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.