Saturday, December 21, 2013


Pope Innocent VI was bishop of Rome in the mid-decades of the 14th Century. He was a good hymnologist as well. He authored the beautiful but very brief eucharistic hymn known by its Latin title – "Ave Verum Corpus". It was later put to music by the incomparable Mozart. It goes as follows:

Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria virgine,
Vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine,
Cujus latus perforatum vero fluxit sanguine,
Esto nobis praegustatum mortis in examine.
O clemens, o pie,
O dulcis Jesu, fili Mariae.

Hail true body that was born of Mary, the
Virgin, that truly suffered and was offered in
sacrifice on the cross for man and that gave
forth true blood from its pierced side. Be to us
a foretaste of heaven when we are in death’s
agony, kind, loving and gentle Jesus, son of Mary.

The hymn celebrates the truth of things about our Catholic faith, the realities of faith we celebrate throughout the liturgical year. The first line celebrates the reality of the mystery of the Incarnation – "Hail true Body born of the Virgin Mary". The second line celebrates the mystery of the cross – "Hail true Body, truly suffered, sacrificed on the cross for mankind”. The third line continues the theme of the Passion – “Hail true Body whose pierced side flowed with water and blood”. The fourth and final line directly reflects the Eucharist – “Let it be for us a foretaste of heaven when we are in death’s agony”. Jesus whom we call the Christ is no mythical figure. Neither is his heavenly Father who mysteriously identified himself to the prophet Moses in the words "I AM". Neither is his earthly mother who said to Gabriel, "I am the handmaid of the Lord." The Lord Jesus is for real – real in his birth, real in his dying and rising, real in the Eucharist we receive, foreshadowing God’s gift of eternal life. The "Ave Verum Corpus" celebrates these realities.

For an Advent meditation, I would call your attention to the prayer that opened our liturgy on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We said to God our Father – "Fill our hearts with your love, and as you revealed to us the coming of your Son as man, so lead us through his suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection". Any welcoming of the Lord at Christmas carries with it the acceptance of Christ’s cross.

This prayer like the Gospels themselves should be read backwards, that is, we start with the paschal mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection, then move backwards to the Lord’s public ministry and his birth at Christmas time. We should note our second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul begins his Letter with these words: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” This passage from St. Paul raises an interesting question. Our Jewish brothers and sisters for centuries have read the ancient prophets. The Church from its very beginning has continued to read the ancient prophets. Our Jewish brothers and sisters do not recognize Jesus in the ancient prophets. We, the Church, recognize Jesus in the writing of the prophets. Jesus himself knew the prophets well; he identified himself as descending from Adam, Abraham and David. He identified himself with the suffering servant as pictured in the prophecy of Isaiah. Why is it that there is what we could call the failure of our Jewish brothers and sisters to find the Lord Jesus in the prophets? Pope Benedict had a wonderful passage in this regard. He writes: “The starting point for Christology in the New Testament – that is, the study of the story of Jesus – is the fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The resurrection is God’s way of publicly taking the side of Jesus in the trials organized by the Jews and Gentiles against him. Through the resurrection, God’s defense of Jesus confirms first of all the interpretation of the Old Testament which the Lord Jesus had given to his disciples and confirmed as well Jesus’ claim to divinity.” This is why some disciples came to Jesus from John and asked the question – “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” We read the Gospels backwards starting with the resurrection. That is why in our prayer life in Advent we read backwards the prayer we have just cited which began our liturgy for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. We begin with the resurrection. This highlights the law of the cross. The law of the cross is expressed by Jesus in his public ministry of love and forgiveness and thus leads to the feast of Christmas which we are preparing to celebrate. This confirms once again what we have already said – any invitation of the Lord at Christmas carries with it the acceptance of the cross.

Let us reflect for a moment on what we can call the law of the cross. What does this mean? In shorthand, it goes something like this – All of human history, everybody’s human history, is a story of progress and decline. Because of sin, decline, disorder, evil become the conquerors. Justice comes along to try to right the wrongs, but the enmities, the rivalries, the hostilities that come from sin continue to conqueror. Just look at the front pages of our newspapers. Better still, look in the mirror and try to examine the human heart. Where justice fails, only love can prevail, only love can wipe the slate clean of sin. This is what we mean by the law of the cross. Through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, God wipes the slate clean, for Christ is the true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. In other words, God has introduced into human history a process of reversal. The consequences of our sins become the very means of our salvation. The prime instance is Jesus. By willingly accepting the consequences of our sins, though sinless himself, he passed through suffering and death, and God’s power at work in Jesus made this the passageway to resurrection and life. St. Paul puts it this way – God showed his love for us in this that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The law of the cross works something like this – Two persons have a quarrel. As long as each party returns evil for evil, the quarrel escalates, the situation worsens, no fresh start is possible. Only a process of reversal will bring peace. Only when one party is willing to love one’s enemies and to pray for one’s persecutors, only then will the decline of evil be checked, only then will redemption be effected, only then will our own human history make progress towards God’s kingdom.

This is what happened in Jesus. This is what he wills to effect in us. This is what Christmas is all about. We cooperate with God’s redeeming power by returning good for evil, thus transforming the evil that surrounds us into the cross through which alone we are saved. This was a scandal to some of the Jews of Jesus’ time. This was all folly to the Greeks. To those who believed, Jew or Greek, this was the power of God and the wisdom of God. The law of the cross is still folly for so many in our day. The philosopher Nietzsche would reject Christian humility and self-giving love as the religion of slaves who are really envious of the rich and the powerful. Karl Marx would reject Christian patience and the doctrine of the cross as ideological invention to facilitate the enriching of the rich and the enslaving of the poor who are thus deceived by Christian teaching and drugged by the empty hope of abundant life beyond the grave.
The feast of Christmas makes an affirmation and asks a question. The affirmation is this – Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. In other words, God out of love wipes our slates clean. The question is this – Are we willing to do the same for our brothers and sisters? Only those who understand the law of the cross can truly say – Merry Christmas.

(Readers who are familiar with the wonderful work of Bernard Lonergan, who was my mentor in graduate school, will recognize what has been said above about the Law of the Cross.)


Thoughtful folks ask three questions:

a) What can I know? – the knowledge question.
b) What ought I to do? – the ethical question.
c) In what, in whom can I put my trust?

John the Baptist is front and center in our Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Advent. Those who heard John preaching were moved to ask – What are we to do? John is the bridge from the Old Testament of promise to the New Testament of fulfillment. His response to the question – What should we do? – represents a not unfamiliar response to all of us – that’s what the Ten Commandments are all about. But John points to the Advent of Christ. The Lord Jesus is now the way, the truth and the light. His way presumes the Ten Commandments and builds on them. This means for us Matthew’s Beatitudes, Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Christ’s Law of Love, Christ’s Law of Forgiveness. In answer to the above question – What ought I to do? – the answer would seem to be – Do what the Lord asks of us in the New Testament.

Listen to how St. Paul summarizes the New Testament teaching: “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil; hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, bless those who persecute you and do not curse them, do not repay evil with evil; if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if your enemy is thirsty, give him drink, do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

On the Second Sunday of Advent, we focused our Advent attention on the mystery of the Incarnation, which means “becoming flesh”, “taking on our humanity”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In other words, Christ Jesus, Son of God from all eternity, equal in divinity to the Father and Holy Spirit, took on our humanity and without ceasing to be his divine self, he became like us in all things except sin. Way back in the 11th Century, Anselm of Canterbury, bishop, theologian, man of God, wrote a treatise which he entitled: “Why Did God Become Man?” He did so to fulfill the Father’s plan for human salvation. He came among us to bear witness to the truth, he came among us to take away our sins, he came among us to show us the way to God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Intimately associated with Anselm’s question – Why did God become man? – is the somewhat foreboding question – Why the cross for Jesus, why the cross for those who follow Jesus, why the cross for those who do not follow Jesus? From our earliest days, have we not lived under the sign of the cross? At holy Baptism the celebrant called each one by name and said to us – “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ the Savior by the sign of the cross.” From our earliest days with the Catechism, we began to realize that the Lord Jesus was handed over to death according to the definitive plan of God the Father; that Jesus came to die for our sins so that we might become the righteousness of God. We cannot appreciate Christmas unless we look beyond Christmas to the mysteries of Holy Week. We cannot rejoice with the angels and shepherds unless we can first learn to hail the cross as Christ’s victory over sin and death, our vey source of hope.

The English author G. K. Chesterton once wrote – “According to many philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it by his commandments. That’s ridiculous, of course. God in making the world set it free. God has written not so much a poem, but a play, a drama, which he has planned as a perfect drama but, which necessarily, had to be left to human actors and stage managers who have since made a great mess of it.” Chesterton concludes – “We welcome our Savior at Christmastime because we know in faith that the Incarnation and the cross are God’s loving answers to the great mess we humans have made of things at the beginning and down the centuries.”

One writer has made an interesting suggestion. The author writes – “While doing theological studies over ten years ago, after having studied and taught philosophy for several years, I decided to sit down and read the Gospels as if they were really true.” “Of course”, he said, “I was a believing and faithful Catholic in the notional sense of faith. I thought I had better have more than a notional sense of the Gospels if I were going to preach about them. By the time I reached the end of Matthew, I was undergoing a life-forming experience.” What will we find if we follow this suggestion? We will find the revolutionary “Sermon on the Mount”, starting with the Beatitudes in Matthew’s 5th Chapter, which is so stunning, this author tells us, that most of us are tempted to act as though it couldn’t be true. Then there is the “Lord’s Prayer” in Chapter 6 telling us about God’s forgiveness of ourselves and reminding us that we are to be forgiving of others, seventy times seven. Matthew tells us to control our anger, not to lust after another, be careful about storing up treasures for ourselves, and we must not judge. Mindful of the words the disciples of John posed to Jesus – “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” – if all this from Matthew’s Gospel is true, if under the grace of the Holy Spirit we can give not just notional assent but real assent to what Matthew is telling us, then that is good, that gives us a good understanding of what Christmas demands. If we cannot give such assent, perhaps we ought to go elsewhere and begin to look for someone else.


Great joy, much excitement, radiate from the Advent Liturgies. Jeremiah tells us – “Nations, hear the message of the Lord, and make it known to the ends of the earth: Our Savior is coming; have no more fear.” Zechariah tells us – “See, the Lord is coming and with him all his saints. Then there will be endless day.” Isaiah tells us – “Sound the trumpets, summon the nations, tell them the Good News – Our God and Savior is coming.” The Advent message is missionary – “Proclaim the Good News, tell it to everyone, shout it aloud – Our God is coming.” We, the Church, have Good News to tell. You and I are evangelizers, carriers of the Good News for our times and no matter what our problems and crosses may be, no matter how heavy our hearts at this time, Advent is always the reminder that we are the privileged recipients of God’s good news. This is what the Church is all about – to communicate a sense of the Good News, to communicate a much needed expression of Christian hope. The Church exists to evangelize, to tell the world that God has first loved us and that we ought to love God in return.

Recently I read an interesting comment on evangelization. An African Cardinal from Ghana, while visiting London, gave a talk entitled “How Africa Can Help Europe”. He said with regard to evangelization, and every pastor would say the same thing – There is a great disparity between what parish baptismal and confirmation records have to say and the vast number of those who have not persevered in the joyful practice of the faith. This has to do – the Cardinal said – with the whole issue of evangelization. It is wrong, he suggests, to make catechesis, rather than evangelization, the point of entry into the Church. What does this mean in our American context? I suggest that it means that Catholic colleges are offering theology courses to undergraduate students who in large numbers have not been properly catechized – but this is mission impossible. Every parish is offering catechism classes for many young people who have never become properly evangelized. This also is mission impossible. Evangelization comes first, that is, falling in love with the risen Christ whom we encounter primarily in the liturgy and in the sacraments. The Advent liturgies – I suggest – are expressions of evangelization. They make present what they contain – that is – a falling in love with God. A class in catechesis cannot help an unevangelized unbeliever.

The English word “incarnation” means becoming flesh, taking on our humanity. And so we read in John’s Gospel – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word become flesh and dwelt among us”. Christ Jesus, the very Son of God from all eternity, equal in divinity to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, at a particular moment in human history, took on our humanity without ceasing to be his divine self and became like us in all things except sin. As we reflect on this mystery of faith, we praise God, and we ask the question – Why the Incarnation? Why did God the Son take on our humanity and enter truly into our troubled history? Three answers come to mind:
1. The Lord Jesus came among us to bear witness to the truth. He himself tells us – “I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth.”
2. The Lord Jesus came among us to free us from our sins. Do not the Gospels tell us that the Son of Man came to search for and save what was lost? The Lord Jesus is the Lamb who takes away our sins.
3. The Lord Jesus came among us to show us the way that leads us to God our Father. As St. Paul reminds us – Through Christ Jesus we have access in the Holy Spirit to God the Father. This is what the season of Advent is all about. This is what the great teachers of the faith have done down through history, asking the big questions of faith – Why did God become Man? Why did the Lord Jesus suffer death on the cross? Why did God create the world in the first place? There is but one answer to these questions, and that answer is God’s love. God cannot create out of self-interest, but only for what is good for us. For to love means to give; to love means to will the good of the one who is loved. This is why St. John tells us that God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son. This is why St. Paul tells us – The Lord Jesus so loved the Father and us that he gave himself in sacrifice on the cross for us.

Christ Jesus came into our world to bear witness to the truth. St. Augustine writes in his Confessions that he had lost all faith and was in deep despair of ever finding the truth. He examined all the philosophers he could find and God enabled him to realize that the philosophers at times may have been quite helpful in some respects but knew nothing about the Lord Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life. Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, spent her life in philosophy but without faith. The grace of the Church’s proclamation ultimately overcame her and she began to realize that truth had a name – Jesus the Christ. God gives each human being two wings, faith and reason, which we may activate in cooperation with the Holy Spirit so as to rise to the contemplation of the truth. God places in our hearts a desire to know the truth, to know and love God who is our heart’s desire to know the truth, to know and love God who is truth and love, and by knowing and loving God we will come to know the truth about ourselves. The Advent Liturgies tell us that Christ is the truth.

Friday, November 22, 2013

THE YEAR OF FAITH: October 2012 – November 2013

Pope Benedict XVI, in October 2012, began a Year of Faith to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This Year of Faith comes to an end in a week or so when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.

The purpose of the Year of Faith has been two-fold: to challenge us to examine how well we listen to and respond to God’s word, not only on Sundays but at home, in school, in the marketplace, in the workplace, in academia and in the professions, Monday through Saturday; and to challenge us to study our faith, to speak up for our faith at home and in the public square so as to help ourselves and to give to others the reasons for the hope that faith gives to us.

The Apostolic Letter which announced this Year of Faith bears the title “Porta Fidei”, the Door of Faith. This expression – the door of faith – is taken from the Acts of the Apostles where St. Luke describes the completion of the first mission of Saints Paul and Barnabas who at the end of their mission journey called the Church together and reported what God had done with them and how He had opened the door of faith for the Gentiles. This door is always open to us today ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering to us entry into his Church. To enter through this door which begins at Baptism is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime, in fact it will last for eternity.

The Second Vatican Council was the first ecumenical council to address officially the question of unbelief. Pope Benedict XVI expressed his views about this question of unbelief. “In our day,” he writes, “when in vast areas of the world, the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, our overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God – not just any god but the God who spoke on Mount Sinai, to that God whose face we recognize as love in Jesus Christ, who presses on to the end in Jesus Christ crucified and risen. The real problem at this moment in our history is that God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light that shines from God, humanity is losing its bearing with increasingly destructive effect.”

Four centuries ago, unbelief involved a small segment of the academic world seeking to explain the world without God. In this one-dimensional world of ours, in this secularist world of ours, unbelief has become a massive phenomenon all over the globe. There is the unbelief of the marketplace – How to make a living without reference to God; the unbelief of the theatre – How to celebrate the meaning of life without reference to God; the unbelief of the revolution – How to change the world without reference to God. Strange things are happening these days. Polemical atheists are waging vigorous campaigns for the revising of civil laws which are favorable to religious groups. They are placing ads in busses and streetcars denouncing religion as useless and delusionary. In Great Britain today and in the Province of Quebec in Canada today, the governments are being asked to disallow any religious teaching and instruction. To be Christian is considered harmful to society and not to be tolerated in our enlightened times.

Faith is knowledge of what God has done for us in Christ and in the Spirit; faith is trust in what God has said to us in faith and in the Spirit; faith is obedience to God who calls us to himself in Christ and in the Holy Spirit; faith is union with God in the little vision we have through faith, hope and love until we arrive at the big vision which we call heaven. Faith is born when one who does not know begins to share in the knowledge of one who does know. If there is no one who knows, there can be no one who believes. If the one who knows is human, then we have human faith; if the one who knows is divine, then we have divine faith. To believe then is to regard something as true on the testimony of someone else, which we do one hundred times each day. Two elements are involved: 1) the content (what is believed) cannot be verified or proven, yet 2) the content is unreservedly accepted as real and true. Just think of what we say when we say our Act of Faith: we mention the Trinity, the Incarnation, we mention all the elements of our Creed, and then we add – “I believe all these truths, not because I can prove them, not because I can fully understand them; but because you have revealed them, my God, and you cannot deceive or be deceived”.

So far we have been talking about faith. Now we should turn our attention to something else, something always allied with faith in the best of the Catholic tradition, that is, right reason. God is the God of grace, so he gives us the gift of faith. God is also the God of nature, of creation, so he gives us the gift of right reason. Faith always needs the light that comes to us from right reason. Right reason always stands in need of those many lights that can only come to us from faith. Listen carefully, I would suggest, to what Pope John Paul II had to say in his remarkable letter on faith and reason: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” The apostles in the Gospel prayed – “Lord, increase our faith.” They could well have continued their prayer by saying – Increase within us also the good gift of right reason.

The faith-reason question at the heart of our centuries-long Catholic tradition is so important for our world today. In historic Westminster Hall Pope Benedict XVI asked the political leaders of Great Britain – Where do we find the ethical foundations for our political choices? He responded that the Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to right reason – prescinding even from the content of Divine Revelation. This means that the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers, still less to propose concrete political solutions, something altogether outside the competence of religion; the role of religion rather is to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. Thus, religion has a corrective role to play vis-à-vis right reason. Right reason has a corrective role to play vis-à-vis faith, because distorted forms of religion can create such problems as we see in countries all over the world. Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve but a vital contributor to national and international conversations. This is why our Holy Father has been suggesting that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into profound and ongoing dialogue for the good of civilization. The work of the Gospel is two-fold – it must be at work both in evangelizing and in humanizing the world. Humanizing is a most important moment within evangelizing. Only when faith and right reason work together can the people of the 21st Century seek to create a civilization of love, and the civilization of love this side of the grave is a sort of sign and sacrament of what awaits us in the world to come.


The Christian mysteries which we are hoping to study are called supernatural mysteries. The doctrinal theologian who studies these mysteries can be called a theologian of the supernatural. Perhaps we should have entitled this particular blog, “The Problem of the Supernatural,” a problem seemingly founded on the very word itself. Theology, of course, cannot control the developments that take place as words and expressions are caught up in the evolving of the culture. Take the word “propaganda” for an example. It’s a wonderful word derived from the Latin that speaks of the spread and the growth of faith as God’s Word moved from mountaintop to mountaintop to bring the good news of the Gospel to men and women of everywhere. Now propaganda has become a nasty word. It represents in our culture what most of us dislike immensely. The word supernatural has had a similar fate in some quarters. Hollywood, television, the communications conglomerate, apocalyptic types of movies and the cultural celebration of Halloween think of the supernatural as whatever is beyond the senses or cannot be accounted for, so people begin to think of ghosts, miraculous events, strange and violent and always frightening happenings. This of course has nothing to do with the theological use of the word.

To live in the realm of the real is the mark of the balanced, intelligent person. Failure to distinguish between what is real and what is unreal is characteristic of psychological problems. But what constitutes the real? The believer and unbeliever would say: the world is real, nature is real, to learn by reason is real. The believer would say: God is real, the Holy Spirit is real, grace is real, to learn from divine revelation is real. In other words, the natural and the supernatural are constitutive of the real. The thought that nature alone is real is a truncated and inadequate view of what is real. Let’s use a few examples. The unbeliever sees the church as a sociological institution. The believer accepts that but sees the church as the house of God, body of Christ, temple of the Spirit. The unbeliever sees Jesus as a first century preacher, Son of Mary. The believer agrees with that but identifies Jesus as much more than that – he is Son of God who became Son of Mary for our salvation. The unbeliever would say we learn by using our reason. The believer would say – we learn also through Divine Revelation, that is, through the teachings God gives us in and through the Church.

It might be interesting to reflect on the fact that three basic questions figure prominently in the lives of thinking persons. First, there is the knowledge question. In this vast and complex world of ours, with competing philosophies and world views, what can I come to know as truth? Then there is the ethics question. In this vast and complex world of ours, which offers me all sorts of exciting goals and seemingly attractive ways to follow, what is the good that I have been made for? What is the good I ought to seek? Finally, there is what we might call the hope question. In this vast and complex world of ours, where hard things happen in the mischances of life, wherein many wonder if human existence has any ultimate meaning, what can I hope for – in whom can I place my trust? In a certain sense the hope question takes priority. If there is no hope, if life merely runs aimlessly from womb to tomb, why should I seek the truth in knowledge, why should I choose what is truly good and thus live an ethical existence? For a moment let us concentrate on the knowledge question.

How do we ascertain the truth of things? How do we get to know what is real, what exists, what has extra mental existence? Popularly we say there are two basic ways of knowing what is real. There’s what we call scientific-knowledge and there is what we call faith-knowledge. It might be helpful to begin this little discussion with the words Pope John Paul II uses at the beginning of his wonderful Encyclical Letter – Faith and Reason: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” First, then, there is scientific knowledge which is self-appropriated knowledge based on scientific methodology, treating as it does all that can be seen or weighed or touched or is detectable by the canons of scientific methods. On the other hand, there is faith-knowledge which comes from sharing in the knowledge of others. Faith is born when one who does not know begins to share in the knowledge of one who knows. If there is no one who knows, there can be no one who believes. If the one who knows is human, then we have human faith. If the one who knows is divine, then we have divine faith. Most of what we know in the course of a lifetime comes from faith-knowledge, not scientific knowledge. We grow in knowledge in our very early years in the environment of the home and the school. As adults we read newspapers, books on geography and history and all the real, and the knowledge that results is really faith-knowledge. To use a personal example, I could say that my education was highly classical, as I did not have as much training in the physical sciences. What I know about the physical sciences is what good physical scientists have said to me in lectures or in books, so my knowledge of science is more faith-knowledge than personally-appropriated scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is quite limited. It cannot deal with truth and beauty and friendship and virtue and obviously cannot say anything about God. How did the human race first begin to know all these things that transcend the realm of science? The pagan philosopher six centuries before Christ can be a wonderful example. He first studied logic and rhetoric so that we learned how to reason and how to speak. He then wrote his treatise, the physics, his version of the philosophy of nature. Following the physics, Aristotle wrote his philosophical treatise which came to be called metaphysics, the philosophical discipline which deals with the reality that transcends the methodology of the physical sciences. There is no problem; at least theoretically, between scientific knowledge and divine faith-knowledge. The problem of the supernatural, especially in our one-dimensional world today, has not developed, as Aristotle did in his day, a study of metaphysics but that has to be left for another day.

It’s time that we looked at our title “The Supernatural” – the real beyond the natural, the real above the natural. The word itself can give us problems because of the way television and popular literature think about various phenomena which they carelessly call supernatural. What then is meant by the supernatural? The best way to answer this question is to think of words like Incarnation or sacrament. The Incarnation means the reality of the Son of God taking on our humanity. The word sacrament means the outward, visible, tangible sign of the real but invisible presence of the Holy Spirit and divine grace. Or take the word nature. Nature is a principal of operation and natures differ because they have different modes of operation. For example, a carrot plant has vegetative life so it can grow. A puppy dog has both vegetative and sensitive life so that it grows and it barks and it can feel pain. A human being has vegetative life, sensitive life and intelligent life, and has what we call the freedom of the will. Human nature enables us to do human things. Thus, one writer says, “The natural describes the inborn resources and the capacity of a thing; whatever is within the scope of its nature is natural.” Thus, it is natural for a tree to grow but not to sing like a canary. It is natural for a canary to fly or to chirp, but not to joke and laugh. What is natural to the canary is in a sense supernatural to the tree. And so it is with the great gift of our Catholic faith – our sharing in God’s nature, in God’s life through grace. What is natural to God is supernatural to us. It means our sharing in the divine nature; it means our incorporation into the mystery of Christ; it means our call to eternal life with God; it means the life of faith, hope and charity which is our way of living the new life God gives us in Baptism; it means the forgiveness of our sins and the indwelling presence of our three-Personed God.

One writer speaks of the supernatural in this way: “The supernatural is the self-communication of our three-Personed God, out of personal love, to sinful man in Christ and the Church, in view of heaven.” In other words, as the writer affirms, the supernatural is God giving God to us – which plainly, only God can do. That God is our Creator is part and parcel of the natural. That God is Savior and Redeemer is what we call the supernatural.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


My last entry, What is the Task of the Theologian?, came to a screeching halt when an obviously poisonous gall bladder made its presence known loud and clear; so off I went to the hospital. Sorry for the delay.

What is the task of the theologian? It is to talk about God. The word theology means God-talk; Christology means Christ-talk; ecclesiology means church-talk. Bruce Marshall of Southern Methodist University, writing in an excellent periodical “Nova et Vetera”, Spring 2013, offers a most helpful reflection which has as its focus the erudite German theologian Matthias Joseph Scheeben, prominent German Catholic theologian in the second half of the 20th Century. Marshall writes – “Scheeben habitually talks about God. He exhibits, to put the point more precisely, an intense focus on the supernatural mysteries of God’s own nature and life, the full range of divine mysteries at the heart of all Christian faith and teaching. This is the area of theology often designated as ‘dogmatic’. Of course,” as Marshall adds, “not all statements about God belong uniquely or properly to dogmatic theology. There are so many other interests that a theologian has – moral theology, spiritual theology, the whole realm of Christian ethics and the like.” Following Marshall we can distinguish two ways of talking about God. One way is to reflect on God as communicating and imparting his own divine nature, communicating his own divine self. This is the realm of dogmatics. The second way to explore theological truth focuses on the creature upon which God freely bestows creaturely existence. All these questions obviously involve God. They indicate truths about God since God is the source from which every creature receives its existence and nature and the goal every creature aims at according to its nature.

My purpose at this time in this blog, which is offered primarily to the parishioners of the three parishes first mentioned in an earlier blog, will be to focus on dogmatics, that is, talk about God and to talk about God communicating his own divine nature. These are the truths that Thomas Aquinas addresses when he explores the mysteries of faith; these are the truths that Matthias Scheeben sought to explore so deeply that he won for himself the title “theologian of the supernatural”; these are the truths Bruce Marshall has recently called our attention to – truths communicating and glorifying the divine nature; these are the truths, divine revelation tells us, that such communication takes place in three irreducibly distinct ways. What are these three distinct ways of God communicating his own divine nature? First of all, there is the eternal and necessary mystery of the divine Trinity. This is the great and primordial truth the Lord Jesus has revealed to us as he has made know to us the mystery of the Father and the mystery of the Holy Spirit. As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has put it – “Jesus Christ revealed to us that God is ‘Father’, not only insofar as he created the universe and mankind, but because he eternally generated in his bosom the Son who is his Word.” Who is the Holy Spirit revealed to us by Jesus Christ? The Compendium responds – “The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is God, One and equal with the Father and Son. He proceeds from the Father (John 15:26), who is the principle without a principle and the origin of all trinitarian life. He proceeds also from the Son by the eternal Gift which the Father makes of him to the Son. Sent by the Father and the Incarnate Son, the Holy Spirit guides the Church ‘to know all truth’ (John 16:13).” How then does the Church express her Trinitarian faith? The Compendium tells us – “The Church expresses her Trinitarian faith by professing a belief in the oneness of God in whom there are three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three divine Persons are only one God because each of them equally possesses the fullness of the one and indivisible divine nature. They are really distinct from each other by reason of the relations which place them in correspondence to each other. The Father generates the Son; the Son is generated by the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The second mystery one would have to study in talking about how God communicates his own divine nature is the mystery we call the “Incarnation”. This means what Saint John tells us in his gospel – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and pitched his tent in our midst.” In this mystery our three-Personed God joins a created human nature, a created existence, our own human existence, to the divine nature in the person of the Son so that we can truly affirm with the saints and scholars down through the centuries that God is this human being Jesus and this human being Jesus is truly God. It’s important to stress the meaning of this word “Incarnation”. As the Compendium tells us – “The Church calls the mystery of the wonderful union of the divine and human natures in the one divine Person of the Word the “Incarnation”. To bring about our salvation, the Son of God was made ‘flesh’ and became truly man. Faith in the Incarnation is a distinctive sign of the Christian faith.” How does the Church set forth the mystery of the Incarnation? The Church confesses that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, with two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, not confused with each other but united in the Person of the Word. Therefore, in the humanity of Jesus all things – his marvelous signs, his suffering, and his death – must be attributed to his divine Person which acts by means of his assumed human nature.” In the Byzantine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom we read – “O only-begotten Son and word of God, you who are immortal, you who deigned for our salvation to become incarnate of the holy Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary…, you, while one with the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and Holy Spirit, save us.” The mystery of the Trinity is what we call a necessary mystery. God must be and God must be God for all eternity. The mystery of the Incarnation is called a free mystery – it didn’t have to happen. God the Father was not necessitated in any way, except by his love and mercy, to send us his divine Son. Trinity and Incarnation tell us about God communicating the divine nature within the Godhead. A third mystery involves ourselves. It is another free mystery which did not have to be. Thanks to the Lord’s death and resurrection, God the Father communicates a share in his own divine nature to all who have been redeemed by the work of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This means the life of grace which is our sharing in God’s nature and life this side of the grave; it means sharing in God’s glory beyond the grave. Thus, grace is divine glory in exile; divine glory for us is divine grace gone home. This is the mystery we will be concentrating on in subsequent blogs – the mystery of divine grace involving the mystery of human justification, the mystery of predestination, the mystery of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. As we say at the heart of Gospel teaching – We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013



Maurice de la Taille, S.J., distinguished theologian and pastor, at the beginning of one of his essays describes a visit of one who came to see him.  The visitor said – “Always with your nose and your books, Maurice?”  De la Taille responded – “That’s right.  A priest who hasn’t got a parish anymore must make one for himself.  My parishioners, at the moment, are these volumes here in my study.  They are very peaceable, and make their pastor the happiest of retired clergy.”  This brief quote gives this blogger good inspiration.

In 2012 the International Theological Commission (ITC) published an important study entitled “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria”.  This study strikes me as being both timely and helpful.  (The ITC was established by Pope Paul VI in the years immediately following the closing of the Second Vatican Council.  Since its establishment, the ITC has published twenty-five similar studies on a variety of theological topics, many of which I would say would be of great interest to prospective readers of this blog.)

The opening paragraph of the document reads as follows: “The years following the Second Vatican Council have been extremely productive for Catholic theology.  There have been new theological voices, especially those of laymen and women; theologies from new cultural contexts, particularly Latin America, Africa and Asia; new themes for reflection such as peace, justice, liberation, ecology and bioethics; deeper treatments of former themes, thanks to renewal in biblical, liturgical, patristic and medieval studies; and new venues for reflection such as ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural dialogue.  These are fundamentally positive developments.  Catholic theology has sought to follow the path opened by the council, which wished to express its ‘solidarity and respectful affection for the whole human family’ by entering into dialogue with it and offering ‘the saving resources which the church has received from its founder under the promptings of the Holy Spirit’.  However, this period has also seen a certain fragmentation of theology and, in the dialogue just mentioned, theology always faces the challenge of maintaining its own true identity.  The question arises, therefore, as to what characterizes Catholic theology and gives it, in and through its many forms, a clear sense of identity in its engagement with the world of today.”

In the light of these introductory remarks and because it seems that fragmentation to some extent at least is already a fact of life on the present Catholic theological scene, the authors of the ITC study state very clearly their aims.  They are as follows: “The present text accordingly consists of three chapters, setting out the following themes: In the rich plurality of its expressions, protagonists, ideas and contexts, theology is Catholic and therefore fundamentally one if it arises from an attentive listening to the word of God (cf. Chapter1); if it situates itself consciously and faithfully in the communion of the church (cf. Chapter 2); and if it is orientated to the service of God in the world, offering divine truth to the men and women of today in an intelligible form (cf. Chapter 3).”

These are themes of great significance.  If my little blog proves to be successful, we can return to some of these themes in theological methodology as we move along.  At the moment however, in order to introduce the subject matter of this particular essay, I would like to make mention in a cursory way of several thoughts on the nature of theology, on who or what is a theologian and what ought theologians be doing.  Father Bernard Lonergan, if my memory is still intact, often made classroom remarks in the early fifties which suggested something to the effect that if one wants to know what the science of physics is all about, then don’t ask a physicist for a definition.  Rather, select one who is a good physicist and ask the question – What does he or she do?  So it is with theology.  Definitions are important but abstract.  So we can leave aside for the time being things like definitions, and list, in a cursory way, brief remarks from theological persons who are talking about God.
1.      “One would not be seeking God unless one had already found him.”  (Pascal)

2.     “All knowing beings implicitly know God in everything they know.  For as nothing is desirable but through some resemblance with the first goodness, so nothing is knowable but through some resemblance with the first truth.”  (Aquinas)

3.     “The more perfectly we know God in this life, the better do we understand that he surpasses whatever the mind can know of him.”  (Aquinas)

4.     “God is not a ‘problem’ and we who live the contemplative life have learned by experience that one cannot know God as long as one seeks to solve the ‘problem of God’.  To seek to solve the problem of God is to seek to see one’s own eyes.  One cannot see one’s own eyes because they are that with which one sees, and God is the light by which we see – by which we see not a clearly defined ‘object’ called God but everything else in the invisible one.  God is then the Seer and the Seeing but on earth he is not seen.  In heaven, he is the Seer, the Seeing, and the Seen.”  (Thomas Merton)

5.     “The question of God, then, lies within man’s horizon.  Man’s transcendental subjectivity is mutilated or abolished, unless he is stretching forth towards the intelligible, and unconditioned, the good of value.  The reach, not of his attainment but of his intending, is unrestricted.  There lies within his horizon a region for the divine, a shrine for ultimate holiness.  It cannot be ignored.  The atheist may pronounce it empty.  The agnostic may urge that he finds his investigation has been inconclusive.  The contemporary humanist will refuse to allow the question to arise.  But their negations presuppose the spark in our clod, our native orientation to the divine.”  (B. Lonergan)

6.     “I do not try, O God, to penetrate the depths of your mystery because in no way do I compare my intelligence with yours, but I desire in some way to understand your truth which my heart believes and loves.  I do not seek to understand in order to believe, rather, I believe in order to understand.”  (Anselm of Canterbury)

7.     Question: Whether, besides the philosophical disciplines, is it necessary to have another doctrine?

Answer: “In reply, I say that it was necessary for man’s salvation that there be a doctrine in accord with divine revelation, besides the philosophical studies.  First, because man is ordered toward God as an end which surpasses the grasp of reason, according to the text of Isaiah 64:4; ‘Eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou hast prepared for them that wait for thee.’  No, the end should be known in advance by men who ought to order their intentions and actions toward the end.  Hence, it was necessary to the salvation of man that some things be made known to him through divine revelation, things that exceed human reason.

It was also necessary for man to be instructed by divine revelation concerning those things pertaining to God that can be investigated by human reason.  For the truth about God as investigated by reason could come to but few, and after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.  Yet, on the knowledge of this truth the whole salvation of man depends, for salvation lies in God.  Therefore, in order that salvation might come to men, both more fittingly and more certainly, it was necessary that they be instructed concerning divine revelation.

So, it was necessary to have, apart from the philosophical disciplines which make their investigation through reason, a sacred doctrine through revelation.”  (Aquinas)

8.     Question: Is God the subject of theology?

Answer: “In reply, I say that God is the subject of this science.  In fact, the subject is related to the science as the object is to a potency or habit.  Now, something is properly assigned as the object of a potency or habit when all the items that are related to the potency or habit are included under its intelligibility.  Thus, man and stone are referred to the power of sight because they are colored; hence, the colored is the proper object of sight.  Now, all things are treated in sacred doctrine under the intelligibility of God, either because they are God Himself, or because they have some relation to God, either as source or as end.  Hence, it follows that God is truly the subject of this science.

This is also evident from the principles of this science, for they are articles of faith and it is concerned with God.  Now, the subject of the principles is the same as that of the entire science, since the whole science is virtually contained in the principles.

Of course, some thinkers who look to the things treated in this science and not to the intelligibility under which they are considered have assigned some other subject to the science; either reality and its signs, or the works of redemption, or the whole Christ as Head and members.  Indeed, a treatment of all of these is offered in this science but according to their relationship to God.”  (Aquinas)

A good point to be stressed as we begin to talk about God concerns the fundamental attitude of mind and heart which is so necessary for good theology, especially when theology is directly considering the reality of God.  That attitude is one of reverence.  So much talk today in theology can seem trivializing when it comes to the question of God.  This proved to be especially true when radical theology popularized the philosophical notion about the death of God.  When one begins to reflect on God, the ground on which one is standing is holy ground; therefore, one removes his or her shoes!  One assumes a prayerful attitude of reverence; otherwise one’s reflections may prove to be very sterile.  Theology, of course, is not to be equated with prayer.  Theology demands sustained rigor in thinking and reflecting.  The theologian does not buttress weak argumentation by recourse to prayer.  There cannot be real theology devoid from prayer.  Why should we stress this attitude of reverence?  Theology is reflecting on the Christian fact and on common human experience.  The Christian fact means that God has taken the initiative in seeking us and thus our seeking God is existentially a return to God, a return made necessary because of sin.  St. Benedict writes in the Prologue of his famous Rule – “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions and tend to them with the ear of your heart.  This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it and faithfully put it into practice.”  St. Irenaeus writes centuries ago – “No one can learn about God unless God is the teacher.”  A theologian, I would suggest, should feel much at home with a much quoted observation of St. Hilary of Poitiers – “I am aware that I owe this to God as the chief duty of my life, that every word and sense may speak of him.”

P.S.:  Dear Friends: A strange thing happened to me as I came to this point of my modest essay.  Because of peculiar and sharp check pains, I was taken to the ER of a nearby hospital.  After much examination, the doctors concluded that my heart, in spite of ninety years, was in a-one condition.  This began a search for the real but hidden villain.  Subsequent x-rays identified the villain as a badly diseased gall bladder which was immediately removed.  My early effort to continue this blog experience suffered a four-week hiatus.  I will conclude this present essay with this note and pick up, by way of my next entry, where I left off four weeks ago.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A little delay.

I am delighted that so many people have taken time to read my first two entries! I am working on a new post but I had a small setback in my health. Please check back another time and hopefully it will be there at that time.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


The expression – Shantung Compound – has a two-fold meaning.  It refers to a World War II prisoners of war camp in Japan – a military compound in the province of Shantung – where enemy civilians – resident in Japan at the outbreak of the war – were interned.  The expression – Shantung Compound refers also to the name of a book written by a distinguished theologian who had been a young prisoner in the camp – his parents were Baptist missionaries – and who wrote the book many decades after his prisoner of war experience as an adult Christian reflection on a most difficult and provocative situation.  The theologian’s name is Langdon Gilkey who taught theology for many years at the University of Chicago.  Fifteen hundred civilians – mostly British and American missionaries and business persons – were the citizens of the compound.  As prisoners, they had not been beaten or tortured.  Privacy, however, was non-existent.  There never was enough food.  Prison life was dominated by the tensions wrought by boredom and fear.  To his surprise, the author discovered that even the most devout missionaries were not immune from selfishness.  They too squabbled with fellow-prisoners and stole food from communal supplies.  All in all – in the author’s judgment – life at the camp led to a series of moral breakdowns so serious that they threatened the very existence of the prison community.  As the poet Bertolt Brecht has expressed things, “For even saintly folk will act as sinners unless they have their customary dinners.”  The hero of the camp was a Trappist monk who had also been interned.  With great skill he would “raid” the food supplies and the cigarette supplies, not for himself but for his fellow-prisoners.  When he was caught by the officials, he was put into solitary confinement.  He always loved that because it reminded him of his Trappist Monastery!
It strikes me that our world has rapidly become a vast Shantung Compound.  Hunger is a way of life for countless millions.  The gap in so many countries between the “haves” and the “haves not” is widening.  The experts are talking ominously about depletion-point for widely-needed, non-renewable natural resources.  This, in great measure, is what causes the fighting, the violence, the terrorism so rampant all over the globe.  Surely our Catholic faith tells us that our world very much needs to hear the good news which the Lord Jesus brings to us from his heavenly Father, the good news of God’s love for us and for all peoples, the good news of God’s plan for human wholeness, human happiness.  Difficult though the road is that leads to our final goal, the Gospel of the Transfiguration gives us a remarkable vision and encouraging hope.
We will begin with the Gospel of Mark.  The Gospel of Mark represents a long reflection on one particular question – Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?  The author suggests to the readers that he has a secret to tell them.  The answer begins to unravel in Chapters 8 and 9.  First, we read of Peter’s Confession of Faith.  Popularly, Jesus was being regarded as a prophet, but the disciples confessed with Peter – You are the Christ!  Then comes the first prediction of the Passion with its stringent conditions for discipleship.  The Messiah, the Christ, the long-expected One is going to be a suffering messiah.  Finally, we come to the incident of the Transfiguration.  “Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them; and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.  Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.  Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here!  Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’  He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.  Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.’  Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.  As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.” Mk 9:2-10.  (Cf. Mt 17:1-9; Lk 9:28-36.)
Twice during the liturgical year we contemplate the event of Christ’s Trans-figuration – at the beginning of Lent, having entered into the Lord’s trials and temptations, we are strengthened on the Second Sunday of Lent by the Gospel of the Transfiguration.  The Lord Jesus revealed himself in glory in the presence of his disciples.  He had already prepared them for his approaching death.  He wanted to teach them through the law and the prophets, through Moses and Elijah, that first he had to suffer and then come to the glory of the resurrection.  The Preface Prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent reads as follows: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.  For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.”  The second time we hear the proclamation of the Transfiguration is on August 6.  This Preface Prayer teaches us that Christ revealed his glory to his disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the Cross.  His glory shone from a body just like our own to show that we the Church – which is the Body of Christ – will one day share his glory.  The Preface text reads as follows: “For he revealed his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form which he shares with all humanity, that the scandal of the cross might be removed from the hearts of his disciples and that he might show how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.”  It seems strange, does it not, that so important a feast finds its place in the liturgy on the 6th day of August.  I am sure that this fact moved theologian Robert Imbelli to write – “It is regrettable that one of the theologically richest feasts of the year falls in early August, and thus scarcely receives the attention and celebration it deserves.”  We read the following remark in the Ordo which is the order of prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist for 2013 here in the Archdiocese of Boston: “Celebrated by 5th Century East Syrians, this feast was inserted into the General Calendar in 1457 by Pope Callistus III to celebrate the defeat, announced in Rome on the 6th day of August, of the Turks at Belgrade.”  No wonder Gregory Collins, OSB made the following comment:  “In the Eastern Churches the Transfiguration is one of the greatest feasts of the year, but it passed to the West also via the famous Benedictine Abbey of Cluny.  It was surprisingly slow in spreading to the wider Latin Church and even more surprisingly has still not yet acquired the highest festive status, that of a solemnity.  Yet from ancient times the Roman Liturgy has commemorated it on the Second Sunday of Lent so that in the West there are effectively two feasts of the transfiguration, one of which falls on one of the most important Sundays of the year.  Associating it in that way with the paschal mystery is very appropriate; and equally appropriate is the custom which some Lutherans have of keeping it during the season of Epiphany on account of how it manifests Christ’s glory.” (Collins, Meeting Christ in his Mysteries, p. 230.)  The imbalance noticed by Fathers Imbelli and Collins is being corrected to some degree by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It’s good to notice in paragraph 556 the following observation – “On the threshold of the public life: baptism; on the threshold of the Passion: the Transfiguration.  Jesus’ baptism proclaimed the ‘mystery of the first regeneration’, namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration ‘is the sacrament of the second regeneration’: our own Resurrection.  From now on we share in the Lord’s Resurrection through the Spirit who acts in the sacraments in the Body of Christ.  The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he ‘will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body’.  But it also recalls that ‘it is through many persecutions that we must enter the Kingdom of God’.” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], paragraphs 554-556.)
A number of questions come to mind in connection with the Lord’s Transfiguration, questions about the function of this episode in the life of Jesus; questions about the meaning of the rich symbolism we confront in St. Mark’s narrative; questions about the significance of the Lord’s Transfiguration for you and me in the world of this time.
First then – What function does the episode of the Transfiguration play in the life and teachings of Jesus?  As a matter of fact, the announcement of the cross precedes the good news of ultimate glory, even though, in the order of preaching, the good news of the glory comes first.  Given the fact of sin and the truth that God so loved the world that he sent his Son as our Redeemer – given these two realities which touch the lives of all peoples of all times and places – God’s revealed Word is telling us that the cross and glory are never to be separated this side of the grave, that Jesus, who is revealed as God’s suffering servant, is also revealed as God’s glory-filled Son whose glory establishes his divinity, while his suffering offers proof of his humanity, whose glory is promised to all who follow him and whose suffering gives his disciples strength and encouragement in their own lives.

What about the symbolism of the Transfiguration?  A mountain top is a most suitable place for revelatory meetings between God and his people.  It was on the top of Mount Sinai that God gave Moses the Law he was to bring to his people.  In our narrative, Moses represents the Law, Elijah represents the prophets.  These two great figures confirm the mission of Jesus and reveal the unbreakable bond that binds the new covenant with the old.  We should notice that Moses and Elijah were discoursing with Jesus about his death.  The dazzling light represents Christ’s glory; the cloud represents God’s invisible presence; the booths or tents which Peter mentions represent God’s dwelling place in the midst of wandering people.  When John the Evangelist tells us that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, his words tell us – God’s Word, God’s Son, has pitched his tent in our very midst.

What meaning does the Lord’s Transfiguration have for us in today’s world of fragile peace and broken promises?  Sin and disease of all kinds, and violence and all sorts of oppression and death seem powerfully center-stage, but our feast day is telling us the good news that the Lord Jesus alone is the one who should command our center stage.  However, as St. Paul reminds us – our life now is hidden with Christ in glory but when Christ comes again – we shall appear with him and God will be all in all.
For a helpful aid to prayerful reflection, the following observation of Saint Bonaventure can be of great help:
“Intending to strengthen the human soul
with the hope of an eternal reward,
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John
and led them up a high mountain.
There he revealed to them the mystery of the Trinity,
foretold the humiliation of his passion,
and showed them through his transfiguration,
the glory of his future resurrection.
The Law and the Prophets bore witness to him
in the apparition of Moses and Elijah;
the Father and the Holy Spirit bore witness too,
manifest as a voice and a cloud.
And truly the soul devoted to him,
solidly established in the truth
and raised to the summit of virtue,
can make its own the words of Peter,
exclaiming with him,
‘Lord, it is good for us to be here,
in the peace and joy
of the vision of your face;
where the spirit,
in a state of heavenly and ecstatic rapture,
can hear secret words that no one may repeat.’”
These words of Bonaventure are found in Collins’ volume, Meeting Christ in his Mysteries, page 228.

Just a brief nuclear post-script:  It was on the 6th day of August, well over sixty years ago, that the crew of the aircraft – the Enola Gay – watched what had once been the city of Hiroshima disappear in a mushroom cloud.  Instead of life and transfiguration, there was awful death and disfiguration; instead of God’s power to glorify, there was human power to destroy.  Human history so often records our power to disfigure.  This feast reminds us of God’s power to transfigure.  A coded message was sent back to their base from the crew of the Enola Gay.  It read as follows:  “Visible effects greater than Trinity...Proceeding to Papacy.”  Trinity was the code name for the project that first tested the atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert.  The visible effects of Trinity were even more spectacular than at Alamogordo.  Papacy was the code name for Tinian Island, which was the airplane’s base of operation in the Pacific.  In retrospect it seems so blasphemous that such revered Catholic symbols should be associated with man’s inhumanity to man, but as the Gospel helps us to reflect on God’s plan for human dignity, we thank God for his grace of transfiguration first given to the humanity of Jesus but also promised to our own.



On June 4, 2013 I resigned as Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in the Garden City of Newton – after thirty years of pastoral ministry – and at the age of ninety years.  Prior to my work at Sacred Heart Parish, I was privileged to teach theology at Saint John Seminary for over three decades.  I also taught at Boston College for a five-year span at the time Father Bill Leonard was charged with revamping the Boston College Theology Department in the late sixties.  After my ordination and three years of priestly ministry in Hopkinton, I studied at the Gregorian University in Rome for my doctorate in theology.  My mentor at the “Greg” was Father Bernard Lonergan in his early years of teaching in Rome.

A good friend of mine, with the good intentions, no doubt, of keeping me out of trouble in my retirement years, suggested that I begin this blog.  Other good friends concurred.  For thirty years at Sacred Heart Parish, I had the custom of writing a column in the parish bulletin, a sort of “theology for thoughtful parishioners” type of column.  It has long been a conviction of mine that a parish priest, among his many important duties, ought to be a theologian among his people, helping parishioners to interpret their lives and sufferings and all the events that take place in the public square, and to do so in the light of the Gospel and teachings of the Church.  Perhaps this blog might be the occasion for me to continue this practice in a more developed and professional way.

The Plan

“Prayer and Intelligence” is the title I have chosen for the blog.  This is not something original.  In 1922, Jacques and Raissa Maritain wrote a delightful and most helpful booklet which they entitled “Prayer and Intelligence”.  This was their effort to offer a modest treatise on spirituality and to do so in the spirit of the Christian tradition in general and of Saint Thomas Aquinas in particular, in a manner suitable to the spiritual lives of persons living and working in the world, and, in particular, engaged in matters intellectual.  After all, what good is theology, if it is not prayerful?  What help to eternal life is theology if what begins at the study desk does not end up in prayer, and how important it is that our prayer also be intelligent as well.  Maritains’ booklet was privately printed in London, Sheed and Ward, 1922.

This proposed blog will feature an image of the Byzantine Trinity, a theological explanation of which could become a blog entry.  Everything begins and ends with the Mystery of the Trinity.  The Maritains, thinking of the expression of Saint Thomas about the Word of God breathing forth love (“Verbum Spirans Amorem”), write in their little volume – “In us as well as in God, love must proceed from the Word, that is, from the spiritual possession of truth in faith, and just as everything which is in the Word is found once more in the Holy Spirit, so must all that we know pass over into our power of affection by love, there only finding its resting place.  Love must proceed from truth and knowledge must bear fruit in love.  Our prayer is not what it ought to be if either of these conditions is wanting.”  (And I would like to add – Our theology is not what it ought to be if either of these conditions is wanting.)  Many years ago, I noted someone’s remarks, the reference for which I have long forgotten and have not been able to locate, “Truth without love need not die but merely teach.  Love without truth need not die but yield.  With both truth and love, there is the cross.”  This means, I presume, if you don’t value the truth, you can still teach, however disastrously.  If you are not willing to die for the truth, no one will lead you to martyrdom.

As I try my hand at this project, I just want to say that my little offerings do not have theological colleagues in mind.  I’m writing primarily for the wonderful parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish, now collaborating with the wonderful parishioners of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in the City of Newton.  I hope these offerings may also be of interest as well to the wonderful parishioners I’ve met since I took up residence in Saint John the Evangelist Parish in Wellesley.  Perhaps the blog will grow in audience; perhaps it will not.

I decided to begin this blog on August 6, 2013, the Feast Day of the Transfiguration.  This first entry is entitled “The Meaning of the Lord’s Transfiguration”.