Monday, February 28, 2011

"Go, Sell What You Have, Give to the Poor" (Mark 10:21), and Receive The Riches of The Reality of God

Today's Gospel from Daily Mass tells the story of Jesus and the rich man. The man, a truly good, law-abiding Jew, approaches Jesus, kneels in deference, and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by instructing him to simply follow the non-negotiable laws of Moses (You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother). The man responds that he has kept all of these since his youth. Jesus than looks upon him with affection and love, and, no doubt noting the man's finery, tells him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and than follow him. The man goes away downcast because he cannot muster the wherewithal to give everything away and follow after the Master.

The high irony in this story is that Jesus perceived a "lack" in someone who apparently had everything! Furthermore, the irony reaches even greater heights given that the "lack" has to do precisely with the man's riches! As a commentary to this interaction, Jesus teaches the crowds, "how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God." This absolutely floors Jesus' hearers because they were under the impression that if one abided by the covenant, one would be rewarded by God with prosperity. Simply put, in Jesus' day wealth was regarded as bona fide proof of being in God's good graces (an extremely flawed and egregious error that persists in many Christian circles to this day).

Why is it that Jesus found fault with wealth? A footnote in the New American Bible theorizes that, "Since wealth, power, and merit generate false security, Jesus rejects them utterly as a claim to enter the kingdom." While this is certainly one valid explanation, it can conceivably be used to argue that wealth isn't the problem so much as the attitude of the one who possesses it. In other words, insofar as one doesn't rely on wealth to provide a false sense of security, than it matters little how much one possesses. The fact is, however, it obviously does matter, otherwise Jesus wouldn't have addressed wealth as the issue!

It may be closer to the mark to suggest that wealth and a life of relative ease simply create a "false, superficial reality" that runs counter to the much larger, more diffuse, and hence, "truer" reality of poverty and the struggle to simply survive from day-to-day. This more dominant, and "truer" reality is precisely where God's Kingdom manifests - not in the crushing, de-humanizing poverty itself, but in the struggle to survive and to bring about change, transformation, and justice. The situations in Egypt and Libya can illustrate this point well: if we had to place a bet on "where" the values of God's Kingdom were present, would it be on the side of the wealthy, deposed (or soon to be deposed) dictatorial leaders, or would it be on the side of the poor and oppressed masses who have rightfully revolted to bring about reform? What the rich man is invited to do in today's Gospel is not only give up his false sense of security, but to "receive the riches of the reality of God" in the ministry of Jesus who revealed that God is most profoundly present in the struggle of the poor and those who labor and long for the total transformation of the world. Pat, TOR

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reflection on Mass Readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Stewards of The Mysteries of God

With all the disturbing news and experiences regarding the sluggish economy and the even more sluggish job market, how are we to approach the following words of Jesus from today's Gospel: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
 what you will eat or drink,
 or about your body, what you will wear. 
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
" (Mt. 6:25) If we too easily apply these words of Jesus to our own situation, it could make this Gospel teaching seem quite difficult to believe and make the Lord seem a bit "detached." After all, in the face of all the signs of the times concerning the housing market, unemployment rate, rising gasoline prices, rising costs of college education, and the agonizingly slow economic recovery, to not be the least bit concerned nor to worry a tinge would be to live in utter denial! Certainly Jesus would not teach us to do that! So, what is REALLY being taught by the Lord?

At the heart of today's Gospel isn't so much a teaching about anxiety but a teaching about priority. At the beginning and end of today's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, "You cannot serve God and mammon", and "seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness." Jesus is far less concerned about emotional states (anxiety and worry) and far more concerned with "attitudinal states": living an upstanding, truly human, godly life, and deriving ultimate value not from wealth but relationships, especially one's relationship with God. Now, this is all well-and-good in principle, but what does it look like to "serve God" and to "seek first the Kingdom of God"?

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians (today's second reading), he exhorts the Corinthians to be "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." Therefore, scripturally speaking, to "serve God" and to "seek first the Kingdom" means having the attitude of Christ, who, "though he was in the form of God, didn't deem equality with God....but took the form of a slave" (Philippians, 2:6-7). Seeking the Kingdom means striving to be aware, mindful, sensitive, and responsive to the needs of others. It means curbing our own wants so that others might have what they need. It implies cultivating a healthy ability to sacrifice for the sake of another or others. It means, in short, to love in a way that brings life to others. To acquire the attitude of Christ, like Jesus himself, we must become "stewards of the mysteries of God." For the Christian, this means a familiarity with the way that God has revealed God's divine heart in scripture and, above all, in and through the life of Christ. It means finding our "place" in the great story and mystery of salvation history, making it our own, and sharing it with others in the way that is most helpful to them. Whether or not we feel anxiety or worry is really not the issue. What is essential is that we give priority of place to embodying the values of Jesus by living as ambassadors of the Kingdom and being "stewards of the mysteries of God." Pat, TOR

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Who Do You Say That I Am?" (Mt. 16:15): Discovering One's Self and the Christ Within Through Relationship

In today's Gospel reading from daily Mass, Jesus poses the question to his disciples, "who do you say that I am?" At first glance, it is very tempting to see this question as a "pass" or "fail" test of the disciples. Is Jesus asking a question that he already knows the answer to or is he genuinely interested in hearing about the disciples take on his life? How we answer this question has much to do with our presumptions concerning Jesus. Do we believe that Jesus had "infused knowledge" of his person and mission from very early on, or, rather, did Jesus have to "learn" about his identity and purpose over time? If we take scripture seriously that Jesus was human in every way except sin, than we necessarily have to opt for the latter.

There's no question that Jesus had to learn about his Hebrew faith from Mary and Joseph. Likewise, he learned a trade (carpentry) from Joseph. If Jesus had to "acquire" these aspects of his identity and person, than it is reasonable to also postulate that Jesus had to come into the awareness that he was the Messiah, or Christ. This was not automatic for him (just as our identity does not come automatically for us!) In posing the question that Jesus did in today's Gospel, it is at least somewhat likely that he was struggling a bit to understand the precise nature of his identity and mission. Up to this point in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' ministry has met with mixed reviews: the poor, blind, lame, hungry, thirsty, sinners and ostracized have received him with open arms; however, those who should have recognized him (the Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes) have in large part rejected him and are even beginning to conspire to get rid of him. If Jesus was fully human than it is likely he must have had at least an inkling of doubt! In the face of his own questioning, Jesus turns to his trusted disciples. They are the one's he choose to be his closest confidantes and partners, they are the one's who are supporting him by remaining with him when so many others have turned away. The question Jesus asks is likely not a mere test, rather, he is simply following the truly human path of seeking out his self through openness and vulnerability in relationship.

The question Jesus poses gives us a priceless lesson on what it means to be fully human and to acquire an authentic sense of self. A robust sense of self cannot be acquired through rugged individualism; rather, it is only reached, touched, embraced, and, gifted by being open and vulnerable enough to see it reflected in the eyes of others. At some level do we not all desire to pose the question, "who do you say that I am?" to those who are near and dear to us? And do we not hope to hear, "you are my friend", "you are valued," "you are unique," "you are gifted," "you are my beloved," "you are my brother, sister, mother, father, lover," etc. However, what oftentimes gets in the way of posing such deep and profound questions is our fear of what someone might say, good, bad, and indifferent. Given many of our broken histories and experiences of pain, rejection, abandonment, and loss, it may be just as difficult to hear that we are beautiful, valued, and loved, as it is for someone to gently remind us that we are fragile, wounded, broken or at times difficult and challenging. Yet to have our truest self drawn out from the depths, and to have the Christ affirmed and drawn out as well, we are called to the adventure of discovering ourselves through relationships of openness and vulnerability. Pat, TOR

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reflection on the Daily Mass Reading: "Temples" of God's Spirit and "Channels" of God's Reign

"Brothers and sisters:
 Do you not know that you are the temple of God, 
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" 1 Cor. 3:16-23.

The above passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians refers to his conviction that the entire Corinthian community is the temple of God's Spirit. When he uses the pronoun "you", given the context of what immediately precedes this verse (Paul talking about the building up of the Church), we can deduce that he is speaking in the plural sense of "all of you." However, given the tendency in our culture to individualize or overly-personalize the Christian faith, the notion of being a "temple of the Holy Spirit" is usually used to refer to individuals. This raises an important question concerning the ways in which we can legitimately (meaning, with a basis in scripture) approach the notion of being a temple of God's Spirit, and, by extension, a channel of God's Reign.

The three "interlocking", "mutually penetrating", and "mutually conditioning" ways that we can approach the concept of being a temple of God's Spirit and a channel of God's Reign is intra-personal, interpersonal, and communal. "Interlocking" means that these three modalities of God's presence are necessarily and integrally connected. "Mutually penetrating" implies that each mode is intended to enhance the other modes. Finally, "mutually conditioning" means that each is as necessary as the other and none can be arbitrarily disregarded. The point being made here is that all three of these modes need to be appreciated and integrated into the lives of contemporary Christians if the Spirit and God's Reign are to take firm hold of our lives, community, and world.

"Intra-personal" refers to the conviction that every Christian person is indwelled to at least some degree by the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, of course, implies that singular persons can be thought of as temples of God's Spirit and channels of God's Reign. Interpersonal speaks to the fact that no one believer has a "monopoly" on the divine presence and must of necessity be in meaningful and supportive relationships with others if the "presence of God" and "God's Reign" is to be an active force within one's life. Last, but by no means least, the Spirit and God's Reign manifest not only within individual persons, nor merely in relationships, but in communal networks that represent humanity's best effort at organizing supportive societal structures (such as the Church). By extension, God's Spirit and Reign also manifest in the "web of life" that is the community of Creation. One contemporary theologian has gone so far as to speak of how the Earth can be thought of as part of God's Body (she's simply drawing out the full implications of Jesus becoming not only human, but a creature and a part of creation). Therefore, there is a theological basis for talking about all of creation as God's Temple and channel of God's Reign. In sum, if we desire to experience at greater depth what it means to be a Temple of God's Spirit and Channels of God's Reign, than we must not only go "inward" to discover this presence within ourselves, but must allow the Spirit to thrust us beyond ourselves into interdependent relationships of commitment for the good of community and all creation. Pat, TOR

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Imaging God Through Actions That Preserve, Conserve, and Foster Life

In today's daily Mass reading from the Book of Genesis, the waters recede from the Earth after the Great Flood and God establishes the first Covenant with humanity and all creation (Genesis 9:1-13). The story includes themes present in the two creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis: God instructs Noah and his family to be "fertile and multiply" and also instructs them to "subdue" the Earth. Finally, God reaffirms the fact that humans are made in the divine image and likeness. In a curious twist to this story, God reveals that humans and animals alike will be accountable for blood that is needlessly or recklessly shed. To God, the lifeblood of a creature is precious and holy. This command of God mirrors the ancient belief that an animal's and person's life and spirit were contained in the blood, thereby making it sacred. What is also revealed about God in God's concern about not needlessly shedding blood is that God desires that, as much as possible, life be preserved, conserved, and fostered. The preservation, conservation, and fostering of life offers insight both into what it means to "subdue" the earth and what it means for humans to be made in the divine image.

For a number of centuries now, especially since the industrial revolution and the dawning of technology and science, Christians have largely taken the divine command to subdue the Earth as license to "subject" the Earth to the impulse of making technological and economic progress and to consume. Unless we are hopelessly deluded or willfully ignorant, we cannot help but notice the irrefutable evidence that technological progress has it's limits and that the drive to consume is resulting in an unparalleled ecological and environmental crisis. In the face of such evidence, Christian theologians and spiritual writers are revisiting the ancient prerogative and notion of humans exercising "dominion" and "subduing" the Earth. Jurgen Moltmann, a leading theologian and author of "God in Creation", states that a more adequate and scripturally sound interpretation of "dominion" and "subduing" the Earth would have humans caring for it like a gardener tends a garden.

What might this "corrective" of this ancient prerogative and notion offer in terms of coming to a deeper understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God? To begin with, being made in the "image" of God does not suggest a physical resemblance but a capacity to act as God acts. To image God means that humans have a capacity for self-possession and to go beyond one's self in a mode of gratuitous and disinterested care, compassion, and concern for others. In other words, humans are wholly unique among all creatures as the one being that can fully receive the gift of self and that can fully give the gift of self. What this implies with regard to our relationship with the Earth is that we most fully image God on Earth when we restrain the selfish and destructive drive to make progress and consume at all costs and care for the Earth through actions that preserve, conserve, and foster all life. Pat, TOR

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Our Understanding God Continually Evolves from Genesis to Revelation and Beyond

When I was studying scripture as a seminarian, I distinctly remember a very important principle that was taught to me by one of my professors: Jesus the Christ (and all that is revealed about him) is the ultimate norm or interpretive "key" in discerning the truth claims of any area of the Bible. The reason why this principle was taught to us is because the Bible is not exactly consistent in what it reveals about God and there are times when the "truths" being communicated are at odds with each other. Such is the case with today's daily Mass reading from the book of Genesis about the story of Noah and the Great Flood.

At the beginning of the story God is lamenting having created the world as a result of all the "wickedness of man on the earth." Consequently, God decides not only to wipe humanity off of the face of the earth, but every single living creature as well! Just as God is about to wipe the slate clean (and perhaps even pitch the slate out), Noah finds favor with him and God decides to spare Noah, his family, and two of every kind of animal species that exists. At first glance there doesn't seem to be any problem with the "truth claims" about God in this story. When faced with the prospect that God almost destroyed all of creation, one can take two obvious tacts to avoid a problem. First, God can do whatever God chooses to do. The alternative approach is that God, in fact, didn't destroy creation so God gets a passing grade. The problem with the first response is that God, in fact, CANNOT do whatever God pleases. If God is all good and nothing but Good, than God CANNOT choose to arbitrarily wipe all life off of the face of the earth. Even if humans deserved it, what the heck did the poor animals do? To arbitrarily erase life without just cause would, in fact, be indifferent at best and evil at worst. The problem with the second line of reasoning is that, even though God didn't in fact wipe all life out with one fail swoop, he intended to nevertheless. That implies that God COULD have done it and demonstrates ill will on the part of God. The simple fact of the matter is that God in this story is depicted as a bit impetuous and even a little schizophrenic (if my blog entry ends abruptly here you'll know I've been incinerated by a lightning bolt and you can just go ahead and forget all of the above!!)

(Whew! Ok, I'm still here! Let's move on!) If we go back to the principle I started with, namely, that Jesus is the ultimate criterion for evaluating the accuracy of truth claims about God, it seems as though we must draw the conclusion that something is off kilter here. The God of Jesus Christ is neither impetuous nor schizophrenic. The God of Jesus Christ wills life to the full for every creature and especially every person and has never ceased willing this from the moment God said "Let there be Light." So what do we do with these images of God handed down to us from Genesis (and other images that depict God as vengeful, bloodthirsty, etc....). Instead of "throwing them out" or "dismissing them out of hand" we may want to examine them more carefully - not to learn something about God - but to learn something about ourselves. You see, revelation and images of God don't simply "drop out of the sky", they issue forth from very human and fallible individuals who saw reality in a very limited, and sometimes even biased, way. What this suggests is that our understanding God is meant to continuously evolve, from Genesis to Revelation and even beyond! Bernard Lonergan, a great theologian of the last century put it this way, "God is the inexhaustibly comprehensible." What this means is that God can, in fact, be understood, but NEVER fully! And you know what is so exciting about this prospect? Just as we contemplate and learn to "fall in love" with God in the here-and-now, so we likely will for all of eternity! Such will be the ecstasy of eternity: "falling" gently into the unending depths of the divine abyss of God's truth, goodness, and beauty, and the corresponding depths of our own mystery and that of all creation. Pat, TOR

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Stuck on Signs": Valentine's Day and Today's Daily Mass Gospel (Mark 8:11-13)

When we think of Valentine's Day as it is observed in the United States, we imagine many different signs of love that people exchange: an embrace, kiss, terms of endearment, words of warmth, affection and love, greeting cards, flowers, candy, a special meal, etc. All of these things serve as "signs" in the sense that they point to the reality of a shared relationship of mutual and reciprocal friendship or intimate partnership. As nice as these signs are in themselves, however, we know that they can ring relatively hollow if they don't point to something of depth, substance, spirit, and soul. No matter how delicious a box of chocolates might be in itself, it's all the more sweet when it serves as a sign of a love that has been carefully, patiently, and deliberately nurtured. In other words, the reality of the love that has been cultivated in a relationship is what makes for the full value of the sign and not vice versa.

In today's daily Mass Gospel reading, Jesus takes issue with some Pharisees who come to him asking for a sign. It would appear that they are seeking proof of Jesus' authority. However, Jesus rebuffs them with the words, "why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." Had Jesus simply acquiesced to the Pharisees request, the "sign" he gave likely would have been misinterpreted by the Pharisees. He probably would have simply been labeled a "miracle worker" and than been hemmed in by even larger numbers of persons seeking to be entertained and enthralled. But Jesus knew better. As Son of God (lover of God) and Son of Man (lover of humanity), Jesus no doubt had an acute intuition that it isn't the sign that makes the reality of love but the reality of love that makes the sign. In other words, prior to Jesus reaching out and healing persons or enacting another form of miracle (such as the multiplication of loaves and fishes), there had to be at least a rudimentary relationship of faith between himself and the subject (or subjects) of his graced outreach. Just as in the case of the signs associated with love and Valentine's Day, the signs that come to us from God will only be as robust as the depth, substance, spirit, and soul of the love that it points to. Pat, TOR

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sharing Our Catholic Social Values with Others Through Collaboration

Below is a talk for a Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) parish committee on the topic of sharing our Catholic social values with others. Through the use of the topic of infused and acquired cardinal virtues, I hope to persuade the audience that we, as Catholics, can work together with environmentalists and conservationists of other faith traditions, and even with atheists, in our “care-for-creation” endeavors. As we work with others, we will be sharing our values and spirituality. There is the mindset among some Catholics that all environmentalists and conservationists are left-wing, hippie, tree huggers that should be avoided and ignored. I hope to demonstrate that, even though we might have different goals, or ends, our actions with respect to the environment and care-for-creation are the same in many cases and we can work together in partnership. It is assumed that the audience already believes in the importance of caring for creation, so the majority of my talk is directed to comparing care-for-creation, which has a supernatural end, with environmentalism and conservationism, which both have natural ends.

- Bro. Jeffrey, T.O.R.


I am going to discuss how we, as Catholics, can share our values and spirituality with others, especially with those outside of the Church, through our care-for-creation endeavors. I’m sure that you all have heard about St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecologists, and the great love and respect he had for all of God’s creation. Even to the point of calling all created things his brother or sister: Brother Sun and Sister Moon; Brother Fire and Sister Water; Brother Wolf and Sister Bird. He had a unique insight that God loves all creation and that created things mirror God. Francis’ love for all created things came from his love for God. Likewise, our desire and work for the caring of God’s creation comes from our love for God. Every action that we perform has a purpose, or goal.[1] As human beings, our ultimate goal in life is our true happiness which is to be united with God for all eternity.[2] We can achieve this only by doing God’s will in response to God’s gifts of faith and grace. So, the ultimate goal of caring for creation is a supernatural goal: the doing of God’s will because we love Him.[3]

Now I am going to make a statement that might be a little controversial for some of you. We, as Catholics, can work in caring for creation by cooperating and partnering with non-Christians and, dare I say it, even atheists. Many of the things that we do in caring for creation are the same things that atheist and non-Christian conservationists and environmentalists do. The difference is that we are ultimately working towards a supernatural goal which requires God’s gift of grace to know, while they are working towards a natural goal, or a goal that can be known through unaided reason. However, this distinction does not mean that we cannot all work together or that we cannot achieve our supernatural goal and their natural goals simultaneously.

I want to take a moment and briefly discuss conservationism and environmentalism in general. First, conservationism is concerned mainly with consumption. Its goal is to conserve the earth’s natural resources for the present and future generations. These natural resources include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas; animals that are used for food such as the world’s fish population; natural wilderness and beaches that are used for recreation; etc. So, conservationists do certain things, or perform certain actions, in the pursuit of conserving natural resources for the present and future generations. For example, they work to recycle, to conserve water, and reduce pollution, among many other things. Secondly, environmentalism is concerned mainly with preserving ecospheres, or the interdependence of living organisms (including humans) in an environment. Its goal is to ensure the health, integrity, and wellbeing of the world’s ecospheres. So, environmentalists do certain things, or perform certain actions, in pursuit of protecting the environment. For example, they work to recycle, to conserve water, and reduce pollution, among many other things. Sound familiar? Even though they have different goals, conservationists and environmentalists do some of the same things to achieve their respective goals. Likewise, we, as Catholics, in caring for creation, work to recycle, to conserve water, and reduce pollution. However, the goal of caring for creation is to do the will of God. God made us stewards of this world; He “who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, But formed it to be inhabited” (Isa 45:18 NAS). Your dedicated involvement in the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation committee demonstrates your understanding of this important point. So I don’t want to preach to the choir, so to speak, about the importance of caring for creation. But I do want to stress that the ultimate goal and purpose of caring for creation is to do the will of God. And doing the will of God aids in achieving the ultimate goal and purpose of every human being: our true happiness, the union with God for all eternity.

In addition to being directed towards particular purposes, or goals, the actions performed in caring for creation, conservationism, and environmentalism are all virtuous, particularly in respect to justice. “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good” [4] or, in other words, it is a good state that makes one good and able to perform one’s function, as a human being, well. Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues which are the hinges of all other virtues and concern our natural flourishing as human beings. Simply put, justice is the good state of one’s actions in relation to others.[5] It is giving others what is due them.[6] Thus, the actions of conservationism are just actions in that they give to the current and future generations what is due them, that is, the use of natural resources. The actions of environmentalism are just actions in that they give to others what is due them, that is, healthy ecosystems to live in. The actions of caring for creation are just actions in that they give to God what is due Him, that is, the responsible stewardship of His creation in conjunction with His divine plan and will.[7] However, the justice of conservationism and environmentalism is an acquired virtue with a natural goal, or purpose. It is acquired by habitual, or consistently repeated, actions. In a certain way, acquiring the virtue of justice it is similar to acquiring the good habit of exercising. To develop the habit of good exercise, one must continually work at it. It is only by forcing oneself to endure the initial discomfort of exercise that one can build up the good habit of exercise. Likewise, as with the acquired virtue of justice, one must consistently do just actions to gain the habit, or virtue, of justice. Once achieved, one will be inclined to do just actions in the future. Acquired virtues are achieved in conjunction with unaided reason, and thus, have a natural goal.

In contrast, caring for creation, as said before, has a supernatural goal and its justice is an infused cardinal virtue because its attainment is aided by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.[8] But by practicing the infused cardinal virtue of justice, we can also, at the same time, attain the natural end justice it is directed towards.[9] Thus, through our care-for-creation endeavors, our actions are just actions in relation to God by doing His will and they are also just actions in relation to our fellow human beings by giving them use of natural resources and healthy ecosystems to live in.

So in summary, care-for-creation, conservationism, and environmentalism share some of the same actions in pursuit of different goals. We, as Catholics, in our care-for-creation endeavors have a higher goal, a supernatural goal, which is the doing of God’s will. We do this not out of obligation, but out of love for God, in the hope of achieving of our ultimate goal and purpose in life which is our true happiness; the union with God for all eternity. We can better achieve our care-for-creation plans by cooperating and working with non-Christian and atheist conservationists and environmentalists. Doing so will not only allow us to achieve our supernatural goal, but we can share our Catholic values and spirituality and become conduits for God’s grace in their lives and facilitate their personal conversion. As Pope John Paul II wrote, “Nor does divine Providence deny the helps that are necessary for salvation to those who, through no fault of their own have not yet attained to the express recognition of God, yet who strive, not without divine grace, to lead an upright life. For whatever goodness and truth is found in them is considered by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel and bestowed by him who enlightens everyone that they may in the end have life.”[10]


[1] Throughout the talk, I will refer to our teleological nature to be directed towards an end as directed towards a goal. So, the terms “purpose” and “goal” are synonymous with “end” and the term “ultimate goal” is synonymous with “final end”. Aristotle explains, “What, then, is the good of each action or craft? Surely it is that for the sake of which the other things are done; […] but in every action and decision it is the end, since it is for the sake of the end that everyone does the other actions” (Nicomachean Ethics; Book 1, Chapter 7, 1097a:15-20).

[2] As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “Now it is clear that whatever actions proceed from a power, are caused by that power in accordance with the nature of its object. But the object of the will is the end and the good. Therefore all human actions must be for an end” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 1, Article 1). He also states, “In the first sense, then, man's last end is the uncreated good, namely, God, Who alone by His infinite goodness can perfectly satisfy man's will. But in the second way, man's last end is something created, existing in him, and this is nothing else than the attainment or enjoyment of the last end. Now the last end is called happiness. If, therefore, we consider man's happiness in its cause or object, then it is something uncreated; but if we consider it as to the very essence of happiness, then it is something created” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 3, Article 1).

[3] St. Augustine states, “If virtue leads us to the happy life, then I would not define virtue in any other way than as the perfect love of God. For in speaking of virtue as fourfold, one refers, as I understand it, to the various dispositions of love itself” (The Way of Life of the Catholic Church, p. 22).

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 1803.

[5] “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes on to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good” (CCC, paragraph 1807).

[6] According to Aquinas, “[…] every virtue that causes the good of right and due in operation, be called justice […]. […] justice, the virtue which is about due actions between equals” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 61, Article 3) “the formal principle of the virtue of which we speak is good as defined by reason […]. […] according as the reason puts its order into something else; either into operations, and then we have “Justice”[…]” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 61, Article 2).

[7] St. Augustine explains, “[…] justice is love serving alone that which is loved and thus ruling rightly […] not love of things in general, but rather love of God, that is, of the supreme good, the supreme wisdom, and the supreme harmony, we can define the virtues thus: […] justice is love serving God alone and, therefore, ruling well those things subject to man […]” (The Way of Life of the Catholic Church, p. 22-23).

[8] Servais Pinckaers explains, “The virtue of the philosophers, no matter how elevated and open it may be, leaves the human person alone in his efforts, always tempted to enclose himself in his own excellence. The infusion of love into the roots of the virtues effects a vital transformation: By placing us in communion with the person of Christ, charity renders us so receptive to the motion of his Spirit that we can no longer regard our virtues as our own property. Although they remain something deeply personal within us, they have become the property of the one who now inspires them. […] the involvement of the Holy Spirit in our growth in virtue shows us that the Spirit acts in us through the normal paths of daily effort, rather than through extraordinary revelations, sudden motions, or exceptional charisms” (Morality: The Catholic View, p. 87-88).

[9] Aquinas explains, “And because such happiness surpasses the capacity of human nature, man’s natural principles which enable him to act well according to his capacity, do not suffice to direct man to his same happiness. Hence it is necessary for man to receive from God some additional principles, whereby he may be directed to supernatural happiness, even as he is directed to his connatural end, by means of his natural principles, albeit not without Divine assistance” (Summa Theologica; Part I of Book II – Question 62, Article 1).

[10] Pope John Paul II quoting the Second Vatican Council in Veritatis Splendor – The Splendor of Truth, paragraph 3.

The Glory of the Human Person as Memory of the Earth

Yesterday I attended a funeral Mass of a woman named Joann who, after a long life of illness, succumbed to death at the age of 78. She had been married for 58 years and was a devoted wife to her husband and a loving mother to her seven children. She also had a real verve for life despite all her many physical hardships. Joann loved a good glass of wine, good food, friends, family, beauty and ballet. The funeral Mass was quite beautifully done. For the responsorial psalm, the cantors sang the following refrain, "restless is the heart.....until it comes to rest in you. All the Earth, All the Earth will remember, and return to our God."

This refrain got me thinking about Joann's return to God and how it wasn't empty-handed! She brought with her many memories of her life and all the many and varied ways in which she loved and loved so well. On a larger scale, I began to reflect on the glory of the human person as memory of the Earth. This past week the Church selected a number of readings from the book of Genesis. These readings focused on the creation of the world and, more specifically, the creation of the human person. One of the readings spoke about how God decided to create the human person in his own image and likeness. When we reflect on the glory of what it means to be human, we generally start with God's image. However, what I'd like to suggest is that in doing so we may be putting the cart before the horse!

In the second story of creation found in the second chapter of Genesis, God forms the human person from the clay of the Earth and breathes his breath into the person's nostrils, animating the person with life. It needs to be emphasized that the person was formed from the Earth. What this implies is that the glory of being human is not only being the image of God but also being the image of the Earth! Unfortunately, this fact is very often overlooked in Christian spirituality. We forget that to be fully human means "imaging" all of the beauty, history, grandeur, glory, hopes, travail, longing, sorrow, and even tragedy of the Earth. Out of all the creatures on the face of the Earth and all abiotic and biotic life, the human person alone has the sacred vocation of historical consciousness and biographical memory. This isn't only for the sake of remembering human affairs, but being cognizant and attuned to the affairs of the Earth community, which has a history that is destined for Eternal Life as well. In Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelations, we are told, "what we await is a new heavens and a new Earth." The beautiful memories that Joann took with her to God, and the memories that we take, are not simply our own, they are also part and parcel of the storehouse of the memories of the Earth, which will also make a sacred "return to God." Pat, TOR

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Side-by-Side in a Partnership of Mutuality and Equality

Today's first reading from daily Mass relates the "primeval" story of the creation of woman and how man and woman came to be united as "one body" through marriage (Gen. 2:18-25). The word "primeval" means that the story refers to something that predates recorded history and therefore doesn't intend to communicate an "eye-witness account" of the creation of the human person and the institution of marriage but, rather, points to the meaning of relationships between male and female.

At the beginning of today's story, God notes that, "it is not good for man to be alone, therefore, I will make a suitable partner for him." (Gen. 2:18). God than creates various animals from the earth, presents them before man for naming, and than sees what kind of relationship unfolds between them. The Genesis author notes that, "none proved to be a suitable partner for him." God's next move is to "put the man under" by casting him into a deep sleep and removing a rib from his side - from which he forms a woman. The man responds with, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." (Gen. 2:23). The explicit moral of the story is explained as, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body." (Gen. 2:24).

Again, to reiterate, since this account from Genesis relates a primeval story, it doesn't intend to communicate facts but meaning. So than, what meaning might we derive from this ancient story about the relationship between male and female, man and woman? Without exhausting the meaning that can be derived from this story, what stands out are three primary points 1) animals did not make a suitable partner for the man 2) a suitable partner was formed directly from the man and 3) it is the man who leaves father and mother and clings to his wife (rather than vice versa).

To begin with, the fact that animals were not a suitable partner for man and that this was only realized by woman being formed from man's side indicates that partnership is forged through mutuality (interdependence). It is quite significant that it was precisely a bone taken from man's side that God than formed into a woman. This is symbolic of the fact that partnership is constituted through a mutual, "side-by-side" dynamic in which the interests of one occupy the concern of the other. As important as mutuality is in any real partnership, so is equality. The equality between man and woman is highlighted by the fact that it is the man who leaves father and mother to be joined to his wife (one would normally expect a woman to leave her parents and be joined to her husband). This part of the story offsets the temptation to see the woman as partly indebted to man for her existence and therefore overly dependent. The overall gist of this fascinating and symbolic story from Genesis is that love between persons is most fully realized side-by-side in a partnership of mutuality and equality. Pat, TOR

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The "Place" of the Human Person in Creation: The "Space Between"

In today's daily Mass reading from the second chapter of Genesis we hear about the creation of the human person. In a very intimate and extraordinary way, God personally fashions from the earth the human person and than breaths the "breath of life" gently into the persons nostrils. While on the surface these actions of God appear quite matter of fact and seem to merely communicate the author's perspective on how humans came into being, they are rather quite loaded with implications for what it means to be a fully human creature.

To begin with, it is quite significant that the author indicates that the person was formed from the ground. The root word for human, the Latin humus, means, "soil." To be human therefore means being "earthy", "grounded" or "rooted" in one's connectedness to creation and to what it means not only to be homo sapien, but also a fellow creature among other creatures. A contemporary idiom that communicates well what this means is the phrase, "down to earth." When someone is "down to earth", they are relatively well-adjusted, approachable, easy-going, and humble. It's also interesting to note that the word "humble" also shares the root word "humus." To be human is to be humble and to be humble implies being connected with the reality of our dependence and interdependence with the earth, all creatures, and every person.

Fullness of humanity not only comes from being deeply connected with the earth and being humble but also issues from the realization of being directly animated by the divine. Unlike other creatures who respirate, humans alone are capable of receiving and breathing the "breath" of God. In other words, humans are that unique creature that is meant to receive and share the gift of God's Holy Spirit to a degree that no other creature can. Why does God do this? While the reasons are many, it's interesting to note that shortly after breathing God's breath into the human person's nostrils, God places the person in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it. The most immediate reason why God creates the human person is to be God's ambassador of care and concern for all creation.

To be fully human means simultaneously being both grounded in our connectedness to the earth and being elevated to the vocation of caring for all creation and persons by fully receiving and breathing the gift of God's breath. It means striking the careful balance of occupying the "space between" heaven and earth by being ambassadors of creation to God (in prayer and praise) and being God's ambassadors to creation (in a mode of compassion and care for all creatures, especially the most needy, threatened, and vulnerable). In a world of deep ecological and environmental turmoil, this reminder from the book of Genesis could not be more timely or relevant! Pat, TOR

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God's Creativity: Simply "Letting Be."

Yesterday I watched a YouTube video in which a very sincere Franciscan brother made his case for the theory of intelligent design. For those who are unfamiliar with this theory, it is very basically a hypothesis that asserts that because the world is so seemingly well ordered, following certain patterns and laws, one must necessarily come to the conclusion that it was "designed" by an exceedingly intelligent being (God). What this theory suggests is that God drew up something akin to a "master plan" or "divine blueprint" prior to the bursting forth of the universe and that everything now is simply unfolding according to this pattern.

While this theory seems very attractive, straightforward, and common sensical, it poses some serious problems in light of scripture and Catholic theology. To begin with, the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis has God intimately involved with the unfolding of creation and simply "letting it be." In Genesis Chapter 1, verse 20, God says, "let the water team with an abundance of creatures." In verse 24 of the same chapter, God says, "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures." These verses don't at all depict creation unfolding according to a particular design or blueprint but, to the contrary, they conjure up an image of God infusing creation with it's own creative capacities (indicated by the word, "let" which implies freedom and spontaneity) and than watching things unfold with great delight.

The problems that the theory of intelligent design poses for theology is that it is fundamentally non-Trinitarian. In other words, a God who "draws up a blueprint" and "designs" things to the minutest detail cannot also be the God who journeys with creation in Word, Spirit, and, finally, flesh (this would be unnecessary and superfluous). Scripture tells us that all things were created through the Word and that the Spirit is also intimately involved in God's creative act. What this means is that creation has it's own freedom and spontaneity that God chooses precisely NOT to design or control. The reason for this? God's "letting be" allows creation to become itself (most fully in the human person) and to acquire the requisite freedom to return God's love and become God's very own partner in love and freedom. This doesn't sound like a God who draws up blueprints or intricate designs but a God who is willing to risk all for the sake of the dignity of the other and for the sake of love. Albert Einstein once said in regards to God's creative act that, "God doesn't play dice." This is akin to the god proposed by the theory of intelligent design. However, if we take the Trinity seriously, maybe we should revise this saying along the lines of, "God does play dice, but loads them in the direction of freedom and love." Pat, TOR