanting individuals, De Lubac’s proposal of the mystical identity between Christ and the Church teaches us that in the Church there is ultimately only one voice, which is Christ’s, saying to the Father in His humanity, “it is finished.” And, on St. Joan’s humble explanation, there is nothing more to say, though there is surely much left to obey.

In this way, as De Lubac summarizes, the notion that for each one of us Christ is His Church becomes a very practical matter. (210) In sum, De Lubac’s governing principle seems to be that the only covenant that matters with regard to individual salvation in and through the Church has already been made and consummated between Christ and His immaculate Bride; “he who is not a member of the body does not receive influx from the Head; he who does not cling to the one Bride is not loved by the Bridegroom.” (210) The unity of the Church thus subsists not in human agreements, but in the integrity of the Head, who has united Himself to His Body:

The integrity of Christ signifies the indivisible unity of the Head and the Body, in plenitudine Ecclesiae, and in consequence, the indivisible unity of all those who are parts of this body… (thus) her mysterious reality always transcends all those who belong to her and gather to her… she is actualized and localized in their groupings, but she is neither divided not multiplied by them, for she is always more than they are. (110-111)

Thus, when elaborating on the implications of the Church’s nuptial covenant with her Lord with respect to individual members, De Lubac lists the following aspects of the covenant communion between the Body and Her Head, to which the Church’s individual members must be found to conform. The implication of the Church’s dual human and divine interaction, as consummated in her own nuptial covenant with Christ, clearly “involves a meaning that is not interchangeable: no children without a mother; no people without leaders;… no communion of saints without a communication of holy things. And similarly, no constituted assembly without a constitution, which includes a hierarchy.” (109-110) And finally, in the reality of the givenness of this already- consummated covenant, which has formed “one flesh” into which the baptized are born, De Lubac warns: "we should remember that there is no substantial hope of unity outside the institution which received the promise of unity... we should hold as an absolute principle that there can never be a valid reason for separating ourselves from her." (211)

In conclusion, De Lubac seems to remind us that though the Church as corpus Christi does, in one respect, exist under the aspect of a human covenant, this covenant does not belong to us as her members; it is the Church’s nuptial covenant, formed with her spouse, with which her members have nothing to do but assent, in order that they may benefit ontologically from her union, and then extend Christ’s household benefits to the waiting world.

From CNA: Hyundai pulls television ad after Catholic uproar

Many of you may have seen the blatantly sacriligious commercial aired by Hyundai during the World Cup matches this past weekend; the awful commercial has merited the company's apology for its "insensitivity" in mocking a Catholic procession and nuptial Mass, while "Agnus Dei" is chanted in the background.

You can read more here: "Responding to “enough of an outcry” from Catholic individuals and blogs, Korean car maker Hyundai announced on Monday that it has pulled a World Cup-themed television ad that ran during the USA-England soccer match on Saturday featuring a "church" in Argentina mocking Catholic sacraments." Fox offers an additional report here.

It's disconcerting to see a major company based in South Korea, one of the world's largest and most vibrant Protestant Christian populations, hiring this kind of advertising; it's shameful to see a California-based ad agency like Innocean Worlwide Americas, the advertisement company which created the ad, devising such a coarse treatment of a religious topic in our allegedly highly sensitized era. And most of all, it's gratifying to see Catholics rallying around their Lord and the faith once delivered, in a way which really makes a difference. In a time when so many Catholics are wondering whether and when to speak up about anything, this instance provides a lot of encouragement... let's speak up.

HT: Andy Bartus, who alerted me to this news.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wounded Body or Glorious Bride? Ephraim Radner in Dallas

A retrospective from a few years ago, since the elegant and erudite Dr. Radner is currently back in town

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about being a Catholic in modern day Dallas/Fort Worth is that one finds herself situated in an arena of vivid ecclesiological questions. We have some of the largest and most vibrant Catholic parishes in the world here; we also have some of the most ardent proponents of the idea that Protestants can co-exist alongside these parishes in a form of Catholic life and devotion which is fully symbiotic with the Catholic tradition while remaining ensconsed outside of it. They may call themselves "anglo-catholics," "bapto-catholics," "metho-catholics," etc; one eminent French Vatican II ecclesiologist called them "parasites," but that is another topic for another day. At any rate, it's never a dull moment in Texas.

One particular issue which I have wanted to address for a long time is involved in the proposal of Ephraim Radner, an erudite Episcopalian theologian, who suggests that a fundamental construal of the Church should deal with her "woundedness." This idea is supposed to lead to ecumenical advances, in as much as we all can identify as victims of some sort of hurt or another. My unformed response to this kind of idea is that the proponent should immediately stop whining theologically, but of course, there is more to be said.

So, for the next few days I will be considering the idea of the Church relative to the construals of Radner and his following. Throughout the consideration, I will be keeping one central issue in mind: is the Church something which we create for ourselves? Or, on the other hand, is the Church (exclusively) Christ's creation? In other words, should the ecclesiological article of the Creed- in which we confess belief in "one, holy, apostolic Church"- be taken as referring to the only aspect of the Creed which is not God's unexacted self-gift to us? Should we rather treat this article as describing something which we form for our own use, via communal practices and covenants? The solution may help to clarify the dividing line between Catholic and Protestant ecclesiologies, which- I think- goes to the heart of every other divergence in understanding, and certainly addresses the question of how we might go about conforming ourselves to the Church which we confess.

I will be leaving the comments open in case any of our learned readers would like to weigh in. Thanks for your attention...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ecumenical Acumen: De Lubac on the ecclesiologically limp-wristed

"We may avoid making a fatal dissociation of the visible and the invisible (as schism or spiritual anarchy so often do); we may be far from adopting the blurred concept of "evangelical catholicity" put forward by the liberal type; we may be equally disinclined to set in opposition charismata and the hierarchy, or spirit and authority. We may do all this, and yet still get onto the slippery slope- if we are not careful- via a dangerous distinction between the "visible Church" and the "Mystical Body" of Christ. Some thinkers have even found themselves led into this situation without actually so intending, through a lack of grip in their theological reflection."

Henri De Lubac, Splendor of the Church 91.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Indulgences Cont'd.

I recently found an excellent post on indulgences at Aimee Milburn Cooper's blog "Historical Christian." The post is entitled, "For Daily Growth in Holiness, the Beautiful Spiritual Practice of ... Indulgences."Link
I really like the author's conclusion, which hints at the direction of my dissertation:

"One last note: The doctrine of indulgences is a beautiful example of the Church truly acting authoritatively as the agent of God, the channel of His grace, binding and loosing, forgiving sins and dispensing rivers of grace from Christ for all who come and ask. For me, as a member of the Church and her ingrafted child, I intend to make use of this beautiful grace. I think I need it, and I think the whole Body will benefit from it.

I hope you will, too. It is a gift the Church has freely given us. Let us come to know, use, and love this gift, daily and well, and spread knowledge of it, and so spread its use among the children of our Mother the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ and members of our own Body. Let us humbly, with awareness of our sinfulness and littleness, ask our Father in Heaven to daily indulge us, by daily lavishing upon us the riches, merits, and grace of Christ, so that we may be increasingly freed of the effects and consequences of sin, and increasingly made holy, pure and beautiful in the grace of Christ, so that His features may be carved in us, and seen in us, more and more clearly. In pursuing and growing in holiness and grace, we truly will not only help uplift the Church, but help uplift each other and the whole world, by making Christ visible and knowable in the world - which we so need today, and which our Mother the Church is calling for us to do."

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Saint Sabina, 126 AD

One of my favorite churches in Rome sits atop the Aventine Hill, on the site of one of the earliest titular house churches where the first Christians met in secret. This one is vast, and brooding, with ancient carved doors that display the earlist known image of a Christian Crucifix. I have visited there late in the evening after Vespers, when lone Dominicans kneel in the chapels to pray; last spring, I heard the Holy Father say Mass there, on Ash Wednesday, after his solemn procession from St. Anselmo up the way. This old church is dedicated to the memory of St. Sabina, a Roman wife and mother who was martyred in the second century along with the slave who had converted her. Now, we worship her Lord, with her memory, at her house.

This church, which was once a home to a family, and is now a home for the whole world, is particularly special to me because it is a headquarters of the Dominican order. I was received as a married woman and mother into the Domincan third order for the laity this past Sunday, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, which fulfilled my desire of many, many years to participate with those who have given their entire lives to God in a way appropriate to my own vocation. The wonderful priest who heard my initial promises to follow the Dominican rule and charism stopped my husband and me after the Mass to give us a special blessing as a family. He asked for the intercession of Christ's own Holy Family, on whose feast day my husband and I were married. And then he winked at me and said, "now you are a family... within a family."

In the days before I knew that the Catholic Church had already thought all about it, I spent a lot of time stuggling to understand the role of the family within the Church. Which existed for which, I wonderered- the family for the Church, or the Church for the family? Without resolving such questions, I figured that it was impossible for a Christian family to justify its own existence- anyone can marry and have children, but Christians have a Great Commission to follow; there is work to be done! That attitude evidenced some latent problems with my anthropology at that point; and it was a great relief when I discovered that the Church's characteristic answer to my question is, as usual, "both"- both the family for the Church and the Church for the family, in as much as both exist to form and present one soul to Heaven, one at a time. As John Paul II put it, man is the way of the Church; she serves him, and in his mandate to give himself to Christ through his brothers, he will realize his highest potential by giving himself to her. And I think that it is this sort of intuition whereby the Church generously acknowledges and provides for the ministry of the laity, and calls us to realize our responsibilities fully, perhaps in the kind of special lay consecration that I am so excited about. And all of this while remaining simply what we, as Christians, are- famillies, within a family.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Visit Second Star to the Right

LinkI interrupt the usual sequence of this blog to announce the gorgeous arrival of a truly great and good contribution to the Blogosphere: Second Star to the Right, a blogging sort of "guide for parents seeking good children's books and tips on quality reading for families." Amazing, and beautiful.

The author, one of my childhood and dearest friends, has "a lifelong obsession with quality books for children, and this blog is dedicated to promoting a healthy appetite for good children's literature and helping mothers to navigate through those Realms of Gold, the many passages of Neverland."

If you love books, or children, or both, you will love this new blog.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Perhaps the best Catholic Parish... in London

My husband and I concluded our recent trip abroad with a wonderful week together in London. Before we left, we had conducted a quick online search for a Catholic parish where we could attend Mass, since for each of us this would be our first time in that magical city as Catholics. We did not find anything as readily as we had hoped, and so off we went, thinking that we would rely on our hotel's concierge to guide us (fully expecting to hear, as we did hear, "A Catholic parish? Well now, you don't hear THAT request very often now, do you?"). Furthermore, we fully expected to be attending Mass in London's barrio, whatever that might be.

Imagine my surprise when one quiet evening in posh Mayfair, my husband gestured towards a beautiful church set in a lovely garden- the rose window was particularly glorious... could it be? "Of course not," I mumbled, "we've lost all the best church buildings to the Anglicans. There won't be anything so grand for Catholics in London." Characteristically, husband persevered, and sure enough, once we actually ventured in, we found ourselves within one of the most glorious Catholic churches I have ever seen. This eighteenth century Jesuit church is Immaculate Conception, Farm Street. It is glorious, and truly English. There was a large side chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham; there was a gorgeous altar by Pugin; there was a majestic choir.

Even more importantly, this parish is a vibrant and healthy parish. There is daily exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and there are daily Confessions before each daily Mass. There is a religious community on site, the members of which provide spiritual direction and classes for spiritual enrichment, on topics like evangelisation in the workplace and Catholic family life. There is a robust community service program. And when we attended Mass there, there was hushed reverence and beautiful preaching, and prayers for the Holy Father, and preparations for his upcoming visit to England.... all in England.

Edit: I have omitted the latter paragraph of this post due to several objections from Anglican readers, who took offense. My apologies to them.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Mary's House

During my recent travels with my husband, we had the huge privilege of making a May pilgrimage to the little stone house just outside of the ruined city of Ephesus, which tradition holds to have been the home of Mary and St. John.

The first-century house (partly original, partly restored) is tucked safely away in the hills, far outside of the old town, where the mother of Jesus could have lived quietly, relatively protected from those naysayers and enemies of the new faith who eventually ousted both St. John and St. Paul from their territory. First-century converts flocked to this place to be baptized in the back yard of the mother of their Lord; the fifth century fathers of the Council of Ephesus, who gathered in that vicinity against the Nestorian heresy to authorize belief in Christ's full humanity from she who was truly His mother, acknowledged their own affirmation of the tradition that this place had been Mary's home.

As we walked up the forested hill to the little house, leaving behind our Protestant companions who remained on the bus in protest (it confirmed some of my suspicion that even the most well-meaning modern evangelicals are ridden with old Nestorianism), we caught glimpses of the young Franciscan friars who steward the place; we passed the enormous baptismal pool, carved in the shape of a fish; we passed an outdoor altar were Masses are offered; and then we entered the solid little house. We knelt there, very briefly, in our place in line, before the tiny and unadorned altar which past pontiffs have blessed. I have heard friends say that following their own pilgrimmages to Marian sites, they have found that there is a distinct difference between the experience of prayer in her "presence," as compared to the presence of her Son. Although both can overwhelm you with the most satisfying sense of love, Christ in the Eucharist penetrates; by the mediation of the Holy Spirit, Mary more gently envelopes. My experience was that of feeling, briefly, more "mothered" than I ever could have imagined. It was an awesome place, in the quietest sense of the word; I felt like I was there with the one woman, who, blessed above all to be Christ's mother and ours, prayed and waited there on His will as no one else ever could. Who am I, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43)

From the top

1) Orthodox women add their prayer requests to a collage of other petitions; these are written on scraps of paper and rags, and knotted together to form a kind of tapestry outside the house.

2) The ancient baptismal pool- the large size bespeaks a large number of converts

3) Mary's house

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

St. Frances of Rome

This Roman noblewoman gave birth to at least three children before her husband's untimely death; she was known for her patient perseverence through suffering, her piety as a Benedictine oblate who influenced many other matrons, and her visionary gift of prophecy.

My husband and I stumbled across this great married saint on a recent trip to Rome, while re-visiting the Roman Forum on a hot Sunday afternoon. The church that is dedicated to Santa Francesca stands in and over the ruins of the ancient Roman temple of Venus.

One sees this kind of transition all over Rome, particularly in the Forum; the ruined temples of pagan worship have been consecrated to become places for the adoration of the one God, commemorative of His graces in the lives of some of His greatest servants. When I look at these old ruins, I like to think that their original function had not been merely replaced by another; rather, their purpose of serving as a place for divine worship was only truly fulfilled when the baptized erected their crosses, consecrated their altars, and dedicated temples like that of Venus, and her one-sided description of human love, to the memory of women who loved in as many dimensions as did St. Frances.

It's a way of thinking about the entirety of our lives too, especially our lives as secular laity. Our mundane tasks are not replaced, displaced, or subsumed by our worship of God; rather, they are fulfilled by it. And it works the other way around too. Our prayers and our offerings at Mass, and our solemn invocations cannot become whole and pleasing unless they are woven through our trips to the bank, our quibbles with our colleagues, our plans for dinner- and all this because we are not the only ones who need sanctifying by the grace and presence of God; through us, the whole world needs it too, and it is our job to bring that sanctification to bear... at the bank, among our colleagues, on our way to dinner.

We have heard it so many times, and I think that the best way to put it comes from a message of Fr. Benedict Groeschel's, which I overheard once (appropriately) in the car, on my way to the grocery store: "not everyone becomes a saint by doing extraordinary things. Before each and every one of us, at each moment, is a good thing to do. That is your path to sainthood."
St. Frances, pray for us.