Category Archives: Faith & Reason

700th anniversary of the Divine Comedy, Dante’s masterpiece

commedia medalTruly one of the world’s great texts is the Divine Comedy by Dante. Next year and in subsequent years, we’ll hear about the honoring of Dante by bestowing annual award for artistic genius dealing with

The Best Digitally-Produced Rendition of Any Aspect of Dante’s Divine Comedy

The first recipient of the Commedia Medal will be announced on 1 December 2014 and it will be award annually until 2021.

The image of the award is posted here. It’s the creation of Dom Gregory Havill, a Benedictine monk of Portsmouth Abbey and a teacher in the Portsmouth Abbey School.

Dante published the Inferno in 1314, the Purgatorio in 1315 and the Paradiso in 1321. Dante died in 1321. What a terrific way to acknowledge cultural icon by having a Benedictine monk create an artistic piece for an award of excellence and beauty! Benedictines have always had their fingers (and their hearts and minds) in matters of faith, reason,and art to communicate the Divine Mystery.

Interested in the competition, visit the website here. Dr Sebastian Mahfood is organizing the competition.

Late summer reading

Just in case you’re looking for something to read this summer (what’s left of it) …

Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin, Pope Francis: His Life in His Own Words

Father Robert Barron The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path

Pope Benedict XVI, What It Means to Be A Christian

Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., Praying with Saint Mark’s Gospel: Daily Reflections on the Gospel of St. Mark

Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution (Ignatius Press, 2013).

Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, The ‘One Thing’ Is Three

Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Conversions in the Christian Life

Father John Hugo, Weapons of the Spirit (Dorothy Day retreat master)

Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire

Barnabas Senecal, OSB, Beauty in Faces & Places (NP, 2012).

Girgis Shrif, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books 2012).

Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth

We don’t keep the faith for ourselves (cf Lumen Fidei, ch 3): faith is meant to be contagious, it is meant to be lived full time, it is meant for others. As the metaphor of light indicates, light allows us to see, to encounter, to meet someone anew. That someone is Jesus Christ, and those who faithfully follow Christ. Faith is passed on in a personal way.

A new initiative I heard about today is “Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth” is a great light, a wonderful meeting of others. Watch the video presentation.

Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth is present in 60 dioceses as it connects parishes, schools, and families to develop a chain of solid links of faith. Catholic faith is not a private relationship of the “I” and “Thou” but a communio, a “We”, a reflection of an openness that exists among the members of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are never alone; faith is an invitation to others first given to each person that love, mercy, hope and salvation is possible; that happiness is possible today in this world.

I would hope that Benedictine monasteries can be centers for this good work of Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth!!!  I am thinking this program would greatly assist the work of the new evangelization and faith formation programs.

The origins of this new work is based on the work of a University of Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith. In addition to his teaching and research Smith also directs UNDs Center For the Study of Religion and Society.

Though I am an alum of UND, I don’t know Smith personally, but I am familiar with his works, especially his book Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (Oxford University Press, 2011). Professor Smith earned his doctorate at Harvard.

More info on Strong Catholic Families: Strong Catholic Youth is found at this link.

Gay men and the priesthood: change in content, or difference in style?

This morning a friend asked me about Pope Francis’ statement on the plane ride to Rome coming from Brazil about gay men and the priesthood: did the pope change the Church’s teaching? No, was my reply. The teaching is not changed as the Pope echoed what the Catechism teaches. What the Pope did, I told Harry, was to emphasize a pastoral approach of mercy and helping each person attain a mature Christian faith, and that the Church has always held this approach but frequently gets forgotten due the subject. The approach of Pope Francis is to speak about the merciful face of Jesus Christ; but I have to say, Benedict also said as much but he was often roundly dismissed because of some people’s ideology. Hence, there is a line of continuity in the teaching and style of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t see the hard differences between the two.

Aaron Taylor wrote the following piece, “Francis and Benedict on gay priests,” for On the Square published online at First Things (7 August 2013). Taylor’s piece is a short but good piece covering the basic matters at hand; gives perspective that can’t be dismissed. I recommend the article.

Given the ruckus over Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality, one could make the mistake of thinking he had announced a revolutionary change, not restated basic Christian doctrine:

If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person? . . . These persons must never be marginalized, and “they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not that one has this tendency. No, we must be brothers.

While the substance is old as the Gospel, the form is not what we are used to. Secular journalists are likely to see an irreconcilable contradiction between the Pope who made these comments and the Cardinal who warned that same-sex marriage is a “total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts,” a “move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Yet Christians ought to see no contradiction between a robust commitment to defending the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, and a robust commitment to opposing sexual sin. In both instances, Francis was simply doing what he does best: stating basic truths in blunt, common-sense words that everyone can understand.

Another alleged contradiction at which many reports are hinting lies in the fact that the Pope’s remarks do nothing to alter the current ban on ordaining homosexual men. Some may ask, if Francis is willing to admit that gays can seek God and be persons of good will, why not allow them to be priests?

Current Vatican policy on the ordination of homosexuals is a disciplinary matter, not a doctrinal one. In theory it could change (though I think it unlikely). But even if it did, there would be no reason to assume that more than a small minority of homosexuals have a genuine vocation. The idea often heard that the priesthood is an “ideal” state of life for homosexual men since they are already compelled to be celibate is woefully misguided.

Rather than focusing on the narrow question of gays and the priesthood, what we need most urgently at the present time are spiritual approaches that help gay Christians to integrate their sexual orientation with their faith in a manner that steers a safe course between the Scylla of indulging in sexual vice and the Charybdis of destroying their sanity through denial about their sexuality.

One such approach, suggested by Cardinal Ratzinger in his Pastoral Letter on the Care of Homosexual Persons, is a spirituality of vicarious redemptive suffering for gay people:

What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption.

The fact that God gives homosexuals a heavy cross means that they have an opportunity to unite their sufferings to those of Christ and become instruments of salvation on behalf of others. It is classic Pauline spirituality: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Ratzinger’s approach will not be appealing to all gay people, nor need it be. The Church has always accommodated a range of spiritualities within the boundaries of orthodoxy, and gay Christians’ own experience of their sexuality is diverse. For some, it is a great struggle bound up with a history of abuse and compulsive sexual behavior. For others, it is a fact of life that does not cause particular suffering.

Elizabeth Scalia suggests that “homosexuals are in fact ‘special and exceptional others,’ . . . created and called to play a specific role in our shared humanity.” And Joshua Gonnerman tells us that, as a celibate gay Christian, there are nevertheless many things in his experience of being gay that he finds valuable. These new approaches complement rather than contradict the spiritual approach outlined by Ratzinger, and are also grounded in the Pauline witness. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle makes clear that every Christian is given gifts for the building up of the Church. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that gay Christians are an exception to what Paul says.

Aside from the litmus test of orthodoxy, the mark of a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality should lie in the fact that it empowers gay Christians with a sense of moral agency. Gays are not to be “marginalized,” as the Pope notes, but neither are they to be patronized by well-meaning Christian organizations that portray them as helpless sex addicts who are simply passive recipients of the Church’s pastoral care. With the recognition that one has received gifts from God for active participation in the life of the Church, there comes a grave responsibility to follow the moral law. Christ’s calling restores to people the grace necessary to live in right relationship with God, but this means that gay Christians cannot portray themselves as victims of external forces if they fail to live up to their Christian calling.

Above all, a healthy spiritual approach to homosexuality ought to make clear that gay Christians have a legitimate place within the Body of Christ without having to pretend that they don’t exist by being pressured either into marriage or into becoming closeted priests. Though we should not overstate the innovation in Francis’ off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope has made a significant contribution to the development of a healthy spirituality for gay Christians by speaking of the need to integrate them within society (the Church is a society, too, after all), and by his recognition that many gay Christians already exist within the Church who are of “good will” and wish to “seek the Lord.”

Aaron Taylor, a Ph.D. student in ethics at Boston College, holds degrees from the University of Oxford and from Heythrop College, University of London.

Christian freedom means talking about God, listening to God –to be truly free

Jesus is oriented toward the Father. His face is set on God. As Saint Luke says, “Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Today’s Angelus text given by Pope Francis is a marvelous for study and prayer. “If a Christian does not know how to talk with God, does not know how to listen to God, in his own conscience, then he is not free – he is not free.”

AND

“So we also must learn to listen more to our conscience. Be careful, however: this does not mean we ought to follow our ego, do whatever interests us, whatever suits us, whatever pleases us. That is not conscience. Conscience is the interior space in which we can listen to and hear the truth, the good, the voice of God. It is the inner place of our relationship with Him, who speaks to our heart and helps us to discern, to understand the path we ought to take, and once the decision is made, to move forward, to remain faithful.”

Pope Francis presents Pope Benedict XVI as an example of this discernment. I recommend that you consider reading the Pope’s Angelus text here.


About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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