Month: March 2011

Why Lectionary & Liturgy on a Site by Moral Theologians?

Why does a website about Catholic moral theology include a tab about lectionary and liturgy? I thought I’d offer a couple of reasons for anyone who is wondering about this question. First, the Second Vatican Council in the Decree on Priestly Formation suggested that the discipline of moral theology “should be more thoroughly nourished by scriptural teaching” (no. 16). Moral theology, prior to this, had come to focus mostly on natural law, with a focus on actions and rules. While these remain important, attention is now also given to character, virtue, and discipleship—indeed, on the person and work of Jesus, too. The Bible, therefore, is essential for moral theology. In his book, The Making of Disciples: Tasks of Moral Theology (Michael Glazier Publishing, 1982), Irish Catholic moral theologian Enda McDonagh writes that by “adopting discipleship as one dominant theme of their reflections and explorations, theologians…are compelled to address the Scriptures in text and context more directly and seriously than some doctrinal and moral traditions of the immediate past” (4).  As for liturgy, in his book, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship (Brazos Press, 2002), Catholic moral theologian Paul Wadell shares a story about a question Methodist theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas once raised: “You Catholics go to Mass all the time,” Hauerwas observed, and then he asked, “What do all those Masses do for you?” If,...

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Building a Healthy “Civil Society”

Part of the inspiration for this blog derives from a shared vision to create a space to dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect and charity, as an alternative to the “culture wars“.  In light of this, I have been thinking back to a distinction that Jacques Maritain makes in Man and the State between “the Nation, the Body Politic or Political Society, and the State.”  The most caustic forms of rhetoric seem to emerge from attempts to control the power of the State, mostly through electoral politics.  And, as my wife likes to remind me, I can get quite caught up in and heated up over these kinds of battles.  But is there something about focusing on this realm, especially as Christians and/or theologians, that misses the point? Maritain writes: Political Society, required by nature and achieved by reason, is the most perfect of temporal societies.  It is a concretely and wholly human reality, tending to a concretely and wholly human good – the common good…Justice is a primary condition for the existence of the body politic, but Friendship is its very life-giving form. Focusing on Political Society, or “Civil Society,” as the area of culture or society where the virtues of friendship and trust  are needed to sustain the collective endeavor to seek a distinctively human, common good has much to recommend it, I believe.  Here, we...

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Initial Response to Obama’s Libya Speech

In tonight’s speech,  President Obama had a steep mountain to climb. He needed to explain the United States role in enforcing the United Nations  Libyan No-Fly Zone to the American people.  Did he accomplish this goal?  There will be no clear or single interpretation of this speech. I am confident that if you questioned each of the 15 moral theologians on this website – you would receive 15 different interpretations and readings of both the text and the intervention in Libya itself. And so, to begin discussion – I would like to highlight  one section that jumped out at me in tonight’s speech: It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground. A few years ago,...

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Doing “What We Hate”

What Happens When We Sin Even Though We Know Better? This season of Lent is a time when we are particularly attuned to our brokenness and our need for redemption.  A common experience of our sinfulness is continuing to do sinful things we in some sense do not want to do.  The obvious Scriptural text here is Romans 7.  Yet this is not merely a Christian phenomenon.  It was a perennial question in classical ethics:  can people do things they know are bad, and if so, how does that happen?  The standard account of this question in antiquity is that Socrates thought this phenomenon was impossible.  If we do something bad, we did not truly know it was bad.  According to this account, Aristotle departs from Socrates on this matter by describing the phenomenon of incontinence.  We can indeed act against our “better judgment.”  Christians such as Thomas Aquinas follow Aristotle in explaining experiences like Paul’s in Romans 7.  This account is too simple.  This post is not the place to sort out why in any detail.  It turns out that Aristotle and Aquinas are not as far from “Socrates” as the standard account assumes.  And there are important differences between Aquinas and Aristotle.  The purpose of this post is not to sort through these questions, but to present Aquinas’ account of how incontinence occurs, and (hopefully) start a...

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Traumatic Brain Injury & Christian Hope

March is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month.  TBI’s are beginning to receive greater attention as increasing numbers of soldiers are suffering TBI’s in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A recent post on Air Force Times notes: In the Army alone, some 114,000 soldiers have suffered concussions since the wars began.”  TBIs have also been in the headlines concerning football, raising concerns  for both NFL players and every parent whose child wants to join a football team. Last year’s football season was dominated by worries of concussions and other head injuries that could lead to brain injuries, but the season ended on a high note when Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, shook off two regular season concussions to win the Super Bowl MVP honors. However, after the bright lights of the stadium go down, the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, become apparent.” How much attention a disease or condition receives is often tied to celebrity sponsorship, a scientific promise of a cure, and as the recent headline Former NFL Player Donates Brain After Death indicates a preference to high-tech, sexy medicine.  Hesitancy to confront the ambiguity and long term consequences of TBI experienced by soldiers, athletes, and even Congresswoman Giffords exposes the awkwardness with which our society, as a whole, deals with caregiving.  A focus on TBIs requires raising awareness of the patient, family and caregivers involved in longterm care – and allowing them to...

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