Re “The Noble Enterprise” (2/4): Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl focuses on the important aspect of the ecclesial foundation of theologians. The role of faith in the theological task places revelation at the very center and implicitly indicates the worshipping community as its apex.
The 2,000-year-old theological tradition calls the theologian to understand the mystery of God in different times and epochs as foundational. Understanding the vocabulary and nuances of language systems throughout the centuries calls our attention to the immense work that remains to be completed in presenting the riches of our Catholic tradition, including Greek, Latin and Syriac sources. This handing on of the faith does not compel us to return to a particular period in time but rather to be in continuity with tradition.
The 1994 joint Christological statement of Blessed John Paul II and Mar Dinkha IV, for example, presents an important and exemplary model of historical-theological endeavor in cooperation with the magisterium. Theologians render a true service to the body of Christ as lived in faith. Dynamic fidelity to tradition can serve as an inspiration and model for an active engagement in the ecclesial dimension of theologians and direction for the future.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl writes, “Natural scientists are grateful for the existence of physical laws since their work is only sound, only fruitful, when it respects the foundational truths of those concrete boundaries.” I find myself puzzled by this statement. Physical laws are less “foundational truths” or “concrete boundaries” than generally reliable, empirically benchmarked, summative inferences—but ones that are always tentative, always revisable in the face of new data.
Granted, there is a certain inertia that appropriately disposes the community against change, but paradigm shifts do happen. (Without the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, for example, Newtonian gravitation would never have been updated to Einsteinian.) These shifts make physics more sound, more fruitful.
It may well be that theological boundaries are immune to such shifts; part of me, at least, hopes that God’s Spirit is more ingenious than that. As a favorite hymn puts it, “The Church of Christ in ev’ry age/ Beset by change but Spirit-led/ Must claim and test its heritage/ And keep on rising from the dead.”
Re “All Hands on Desks,” by Thomas J. Healy, John Eriksen and B. J. Cassin (2/4): This is a much-needed and long-overdue call to action to preserve Catholic schools, the great gift of the church to the American community writ large.
The preservation of this gift has long been more a matter of will than of means. Perhaps the current crisis, with its complex causality, will rally Catholic leadership behind the effort to preserve and carve out a future for Catholic schools. Credit is due to agents like the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and all others who labor to reimagine such a future and to realize those dreams.
More Study Options
Re “By the Book” (2/4): Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., has performed a valuable service outlining the Catholic approach to Bible study. I found it especially heartening to see him delve into the link between study and prayer, with a particular emphasis on lectio divina.
But I would like to suggest some additional resources. In addition to Bible “programs” like Little Rock and the Threshold series, mention should be made of Lectionary-based devotional journals like Give Us This Day, Living With Christ and The Word Among Us, the journal I have had the privilege of editing for the past 17 years.
These three magazines, and others like them, offer a daily approach to the Scriptures that unites readers with the worship of the church. Each has its particular emphasis, but they all draw on solid and informed Catholic biblical scholarship as they invite readers to meet the Lord in his word. Using everyday language and often speaking to the ordinary lives of their readers, these journals do a fine job of marrying the mind and the heart, the letter and the Spirit. And that is something that the fathers of Vatican II would have delighted to see.
St. Augustine, Fla.
Asking for More
Re “Signs of Life” (1/21): Helen Prejean, C.S.J., must be commended for her positive outlook and tireless work for the “born but imprisoned.” I have heard too many homilies/sermons about the unborn and no mention from the pulpit about capital punishment—as if the two are not both “playing God” with human life.
Sister Helen’s total lack of edginess and defensiveness—in this article as well as in her public presentations—speaks to the Jesus model. I am once again inspired and instructed about how to speak up. Congratulations, also, to the U.S. bishops for clearly writing about the issue. More, please. Louder, please. Hard to hear over the angry shouting.
Re “Reimagining Creation” (Letters, 1/21): Donald Rohmer wrote that we need “a creation story that inspires us.” But creation speaks for itself.
The naturalist Euell Gibbons didn’t take three seconds to reply to the question, “What do you see in nature as the greatest proof against evolution?” He replied, “I have never seen an organism that didn’t have a symbiotic relationship with another.” In simpler terms, all living things are an interconnected chain of life. Our Father in heaven hears us all and created the universe for us. David, in amazement, asked, “What is man, that God is mindful of him?” (Ps 8:4). Yes, Jesus died as a man and rose again so we could have faith in and live for Him.
If God can create a universe and its minutiae and is all-knowing, He can make man from mud in an instant and give him a brain so he can look around and worship.
Harm to Others?
Re “An Irish Priest’s Defiance: Some Context,” by James Martin, S.J. (In All Things blog, 1/20): This is very helpful, but I would like to add an important dynamic: The decision between obedience and justice must take into account other persons affected by the decision to accede to being silenced.
In other words, one should ask, “Who will be hurt by my fidelity, and how badly?” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., for example, agreed to a silencing that hurt mostly him. It deprived the world (for a time) of access to his theological ideas, but he was the one who lost the most—the feedback from other scholars that would have improved his own work.
In matters about which Tony Flannery, C.Ss.R., is being threatened, it’s a different question: Are people hurt by the magisterium’s teaching regarding homosexuality? How badly? Are people (men and women) hurt by the magisterial exclusion of women from positions of authorized leadership in the church? How badly? We must never forget that sometimes silence can harm others.
Re “New Translation Receives Wide Acceptance” (Signs of the Times, 12/24): A similar survey should be conducted among the priests who have been burdened by a translation that is very difficult to proclaim or to pray at all. The new translation has not been “received” in a theological or an emotional sense by most priests who have had to use it and have been forced to give inadequate and dishonest explanations for why the change was necessary.
I am inspired by questions raised by George Wilson, S.J., in Worship magazine: “Did the project achieve the improvement needed? Did the new texts help the faithful to pray? Were they helped to enter into the act of communal worship…? Do they assist that particular gathering of the faithful—with its own unique story and genius—to enter into the praise of the Lord?”
I would respond with a resounding no to those questions, and I believe that most English speaking presbyters would say the same. The 1998 ICEL revision of the Missal is not only a much better implementation of the liturgy document of Vatican II, it is a more legitimate and inculturated expression of the prayer of the Roman Catholic Church.