May the Angels Lead Her Into Paradise: Remembering Ann O.

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Ann Olivier from a lovely eulogy at Commonweal. Although we had fallen out of touch, Ann was a very significant influence during my years of self-directed theological study leading up to graduate school.

I first met Ann online in the autumn of 2004 when I joined the VaticanII-Documents group on Yahoo, which was beginning a round of detailed reading and group study of the council documents by email. It was a very large group, but Ann O., as she always signed herself, was one of the more frequent and substantive commenters, and I soon began to look for her contributions in particular. She was a generation older than I am, and hearing about her experience in the pre-conciliar church, the council, and the changes that resulted from it was a real gift. She also brought the training and perspective from her PhD in philosophy into our theological discussion of the documents.

What I particularly remember about Ann’s participation in the group is that, while she often had strong opinions which she expressed spiritedly, she seemed to do so almost always without ego. I never got the sense that she took criticism of her opinions or arguments as a personal attack. The word that comes to mind is dispassionate, except that she wasn’t! She had a lively curiosity, and was always willing to wonder, to ask questions, and to follow the implications of an idea no matter where they led.

Read the rest over at BLT.

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Synod 2014: Ecclesiology, Authority, Trust, and Fear as an Occasion of Sin

This portion of Francis’ opening remarks to the synod on the family instantly captured my attention:

“I therefore ask you, please, have these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with boldness and listen with humility. And do so with great tranquility and peace, because the synod is conducted always with Peter and under Peter, and the presence of the pope is the guarantee for all and the custody of the faith”

“With Peter and under Peter,” cum et sub Petro, is a catchphrase that sums up the Catholic understanding of the college of bishops, of which the Pope is both member and head by virtue of his position as bishop of Rome, the traditional see of Peter. It is also bound up in understanding the authority of the pope, and of the college of bishops, and of ecumenical councils.

What struck me was that Francis is here asserting papal primacy as comfort. As security. As protection. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind even if you yourself aren’t sure that what you are saying is correct, he seems to be saying. And don’t be afraid to seriously consider new ideas from others, even if they seem beyond the pale. Nothing bad will happen. I am Peter, and I am here with you, and the Holy Spirit has promised to be with us when we strive for communion together.

That… is actually very close to the way I was taught it was supposed to work, but I have never actually seen it before. Just as the bishops, as successors of the apostles, are guarantors or symbols or sacraments of the unity and apostolicity of their local churches, in a similar way the pope, as the successor of Peter, is the guarantor or symbol or sacrament of the unity and apostolicity of the universal church. The papacy serves the unity of the church. It’s beautiful language, and the theological reasoning behind it was persuasive to me; I’ve just never seen it actually work that way before. (I’ve only ever seen an appeal to papal authority used to thump people, either inside or outside the church.)

I was quite touched by this: it made me empathize with those bishops who might be afraid of this or that direction that the synod might take. I hope they found it as comforting as I believe Francis intended it to be.

Others have observed that this synod finally seems to implement the Vatican II vision of synodality, unlike past synods which seemed to be rather pro forma affairs. This is discussed, and the Pope’s introductory remarks are further quoted, in the rather unfortunately titled article Pope Gives Bishops a Synod 'Bill of Rights' (though I suppose it’s an understandable enough title from America Magazine!), which is worth reading in its entirety.

[H]e addressed the methodology of synodality, and told the 191 synod fathers participating in this assembly to say what they really think, and do so in total freedom and without fear of consequences.

“You bring the voice of the particular churches, gathered at the level of local churches through the bishops’ conferences…” he told them. “You bring this voice in synodality. It’s a great responsibility: you bring the realities and the ‘problematics’ of the churches, to help them to walk on that way which is the Gospel of the family.”

This too is what I was taught: that the bishops are meant to be a two-way channel for the building up of the church. They are not supposed to be mere franchise operators, implementing locally what comes down from Rome. The bishop is meant to bring the charisms, the special particular gifts and wisdom, of the local church into the universal church when the bishops gather together in councils or synods; and to bring the gifts of the other local churches back home. In this way the whole church is built up and the life of the faithful is enriched.

And it is very consistent with the ecclesiology of
Lumen Gentium, which says in paragraph 23: Continue reading

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So Much Internet: So Much Catholic Stuff! edition

With the Extraordinary Synod on the Family happening last week and this week in Rome, there has been so much stuff circulating that I’ve wanted to write about, but either haven’t had time or felt writing on Ferguson was more important or both. So before I lose all those links, and recognizing that this is by no means a “hot off the presses” edition, here is a roundup:

Footage of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, not only pictures of the grand procession, which I’d seen before, but also including the first words of John XXIII as he opened the council: Gaudet Mater EcclesiaMother Church Rejoices (PDF containing the whole speech in an inclusive English translation, courtesy of Fr. J. A. Komonchak – well worth reading).

A call by Bishop Lynch of Florida for Francis to step in and end the “feud” between the CDF and the LCWR and the CDF. I was particularly interested by this comment:

I think clearly that the sisters in LCWR have conducted themselves quite admirably in avoiding the same heated rhetoric which came a couple of weeks ago from CDF. They are facing a mandate that they find very hard to swallow which is at its base, “Shape up or ship out.” In the late eighties the USCCB had a similar mandate come down from another Roman office and we politely ignored it and it went away.

They did what huh?? Similar mandate that they ignored? Does anybody know what he’s referring to here? (Of course, it’s a lot easier for the US Catholic Congregation of Bishops to ignore a Vatican mandate than for the Leadership Council of Women Religious to do the same, given the difference in gender and clerical status.)

And speaking of the good sisters, there are a number of public screenings of the movie Band of Sisters coming up, with introductions and Q&A afterwards. Check to see if there’s one in your area!

An interesting blog on how following doctrine can have harmful side effects by Kyle Cupp. He takes the hypothetical case of Fred and Wilma:

Imagine a couple. We’ll call them Fred and Wilma. Neither one of them has practiced their faith in their adult lives, but they’d now like to return to the Church. Wilma was somewhat raised in the Catholic faith. Fred was baptized in a non-denominational Christian church, but now he wants to become Catholic. They are married civilly and have a four-year-old son. When they go to their local Catholic parish, they learn from the priest that they need to be married in the Church before Fred can make his conversion. They’re accepting, but surprised. Neither of them knew the Catholic Church considered their marriage invalid.

As the hypothetical unfolds, the church determines that their marriage cannot be convalidated, and therefore that they may not licitly have a sexual relationship, but that they should stay together for the sake of their child, and thus should live together “as brother and sister.” Obediently, they try to do so. Unsurprisingly, human misery ensues.

The point of his article is that we should pay attention to such outcomes and perhaps rethink “what the Gospel requires and how we apply it to real people’s lives in this messy, complicated world.” I would add that the scriptural and theological principle that we may judge the tree by its fruits should certainly give us a hearty shove in the direction of rethinking. Just as importantly, I think we need to move away from a model of faithfulness which emphasizes obedience in a way that infantilizes the laity, and towards a model that not only permits, but encourages, responsible discernment of what the gospel requires of us in our messy complicated lives.

This last link connects with my FergusonOctober roundup – it turned up in an internet search while I was looking for a good intro to black theology that would be accessible to the typical white Catholic. (Any suggestions?) It is a homily by Cardinal Keeler in December, 2000, for a prayer service on poverty and racism that was held in the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, of which he was then archbishop. He closes the homily with something that John Paul II had said in St. Louis the previous year:

[T]here remains another great challenge facing this community . . . and not St. Louis alone, but the whole country: to put an end to every form of racism, a plague which your bishops have called one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation.”

As Cardinal Keeler said then, “May God bless our renewed commitment to this holy task. Amen.”

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So Much Internet: FergusonOctober edition

There’s been so much going on around the movement sparked by the August 9th shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, which has intensified every time another black person has been killed or brutalized by police since then — many of which have been caught on video revealing police brutality and in many cases outright misconduct. An important study by Pro Publica examines the statistics of these killings — at least, as much as they could, given that there is no national standard for these things. Other than the racial disparity, this is the part I found chilling (emphasis mine):

[T]he data show that police reported [fear for their lives] as the cause of their actions in far greater numbers after the 1985 Supreme Court decision that said police could only justify using deadly force if the suspects posed a threat to the officer or others. From 1980 to 1984, “officer under attack” was listed as the cause for 33 percent of the deadly shootings. Twenty years later, looking at data from 2005 to 2009, “officer under attack” was cited in 62 percent of police killings.

The protests came to the St. Louis Symphony last week with a Requiem for Mike Brown. Watch the video and notice the wide variety of responses.

Unbelievably, on Thursday night another young black man, Vonderrit Meyers, was killed by an off-duty police officer in the nearby community of Shaw, MO, just 20 minutes away from Ferguson, and the police reports have again been riddled with inconsistencies and changing stories.

Rev. Erin Counihan shares her powerful witness of “praying in the middle” of the subsequent protests, in the space between the police and the protestors.

This weekend has been a long-planned rally branded FergusonOctober. On Saturday night, peaceful protestors sitting with linked arms in front of a convenience store were forcibly, in some cases brutally, removed by police.

Sunday evening was an interfaith prayer service attended by thousands, followed by another peaceful protest that began with protestors occupying and shutting down an intersection by literally playing games — hopscotch, jumprope, clapping games — Continue reading

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@KilledByCops: A Twitter Devotional

According to the FBI, local police kill Black people at least two times a week, on average. But other estimates put that number to around once per day. @KilledByCops

There is a custom followed by many Catholics that when you hear a siren from a fire engine, ambulance, or police car, you say a prayer (traditionally, a Hail Mary) for the people who are in trouble. This devotional is inspired by that custom. If you are on Twitter, I invite you to follow @KilledByCops, an account which tweets in remembrance of people who have been killed by the police, and join me in this prayer practice.

When you see a tweet from @KilledByCops appear in your timeline,

Pause for a moment, and pray for the person who was killed; for the repentance of the police officer(s) who killed them; and for an end to the sinful structures of racism and injustice that allow these extrajudicial killings to continue.

Pray in your own words, or use these prayers:
Continue reading

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The Purpose of Marriage: Gen 1 or Gen 2?

The bible begins with two creation stories, and each has its own purpose. Gen 1 tells the story of how all creation came to be, with the creation of humanity, male and female, as the culmination of creation. In this story, which is dominated by themes of generation and fertility, God tells people to be fertile and multiply, fill the earth; eat these things for your food, and leave those things as food for the animals. This is a story about the world, and humanity’s relationship to the world.

Genesis 2 tells a story about humanity. In Gen 2:18, God says “It is not good for the human to be alone,” determines that none of the animals are suitable companions for the human, and fashions a suitable companion from the side of the human, from the very same flesh. (Note the single-nature anthropology implied here: ie, there is a single human nature shared by women and men.) Gen 2:24 says “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.” This is a story about the origin of marriage.

Notice that the story about the origin of marriage says nothing about procreation.
Continue reading

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Reflections: Ad Orientem, Versus Populum, In Persona Christi, In Persona Ecclesiae

I came across a quote recently that said something like this:

Versus populum is the clericalised, [human]-centred orientation. Ad orientem focuses on God & [God's] gift.

What struck me about this sentiment is that it centers the agency, perspective, and experience of the priest. (Indeed, the very phrase versus populum, meaning facing the people, centers the priest.) This essay plays with broader perspectives, and centers the experience of the assembly.

The symbolism of ad orientem, literally meaning “towards the east” and in practice meaning “facing the altar” (due to the traditional construction of churches which placed the altar at the east wall of the church) has some pretty iconography. The priest is leading the people on their pilgrim journey towards God. Of course, as Pope Francis has pointed out, there are many ways for a shepherd to lead a flock. From the front is not the only, nor always the best, option.

It perhaps suggests Moses the mediator for the people of Israel, approaching the holy mountain where God was present, while the people looked on from a safe distance. Their participation in the theophany was explicitly representative: We don’t want to get that close to God, Moses! We’re afraid we might die. You go on our behalf. Of course, that’s a poor model for the worship of Christian people who are all baptized into Christ’s priestly ministry.

Furthermore, as our mediator and intercessor, Jesus came among us and faced the people to whom he was speaking. The Jesus of John’s gospel engages in lengthy monologues with God in the presence of his disciples, but does anybody think he turned away from his disciples to do so? No, he lifted his eyes towards heaven. Because that’s where God is. Not in the east.

To the extent that the Mass is a re-presentation of and participation in the Last Supper, it seems quite necessary that the priest should face the people. Continue reading

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Neat Nun Stuff

Did you know a nun helped write BASIC???

Sr. Dr. Mary Kenneth Keller, who took vows as a Sister of Charity in 1940, was the first American woman to earn a PhD in computer science in 1965. Earlier, she was the first woman to work in the Dartmouth Computing Center, where she collaborated on the development of BASIC, the first computer language for non-specialists. After earning her PhD, she went on to found and direct the computer science department at Clark College in Iowa.

What an inspiring story! From now on, I’m going to consider Sr. Mary Kenneth, who passed away in 1985, as the unofficial patron saint of computer programmers.

This year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great Catholic reformer and Doctor of the Church St. Teresa of Avila, whose name in religious life was Sr. Teresa of Jesus. In honor of this anniversary, a virtual choir of 93 Carmelites (the religious order which Teresa reformed) from all over the world have recorded a beautiful setting of one of Teresa’s prayers. Teresa, of course, spoke Spanish; the Spanish text is

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante.
Todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda
La paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.

and in English,

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you.
All things shall pass;
God does not change.
reaches everything.
Whoever has God
lacks for nothing.
God alone is enough.

There’s a second virtual choir of Carmelites and associates singing a setting of Salve Regina, a hymn that Teresa herself surely prayed. This video includes photographs of Carmelite communities from all over the world.

What beautiful tributes. St Teresa, pray for us!

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A Motherless Child is Not an Orphan. (Also, Mary’s Birthday.)

Last week, Pope Francis tweeted:

This strikes me as confused either in anthropology, ecclesiology, or mariology.

First, anthropology: if a person without a mother is an orphan, then apparently fathers are not actually parents? But this would be inconsistent with the traditional church teaching on marriage, and the right of every child to both a mother and a father. (Either that, or it opens the door to lesbian marriages but not gay marriages.)(ok, that was too snarky)

Second, ecclesiology: Or did he mean to imply that a Christian who does not feel that Mary is his mother cannot have God as his father? Well, the traditional patristic teaching is that no one can have God as his father who does not have the church as his mother. (Thus the traditional term utero ecclesiae, meaning “the womb of the church,” for the baptismal font.)

Third, mariology: It’s often said that Mary is a “type” of the church: that is, that she represents or personifies the church, in scripture and tradition. Some theologians suggest an extreme form of this understanding, in which every doctrine about Mary (notably her preservation from original sin) is interpreted to really be about the Church, and not about Mary the human being at all. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Pope Francis meant; but that’s the only way I could imagine reconciling the problem raised by the previous point.

No, I’m pretty sure this is a mis-statement produced by the patriarchal paradigm in which fathers are not actively involved in their children’s lives at all: they are relegated to the role of provider and perhaps occasional disciplinarian. Certainly nothing resembling “full and active participation” in parenting.

(True story: when I challenged my Catholic mother on her statement that children need a father in order to have an understanding of God, she backed down, admitting she didn’t really believe that, but that she didn’t think that fathers were important to children at all, and figured she had to come up with something.)

Only in such a patriarchal paradigm could one say “orphan” to describe a “motherless child.” (Yes, it’s twitter; but there were still 53 characters left. There would have been room to say “motherless child.”)

Now, the question of whether every Christian who does not feel that Mary is his or her mother is a motherless child raises other difficulties on the ecumenical front: but at least it’s more internally consistent to Catholic thought! ;)

And in other news, today, September 8, is the liturgical feast on which both Eastern and Western Christians celebrate the birth (aka nativity) of Mary. Liturgical feasts don’t always signify a particular calendar date, and in this case it does not: we don’t actually know when Mary was born. But, obviously, she was born, and her birth has a unique relationship to our salvation, and so today we honor her birth. Happy birthday, Mary!

To celebrate this feast, I invite you to watch and listen to this video. The audio is a beautiful choral setting of the Ave Maria, by Tomás Luis de Victoria. The video shows a beautiful series of Marian art, beginning with a series of pieces illustrating Mary’s early life according to tradition; followed by pieces illustrating her life during Jesus’ life and death, according to scripture (though sadly omitting her presence at Pentecost); followed by pieces again inspired by tradition, showing her in heaven; and concluding with pieces illustrating various Marian apparitions.

I particularly like the pieces that show Mary as a child, often with her mother, which seemed particularly apt for this feast. We so rarely see those images! Readers who have questions about what particular images signify, especially non-Catholic readers, feel free to ask: give me a time-stamp and I’ll try to answer.

Watch, listen, enjoy; and if you are Christian, whether Catholic or not, say a prayer of thanksgiving for the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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Blogiversary: Baby Is Three!

It’s been quite the year for my little blog!

This year, for the first time, an actual post ranked higher than my home/archives page count: thanks to a few people who shared it on Facebook, my post on A Mimetic Reading of the Ferguson Events has had more than 2200 views, with more than half of them in a single day. The stats are gratifying, but the topic was horrifying, so I can only hope that my post contributed positively to the larger discussion. This was also my first picture-heavy post, using many embedded tweets, so I must acknowledge @SoulRevision, @UnvirtuousAbbey, @AntonioFrench, @YourAnonNews, @BevTGooden, @TheRoot, @theblogpirate, @Karnythia, @Marmel, @RayDowns, @AttorneyCrump, @MxBarclay, @grammar_girl, @Suey_Park, @Walldo, @NickBilton, @Mashable, @RyanJReilly, @D_Towski, and @ZerlinaMaxwell, without whose work I could not have written that post. If you’re on Twitter, go check them out.

In second place was my lengthy interview with Dirk von der Horst, A Music Theologian Engages with Pope Francis’ Favorite Music. Dirk did a fabulous job here, explaining what the theology of music is about, engaging with the portions of Pope Francis’ interview in which he discussed his favorite music, and suggesting some pieces he’d like the pope to listen to. The post is filled with musical performances of the pieces he discussed, so it’s chock full of reading and listening goodness.

I gather that both Models of the Church and Topics in Early Church History are still very frequently assigned as homework, as these were my third and fourth most popular posts. Hi, students! Hope you found what you were looking for (and cited it correctly!). :)

One piece of thesis blogging from this year, A Feminist Critique and Appropriation of Mimetic Theory, was the tenth-ranked post. And the page on Mimetic Ecclesiology, which describes my thesis and links to all my thesis blogging, had to be excluded when counting up the top ten posts this year (along with Home/Archives and About), which is exciting.

Other posts from this year that made it into the top ten are my initial post on Ferguson; Five and a Half Reasons Not to Send your Son to College; and Modesty, Male Gazes, and Virtues. That last one was engaging with a post by David Cruz-Uribe at Vox Nova, to whom I’d like to give a somewhat apologetic shout-out:
his writing very frequently catalyzes mine, but I very rarely actually engage with the substance of his work. It’s more like something he says on the way to making his point sends me off in a fruitful direction. So thanks, David, and I’m sorry I so rarely do your work justice! And readers, go check out his stuff.

Other posts from the top ten were Hermeneutics, Suspicion, and Generosity (generally from people searching on either hermeneutic of suspicion, but sometimes on hermeneutic of generosity), and Bible Translations: Formal or Functional?: both written in year two, and both, I suspect, perused largely by students.

Other than blog statistics, the biggest blog-relevant events of the year were the completion of my thesis, the Robert F. Leavitt Award for Outstanding Achievement in Theological Studies, and my graduation: I am now a Master of Theology. Wheee!! This is the first September in eight years that I haven’t been either taking classes or writing my thesis.

I originally started this blog partly so that I would have a place to write about my schoolwork. Now that I’ve graduated, it will be an even more important place for me to write and chat about theology; but there will no longer be a theme of the semester to focus my blogging. ;) So we’ll see what kind of rhythm and focus emerges, as I find my balance and finish catching up on all the Stuff I neglected while in school.

Thank you, readers and commentariat, for your company this year, and I hope you’ll stay with me in the year to come. Have some cake!!

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