They Belong Together

Book cover
The Way of Mysteryby Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R.,and James Keating

Paulist Press. 160p $14.95 (paperback)


What does going to Mass on Sunday have to do with going to work on Monday? Or in what ways might the liturgy of the Eucharist spill over into the liturgy of life to influence the sort of people we become, the way we see the world and the decisions we make? According to Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R., and James Keating, our participation in the Eucharist can and ought to have an effect on all of these aspects of the moral life.

Father Billy, professor of moral theology and spirituality at the Alphonsian Academy in Rome, and James Keating, a moral theologian at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, are collaborators who reflect a new spirit in Catholic moral theology, integrating the moral life with spirituality. This book builds on the conviction that the way the church prays influences how we ought to live, not just what we believe. By examining the mystery of the Eucharist and its implications for moral character and decisions, The Way of Mystery shows how moral theology can be a meditation on the paschal mystery, whereby living morally is not a matter of adjudicating tricky cases of conscience but is about being formed in virtue—becoming a mature, integrated, life-giving person attuned to Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

The first two chapters explore the meaning of the paschal mystery and relate it to the Eucharist. Here we get Billy and Keating’s eucharistic theology of banquet, presence and sacrifice. Chapter Three, the pivotal chapter, comments on the principal parts of the Mass as sources of spiritual moral formation. Chapter Four continues the process of moral formation by situating it within the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways of spiritual progress. The final chapter uses this classic model of spiritual growth to offer four guidelines for making moral decisions rooted in the paschal mystery: enter the world of others, give ourselves to them, be a source of nourishment and be a source of hope. Each chapter ends with “Observations.” While these are supposed to suggest the implications of the paschal mystery for integrating the spiritual and moral life, many of them are more a summary of the chapter than they are the heart, hands and feet of the paschal mystery.

The core theme of the book is the eucharistic call to conversion from sin to virtue by our response to the grace of the paschal mystery. As Billy and Keating maintain, the great differences that we experience between the vision of life presented in our liturgical prayers and what we experience in life tells us how much we are in need of conversion. They go on to say that where we are along the way of conversion from sin to virtue will influence how we experience the Eucharist as formative in the paschal mystery. But if we approach the Mass with the proper disposition, then it can form us into mature imitators of Christ. Liturgy is a place where God works through our intellect, will and affections (even in ways beyond our conscious awareness).

By focusing on the Eucharist, The Way of Mystery contributes further to an emerging theme in moral theology—that living morally is fundamentally a response to the universal call to holiness and that the goal of the moral life is to become holy, to be a saint. On the dialogical relation of spirituality and morality, the book limits itself to the implications of the spiritual practice of the Eucharist for the individual’s need for conversion. It does not show any explicit social awareness that ecclesial institutional structures and practices must undergo conversion as well, nor does it complete the dialogical relation of spirituality and morality by showing how the moral life in turn influences the way we celebrate the Eucharist. If women are equal to men as co-disciples, for example, then how is this represented at the banquet table? The moral implications for community life of celebrating Eucharist will haunt the Catholic community as long as the sins of sexism and patriarchy go unrepented. Our ritual texts still cling to sexist language, and we argue that only males are fit to stand in persona Christi at the table of the Eucharist. Our unwillingness to abandon such sexist table hierarchy keeps us from fulfilling Jesus’ central eucharistic command, “Do this in memory of me.” The spiritual-moral challenge of the Eucharist must also extend to the conversion of ecclesial institutional structures and practices.

This book is intended for wide use—adult education, undergraduate courses and supplementary reading for upper level moral theology and liturgy courses. At every level it will need careful interpretation to address the great discrepancy that exists between its vision of a eucharistic spiritual moral life and the experience many people have of both Sunday Mass and life at work on Monday. The Way of Mystery reflects the new vision that spirituality and morality are inseparable siblings.

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