Imagine

In John Biguenet’s short story, The Vulgar Soul, an atheist who is unexpectedly experiencing the stigmata is speaking to a psychiatrist, who asks,

‘“What about religion?”

“Well, I’m Catholic — at least I was raised a Catholic — but of course I don’t practice.”

“Why not?”

To believe in God, he patiently explained to the psychiatrist, one has to be willing to close his eyes to a great deal. “Isn’t that what they mean by faith — refusing to accept the obvious, refusing to accept what has always been right there in front of our eyes.”

“But that’s exactly what believers say,” she countered. “God has always been right there in front of us. We just won’t open our eyes.”

“Maybe it’s not so easy to see what right in front of our eyes.”

The psychiatrist laughed. “That’s certainly true, Mr. Hogue. I’d be out of business if that weren’t true.”’

Faith is an act of seeing what God reveals. As seeing, it is an act of the imagination. The tradition speaks of the “eyes of faith” that see what the “light of faith” reveals. Seeing and believing are complementary. By believing one can see and by seeing one can believe. The phrase “blind faith” is profoundly misleading. God cannot bypass the senses, and since the senses lead to knowledge through the imagination, God cannot bypass the imagination, the means by which the eyes of faith see the form/gestalt of God’s revelation, Jesus Christ. The form is the incarnate, yet risen, human reality of Jesus. The risen Jesus is absent to the physical eyes, but is visible to the eyes of faith. John says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” But those who believe now see. Jesus must be imagined to be believed in, or if he is believed in, Jesus is then imagined. To the eyes of the believer, the risen Jesus is not imaginary, but is indeed imagined, and thus the whole world is seen as transformed. If the world is transformed by the resurrection of Jesus, then a living faith must be Catholic, where “Catholic” means “through the whole.” The dynamic imagination of Catholicism, “through-the whole-ness,” cannot rest short of attempting to see and then understand everything.

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

 

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Presence and Sacrifice in the Eucharist

In his popular blog, Fr. Dwight Longenecker asked, “What do we mean by ‘Real Presence’?” The question is useful for initiating ecumenical dialogue. Fr. L. understands the term “transubstantiation,” which he prefers as an alternative to “real presence,” to entail the claim that, unlike Protestant doctrine, Christ is present in the Eucharistic elements in a physical or corporeal way. In support of his position Fr. L. quotes Pope Paul VI’s 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei.

Pace Fr. L., the essential dimension is not “corporeal” reality but rather “sacrifice.” I would like to make two brief points: (1) “real” does not necessarily imply “corporeal” or “physical,” and (2) what is made present in the Eucharist is the reality of Christ’s spiritual sacrifice on the cross under the signs of bread and wine. Bread and wine are the corporeal dimension of the sacrament.

The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation certainly requires a belief in the reality of Christ’s presence but that presence is not “corporeal” if the word means physical or material sense data. Our senses encounter the appearances of bread and wine, not the reality made present in the sacrament. In Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul comments that the real presence is “a substantial presence…” But what does “substantial” mean here? The Pope makes a critical distinction: Christ “is bodily present, although not in the same way that bodies are present in a given place” (my emphasis). Therefore the word “substantial” should not be understood in the context of Eucharistic theology as referring to a body in space and time.

The saving power of the cross, inseparable from the indivisible Christ (Body, Blood, soul and divinity) is the “substance” that is present “in a sacramental form” under corporeal appearances of food. Only the appearances of bread and wine appear “in the same way that bodies are present in a given place.” The Body of Christ is now glorified, and so is a spiritual reality, not a localized one. The word “substance” is thus not to be understood as the outward form that looks, feels and tastes like bread and wine; it denotes the reality made present. Christ’s sacrifice, really present, saves us when received in faith, as he opens our hearts to the needs of immigrants, prisoners, the hungry, homeless, and victims of oppression and injustice.

David Hammond teaches theology and church history for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Musings on the Practical, or Practical Musings?

On numerous occasions over the years I have been asked to “make a presentation on Scripture”. The settings have been quite varied: a series on the Gospels or a particular Gospel; a talk to a group sponsored by a parish education program; a study group meeting at the homes of parish members; an RCIA program; members of men and women religious, and the like. One common denominator among all is a lack on the part of many of knowledge of the teachings from Vatican II, especially those contained in Dei Verbum.

Without trying to assess the reasons for this vacuum, I believe some suggestions for increasing the knowledge of the faithful regarding Scripture might be in order. One way to approach the problem is to develop an understanding of the various “criticisms” that Scripture scholars have put forth. For the audience intended, this does not have to be full of technical jargon. But as the title of this article suggests, it must be practical.

José A. Pagola, a Spanish Scripture theologian whose numerous books have guided me in this quest of the “practical,” offers the following response to the question:  What are the Gospels attempting to do?

For followers of Jesus, the four gospels are a unique and irreplaceable resource. They are not textbooks, expounding an academic doctrine of Jesus. They are not detailed biographies, tracing his life in history. These stories bring us close to Jesus as the first generations of Christians remembered him, with faith and love. On the one hand, they show us the great impact Jesus caused in the people who first were attracted to him and followed him. On the other, they were written to inspire new disciples to do the same.[i]

Pagola is in no way denigrating the academic study of the Gospels, for he is a scholar. Rather, he is finding a way to “translate” our studies in such a way that the widest audience possible will understand and be inspired.

How do we approach the “practical”; that is, how do we make the concepts real and compelling in the lives of those whom we teach, preach, and offer pastoral care and support? Three words come quickly to mind: gently, firmly, and spiritually.

Gently: It is imperative that we approach our faithful people knowing they are, in the words of Pagola above, disciples who must be inspired to follow in the footsteps of the original disciples. Thus we are to take the approach of Jesus who ministered to those he described “as sheep without a shepherd.” Doing this will require our own studies to lead us to bring the “good news” in a manner that will not frighten these “yearning disciples” away. Our learning and intimacy with Jesus will provide the means to “break open the Word” to our audience. Our prayer to Jesus should be, “Help me, Lord, to tend to your most precious flock whoever they may be and at whatever stage of learning we find them.

Firmly: In this context, firmly is not to emit a negative or frightening connotation. When we bring the word of Jesus to any audience, we must search for an understanding of just “where” the audience is. If they are novices in the study of the Gospels, we must “feed them with the milk of Jesus’ nourishment.” If they are more learned we can guide them to and through the many techniques with which they can continue to grow in the knowledge of Jesus’ message.

Spiritually: We can intertwine the message of the Gospels with the continual understanding that Jesus’ teachings are designed to lead us to the Father. In this regard, our objective becomes to strengthen each person’s relationship with the Lord. As Lectio Divina teaches, we can read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. Perhaps no greater good can come from guiding our audiences to grow in following in the footsteps of Jesus and to teach them to be more than readers and studiers of the Word, but as the wise saying emphasizes “to be doers.”  Jesus came, Jesus taught by word and example, Jesus reconciled us to the Father. What a splendid way he has given us to lead others to his Father.

John Munroe teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.


[i] José A. Pagola, The Way Opened Up by Jesus : A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Miami: Convivium Press, 2012), p. 24.

Immigration and the Kingdom of God

Recently, I was fortunate to attend a lecture on the theology of migration by Fr. Daniel Groody (Notre Dame) at St. Peter’s Church in Charlotte, NC. The following quotation from his article in Theological Studies indicates the themes:

The visio Dei [vision of God] also challenges people to move beyond an identity based on a narrow sense of national, racial, or psychological territoriality. It holds out instead the possibility of defining life on much more expansive spiritual terrain consistent with the kingdom of God. Corresponding with the positive dimensions of globalization that foster interconnection, it challenges any form of ideological, political, religious or social provincialism that blinds people from seeing the interrelated nature of reality. http://www3.nd.edu/~dgroody/Published%20Works/Journal%20Articles/files/TSSeptember09Groody.pdf

I began thinking of how the Gospel of Luke explores similar issues. On Gabriel’s announcement of her upcoming pregnancy, Mary’s response is to ask an intelligent question to this oddly invasive and unsolicited migration of God. “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’” (Lk 1:35), the same image as the presence of God filling the tent of meeting (Ex 40.34); in other words, Gabriel uses the image of God migrating with the Hebrew people after leaving Egypt. Only then does Mary make a commitment to the kingdom of God rather than to social custom. The requirements to build the kingdom of God, foretold in covenantal theology, trump the local laws of humans.

This commitment sets a tone for the Gospel, in which we see various examples of those who will, and who won’t, migrate with the kingdom of God. We find, for example, a parable of a man with excess grain. Surprised by unexpected bounty, the man asks himself (not God, not his priest, not his neighbor): “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops…” (Lk 12.12). His first person soliloquy continues; then he is condemned as a fool by God. This man won’t budge an inch from his own concerns, and by staying stationary in every way, refuses to see “the interrelated nature of reality” and thus rejects all covenant relationships. In contrast, outcast and tax collector Zaccheus breaks strict social rules in several ways, and Jesus responds in like manner. The encounter outside the boundaries creates conversion, and salvation came to that house (Lk 19.10).

Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Onlline.

The New Martyrdom

Everyone is talking about the New Evangelization. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (the reason for the Council, in this author’s humble opinion), it is a missionary effort to bring the Gospel to a modern, secular world which has, for the most part, rejected, ignored, or at best, compartmentalized it for its own purposes.

I love Pope John XXIII’s image of “opening the windows”. Some have interpreted this as the Council’s blessing on bringing the modern world into the Church, on updating its teachings and practices to “better fit into” the modern world that the Church finds herself in. These same people have been gravely disappointed that the Church has remained consistent in its teachings, especially the ones that prove difficult for the modern mind to accept. If the Council was not about bringing the modern world into the Church, then what do we do with this image of the open window?

I say, “Fly!” Yes, the New Evangelization is about flying out of the window with the Gospel in hand (and heart!) and living it radically, encountering the world at every turn, bringing the light of Christ to it. I say flying because human beings cannot fly of their own power. The New Evangelization requires a complete trust in God’s providential care. A radical living of the Gospel demonstrates that trust. It will bring about a transformation of the world, not a “better fitting into” it.

The Christian views the world through the eyes of the Gospel, not the Gospel through the eyes of the world. Just like the first Christians, a person radically living the Gospel, radically loving as God loves, will be misunderstood, labeled an outcast at best or a threat at worst, and ultimately rejected or persecuted. The Christian is not of the world, and will be hated by the world (John 15:9). Thus, the New Evangelization is a call to a New Martyrdom.

This martyrdom is not to be sought, nor is it a rejection of the world. It is simply the response the world will have to the Christian, who is loving for the world’s sake, in order to transform it. If the world is considered “the enemy”, the Christian loves the enemy, making friends (even brother and sisters) in the process, and bringing about the kingdom of God. We fight the enemy with love, not so the enemy dies, but so that he may have life.

Both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis understand this. Two ways the contemporary Christian lives out this martyrdom is by loving God and loving one’s neighbor – regardless of the worldly consequences. In a modern world, where human reason is god and wealth is the measure of success, faith in a transcendent God and life that first concerns the welfare of one’s neighbor put one in opposition to the way things work. Benedict spent much of his papacy tending to the celebration of the liturgy, the worship of God. His papacy culminated in a Year of Faith, celebrating faith in the resurrected Jesus and the consequences of having a personal relationship with Him (which is, of course, to know unconditional love in one’s life and to be able to recognize the lack of it in the world). Pope Francis has followed up with a focus on how human beings are to treat each other in light of this faith, placing a spotlight on the poor of the world, our neighbor.

We might come to an awareness of how our actions – economic, political, environmental, etc. – affect other people (even future generations), but we will only care about these effects if, by faith, we are united to all people in the love of God. Only with the faith of which Benedict speaks can the Church of Francis come to fruition. The witness of the New Martyrs will bring the world to Christ, for they will prove the truth of the Gospel.

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