Rethinking the (Political) Apocalypse?

In the wake of the debacle of the confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh and the ensuing feverish jockeying for position in the upcoming midterm elections, it is easy to despair about the extreme polarization of American politics. To despair is to be unable to see any possibilities for an alternative or an escape from our condition. More than one person has mentioned the 1850’s to me as an apt analogy for our age. It can seem as if the differences are so great – and the built-up animus so large – that the country could become ungovernable. So...

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28th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Learning to leave it all behind

    Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30   Discussions of gospel sayings about wealth tend to be a key moment when things “get real” in my core undergraduate theology classes. It begins to dawn on a critical mass of students that their current understanding of the Christian life might not line up with what the New Testament actually says about discipleship. “But I heard there was a narrow ‘needle gate’ in Jerusalem. Doesn’t this mean that Jesus simply wants us to give away a few excess and unnecessary goods?” Sorry, friends. There is no evidence...

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Guess What This Week’s Readings are About? – 27th Sun of Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 So it was Monday evening, I saw on our blog calendar that I was scheduled to do the post on this Sunday’s lectionary readings, so I thought, “Well, let’s check out what the readings are, and start thinking about them.” I went to the USCCB lectionary page, clicked on October 7… and thought to myself, “OH, brother” (or words to that effect…) Consider this: There is a helpful distinction between reformers and revolutionaries, between programs of reform and programs of revolution. One might think there is merely a different in...

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Scenes from the Classroom: Kavanaugh, the Sex Abuse Crisis, and Holding it All Together

Yesterday, while I was in full-lectury mode on the theme “beginning of life issues” to a classroom full of pre-med, pre-nursing, dietetics, and therapy majors – a student raised her hand. I have a clarifying question to ask. I expected the question to be something about the case we’d just been examining – when and why people might opt for prenatal testing, and that this might not mean they are interested in seeking abortions. But no. Have the bishops come out with a statement on all this sex stuff happening now? You mean, the sex abuse scandals, I asked?...

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Catholic Universities, Identity, and the Abuse Scandal

For the past few weeks I’ve been a part of a faculty seminar at my institution focused on the “Catholic intellectual tradition.” The seminar has been a welcome respite once a week to take a step back from the daily details of teaching, and instead look at how my work – both in research and in pedagogy – fit into the rich history of this tradition. Getting a sense of the forest, you might say, instead of analyzing trees. Understandably, much of the discussion this year has circled around the new developments within the ongoing abuse crisis in the...

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The Heart Has Its Laws —26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 137 Numbers 11:25-29 Psalm 19:8-14 James 5:1-6 Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48 Blaise Pascal’s famous adage “the heart has its reasons which reason knows not” would sound very strange to one attuned to the Biblical concept of “the heart.” The term “heart” occurs over a thousand times in the Bible, and its meaning consistently refers to the center of an individual’s identity, comprising all the various dimensions of one’s personal agency: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. In the Biblical imagination, your heart is “you”; it is the integral core that makes you who you are. Like his near-contemporary Descartes, Pascal presumes...

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Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: What Wisdom Sees

Ignorance is bliss, they say, and it’s tempting sometimes to think the only a willful refusal to face reality can give us happiness. Find a way for yourself in the world, take pleasure where you can find it, and tune the rest out: it’s one recipe. But the texts today talk about a different sort of wisdom, and that is good news.

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Scandal in the Church and Concern for the Environment: A Renewed Need for Ember Days

At a recent conference, someone commented that one task of today’s theologian is to review Vatican II and the implementations and other changes made in the years following this council. Among these changes was one that resulted in a drastic decline of penitential culture in the United States. This was precipitated by an apostolic constitution of Blessed Paul VI, who wrote Paenitemini with the hope that local bishops would be able to renew the practices of penance in their respective locales. An updating of such practices, it was hoped, would bring penances more directly related to (and appropriate for) the situation of the faithful in particular places, rather than prescribing (as canon law did) a one-size-fits-all obligatory penance. In the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter establishing new guidelines for penance, which were implemented in Advent of 1966. Among the required penance that was altered for the faithful was the practice of Ember Days. Due to this change in 1966, most post-Vatican II Catholics are altogether unfamiliar with Ember Days. This time of year, however, people will occasionally mention the practice, and there are a few who still choose to observe Ember Days. Ember Days represent a classic re-appropriating of the pagan culture, as they were a way to sanctify the pagan rituals associated with the seasonal changes related to planting, harvesting, and vintage. The western...

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Connecting the Disconnects: Report from the USCCB-Young Theologian Conference

This past Thursday and Friday (September 13-14), the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, with generous funding from the Knights of Columbus, hosted a conference for young theologians with the theme of “Teaching Undergraduate Theology: Connecting the Disconnects.” Although I speak for myself alone here, this conference was a great experience. Given the tension in the Church right now, and particularly the criticism directed at bishops generally and the USCCB specifically, it would not have been surprising if the organizers had considered canceling this conference altogether. What bishops would willingly want to face a crowd of potentially angry theologians? And might not theologians disdain meeting the representatives of the Committee on Doctrine of the USCCB in the midst of the scandals revealed in the Church this past summer? Courage, however, prevailed, even as Washington, D.C. declared a state of emergency as a precaution for the oncoming Hurricane Florence. The format of the conference involved presentations by senior scholars (one of whom was Bishop Daniel Flores), followed by brief responses from younger scholars, as well as ample time for discussion. The food was delicious, but the atmosphere was not completely comfortable, even cool at times…as one might expect given the current situation. Throughout the two days, the conference seemed to illustrate both the continued need for collaboration between theologians and bishops, as well as the obvious benefits of such a...

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Three Points About Suffering

Reading 1: Isaiah 50:5-9 Responsorial Psalm:  Psalm 116 Reading 2: James 2: 14-18 Gospel: Mark 8:27-35 In his The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James Cone writes, “Where there is hope, there is God—that divine presence that prevents despair and empowers poor people to resist.” (143).  Cone does not think that this presence of God makes one’s life easy but leads into a life of suffering.  The suffering, though, is not the point.  As Cone continues, “I find nothing redemptive about suffering in itself.  The gospel of Jesus is . . . a story about God’s presence in Jesus’...

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