Author: Maria Morrow

Praise and Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate that great American holiday of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the details of the day – family, food, football – have come to obscure the name and meaning behind Thanksgiving. While not a Catholic liturgical holiday in its origins, Thanksgiving nonetheless indicates something absolutely fundamental to Catholic life: recognizing gifts from God and offering thanks to God for those gifts. “Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving, reflects this importance of thanksgiving for the Christian life; Eucharist was the choice of the early church to name both the liturgy and the sacrament received during that liturgy. At the spring 2018 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Christopher Ruddy presented an excellent paper on the “theology of praise,” as a task for theologians. John Cavadini has also noted, relying on St. Augustine, that the meaning of life is to praise God, to learn to say “thank you” better. For moral theologians, this may seem strange. The usual tasks seem to involve interacting with and addressing contemporary moral issues or crises, both inside and outside of the Church. There are so many topics that require our attention – from immigrants and war to ecclesial scandals. There are also various Church teachings to investigate, understand, and explain. There are opportunities to teach students and to argue with colleagues. It is all too easy to be caught up in the past,...

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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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Revisiting Infant Baptism

Citizenship confers on a person certain rights and responsibilities. As recent news has reminded us, a person’s citizenship is not primarily a matter of personal choice, nor a rational decision made by the individual. Rather, citizenship is decided at birth, without the person’s consent. Those with U.S. citizenship are granted rights, such as voting in government elections, and obligated with duties, such as following the laws. Baptism within the Catholic Church likewise confers rights and responsibilities on the person, and these often begin when the person is an infant, again, without consent. Former Irish president Mary McAleese recently made some headlines when she was quoted in the Irish Times June 23 and June 22 asserting that baptized babies are “infant conscripts who are held to lifelong obligations of obedience.” McAleese regards this as a breach of fundamental human rights: “You can’t impose, really, obligations on people who are only two weeks old and you can’t say to them at seven or eight or 14 or 19 ‘here is what you contracted, here is what you signed up to’ because the truth is they didn’t.” No doubt, if we were to apply this perspective to citizenship, we would find many people objecting that they did not choose to be citizens of a country with high poverty levels, drug problems, inadequate infrastructure, gang violence, etc. And yet we must recognize that there are restrictions applied...

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Holiness, Penance, and Moral Theology

Despite the constancy of the faith throughout two millennia, Christianity is always being adapted to the present age, usually with some difficulty, debate, and struggle. Catholic history presents us with so many examples of this that we can hardly claim that our particular time or setting deserves the crown of being the “most unique,” despite the rise of automobiles, smartphones, computers, nuclear weapons, and the nuclear family. And yet, it is our time! One of the tasks of moral theology is to identify the needs of the present situation and to aid in the moral discernment of contemporary Christians, while trying to avoid the arrogance of presuming that there is nothing to be learned from the virtuous lives of those who practiced the faith before our time, dealing with moral struggles that were every bit as genuine as those of our own days. When we look at the current era, we find something distinct in the present articulation of the role of the laity. The now famous  Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, entitled “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church,” emphasizes that holiness is not solely for priests and professed religious, but for every believer: “Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive. Let all then have care that...

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