Author: Thomas Bushlack

“The Intellectual Task of the New Evangelization”: Hopeful Signs of Dialogue Between Bishops and Theologians

If there is one consistent message regarding the meaning of Vatican II that I learned from my teachers in theology it is that the mark of the post-Vatican II Church is dialogue.  In that spirit, I was privileged to attend a conference over this past weekend hosted by the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine titled, “The Intellectual Task of the New Evangelization,” in which fourteen bishops and approximately fifty theologians (all of whom had completed our Ph.D.’s in the last five years) gathered for three days of discussion on the roles of the theologian and the bishop in the New Evangelization.  The first of these meetings was held in 2011 (which I did not attend), and the stated goal of these conferences has been to increase dialogue between bishops and theologians, a relationship that has been – to state it mildly – strained over recent years. A recent article in the National Catholic Reporter seemed to indicate that those invited to attend were chosen in secret and were hand-selected by the bishops to be molded into conformity with episcopal ideology.  As far as I know, however, there was a public call for applications to attend the conference (I received an open letter of invitation through my department chair), and my application was accepted despite the fact that I have openly disagreed with my local bishop over the issue of same-sex...

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Foundations of the Moral Life

Wisdom 9:13-18 Psalm 90 Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17 Luke 14:25-33 This is one of those passages where on the face of it Jesus seems inconsistent.  In this Sunday’s reading from Luke, he seems to be claiming that following Jesus to enter the kingdom of God requires me to hate my parents, my children, my siblings, and even my own life.  How do I square this with the fourth commandment (“Honor thy mother and father,” Ex. 20:12), or the Greatest Commandment to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength, and my neighbor as myself (Luke 10:27; cf. Deut. 6:5), particular in light of Jesus’ insistence that he has come to fulfill, not to abolish, the law (Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:44)? The answer can be found if we dig a little bit deeper into what Jesus is saying here.  Both Origen and Augustine,* two of the most influential theologians of the early Church, taught that when the literal level of scripture seems to teach something contrary to basic logic or morality, that God has put these words into revelation in order to give us pause, to challenge us to look for a deeper, spiritual meaning.  This is a classic case of applying that principle. After starting with these jarring comments that seem to command hatred, he follows it with two parables, in which he...

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The Faith of Theologians: Contemplating Moral Theology

This post is part of a series on the Faith of Theologians.  A full list of the previous responses by fellow colleagues can be found at the bottom of Dana Dillon’s post introducing and explaining the series. If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans. Two naive statements that I have made stand out in the development of my faith in relation to my vocation and career as a theologian.  The first occurred when I was an undergraduate student studying in Rome.  As a young theology major walking along the Tiber river I noted to a friend, “I hate moral theology.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to study it.” The second occurred when I was studying for my Masters of Theological Studies while standing outside the library at the University of Notre Dame, talking to two friends fully committed to Thomas Aquinas’ approach to theology and I said, “I don’t know, I think maybe Aquinas is where it all went wrong.” I am now employed as a moral theologian focusing primarily on the work of Thomas Aquinas – God is still laughing, and I am still shaking my head.  How did this happen? Something that I have noticed among my peers and among the students that I now teach is that there comes a time – usually right around the 18-22 year range of...

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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Subversion and Extension

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 Psalm 40 Hebrews 12:1-4 Luke 12:49-51 I’ve been reflecting recently on an article written by Jean Porter titled “The Subversion of Virtue: Acquired and Infused Virtues in the Summa Theologiae.”  Her basic argument is that in drawing upon classical pagan sources, particularly Aristotle, for his description of the virtues within the Christian moral life required him to both affirm and to subvert that classical tradition, in order to reconcile it with a distinctively Christian and theological description of the moral life.  Since her argument has been on my mind recently, I see a similar kind of subversion of expectations at work in each of these readings. For example, the prophet Jeremiah suffered no shortage of tribulations for his prophetic call, and being thrown into a cistern is just one example of public ridicule that he had received for being God’s mouthpiece.  We might surmise that as he sat int he mud at the bottom of the well he may have been thinking to himself (an Eeyeore-like tone), “well, what do you expect being a prophet?”  And yet just when things looked dire, he was pulled from the mud by Ebed-melech and friends. A similar subversion of expectations can be found in the letter to the Hebrews, where despite the public shame of crucifixion, Jesus overcame by “despising its shame,” and finding himself seated at God’s right...

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The Multifaceted Presence of the Word: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 30:10-14 Psalm 69: 14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37 Colossians 1:15-20 Luke 10:25-37 Within the ancient practice of lectio divina there is a sense, which can only come from the gift of faith, that there is such a deep unity to the revealed word of God that every word, every phrase, every verse, chapter, book, and the entirety of the two Testaments hold together in a coherent unity.  Sometimes it takes a discerning mind and a great deal of grace to be able to see how certain readings might hang together – and this week’s readings seem to present no small challenge in this regard.  I propose a meditation that ties together one possible thread that weaves throughout these readings – the multifaceted presence of the word of God. Imagine, if you will, a simple cross, with the reading from Deuteronomy forming the ground or foundation, the reading from Colossians resting at the top, and the reading from Luke as the crossbar.  The Word of God in Deuteronomy – represented on the literal level in the Jewish Torah – is not something that one needs to go up into heaven or cross the other side of the sea in order to obtain, but rather “the word is very near to you.”  It is here, now, among us in our daily lives. The Word of God in Colossians –...

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