A Blog from Rome

I didn’t know that I suffer from agoraphobia until this year. We were in Rome this spring when the city imageswelled with pilgrims to celebrate the canonizations of the two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. We couldn’t even get within a mile of Piazza San Pietro; it seemed that half of Warsaw was in town. Here’s a picture from the other side of the river, about two miles away, which was as close as we could get without needing the services of the Italian Red Cross.

The event naturally encourages us to think about the monumental achievements of these two popes. Pope John XXIII’s calling of the Council, of course, will stand as one of the most important institutional events of the modern era. It encouraged and renewed so many people, inside and outside the Church. Pamela and I were very lucky to be able to pray most evenings with the Community of Sant’ Egidio, a lay community of peace founded by high school students in Rome who were inspired by John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. The community is anchored in communal prayer, evangelization and solidarity with the poor.

An aspect of John Paul’s legacy was on display in the newly opened excavation of a section of Domitian’s Circus, better known to tourists as the Piazza Navona. The archeological site had just opened a photographic and text exhibition celebrating the tireless efforts at interreligious dialogue of Pope John Paul II. It is amazing to be reminded how often he traveled to meet leaders of Jewish, Islamic and other faith traditions in the service of mutual understanding and peace. The second of the “Ten Commandments” of the Assisi prayer gathering for peace formulated by John Paul II reads:

We commit ourselves to educating people to mutual respect and esteem, in order to help bring about a peaceful and fraternal coexistence between people, of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

The photo exhibit is an excellent tool for such education; I hope that a good website for it will be available soon. So far I have been unable to find one. In the meantime, here is an article that lists the pope’s travels in the service of interreligious dialogue.

David Hammond and his wife Pamela Hedrick teach theology and Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Memorial Day – Remembering the Ultimate Sacrifice

As our nation celebrates Memorial Day and honors those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of their country, it is a good time as Catholics to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for the freedom from sin of all of humanity – the Ultimate Sacrifice. In this Easter Season, we revel in the light of the resurrection, which is our proof that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was actually effective. Jesus’ giving of his life was worth the pain and suffering because it accomplished what it set out to do – show once and for all that God is more powerful than evil.

The resurrection is evidence of that. But do we really believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? We say these words whenever we recite the creed – but do we really believe them? It is an absurd concept – even Thomas didn’t believe it when the other apostles told him. He had to see the risen body of Jesus for himself. Jesus tells him, “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe.” (John 20:29) I think St. Paul is the greatest example for us for that! And we can see, each in our own lives, our own personal encounters with Jesus that affirm His resurrection to us. Truly, it is only through the eyes of faith, through a relationship with Jesus, that one can believe in the resurrection.

As people of faith, we must ask ourselves, then, whether the resurrection makes a difference in how we live our lives – in how we approach situations, how we make decisions. The resurrection is proof that the unconditional love of God is the most powerful power in the world. It is more powerful than anything else, including anything that is not love. Think of all the ways, big and small, that we experience a lack of love in our lives – all the ways that we sin and are sinned against. God’s love is more powerful than all of that! Indeed, it is more powerful than death itself.

Well, if the unconditional love of God really is the most powerful power in the world, then our lives should reflect that. Money, prestige, power, time (I think efficiency is the most common way we fail to live in the resurrection – the most efficient solution is often not the most loving) are all secondary to, even at the service of, love. The measure of success in the Christian life is love. We see the effect of the resurrection in our lives when we see that something we did out of love has an intrinsic value. This is why they will know we are Christians by our love!

This weekend, we are mindful of the freedoms we enjoy thanks to those who have died for this country. Let us also be mindful of that freedom from sin gained for us through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, the freedom that enables unconditional love to be the ultimate power in our lives.

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

New Evangelization: Short Take on the Long View

St Theresa of Avila School BrooklynIn Brooklyn, New York in 1951, in the second grade at Saint Teresa of Avila School, I committed to memory Question Six and its answer from the Baltimore Catechism, “Why did God make you?” “God made me to know, love, and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Although advanced to a much nuanced position, my mind has not changed, but has been greatly challenged. We have not lived in a culture premised on the answer being true. I also memorized Question Ten and its answer, “How shall we know the things which we are to believe?” “We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church, through which God speaks to us.” I have been pondering this question and its answer for sixty-two years. This answer is still true for me. From the Catholic Church I have learned the things which we are to believe. Do we not live in a culture, even within the Church, that does not ask the question? Thus, the disappearance of the answer!

Every morning we recited the pledge of allegiance, although “under God” was not added until 1955. America was a good place to which I could pledge allegiance. Yet I did not believe in America. Allegiance and belief differ. Belief is more important than allegiance. This judgment places America’s goods within the goodness of God. Without that goodness, America’s goods were not as good as they could be. Without that goodness of God, an American catechism would instead ask: “Why were you made?” “I was made to be happy and flourish in this country, and to help others be happy and flourish before we all die.” For the second question, “How are we to know the things we need to know?” “We shall know the things we need to know from the schools and social media of the American culture of secularity.”

Of course, in America we have the private option to believe what the Catholic Church teaches. However, we must respect those who don’t take this option, and we must be careful when we act on this belief, lest we interfere with the others or give them offense. Increasingly, we are asked not to say anything, or to keep it to ourselves. This is unsatisfactory for Catholics. We have become the resident aliens. We have a problem with culture!

Daniel Sheridan is Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and former Director of the Online Theology Program.


The Kenosis Continues

Gustave Doré – The Temptation of Jesus

Gustave Doré – The Temptation of Jesus

At the university which boasts the motto Veritas, there were some interesting developments recently. On May 9th, it was announced that the NY-based Satanic Temple, under the auspices of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, would be holding a “Black Mass” on the university campus for the purpose of “exploring other cultures.” The club which proposed to sponsor this event is student-led, and once the news of its happening was made public, the university and its administration were quick to separate themselves from this debacle. They were equally as rapid, however, in their defense of the organization’s right to exercise freedom of expression. The Harvard Extension School, for example, issued the following statement on May 9th.

Students at the Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests. The Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely. (The entire statement can be found here.)

Similarly, President Drew Faust – insert Goethean pun here – issued the following statement on May 12th.

The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding. (The entire statement can be found here.)

Much to her credit, President Faust refers to this proposed gathering as unequivocally “abhorrent,” “disrespectful and inflammatory.” She also stated that she planned on attending a Eucharistic Holy Hour at nearby St. Paul’s Parish as a sign of “respect for the Catholic faith”, which she did, in fact, do. That the very nature of a “Black Mass” is to parody the Catholic Mass, and is therefore highly offensive to Catholics, was stated, inter alias, by the pastor of St. Paul’s Parish, Fr. Michael Drea: “There is no way to misunderstand a Satanic act that degrades the Catholic liturgy. There is no misunderstanding; it is just a fact.”

After much protestation, including statements from Cardinal Seán O’Malley and a Eucharistic procession from MIT to St. Paul’s Parish, the event was canceled and reportedly moved to an undisclosed private location off-campus.

It is an easy task to note the duplicity of a university at once condemning an act and yet providing a space for its occurrence. Though it was later refuted by Robert Neugeboren, the dean of students and alumni affairs at Harvard Extension School, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple initially stated that the organization had obtained a consecrated host for the event.

While reflecting upon these sad events as they unfolded, I could not help but recall the great Kenotic Hymn contained in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even unto death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

This hymn, which NT scholars agree pre-dates the composition of the epistle, affirms that Christ’s essence (μορφῇ) is with the Father. But rather than selfishly cling to his divine existence, the Son emptied himself (ἐκένωσεν) in order to adopt a human nature. The Son submitted to the will of the Father completely and entirely; accepting this unnatural condensation “even unto death on a cross.”

While it may be the reflective reaction of the Christian to be repulsed by the recent events at Harvard, – and rightly so! – let us remember that this is yet another instance of Christ submitting himself to the human condition. Surely we need to be witnesses against the offensive and sacrilegious nature of such events, as many members of the local Church in Boston recently were. But it should also deepen our own humility. It should remind us that Christ has made himself vulnerable to the world every day and everywhere since the moment of his conception. He has held nothing back from his embrace of the human person. In short, the recent events at Harvard are simply another instance of Jesus’ kenosis. And if we are to be his disciples, we too need to make ourselves vulnerable to those whom we love and serve. “No servant is greater than his master” (Jn 15:20).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

All About Mary

Traditionally, the Catholic Church has called May “Mary’s month.” Many parishes have May processions and May crownings in which freshly picked flowers from spring gardens are placed at st100_0107(rev 0)atues of the Blessed Mother, and she is crowned with a wreath of flowers. Some people plant a “Mary garden” which features plants that are mentioned in the bible. The most obvious association of the month of May and Mary is, of course, the celebration of Mother’s Day. On this day as we honor all mothers, we honor also Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.

Christ Bearers

This month, because of where we find ourselves in the 50 day celebration of the Easter season, we have one more way to celebrate the Marian character of our faith. As the church moves toward the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, our readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel are full of the first accounts of the Apostles telling the amazing story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The apostles are stepping up and giving shape to the small community of believers that will become the church. Here, we find Mary as well. When she could have so easily returned to Nazareth to live quietly after Jesus’ return to his Father, Mary stays with the Apostles. We see her practice a spiritual motherhood – comforting, nurturing and praying for the mission Jesus has entrusted to his followers. Just as she fulfilled the mission God entrusted to her, bearing his Son to the world, she nurtures the apostles and followers of Jesus’ mission to bear the Risen Christ to the world. The mission of the apostles becomes our mission. As Pope Francis likes to say, all the baptized are missionary disciples.

Missionary Disciples

We are most like Mary in that we, too, are called to bear Christ to the world. How? In the same way we see the Apostles doing it in this month’s Gospel readings. We have opportunities to share our love for Our Lord. If faith makes all the difference in our lives, how do we share that? Could our story be a source of good news for a friend or family member or colleague? The missionary impulse that comes alive in Jesus’ followers is one of hospitality. Like Mary, who after receiving her mission from God, went immediately to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Apostles immediately began inviting others into the life of the community, to be of service, to welcome all who were searching for an experience of God, of love and of fellowship.

Mary with ApostlesFor us followers of Jesus, in the very noisy world of the 21st century, trying to make sense of a complicated world and complicated lives, perhaps the most inviting aspect of Jesus’ life and of the practice of Mary and the apostles is that of prayer. When we read that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart”, and that Mary and the apostles gathering in the upper room to “wait” for the coming of the Spirit, they were, in reality, praying and contemplating the meaning Jesus’ life for them and their lives.


Contemplative Missionaries

Mary and the apostles knew the need for silence, for thinking deeply, for learning to trust in God’s plan. What we followers learn is that God’s plan unfolds in our lives and in the life of the church. God’s plan for our lives does not arrive in a text message or in 140 characters. Like the Mary garden, it grows, at first hidden, then fledgling, but with God’s gift of sun and rain and gardeners plants, grows deep roots and gorgeous bright flowers and fruits! Cultivating faith is like cultivating a garden. Faith needs prayer, sacraments, community, and wise teachers to grow deep roots and flower.

This month, cultivate the garden you’ve been given to plant seeds of faith and bear Christ to the world.

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Happy Mother’s Day

Ah, Mother’s Day. When a mom is woken up early with breakfast in bed (“Look, we brought you toast and milk! Benedict burned the toast, but I scraped the black stuff off!”), when all one really wants is the gift of sleeping in, which is like a sweet, distant memory … did one really used to do that sort of thing?

Sleep inBut the sweetness of the slobbering kisses and the “Mommy!” hugs somehow makes up for the crumbs in the bed and the sleep deprivation.

A gal thinks she is ready for motherhood. Good German academic that I am, I prepared for motherhood by thorough study. I could have answered any question you had about parenting … before I was a parent. The relative merits of breast- versus bottle-feeding? Check. How to get a crying child to sleep? Allow me to expound. And then I actually gave birth.

My first child is a quirky, self-confident, and highly entertaining young adolescent. (“Mom, can I see what ants taste like?” Um, I guess that wouldn’t kill you, but … must you?) That describes the present moment. Nearly thirteen years ago, she came out of the womb screaming, and she didn’t stop for approximately four months. I went from a parenting know-it-all to a desperate wreck, praying, “Dear God, get me through the next fifteen minutes.” Motherhood does that.

You see, we have an illusion of being in control of our circumstances. We think that, if we aren’t all pulled together at the present moment, it is only a matter of time before we will be, when all the stars will magically align through our judicious management of all the variables. How many times have I thought, “If only _____ is different, I can be happy”? And I spent a lot of time and mental energy trying to fix whatever is in the blank at the moment. My job! My housing situation! My family! They’re the problem!

Parenting, however, brings one smack up against a dual reality: I am selfish–that’s the real problem–and other people are not controllable. Marriage can reveal this too, of course, but two adults can live with each other like congenial roommates, who happen to be having sex. One need not confront oneself or one’s spouse with messy realities. One can walk away. But not children–they have needs that only you can meet, and they make sure you know about it. You cannot just pretend that that the baby is not hungry. He will let you know, persistently, and there will be no peace you get out of the easy chair and feed him already.

Diaper changes you

The dual misperception that the world revolves around me and that my job is to make everyone do his part in my little drama–this requires people to play their roles with docility. How many of us live out our dreams through our kids? The dream of the athletic star, the Ivy-League-bound leader, or the attractive queen bee? Or maybe we want our kids to be our accessories, to play the role of perfect obedient children to show off what fabulous parents we are.

But if I allow my children to be more than the extension of my ego, what might I learn? That every one of them is destined by our loving Father to be a saint, each in his or her own irreplaceable way. Who knows, perhaps God really needs a patron-saint of ant-eaters?

Regardless, I do know that helping my children grow in their relationship with God means mostly being the example of that myself and then providing the environment in which that relationship can blossom. The only really important goal for motherhood is helping my children to heaven. That is the new evangelization, spreading God’s love among the people He puts in our lives.

siblingsSo this Mother’s Day will find me woken up a tad earlier than I would like, but filled with gratitude for the six wonderful gifts that are my children. They have taught me so much–that I’m not the center of the world, that life is under God’s management and not mine, and that burnt toast with the black stuff scraped off actually is pretty good.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Angela Franks teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Nobody Does It Better

On Divine Mercy Sunday, two extraordinary men were canonized: Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II. When these two heavenly friends sat on their papal thrones, they looked towards another extraordinary man to provide them—and the world—words of wisdom and hope: the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, whose birthday we commemorate tomorrow.

From John XXIII

During Archbishop Sheen’s first visit with Pope John XXIII, the Pope presented Sheen with a small silver gondola. During his second visit, the Holy Father asked Sheen to visit his brother and relatives in his home in northern Italy. When Sheen went there, the entire town turned out to bid him welcome. At that same audience, John XXIII told Sheen “You have suffered much…Is there anything I can do for you?” Sheen replied that there was nothing he wanted except to do the will of God. To that the Pope replied, “That makes it very easy for me.” On another visit with John XXIII, Sheen went to the Pope’s private residence, and John XXIII gifted him some autographed books he had authored. Sheen was surprised at the simplicity of the papal private chapel. After they prayed together in the chapel, they returned to his office downstairs, John XXIII called in a photographer and told Sheen.“Come, let us have our picture taken. It may make some in the Church jealous, but that will be fun.” (https://www.facebook.com/FultonJSheen)



sheen with pope saints

From John Paul II

Shortly before Sheen’s death in 1979, Pope John Paul II reached out to him in a personal letter.

God called you to proclaim in an extraordinary way his dynamic word. With great zeal you accepted this call, and directed your many talents to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, in these six decades of your priestly service, God has touched the lives of millions of the men and women of our time. They have listened to you on radio, watched you on television, profited from your many literary achievements and participated in spiritual conferences conducted by you. And so with Saint Paul, “I thank my God whenever I think of you; and every time I pray for…you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News.”  (October 11, 1979.)

In his inimitable wit, Sheen summed up the essence of the Church’s teaching on the papacy and not only that, but the means and meaning of our salvation:

No chain is stronger than its weakest link, and the weakest link of the chain of Popes was the first. But that weak link was held in the hands of Christ. That is why the papacy will never fail.                    (Through the Year with Fulton Sheen)

This excerpt from Archbishop Sheen’s television show in which he offers a teaching on the life of Pope John XXIII provides a window into Sheen’s gift of oratory, his love for the papal office, and of the man, John XXIII. Prepared to be amazed and humbled.

Speaking personally about my own spiritual growth, “nobody does it better” than Sheen. His audio talks were my constant companion during my long and solitary commute to and from work; the cadence of his voice mesmerized my young children on family trips, and they never once asked to “switch the radio station.” During down times, I find myself searching YouTube for clips of his television show. Interestingly, when I have used his writings in undergraduate classes, the students respond favorably, and they tell me they can understand him.

Saint Joseph’s College has acquired the complete Sheen audio files. SJC students can access them all here. If you are not a student, you can purchase them for under $30. I even have the app on my iphone – the portable Sheen! If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage everyone to become a friend of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Listen to his talks; watch his videos; get fed a daily quote by “friending” him on Facebook; watch a movie on his life; pray for his canonization.

Heavenly Father, source of all holiness, you raise up within the Church in every age, men and women who serve with heroic love and dedication. You have blessed Your Church through the life and ministry of your faithful servant, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He has written and spoken well of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, and was a true instrument of the Holy Spirit in touching the hearts of countless people.

If it be according to Your Will, for the honor and glory of the Most Holy Trinity and for the salvation of souls, we ask you to move the Church to proclaim him a saint. We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

From CatholicWeb.com

 Patricia Ireland is Director of Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College Online.


Faith and Reason

The belief that faith and reason are complementary ways of coming to know the truth, rather than antagonistic rivals or competitors for one’s allegiance, has its foundation in the NT itself and, ultimately, in a person rather than a text.

Photo by Leland Francisco

Photo by Leland Francisco

When the earliest of Christian writers were searching for ways in which to articulate the meaning of what we might call the “Jesus Event,” i.e., the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, one of the first associations they made was between Jesus and the ‘wisdom’ [σοφία] or ‘reason’ [λόγος] of God. Drawing from the book of Wisdom, St. Paul refers to Christ as “the wisdom [σοφίαν] of God” (1 Cor 1:24). “All things were created through him and for him,” the Apostle states elsewhere, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).

These latter remarks about Jesus, the identification of him with God’s divine wisdom, NT scholars agree pre-date St. Paul himself. They were, most likely, part of a hymn to Christ which the early Christian community used in their liturgical services. Thus, from the very beginning of Christianity, before the composition of the NT, Christians understood Jesus as the incarnation, the en-fleshment, of God’s divine wisdom; the wisdom by which God created, governs and sustains the natural world. The living embodiment of the ‘plan’ (ratio) according to which the cosmos was designed and functions.

A bit later in Christian history, around the year 90, this belief was given its classic expression in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word [λόγος], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3).

The Greek term for ‘Word’ [λόγος] in this translation can have many meanings: word, speech, language, an account or narrative, or an explanation. It can also mean, most importantly, ‘reason’ or ‘thought.’ So if we exchange translations, we can read the same passage as: “In the beginning was Reason and Reason was with God, and Reason was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” With his obvious linguistic allusion to Genesis 1:1 [i.e., “In the beginning…”], the author of the prologue is affirming the divine nature of God’s reason and wisdom. A few verses later, of course, the author takes the further step of associating this Reason with the person of Jesus: “And the Word [Reason] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14).

For the Catholic, then, as true now as was for these early Christian authors, it is in God, and especially through the person of His Son Jesus Christ, that Wisdom, Reason and Truth have their being. As Jesus said: “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) and “for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice” (Jn 18:37).

Understanding that the world was created according to divine reason, and that the seeds of reason are to be found in the entire created order, the Catholic tradition has long affirmed the human capacity, and supported the human effort, to discover truth in the natural world by the light of human reason. It is true that the early Christian theologian Tertullian famously asked the question: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” (De praescr. haeret. 7). But on that matter, and quite a few others, Tertullian was departing from the established Christian thought of his time. The Catholic tradition, on the other hand, acknowledges that since truth cannot be opposed to itself, the truths of the faith cannot contradict those of science or reason (cf. Aquinas SCG 1.7). Faith and reason are not competitors, but the two complementary ways in which humankind might come to know the truth.

This point has been articulated throughout the Catholic intellectual tradition and, more recently, the Second Vatican Council stated that “methodical research, in all realms of knowledge, if it respects […] moral norms, will never be genuinely opposed to faith: the reality of the world and of faith have their origin in the same God” (GS § 36). Likewise, Pope St. John Paul II stated that faith and reason are two complimentary ways of coming to the truth because “the unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear” (FR § 34).

The mutual necessity of both faith and reason is nowhere more evident than in the discipline of theology. In examining the application of reason to matters of faith, St. Augustine once wrote: intellege ut credas, crede ut intellegas (‘to understand so that you might believe, to believe so that you might understand’) (s. 43.9). More than half a millennium later, the Benedictine archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm, meditating on St. Augustine’s thought, would famously define theology as fides quaerens intellectum  (‘faith seeking understanding’) (Cf. Pros. 1-2).

In attempting to sum up this intellectual inheritance, this particularly Catholic way of viewing, inter alia, the relationship between faith and reason, many writers have taken to calling this hermeneutic

the Catholic “both/and.” As opposed to looking at the world and seeing a multitude of choices which demand an “either/or” decision, the Catholic “both/and,” being sensitive to false dichotomies, sees the value – and in many instances the necessity – of each choice: nature and grace, action and contemplation, freewill and providence, invisible grace and material signs, and, of course, faith and reason. From the Catholic perspective, therefore, the relationship between faith and reason has never been an antagonistic one. Rather, the Catholic sees the proper use of one’s intellect as an activity which draws us nearer to God by seeking His Wisdom.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.