Author: Thomas Bushlack

Steady as She Goes: Reflections on the Palm Sunday Readings

They were the strangest, most decent family I had ever met, and just about everyone in our parish agreed.  I used to see them, sometimes just one alone, sometimes as a family, biking everywhere they went in town – rain or snow, hot or cold, a simple trip to the grocery store or heading to Mass on Easter Sunday.  I could always tell it was him when I would see him far ahead of me on the road; that same, slow, rhythmic, consistent pedal speed; back perfectly erect, looking serenely straight ahead, seemingly in no hurry but clearly mindful of where he was going; unfettered by wind, rain, or snow (he would have made a model mail man).  Sometimes my interactions with him and his family were awkward (OK, frequently they were awkward); and yet, I always came away feeling bewildered by how such seemingly strange people always had the effect of both calming my anxieties, and at the same time challenging me to set aside my own judgments and appreciate the steady, consistent virtue that they exemplified.  There is no other word to describe my interactions with them than “bewildering.” Today’s readings take us to the beginning of the heart of the Christian mystery – the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In the procession at the beginning of the Palm Sunday liturgy we hear the story from...

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Elizabeth Johnson and the U.S. Catholic Bishops: Lessons for Moral Theology?

Strictly speaking, the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine statement critiquing professor Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ’s, 2007 book, Quest for the Living God, has nothing to do with moral theology.  The seven main points which they critique bear more on systematic theology, the nature of revelation, and the language that we use to speak about God.  Nor, to be fair, am I qualified to speak about the details of Johnson’s work or to adequately defend it.  (For some interesting, and much more theologically in-depth comments on the specific issues, I recommend the discussions on the Women in Theology blog, or reading her book and/or the bishops’ statement.)  But the issue of the relationship between the professional theologian, whether religious or lay, and the Magisterium of the Church is a hot-button topic that has had a profound impact upon the field of moral theology in the latter half of the twentieth century, and is still felt by those of us entering the field in the twenty-first.  Most of us can probably immediately conjure up a scenario in our departments, at conferences, or in personal conversations where the topic quickly switches from substantive debate on ethical issues to finger pointing – either at dogmatic bishops who are trying to stifle conversation and genuine theological inquiry, or professional theologians who are trying to water down the doctrine of the Church and lead people...

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Rowan Williams on Listening and Speaking

That vision of Christ which thou dost see Is my vision’s greatest enemy –  William Blake One of the greatest joys of my time as a graduate student has been monthly gatherings at our professor’s home where each of us has taken turns leading a reflection/discussion on the vocation of being a theologian.  Last night our friend and colleague, Angela Carpenter, led us in reflecting upon two homilies by Rowan Williams, the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury.  The texts are here, and are both very short: Presence and Engagement and Different Christs-1? There is much worth pondering in these homilies, but I wanted to share two thoughts.  First, he reminds us that most people have struggled to come to terms with what they believe, and that when we criticize them for it or treat their beliefs as either trite or unenlightened that we are actually attacking not just their beliefs, but the whole body of Christ.  He reminds us that It’s my life you’re threatening, my sense and my judgment, my meaning, the way I painfully struggle to understand myself in the light of God and the gospel. Secondly, he admits that although we must interpret Christ and the Scriptures, and therefore we must form opinions and speak, that this is always to be rooted in listening (a very Benedictine insight I might add!): listening not only to what others...

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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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