Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus wasn't quite a regular guy...

So much of my day, when I'm not in class, is spent reading. With five courses plus a tutorial, I'm reading quite a lot: Rahner to Ratzinger, Canon Law to the Book of Job, Pliny to the Gospel of Matthew. Long hours of reading often leave my mind numbed.

Note that I said often.

While reading yesterday, I learned that in the estimation of one early Church author, there is one thing that Jesus never ever had need of: Metamucil. Valentinus, preserved in Clement of Alexandria's Stromateis, writes:
Having endured everything he was continent; thus Jesus exercised his divinity. He ate and drank in a peculiar manner, not evacuating his food. So much power of continence was in him that in him food was not corrupted, since he himself had no corruptibility. 
If this is correct, the next time someone exclaims "I don't give a crap" (or some more offensive variant) I guess you could a bit cheeky, asking if he or she can really presume to be so much like Jesus!

Of course, I should hasten to add, this is not the Christian understanding of Jesus (well, it's one Christian's understanding of Jesus). Think of how much would change in our language if it were true...I guess you couldn't say "Holy Crap" any more.

It's little tidbits like this that make the slogging through texts so worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This is Asinine

As many are away, on September 6th Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report one of his priests for suspected child abuse. This conviction sets a precedent, it seems, for Bishop Finn is the first bishop criminally charged in connection with the clergy sex abuse scandal that has, for better or worse, largely defined the Catholic Church this last decade.

I find it wholly mind-numbing that Bishop Finn has not resigned his position. If you read the Dallas Charter, Article 4:

Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a
minor to the public authorities
. Dioceses/eparchies are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.
Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even
when the person is no longer a minor.
In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report
to public authorities and support this right.
This text was revised in 2011 and this draft was approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Finn, elevated to the episcopacy in 2004, is a member of the USCCB. He voted on this. He failed to live up to its norms.

I think this is completely asinine and the fact that countless women and men continue to lose faith in the Church is no surprise. It boggles my mind that a priest in Illinois was suspended from public ministry for deviating from liturgical prayers but a bishop who failed to report for child abuse retains his post.

It is most reassuring to know that the abuse of the wording of a liturgical prayer merits harsher punishment than the failure to report a child molester.

Bishop Daniel Conlon is undoubtedly right when he says that the credibility of the Church is "shredded" when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse. How can we possibly preach the Good News when there is a fundamental mistrust of those doing the preaching, a lack of confidence in the institution?

Whenever we pray the Confiteor, there is a line, "in what I have done and it what I have failed to do." Sadly, Bishop Finn's omission - what he failed to do - will mark him forever and each day that he remains in office, the credibility of the Church's episcopacy is called further into question. For the good of the faithful, I would think it best for him to say loudly mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and leave office to dedicate himself to prayer and penance not only on his own behalf, but on behalf of all of us - clergy and lay - who have failed to live up to our baptismal call.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Academic Week

Last Monday, while peeling potatoes, I slashed open my left pinky finger. It wasn't a grievous wound but it has made it difficult to type. So the two or three times I wanted to post something, I ceased early on in the process, one time because I noticed that I was bleeding through the bandage and onto the keyboard!

As many of my readers know, I love the study of theology. This semester, in embarking upon the MDiv at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, I'm taking five courses:

  • Survey of Canon Law
  • Fundamental Theology
  • History of Christianity I
  • Introduction to the New Testament
  • Wisdom Literature
Starting on September 24th, I'll also be doing a directed study in Ecclesiastical Latin. Per my schedule, I have at least one class each day with my earliest days beginning at 8:30 (MW), 9:00 (F), and 10:00 (TR). I'm very fortunate that I have some fantastic instructors for my courses and I've been excited by our readings.

One of the great blessings of this semester has been the opportunity to read widely and deeply. How often does one get the chance to read the whole of the Gospel of Mark? The whole of the Book of Job? Several essays penned by Church fathers and the great theologians? Not very often, I suspect, and I'm immensely grateful to have this opportunity to learn the tradition as well as possible in order to put it to the use of the faithful in the years to come. 

If pressed to name another blessing, I'd not have to stretch very far: last weekend, I was introduced to the wonders of Downton Abbey. Many of my immediate community members are big fans and they've been encouraging the two of us in the house who have not seen it to watch. Last night, I think we had eight guys over to the house to watch it - some for their second or third viewing! I've been so impressed with the quality of the shows acting and writing and the beauty of its cinematography is arresting. 

At some point - hopefully soon - I'll have the time and energy to return to writing more frequently. Whenever I sit down to blog, it is with the realization that there are many things for me to read or other assignments to compose. I want to take every advantage of my time these years, learning and studying to the best of my ability, that what I have had the good fortune to have been given might be put to good use. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blessed Are the Hungry

Although pictures from recent years may make it hard to believe, I used to be a fat kid. Sixteen years ago, I enrolled in Weight-Watchers and lost about sixty pounds (and I grew three inches) so that I went from being 5'6" 215 pounds to 5'9" and 155 pounds. I mention this because of all of the lines in Scripture, one from today's Gospel brings back the worst memories: Blessed are you who are now hungry. 

To this day, I hate the feeling of being hungry. When I was trying to lose weight, it took a lot of training to keep my mind from wandering to the next meal, to the next snack. What it took me a long time to learn that dieting wasn't about limiting food intake. Instead, it was about re-learning how to think about food. Food, for me, had become sort of the structure of my day...and, apparently, I very much enjoyed that structure! What dieting gave me was an opportunity to break out of that structure and to move from "living to eat" to "eating well in order to live well."

When I read the Beatitudes, what strikes me is that the very people Jesus is calling blessed are the people we typically regard as not having their lives together. Those who mourn, those who hunger, those who are persecuted: each of these is the type of person who has had life's structures pulled away from them, exposing them to the elements of life. Where one had comfort, one now has a gaping hole. Where external supports or structures gave one a place in this world, without them the person feels loss and discombobulated. Where one used to be self-sufficient, one now needs a savior.

Compare this to those to whom Jesus directs the "Woes." These are all the people for whom the structures of this world are still firmly in place, those who are kept safe and secure and comfortable. These are the people who are easily seduced into believing that they alone are responsible for their success. These are the self-sufficient, those who need no one but themselves.

Deep down, I'll always be a fat kid. Yet, it is by recognizing that I don't have my whole life together that I am able to embrace the daily discipline of proper diet and exercise. There's a certain joy in this: since I wholly own that I'm very often a mess, I can be open to those others who call me toward something greater, who draw me toward being a better self. Owning the cracks and fissures in my life lets in the light of grace and gives me a path to walk as a disciple.

Our culture places such a premium on, as it might be said crudely, having ones s*#t together. Perhaps each of us might do well to evangelize culture by starting with ourselves, by realizing where we are broken and in need of healing, and how each of us calls out for a savior. As I've come to know myself, I've come to know it's not Dr. Phil, or Dr. Oz, or even Oprah who will bring me the healing I need. The healing I desire comes from, and can only come from, the author of life itself and the One he sent that we might know his love. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Second-Step Theology

Last weekend, I came upon a great quote about the nature of theology from Father Gustavo Gutierrez:
Theology is reflection, a critical attitude. Theology follows: it is the second step. What Hegel used to say about philosophy can likewise be applied to theology: it rises only at sundown...Theology must be able to find in pastoral activity the presence of the Spirit inspiring the action of the Christian community. 
Academic theology often gets a bad rap because people regard it as useless speculation. To my mind, most of it is indeed useless speculation. Yet it does not have to be so.

I, too, once believed that theology could serve as an agenda-setting exercise. I have come to realize, however, how wrongheaded this was. Theology only ever functions after the fact, in the waning hours of the day, and it responds to what it observes. Like an owl it takes flight and scans the ground beneath it, observing, discerning movement. Rather than setting forth an agenda of how the Holy Spirit is to act, it instead reports back on what is happening.

If theology so often appears arid and disconnected, perhaps it is because the space the theologian surveys is a small office or a deserted quad, long after the students have left. Should theologians wish to nourish their reflections, they must throw open their windows and look out upon the workaday world where the Spirit is alive and enlivening.

I think returning to the study of theology after three years of teaching is a great gift. I have many observations, many experiences, many ways in which I have sensed God's activity in the lives of ordinary people. Should I be faithful to my call, it is from this perch the owl will take flight and it will be these experiences - and certainly many others - that will provide the material to reflect upon. Should I be faithful in this task, I should contribute to the world something more than a dust-collecting book upon a shelf but, rather, a theological reflection that contributes to the upbuilding of faith in the modern world. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Final Day of Orientation

After almost two weeks, orientation to life at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry concludes. It was sort of nice to get up at what I regard as a normal hour: 5:30 am. The past two weeks, I've been getting up at 8:00 or 9:00 am which means I stay up a lot later than I'm accustomed. While this is not entirely a bad thing, I find I'm much more productive if I get up early in the morning.

In case your interested, my latest piece has appeared over at the Jesuit Post. It's nothing new to regular readers of the blog, as it originated here several weeks ago when I wrote my former students with 'advice' for college.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame