Lectio divina: a renewed commitment

I have been taught lectio divina in the past, which I practiced fervently at one time and set aside as I pursued other spiritual interests. Lectio divina, though, has never been put together for me quite the way Fr. Chris Hayden (a New Testament scholar, author, and a priest in the Diocese of Ferns, Ireland) was able to do when I recently attended his seminar “Praying the Scriptures.” As a result, I have refreshed my own spiritual life and have reincorporated lectio divina into my spiritual repertoire. My point here is not to relay new facts but (as Fr. Chris would say) to rehearse what we already know – to cement who we are as a people who want to pray, who want to grow in the spiritual life.

Lectio DivinaLectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”) was not something new to Christians but flowed out of the Hebrew method of studying the Scriptures, haggadah, or learning by the heart: “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deut 30:14). While many Church Fathers stressed the prayerful reading of the scriptures, Origen is credited with the first use of the term “lectio divina” in the 3rd century: “While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures” (Epistle to Gregory 4). Traditionally, lectio divina is a Benedictine practice of praying the scriptures that consists of reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating God’s Word in order to grow in our relationship with God. Saint Benedict first established it as a Monastic practice in the 6th century in which the four parts were not so much steps but rather moments prompted by the Holy Spirit. During the 12th century, the Carthusians formalized a scholastic approach (“the Monk’s Ladder”) of lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation/reflecting), oratio (prayer/responding), and contemplatio (contemplation/resting).

We distinguish lectio divina from reading the Bible for enlightenment or encouragement, which we may do individually or together as in a Bible study group, and from praying the scriptures in common. Lectio divina is a practice that uses thoughts, images, insights, and inner silence to enter into a conversation with God. There are varying approaches to lectio divina, but in reality, simplicity is at the heart of the practice. After Vatican II and the document Dei Verbum that encouraged lay people and priests to use lectio divina, there has been a resurgence in its exercise. When we read Scripture, we should be doing so not just as an intellectual activity but also as a means of gathering its intention and meaning for our lives. Lectio divina will transform you for transformation is at its core – whether you realize that transformation consciously or not, and whether you reflect that transformation visibly or not.

To appreciate fully lectio divina, we must understand prayer as a relationship between God and ourselves. Through prayer, we enter into the abiding relationship of unconditional love of the Holy Trinity. Three key underpinnings of our prayer life should be humility, heart, and listening. In prayer, we enter into humility, deflating our egos, realizing we are not God. Our humility helps us discern the true self from the false self. We continue to pray in order to break open our hearts to God, to realize what is going on inside ourselves for the heart of prayer is not what we get but rather what we become. We all know we should be receptive to God heeding the advice of Eli to Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:1-10), but many of us might prefer to tell God in prayer, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!” As anyone who has been successful with Christian meditation or contemplative prayer will attest, we need to make time and spaces for silence so we can listen.

What should we do, though, if our prayers seem to be unanswered? Fr. Chris offers five guides or reasons to continue in prayer (he admits, certainly, there is not just five, but I find the five he presented crucial) even when our prayer life seems to be in a drought:

  1. When we pray, we are not reminding God of what is needed (He already knows), but we are growing in our recognition of our neediness.
  1. When we pray for others, we recognize our solidarity with others. We are not alone; we are all connected.
  1. When we pray for others, we acknowledge our ability to help others is very limited. Our helplessness is our reflection of reality. When we cannot do it all, we pray.
  1. When we pray for others, we implicate ourselves in their situation. Though our ability is limited, we are responsible for helping others as far as we can. Prayer puts us on the hook to do something, to take action.
  1. When we pray, we share in the cruciform prayer, an intercession for all of humanity just as Jesus did with outstretched arms on the crucifix.

To pray is to trust that God has a plan and to beak open the details of our lives to God. Since Scripture is God’s living word, it is through Scripture that we open ourselves to God, pursue His will, and enter into His plan. If we are not praying with Scripture, we are at least praying from it for Scripture is the basis for all that we have learned about prayer in our lives. Through prayerful reading of Scripture, we enter into that Great Mystery, the basis for which is a trusting relationship, a relationship that will transform us. In fact, the best effect of our prayer is not in getting something but rather in becoming something.

Because we have the Bible, the living Word of God, our spirituality is not a set of speculations. The Bible is our story – our metanarrative. Our metanarrative unites all of our individual stories into a collective under the overarching theme of God’s eternal love. We find today that the separate designations of yours and mine drive our society; today’s society is certainly no metanarrative, no uniting of us all. Within the Biblical texts, however, we find our collective and individual stories in which we participate along with Christ in the Trinitarian love. We can break our metanarrative into four acts: Act I: The beginning; Act II: The Fall; Act III: Redemption; and Act IV: Fulfillment. Our story begins with life (the “Tree of Life” in Genesis) and ends with life (the “New Order” in Revelations as found in Christ.) We find ourselves living in the drama between Acts II and III, that constant struggle of our lives that tugs between our disobedience and our obedience as we reach for that time of fulfillment.

With this acceptance of the Bible as our metanarrative and our understanding of prayer, especially the reasons for continuing in prayer when our prayer life is dry, we can appreciate the power of praying the scriptures to transform our lives. Lectio divina becomes, in reality, so simple.

  1. Read (lectio) – what does the text say in itself? What do I know of the historical context that helps provide the background? One need not be a biblical scholar, though, to answer the question “What does the text say?”
  1. Meditate (meditatio) or reflect – what does the text say to me? How do I find myself reflected in the passage? My reading is not just to understand but rather find myself there in the passage, or as Fr. Chris states, “to stand under it.” Saint Augustine supposedly used to stop in the middle of his proclamation of the Gospel to say, “Listen now, this applies to you!”
  1. Pray (oratio) or responding – what does the text lead me to say or do? What is my response based on my reading and meditation? I need to rejoice (be thankful), repent (be sorry; atone), and/or resolve (to act; to serve)
  1. Contemplate (contemplatio) or rest – silence; be in the presence of the Lord. “Be still and know that I am” (Ps 46:10). I may not get an answer, but I will gain perspective.

It is important to note that the steps themselves are not necessarily sequential, for instance, we usually end up meditating while we are reading as well as praying. The sequence is not what is important; the action of “praying the scriptures” is what is critical. Choose a passage and pray it, enter into that conversation with God!

Fr Chris HaydenFr. Chris told me not to give him credit, but I must at least thank him for traveling to Great Falls, Montana, for sharing his joy of the faith, and for his stimulating way of presenting prayer, scripture, and the ancient art of lectio divina that inspired me to take a fresh look at how I pray the scriptures. I hope I have given him due credit by relaying the simplicity of lectio divina and its importance in helping us live out our shared metanarrative of God’s love.

With Fr. Chris’ inspiration, I renew myself to the simplicity of lectio divina, enhancing my spiritual life, and I pray: God help us live our story, our metanarrative, as we pray for our transformation in You, our destination.

Fawn Waranauskas teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College Online.


God and the Life-Giving Desert


We’ve all had experiences of “barrenness” in our lives; those times when we feel lifeless, and the world around us is drained of its color. Unfulfilling work, static relationships and the general boredom with the “ordinary” in life affects us all at one time or another. More serious entrances into spiritual, emotional and physical “deserts” (for example, the death of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, loss of one’s job; and of course, the burden of sin) leave us feeling abandoned, drained and thirsting for some kind of relief. We look for God in these deserts, but many times we can’t find Him. We may get further lost in anger, doubt, and even stumble into the desiccated land of unbelief. Where is God?

Scripture is filled with deserts, and people – just like us – wandering through them. The pages of the Old and New Testaments are also filled with people experiencing emotional and spiritual deserts, places where they feel loss of hope, loss of intimacy with another, and the loss of God in their lives. But even in the desert there is a tension between heartache and hope; a place in one’s soul where the thirst for God lives, and where possibility wrestles with suffering. Such was the case for Zechariah and Elizabeth: the Priest and his wife. Despite being “righteous in the eyes of God,” (Lk 1:6), the couple were advanced in age and childless. In addition to the difficulties this presented in terms of the fulfillment of the Covenant, the sorrow associated with their infertility was great. Zechariah and Elizabeth thirsted for God’s blessing on their marriage with the gift of a child, but each passing year drew them further into a physical and emotional desert. And yet – their faith did not waver, and they continued to “observ[e]all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” (Lk 1:6) Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in the tension between heartache and hope, and certainly some days were more dry and desolate than others. Yet they never ceased to thirst for God, and eventually He revealed His thirst for them.

Today the Church celebrates the Birth of St. John the Baptist, son of the once barren June 24Zechariah and Elizabeth. John was conceived from the dryness of faith. Our daily lives are ordinary, often boring, and sometimes quite dry, and our faith is like that, too. We move through each day, subtly aware of God on some days, intimately aware of Him on others – and many times altogether forgetful of Him. God never forgets us, though, or our thirst for happiness and fulfillment. Though Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced sorrow, and perhaps anger in their unfulfilled desire to be parents, they didn’t allow their thirst to consume them. The Lord thirsted for their faithfulness to Him and each other, and from their desert grew the last Prophet, the one to announce the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. In that tension between hope and despair was born the Friend of the Bridegroom, who would bear witness to the consummation of the Covenant between God and His people.

From the very beginning, John’s was a desert life, and he placed himself in the literal desert as he prepared for his mission to call the people to repentance, renewed relationship with God, and welcoming the Messiah. Having been born from the sorrow of the desert, John knew well the possibility and promise held there:

As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Lk 3:4-6)

In every desert of our lives there is an oasis, a promise of the possibility for new life. Most of the time we focus on the aridity, the heat of isolation and what seems an endless landscape of…nothingness. Yet it is in the lonely places, those that are forsaken, where God waits. He does not cast us into the wilderness; nor does He demand we use our own wits to find our way out. God meets us in the loneliness, the heartache, in the depths of our thirst for relief and reminds us that it is He who quenches our thirst. Jesus, too, entered the desert and met temptation and desolation. But Jesus also enters our deserts to meet us. At Jacob’s Well, in the peak the day’s heat (and in the stifling intensity of her own heartache), He met the Samaritan Woman and invited her to experience the “living water” of His love and mercy. Before sin our first parents met God in the lush beauty of the Garden; and their disobedience removed them from that perfect experience of life in full bloom, as it was created. Now, it is in the desert where God always meets us, is always waiting for us with the invitation to drink from Him. There are no easy answers to suffering and no proverbs or platitudes that can instantly instill us with confidence and peace. Instead, there is the promise of lasting and resilient peace, and joy and hope that resist the scorching rays of despair and desolation of anger, bitterness and fear. That place is in the heart of God, and faithful love of Jesus Christ. Zechariah, Elizabeth, John and Jesus Himself testify to this promise.

will lead the blind on a way they do not know; by paths they do not know I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight.

These are my promises: I made them, I will not forsake them. (Is 42:16)

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Elderly and Laudato Si

In his encyclical released this past week, Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls for “justice between generations,” by which he means frank, honest discussion and action about “the kind of world we are leaving to future generations.” This discussion requires a “struggle with … deeper issues,” and the pope raises the issue of how consumer lifestyles are reflected in environmental degradation. He also asks, even more importantly, now this lifestyle affects the moral character of society.

The pope’s words imply an important role for the elderly in wealthy societies. The elderly of today’s industrialized societies have lived in a period of astounding economic growth, and many of them have accumulated substantial wealth. The industries they have built have both increased pollution and have developed powerful means to clean up that pollution. Reflecting upon their lives and historical era, the elderly today must have something to say about the issues raised in Laudato Si and confronting every society in the world today.

For example, what are the most important values? Presuming that financial security is an

St. Jeanne Jugan, Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor and a patron saint of the elderly

St. Jeanne Jugan, Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor and a patron saint of the elderly

important, but not the most important value, how does a family acquire and manage whatever wealth it has, in order to live both comfortably and generously down the generations of a family line? How do its members enjoy the fruits of God’s providence without becoming blind to the material and spiritual poverty of those in their own society and in other parts of the world? How do they place the needs of the poor before their own desires?

In order to begin reflecting upon their lives, the elderly in industrialized societies today might look at Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Letter to the Elderly” (1999). It is a difficult read in places, so I will point out some of the highlights.

In this letter, John Paul II looked back over his life in order to discern its meaning and place his life’s meaning in relation to God. In the second paragraph of the letter John Paul II writes “in my memory I recall the stages of my life, which is bound up with the history of much of this [the 20th] century, and I see before me the faces of countless people, some particularly dear to me: they remind me of ordinary and extraordinary events, and happy times and of situations touched by suffering” (1). The words “bound up with a history of much of this century” are all the more striking when one considers the pope’s role in world events such as the collapse of communism and in the Church’s response to modern secular culture. At the same time, the pope’s words reflect an investment of the heart in those whom he has touched and the vulnerability to the loss of friends and loneliness. Finally, this recollection becomes an occasion to recognize that his life has been part of God’s plan and to thank God for all his gifts.

The pope points out the advantages of age. Writing in a conversational tone to his fellow elderly people, he notes that their “retrospective gaze makes possible a more serene and objective evaluation of persons and situations we have met along the way. The passage of time helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side ” (2, emphasis added) For this reason the elderly are “guardians of shared memory” and “the privileged interpreters of that body of ideals and common values which support and guide life in society” (10).

The pope also offers moral and theological principles necessary for grasping the meanings of one’s life and of the history of one’s own time in relation to God’s love and God’s plan. For example, in reviewing one’s life and the history of one’s own time, it is important to look for how God and man bring good from evil: “Like so many other times in history, our own has registered lights and shadows. Not all has been bleak. Many positive aspects have counterbalanced the negative, or have emerged from the negative has a beneficial reaction on the part of the collective consciousness” (3).

The pope acknowledges the hard lessons of the past. For example, he reminds us that “it would be both unjust and dangerous to forget… that unprecedented sufferings have affected the lives of millions and millions of people [as in World War II]” (3). He values the “blunt realism” that comes with age, and is reflected in the biblical proverb “all is vanity” (6; quoting Ecclesiastes 1:2). For him, this blunt realism is part of scripture’s overall “positive vision of the value of life” and its history of great deeds performed by God working through human beings, including the elderly.

Sixteen years after the “Letter to the Elderly,” Pope Francis asks the Church and the world for a dialogue about how to develop an integral ecology that lifts the poor from poverty without destroying the environment. The elderly in industrialized societies, which have both fostered economic growth and attempted to address the environmental problems it has causes, should make a contribution to this dialogue an important part of their legacy.

Grattan Brown teaches Ministry to the Aging, Sick and Dying for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Focused on Fatherhood

Experts in sociology and family counseling all agree that fatherhood is the most important vocation that a man can have, and that with fatherhood comes an awesome responsibility. They say that a father’s absence, whether physical or emotional or both, is a critical problem in our country, because fathers play such a key role in the development of their children. Currently, more than 27 million children – that’s over 40% of all children in this country – live apart from their father. That statistic is appalling, but our culture has deemed it acceptable, even though research clearly shows that the cost of a father’s absence is astronomically high.

I believe that there is a dire need today for men to rise up, rise up within the home, the job, the community, and the Church. There is a dire need for men to rise up and be leaders, examples, and pursuers of God, – ministers, prayers, teachers and trainers of our children, – loving, compassionate and caring husbands.

Today, God is calling men, husbands, and fathers who are FOCUSED on FATHERHOOD, focused on becoming the fathers that God has called us to be. There is no doubt that our children will model themselves after us, and will model our actions as they have seen them in the childhood years. And this is also true, Dad: A child’s view of God as Heavenly Father will often be based upon their view of us as earthly fathers. It has been said that a child is not likely to find a Father in God, unless he finds something of God in his father.

Recently, a deacon I met while in formation asked the first grade class in his parish school of religion to draw a picture of God. He intended to use the pictures for an illustration in his homily. Nearing the end of the class the kids were excited to show the deacon the pictures that they had drawn. Finally, the deacon’s granddaughter showed him her picture, and it was a man in an alb and a stole. Then she said to the class, “I don’t know what God looks like, so I just drew my Grandpa instead.”

I’ve got two kids. My daughter, Kara, was born a perfect angel and still is. My son, Greg Jr., has been more of a challenge.

OllicksWhen he was 4 years old, he thought I knew everything. Life was a constant barrage of questions and answers. When he was 14, it seemed like he got up one day and was convinced I knew nothing. Thank God, now that he’s pushing 34 and working with me in our family business, I know everything again.

But during the teenage years it seemed like one battle after another, and I couldn’t figure out what happened. Up until then, Greg was always a good kid and an excellent student, but now he seemed to be making all the wrong choices. He was always in trouble, his grades were slipping, there were all sorts of problems, and I just couldn’t get through to him.

One day I learned the most profound lesson of my life when my sister-in-law said, “Don’t you see what’s wrong with Greg? Did you ever think that maybe he’s just trying to get your attention? Could the problem be that you’re not emotionally attentive to the kids anymore? Could it be that Greg is finding poor substitutes for your attention and he just wants you back? He wants to be able to look up to you again. He still wants to be just like you, but you’re just not there for him.”

You see, when the kids were younger we did everything together and we had continuous healthy interaction. But as they got older, I became so intensely involved in the process of building my business that even when I was home, I wasn’t really there. I was preoccupied, even obsessed, with the business. I might as well have been an absent father. I certainly wasn’t focused on fatherhood. I had sacrificed the family on the altar of the bottom line, and I’ll never ever do it again. By the grace of God, I learned a big lesson that day, and that has made all the difference. My son had wanted nothing more than to get my attention and to become just like me.

Our children do want to be just like us, Dads, and our vocation is to help them to be just like Jesus. That can only be done if Jesus is who they see in us.

Gentlemen, we must be focused on fatherhood. We must be completely present in our homes. We must make them homes where Christ resides, homes where Christ is welcome, homes where Jesus is more than a picture on the wall, but a place where his presence is acknowledged, his name is honored, and his word is obeyed. The home doesn’t need a man in the house – it needs a father!

I read an account of a thirteen year old boy who saved his brother’s life by driving him to a hospital in his father’s car. Never having driven before, his explanation was simple: “I just did what I saw my father do.

We have children who are looking to us for guidance and spiritual direction. “I just did what I saw my father do.” If our children are doing what they see us do, if they want to be just like us, then who will they become? It’s up to us, guys.

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Saint Anthony and Theology

One of my goals when teaching the lives and writings of the saints to an undergraduate audience is to take these figures “out of stained glass.” That is to say, I endeavor to teach this material in such a way that brings these authors to life. An image of a saint piously kneeling before the Virgin and Child can leave a somewhat one-dimensional impression upon the viewer. This impression is then reinforced as one becomes accustomed to it and does not probe its theological meaning.

Yesterday the Church celebrated the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, O.F.M. (1195-1231). St. Anthony’s feast day is particularly special to me as it is my onomastico or “name day,” and the imagery of St. Anthony with which we are most familiar has him holding the Child Jesus. This artistic motif is derived from an apparition that St. Anthony received of the Child Jesus, and it became part of his standard artistic depiction during the 17th century. Prior to that time, he was often portrayed with a lily (a symbol of purity) and a book (a symbol of the preaching for which he was renowned even in his own lifetime).

Alvise Vivarini, Sacra Conversazione (1480) (l-r, Ss. Louis, Anthony, Anna, the Virgin and Child, Joachim, Francis and Bernardino)

Alvise Vivarini, Sacra Conversazione (1480)
(l-r, Ss. Louis, Anthony, Anna, the Virgin and Child, Joachim, Francis and Bernardino)

Further, though we may think of St. Anthony as the “finder of lost things” or identify his popularity with Italian and Portuguese Catholics, St. Anthony reminds me most of the goal of theology.

While theology is the diligent study of sacred realities, we can often stress the activity (diligent study) over the object (sacred realities). As a mentor of mine is fond of saying: theology is about transformation, not information. Few religious orders have incorporated this belief into their spiritual legacy as profoundly as the Franciscans and, in particular, St. Anthony was acutely aware that the goal of theology is eternal beatitude – not the accumulation of facts and certainly not an academic degree.

St. Anthony joined the Franciscans, after first becoming an Augustinian, while they were still in their infancy. He was the Order’s first reader of theology, or “official theology teacher,” and yet no manuals or scholastic disputations have survived from his work. What we possess from St. Anthony’s writings are a collection of sermons. Like many Patristic Fathers before him, St. Anthony was most concerned with living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his homilies are rich examples of a probative explication of Scripture at the service of the conversion of souls.

Rather than provide a quotation from one of his homilies which demonstrates this point, I would instead like to share a letter which was written to St. Anthony by St. Francis. The occasion for this correspondence was the instillation of St. Anthony as the Order’s first reader of theology. The entire letter is the following:

“Brother Francis [sends his] wishes of health to Brother Anthony, my overseer. It pleases me that you teach sacred theology to the brothers, as long as – in the words of the [Franciscan] Rule – you ‘do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion’ with study of this kind.”

St. Anthony reminds us that theology is an activity which serves the Church, seeks the conversion of souls, and aims at our eternal communion with God. Without these goals, theology is just another collection of facts and figures like any other academic discipline. And if theology remains the latter, it can more easily “‘extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion’” than inspire it.

A painting of St. Anthony which communicates this well is by the artist known as El Greco (a.k.a., Domenikos Theotokopoulos). El Greco combines the more traditional imagery of St. Anthony with that which will soon become standard. In doing so the artist reminds us that, for St. Anthony, theology is a lived activity; an activity of mind (book), heart (Child Jesus), and body (lily). The integration of these elements can be seen in St. Anthony’s posture, as he looks serenely upon a book which upholds the Child Jesus and holds a lily as if it were a pen. The senses gaze upon the sacred mysteries, which are then communicated through intellectual and physical acts. St. Anthony reminds us that the goal of theology is a living relationship with Christ which embraces every dimension of the human person, not simply an intellectual activity.

Coleman 6 14 2

El Greco, St. Anthony of Padua (1577)

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


Deacon as Pioneer of a New Civilization of Love?

Forty-seven years ago, the United States bishops provided pastoral reasons for restoring the permanent diaconate.

“Since the Second Vatican Council consigned the decision of the restoration of the diaconate to individual episcopal conferences, the bishops of the United States voted in the spring of 1968 to petition the Holy See for authorization. In their letter of May 2, 1968, the bishops presented the following reasons for the request:

  1. To complete the hierarchy of sacred orders and to enrich and strengthen the manyNational Directory diaconal ministries at work in the United States with the sacramental grace of the diaconate,
  1. To enlist a new group of devout and competent men in the active ministry of the Church,
  1. To aid in extending needed liturgical and charitable service to the faithful in both large urban and small rural communities,
  1. To provide an official and sacramental presence of the Church in areas of secular life, as well as in communities within large cities and sparsely settled regions where few or priests are available,
  1. To provide the impetus and source for creative adaptations of diaconal ministries to the rapidly changing needs of our society.”

(National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, #5)

These five reasons are indeed pastoral rather than theological. However, the renewed ecclesiology of the last century realized that both the esse [the existence] and the bene esse [the flourishing existence] of the Church as it subsists in the Roman Catholic communion required a restored permanent diaconate. This was also affirmed through dialogue with the Anglican communion. There are three orders in the sacrament of Holy Order.[1] Lumen Gentium stated this very effectively.

“Christ, whom the Father hallowed and sent into the world (Jn. 10:36), has, through his apostles, made their successors, the bishops namely, sharers in his consecration and mission; and these, in turn, duly entrusted in varying degrees various members of the Church with the office of their ministry. Thus the divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, presbyters [the original Latin says presbyterus, not sacerdos=priest] and deacons.”

Lumen Gentium, #28

The transitional diaconate is a very poor instantiation [esse defectione] of the Church with an apostolic three-fold ordained ministry of service and leadership. Vatican II and Pope Paul VI fell short when they left the application of the restoration up to individual conferences of bishop and/or to individual bishops. There are large areas of the Church outside of the United States where the three-fold ordained ministry is represented only by the transitional diaconate of those preparing for ordination as presbyters. This is only one of several important open questions for a renewed theology of the diaconate and of the sacrament of Holy Order.

Some hints of a renewed theology of the diaconate can be found in Cardinal Walter Kasper’s Leadership in the Church. He speaks of the blessing of the order of deacon for the sacramental life of the Church, for its bene esse.

“In conclusion: spiritually motivated, well-trained deacons employed in meaningful tasks are a necessity for the church today. They are neither substitutes for a parish priest [presbyter] nor social workers. They represent the deacon Jesus Christ in a sacramental manner, bringing into our world the love of God, which the Holy Spirit has poured out into our hearts (Rom. 5:5). They are pioneers of a new ‘civilization of love.’ They are a blessing for the church and for the people entrusted to us. This is why we must press on with renewal of diaconia and of the diaconate, translating ever more fully into the reality of ecclesial life the impetus given by the Holy Spirit through the Second Vatican Council.”

Walter Kasper,
Leadership in the Church (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003), p. 44.

I was honored to be ordained a deacon for the Catholic Diocese of Portland on September 19, 2010, the same day that John Henry Newman was beatified. I find it rather daunting to be called a pioneer “of a new ‘civilization of love.’” If we follow Pope Francis, we have got to get real, not perhaps “humble,” but rather “modest.” Thus I am willing in a modest way to be a “pioneer” if with Dante the new civilization of love is found in the Paradiso. This would include a long slow crawl up the mountain of the Purgatorio.

People often ask me at what church I do my diaconal work. I say, with several meanings, that I don’t work at church. I join the assembly of the baptized in celebrating the Eucharist! Of course, I also serve as a deacon at the chapel of Saint Joseph’s College. More importantly Bishop Malone commissioned me to serve him and the diocese as a professor of theology and as an actively engaged theologian. He asked me to work on integrating a renewed theology of the diaconate within a renewed theology of the sacrament of Holy Order. It is now almost five years that I have been attending to that commission by reading extensively in the exegetical, historical, and systematic literature. With a view to writing, I have reached some conclusions, but I still have a long way to go, especially with the exegetical and historical material.

In the attached bibliography, I have organized the theological literature I have gathered in the following order and categories.

  • Theology of Holy Order
  • Church Documents
  • Church Documents Pre-Vatican II
  • Church Documents Vatican II
  • Church Documents Post-Vatican II
  • Theology of Church
  • Biblical Issues
  • Biblical Issues/Acts
  • Historical Studies on Holy Order
  • Theology of Order: Priesthood
  • Sacraments/Liturgical Issues
  • Sacrifice and Eucharist
  • Theology of Ministry
  • Ecumenical Studies/Issues
  • Orthodox Perspectives
  • Theology and the Laity
  • Women and Ordination

I seek all of your help in supplementing and adding to this bibliography. Those of you who work in Bible, history, sacraments, liturgics, etc., please let me know of major omissions and gaps.

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

[1] What is usually called “the sacrament of Holy Orders” in English is singular in Latin, i.e. sacramentum ordinis. The singular makes more sense theologically.

Corpus Christi Makes the Church

The celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi is a good time to ponder, not only the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but our personal identity as Christians – the Body of Christ.

The Eucharist constitutes the fullness of communion with the Church. We are not fully initiated into the Christian faith until we are united sacramentally with Christ himself. It may seem odd to think of it as a sacrament of initiation since we continue to participate in the Eucharist, and in fact are obligated to do so long after we have been baptized and confirmed. How is it that, though fully initiated, we continue to participate in it?

We are human beings, susceptible to sin – very susceptible! The only way we can keep from sinning is by the power of God. The power of sin does not go away once we are initiated into the Body of Christ (in fact, it may get worse!). We are in a constant battle. Our initiation opens the door for us to God’s grace, giving us access to the power that we need to resist temptation to sin.

But we need to freely cooEucharistic Adorationperate in those graces and to return often to the font of those graces. We repeatedly bring our sinful lives before Christ on the cross to redeem us, so that we can live lives that are true to our identity as the Body of Christ, the People of God. (Notice that the first thing we do at Mass is the Penitential Rite. We acknowledge our sins in preparation for our offering of ourselves. We offer a contrite heart.)

The words and the elements of the Eucharist are the same as those used by Jesus at the Last Supper. We see how it is Jesus who gives the elements their spiritual power, making them his Body and Blood. The words of Jesus do what they say. We do things as God himself has told us to do so, showing respect for God as our Creator and Redeemer and Jesus as the institutor of the sacraments.

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is remembered (in the anamnesis sense of the word) and celebrated within the context of a meal. We call it the Lord’s Supper, or the Paschal Banquet. This must be understood in light of the Old Testament sacrifices. Depending on the sacrifice, what was offered was either burnt up completely, thus given completely over to God as the smoke rose to heaven, or was eaten by the priests, who had been chosen by God for the purpose of making the offerings. At the Passover, each family was to offer a lamb in sacrifice and was to consume it completely. In fact, if one family could not consume an entire lamb, they were to come together with another family so that none would be left over (they were about to leave Egypt, after all). We see in these examples those who offer the sacrifices consuming that which is sacrificed.

At the Exodus, the blood of the lamb saved the lives of the first-born sons of the Israelites. The Eucharist was instituted at a Passover meal. The new meaning of the celebration is thus given by Jesus, who is the Lamb of God, slaughtered to free humanity from sin and to bring eternal life. In the Eucharist, the blood of the Lamb does the same thing as in the Exodus, but by virtue of our baptism, we are all considered “first sons” as we are all children of the Father.

The celebration of the Eucharist concludes with our consuming the sacrificial lamb, by receiving the Body of Christ – Corpus Christi, and being sent out into the world to go and make disciples of all nations. Our intimate union with Christ – both spiritually and physically, by the grace of the sacrament – enables us to bring the love of Christ to every person we meet. It changes us! It makes us holy, transforms us into other Christs – into Christians!

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

Jesus, Meek and Humble of Heart

Sacred Heart with Catherine and Margaret MaryToday begins the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose feast we will celebrate next Friday, June 12. Jesus revealed the devotion to Himself in His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial, France between the years 1673 and 1675. It is a very powerful devotion, with overwhelming effect. Many of the saints have come to know and love Jesus in His Sacred Heart. Pictured here are St. Margaret Mary with St. Catherine of Siena, two of my heroines in faith.


Consider the promises Jesus makes to those who participate in and promote this devotion:

The Promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary

1. I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.  
2. I will establish peace in their homes.  
3. I will comfort them in all their afflictions.  
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.  
5. I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
6. Sinners will find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
9. I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.  
11. Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart. 
12. I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.”

This last promise seems absurd when you think about it, especially in light of our current priest shortage. How can it be guaranteed that I will die having received the final sacraments? A priest-friend once shared a story with me that gives me great confidence that this will be the case. Early in his priesthood, he was riding with a friend along a major expressway when they came upon slowed traffic and flashing lights. He saw the ambulance, and told his friend to pull over, that perhaps, as a priest, he could help in some way. He admitted that he was actually quite squeamish around blood, and so was a bit nervous (in fact, he was telling me this story to show me how the power of the grace of his ordination was at work that day).

He discovered that the man in the accident was a Catholic, and that he was dying. Father immediately gave him the last rites, and the man died peacefully on the side of the highway. He found out where the man’s funeral was held, and decided to attend, simply to tell the family that he had been with their beloved at his death, and that he had administered the sacraments. He thought they should know.

“Oh, Father,” the nephew of the man said, “this is incredible! Our uncle had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One of the promises is that you will not die without having received the sacraments. When we heard how he had died, we were sure this could not have been the case. Thank you, Father!”

This witness – to both the power of the grace of ordination AND the power of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – has stayed with me all these years. One aspect of the devotion is the confidence with which one is to have in it – a confidence I am sure our brother in Christ who died on the side of the highway had. I have come to rely fully on the love of the Sacred Heart, and encourage everyone to participate in the novena and to begin or renew the daily consecration.

Merciful Jesus, I consecrate myself today and always to your Sacred Heart.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I implore that I may ever love you more and more.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I believe in your love for me.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like your heart. Amen.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs and teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.