Juggling the Faith on a Saturday Night

Cambridge, MA. Saturday, 6:10 PM. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged — the combination of the hectic (beginning of semester), the exhausted (my three blogs on Dominus Iesus) and the happy (ceding this space for two unique and interesting entries by Deacon Mike Iwanowicz — be sure to check them out if you haven’t), but yesterday, when I decided it was time again to wield my might blogging pen, I was somewhat boggled by three possibilities, all of which are too much for a blog and, I fear, too little on their own.

First, there is the Pope’s visit to Great Britain, on which many others, including Austen Ivereigh in this space, comment excellently; I thought of taking up his remarks at his meeting with religious leaders yesterday at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, but while they are entirely appropriate, warm, and substantial to the extent that such things can be, the Pope says nothing that many another couldn’t have said. He too leaves unmentioned Dominus Iesus and its “robust” views of the uniqueness of Christ, universal evangelization, etc., and simply welcomes his sisters and brothers as equals. Wonderful, but nothing special.


Second, there is Harvard. Whatever else one might say about the university and its Divinity School, they are certainly energetic and interesting places. As you may know, I am now Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, so I am teaching just one course this semester — “Theology in an Interreligious Perspective” — with a very fine group of about 30 students. We are beginning to weave our way back and forth between thinking about religions and learning from them, between historical encounters, influential theologians and new voices in theology, and the Hindu and the Christian. My best problem at the moment is that our discussions are so very interesting that I wish we had longer and not shorter classes. I had the honor the other evening of introducing a distinguished swami visiting campus, Paramahansa Prajnanananda of the Kriya Yoga tradition made famous by his illustrious predecessor, Paramahamsa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi, and of the Gospel commentaries I’ve mentioned here in the past); the event was somewhere between a religious event, sacred encounter, and teaching, and while I left early for other things, I am glad to have had the opportunity to welcome him to campus and experience the phenomenon. Yesterday I presided over a lunchtime discussion with students yesterday, a follow-up to a panel we hosted earlier in the month on “God and the Study of Religions.” It turns out there is a lot to say about God — God, god, gods, goddesses, divinity, meaning — but great difficulty in figuring out what wetogether can say on the topic. And we are also gearing up for the dedication of our simple Meditation Room at the Center on October 4, a lovely but mostly empty space meant to be an oasis of quiet and spiritual rest for faculty, staff, and students whenever they wish to drop by. Thus far the dedication seems likely to include Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian elements, and nicely falls on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (and two days after Mahatma Gandhi's birthday). So I could say a lot about Harvard — but really, much of it comes down to, “you’d have to be here; come to visit,” and so I will stop.

Third, there is tomorrow’s sermon to complete. Loving a challenge, I decided to preach on the second reading, I Timothy 2.1-8, which seems to revolve around a very basic proclamation: “There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.” Not easy words in a pluralistic world, but bracing and worthy of our attention on a Sunday morning. But the complication is that this claim lies between a prayer for kings and other rulers — which we might imagine shifting to a prayer for our elected leaders (who definitely need it!) — and, smoothly just beyond the day’s reading, an admonition on the place of women: “women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” It would be easy simply to not mention this part-beyond-the-day’s text, but hardly honest, since the point of the unexpurgated chapter seems to be: the king ruling (and protecting) his kingdom, Christ ruling (and saving) the world, and the man ruling over his wife and house (and being blessed by her having children). If we start adjusting — we do not live in a first century culture! no more leadership unaccountable to the people! no more dominion of talkative men over cowed and silenced women! — can we still simply say that Jesus is a king whose dominion silences and then ends all other religious paths? Adapt the first and third parts of the chapter, but not its core part? Let us imagine a Jesus who is neither a king nor a silencer of his people's imaginations. Complicated indeed — but I have until the morning…

So you can see my dilemma, which I suspect I share with you: pondering how our Church and its Pope makes its way in a world of many religions, while I teach in a very very interreligious (even if secular) space, and then (like many of you) show up in church on Sunday. We are all jugglers, in and of faith.

This could be simply confusing — go ahead, make it worse by adding your own examples — but I think it is also the right place to be: we do belong to a Church that is neither a product of our desires, nor able to make the world entirely Catholic; we do live complex religious lives that are becoming more and not less interreligious; and when we hear the Word of God, we are rightly confronted with the mystery of Jesus, but also with the “cultural baggage” of the church of I Timothy, views of human beings and society we ought not accept today. So we end up being the key to all this — responsible persons who, if we listen in all three directions (and more), can justly hope that we will find a way, in our world and Church but walking with our non-imperial Jesus, to make sense of the complexities God chooses to give us in 2010.

Saturday, 6:45 PM. There it is — enough for one blog! Feel free to add your own complications…

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 7 months ago
Wow, you really have a challenge - to figure out how Timothy I is just not, "...baggage of the Church", but the word of God; not just, "a view of human beings and society to reject", but a truth revealed. I'll help you. For starters, Lady Gaga has something to say - and is something to look at; now, compare her to your mom. Or, your mom figure. Get it?
Then there is the empty meditation room. What else can it be at Harvard except empty? Anything positive is deemed, well, 'pushy'. Or, so I imagine. I suspect this feeling  would include any words of the Pope that anyone else could say. Does this stop G_d? No. Still, in an interesting class with 30 students surely something must be said; having the right touch and tone no doubt trumps having the right dogma. Unless, like St. Paul, you don't mind risking being beat up, let out a window in a basket, stuck in a prison, or hung on a cross in Rome.
Isn't the message of Jesus suppose to be, "Good News"? Wouldn't that mainly include what would be seen as, "Good News"? Like that there is forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in Bliss? And, Mercy besides Justice. To say nothing about justice here and now which some experience and many more do not. So, Hope. 

michael iwanowicz
8 years 7 months ago
Yom Kippur can be a lesson for all. In Sharon, where Fr. Clooney can be found on many weekends, it is emblematic of the shared religious life that I drive to church on the high holy day observing Jews walking to services at one of the various temples in the town - Orthodox, conservative, reform, or Hasidic, or...

A day of repentance and fasting for Jews; a day of confronting the Word of God for others.

8 years 7 months ago
So, how was the sermon received? I suppose if one doesn't challenge the baggage of the present culture too much they won't challenge you.
"It turns out there is a lot to say about God — God, god, gods, goddesses, divinity, meaning — but great difficulty in figuring out what we together can say on the topic." In the good 'ol pre-interreligious dialogue days Fr. James Reichman, SJ at Seattle University offered a course on, "The Philosophy of God". There sure wasn't any lack of things to say together by taking that approach. Of course this was philosophy, not religion, not rituals, not practices, though these things bleed down from the basic rationality which concludes about God or makes derivatives from thence. Things like, "Is God One, and how is what is derived from God or part of God or what is is?


The latest from america

The students in Kenya understood in the most visceral way the value of water. The misuse of natural resources during our age of climate change is unethical and inhuman. No matter your world view, water is special. Kids get this.
Veronica GaylieApril 22, 2019
We are delighted to invite you to join us on our America Media journey through the land of saints and scholars, from October 20 to 28, 2019. 
Matt Malone, S.J.April 22, 2019
In the wake of the fire, perhaps today’s “cultured despisers” of religion will come to appreciate how devotion to Notre Dame has been a wellspring of Western civilization as we know it.