Month: November 2011

Where’s the Theologian’s “Ad Limina”?

I was intrigued by Archbishop Dolan’s reflections on the “ad limina” visit he and other US bishops have been having at the Vatican. It sounds like a great way to come together and discuss, with colleagues in similar positions, the benefits and pitfalls of their particular locations as well as questions about the state of the church today. It also sounded a bit like a retreat atmosphere, a necessary part of continuing to flourish vocationally. In fact… it sounds a lot like the benefits I get at some of the academic conferences I attend, if, in fact, my colleagues are limited to the ones in the academy. There’s the sticking point for me, though. As a theologian, my colleagues – or at least my conversation partners – are not just those in the academy but are also the ones in the church. But though each of us individually might seek to have relationships with bishops, priests, other religious, and lay people, beyond what we have in the academy, I’d love to see what would happen if we could conference with each other kind of like in the ad limina visits. In the article, Archbishop Dolan remarked: “I heard more than one bishop say, ‘I should spend as much time with my priests as these people have spent with us.’ It’s a great example to us” It made me wistfully...

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On Keeping Vigil

St. Benedict dedicates four chapters of his rule (RB, ch. 8-11) to a discussion of the “night office,” or what is also referred to as Vigils.  The night office is a part of the monastic Liturgy of the Hours, during which the monks would rise during the middle of the night in order to pray the Psalms, hear the Word of God, and sing hymns.  Though not all monastic orders still follow the prayer regimen exactly as it is laid out in the Rule, those who follow a strict observance (like Trappists, the order to which Thomas Merton belonged) and some other religious orders still rise each night for Vigils.  Perhaps the closest those of us not practicing a vowed religious life can come to a sense of this kind of prayer is in the Easter Vigil liturgy.  In the Easter Vigil, we stay awake into the earliest hours of the morning on Easter Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  Keeping vigil represents an ascetical practice of sacrifice – in this case, a sacrifice of sleep – in order to demonstrate a commitment to something more important: in this case, prayer.  (Parents of young children will be able to identify with this kind of sacrifice and sleepless nights.) These ancient Christian practices serve as an interesting point of comparison in looking at the recent trend for...

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How Parents Can Help Education

While there are lots of factors that go into successful education, the recent study from the Center for Public Education notes the importance of parents.  Not surprisingly, parental involvement helps students do better in school.  It cannot do it alone of course—teachers, administrators, school boards, local communities, political leaders and more are all necessary for a well run school that foster student learning.  Still, parents can and do help. The value of this study is not just this affirmation of parental involvement but rather in specifying what types of involvement are most helpful.  While there are many interesting aspects of the study, there are six I want to note. “Parent involvement on homework may be the award-winning strategy” “For older students, [the most effective] techniques largely focused on enabling parents to convey high expectations to their children, encouraging them to take and succeed in rigorous courses with an eye toward college.” One of the typical hindrances to success at school is parents not “getting children to school”. Activities such as going to PTA meetings, attending school function and volunteering in a classroom “appeared to have less direct effect on student achievement, particularly in high school” than the three previous ones. “No matter their income or background” parents who help with homework and set high expectation significantly raise the chances that their children will: “Earn higher grades and test scores”...

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Second Sunday of Advent

Is 40:1-5, 9-11 Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14 2 Pt 3:8-14 Mk 1:1-8 As Tom mentioned last week in his reflection, Advent is a time of patience and hope as we await the somewhat unexpected Messiah. The readings for the second Sunday in Advent continue this theme of watchful and hopeful waiting, as seen especially in the second readings from 2 Peter: Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. What I find so interesting about this reading is that in our waiting, we are called to reflect on God’s patience. We don’t often think of God being patient (except in the ironic lullaby my husband likes to sing to our still-in-utero baby: Have patience, have patience/Don’t be in such a hurry . . . Remember, remember that God is patient too/And think of all the times when others have to wait for you). However, it is good to begin a reflection on morality with the end and purpose of the moral life–God. Cyprian of Carthage does precisely this in his treatise on patience. God’s patience is evident by the fact that he endures...

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Dan Finn asks: When is Self-interest Moral?

There has been much discussion in the Catholic blog-sphere concerning the  recent “Note on Financial Reform from the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace.” (It will not surprise any of my readers that I strongly support the document and its stellar economic analysis). Over at Commonweal, Dan Finn asks “When is Self-Interest Moral? A Gap in Catholic Social Teaching.”  As a professor of theology and economics, Finn is in a unique position to examine “the Note” as well as to explain the intricacies of the ongoing financial crisis. In particular, Finn artfully explains the financial fraud, scandal of credit default swaps and what remains a major gap in Catholic social teaching – if and when self-interest itself can be moral. There’s plenty here for us and the Wall Street occupiers to be angry about, but we might come to a better understanding of our moral situation by considering the character of the investments involved and how they grew out of helpful but complex financial instruments susceptible to unethical use. Derivatives are financial instruments created for sale in order to hedge risk, something like insurance. And what’s insurance? You’ve probably taken out fire insurance on your house. With a monthly payment, you provide the security of knowing that should your house burn down, the insurance company will give you the money to rebuild. People in business often have good reason for a...

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