Month: May 2012

Mystery and Analogy- Trinity Sunday

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, following immediately in the wake of the great feast of Pentecost which we celebrated last week. We now find ourselves at an endpoint of sorts in the liturgical year, which follows the structure of the New Testament narrative, first commemorating the incarnation and life of Christ before turning to the Paschal Mystery and the birth of the Church. Yet it is also a point of departure, initiating what many rites refer to as the “season of Pentecost,” which corresponds to the saeculum in which we now find ourselves, between the descent of the Holy Spirit and the final glorification of the faithful on the last day. Trinity Sunday thus marks the advent of the age in which God has revealed himself to be an eternal communion of relations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For many of my students, and—who am I kidding?—for me as well, this revelation of God’s identity is a difficult and dangerous thing to contemplate. The temptation, of course, is to concretize it within an earthly analogy, and Lord knows that such analogies constantly present themselves on all sides. God is like a shamrock: one leaf with three stems. Or God is like a dance: two partners and the music that directs their unified activity. Or (ugh)God is like an elephant (I’ll spare you the...

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Catechism Commentary – Human Acts

Human Acts (Part Three, Chapter One, Section One, Article Four) Human actions are crucial for any moral theology because it is through a human being’s free actions (and free actions = human actions, properly understood) that human beings are moral beings.  As St. Thomas says in the prologue to the second part of his Summa Theologiae, theology’s primary interest in a human being is as the kind of being who is “the principle of his actions, as having free-will and control of his actions.” (ST I-II, prologue). “Human acts,” as defined by the catechism are not merely anything that human beings may causally bring about.  Rather, a “human act” is what humans “do” through their free and deliberate choices.  All such choices in particular instances can be evaluated as being either morally good or bad choices, and typically lead to good or bad actions respectively. To morally evaluate a human act, three things must be taken into consideration – the object, the intention, and the circumstances. (§1750)  Note that these are technical terms, whose meaning is not equivalent to the variety of everyday uses of these terms.  “A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end [i.e. intention], and of the circumstances together.” (§1755) In moral theology, the “object” of an act is a particular good chosen when the human will directs itself to something....

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Memorial Day as a Day of Reconciliation

The origins of Memorial Day date to the years immediately following the American Civil War when Americans honored the war dead of the North and the South by placing flowers on their tombstones.  (The original name of the holiday was Decoration Day.)  Despite the fact that the northern and southern states commemorated their war dead on separate days until World War I, the fact remains that the former adversaries did engage in the same memorializing act.  Over time, as Americans honored those who served and died in the wars our country has fought since the Civil War, these memorials gelled into the common holiday we have today.  Memorial Day has served a quieter role aside from its primary function of honoring our veterans and war dead, it served as a means to bring reconciliation to our nation. Honoring those who fought and died in war has brought reconciliation to former adversaries beyond our shores, too.  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, initially rose to fame for his leadership in World War I defending the Ottoman Empire against a valiant but ultimately disastrous attack at Gallipoli by British military units consisting mainly of members of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).  Years later, as president of Turkey, Atatürk wrote a tribute to his former ANZAC adversaries buried in the British Commonwealth military cemeteries which exist in...

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Symposium on Same Sex Marriage: Evolution?

When President Obama made public his support for same sex marriage, he spoke of conversations with his daughters and about interactions with staff members and friends who are in same sex relationships.  Like the President, many Catholics (who support same sex marriage in growing numbers), are finding that their experience leads them to affirm the goodness of same sex unions and to question the validity of Christian teaching on marriage. My friend and fellow blogger, David Cloutier suggests that ultimately, arguments about same sex marriage must rest on “the irreducibility of the male/female distinction” which is part of the “grammar of creation.”  I think he’s right.  But that’s precisely where experience is making this whole problem “more complicated than you think.” When the couple sitting across from you at the soccer game, the dinner table, or church strikes you as just as loving, parental, socially concerned, and committed to Christian discipleship as any other Catholic couple, that is, just as able to live out the four-fold mission of the family as described by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris consortio, it becomes difficult to see the import of the male/female distinction. At the very least, experience calls into question the CDF‘s 2003 claim that, “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and...

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Faithful Citizenship Fridays: A Time to Fast

(A guest post from Kelly Johnson, associate professor in the theology department at University of Dayton. Kelly would like to thank Todd Whitmore, Jana Bennett, and David Cloutier for helpful conversations on the topic.) In recent elections, the Catholic vote has closely mirrored the nation’s vote. That is to say, Catholic voting as an aggregate has not had a significant effect on elections. It has, however, had a notable effect on the church. Homilists worry about saying too much or too little about hot-button topics. Bishops and other church leaders pour energy into crafting statements to urge Catholics to see certain issues in a certain way. Faithful Catholics gnash their teeth over when material cooperation in evil might be permissible. Politicians distinguish personal faith from political roles, and communities are divided over who should receive Eucharist. In this context, it may be time for a Catholic fast from voting in federal elections. This is not the same as an individual’s conscientious refusal to vote. It is certainly not a rejection of voting in principle.  In a fast, we abstain from some good for the sake of orienting our desires toward a higher good. As with any fast, what is given up is in itself innocent. Voting can be a method that honors human dignity and encourages the participation of everyone in a society in working together for the common...

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