Category Archives: Teaching & Living the Faith

The search for God of all people, believers and non-believers concerns us, Pope said

The Holy Father’s annual address to the Roman Curia -the
Cardinals and bishops resident in Rome and other officials of the Roman Curia who assist him in
his governance of the Universal Church– took place yesterday. In it the Pope points to some notable concerns that he thinks that ought to be the concern of all
of us who believe faith is central our lives. Namely, belief and unbelief,
doubt and certainty and freedom with regard to God and humanity’s search for God. In my humble opinion, this papal address should be an essential point in any diocesan, parish or ecclesial movement’s pastoral plan in 2010 and beyond. In part the Holy Father said,


Even the
people who describe themselves as agnostics or atheists must be very important
to us as believers. When we talk about a new evangelization, these people may
become afraid
. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission, nor
do they want to renounce their freedom of thought or of will
. But the question
about God nonetheless remains present for them as well, even if they cannot
believe in the concrete nature of his attention to us. 

Benedict addresses Roman Curia 2009.jpg

In Paris, I talked
about the search for God as the fundamental motive from which Western
monasticism was born, and with it, Western culture. As the first step in
evangelization
, we must try to keep this search alive; we must take pains that
man not set aside the question of God as an essential question of his
existence
. Take pains that he accept this question and the longing concealed
within it.

Here I am reminded of the words that Jesus quoted from the prophet
Isaiah, that the temple should be a house of prayer for all peoples (cf. Isaiah
56:7; Mark 11:17). He was thinking about what was called the court of the
gentiles, which he cleansed of extraneous business so that it could be the
space available for the gentiles who wanted to pray to the one God there, even
if they could not take part in the mystery, for service of which the interior
of the temple was reserved.

A place of prayer for all peoples: by this was
meant the people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are
dissatisfied with their gods, rites, myths; who desire the Pure and the Great,
even if God remains for them the “unknown God” (cf. Acts 17:23). They
needed to be able to pray to the unknown God, and so be in relation with the
true God, although in the midst of obscurities of various kinds.

I think that
the Church should also open today a sort of “court of the gentiles”
where men can in some manner cling to God, without knowing him and before they
have found the entryway to his mystery, which the interior life of the Church
serves
. To the dialogue with the religions it must above all add today a
dialogue with those for whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is
unknown, and who nonetheless would not like simply to remain without God, but
at least to approach him as the Unknown.

Georgetown Univ Prof supports death with dignity

In 2008 Georgetown University Philosophy professor Tom L. Beauchamp coauthored Principles of Biomedical Ethics, a widely used book in bioethics courses, in which he sanctions and defends “physician-assisted dying.”

 

According to a Winter 2008 Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly article by J. Brian Benestad, Beauchamp and his coauthor pronounce unconvincing “some of the arguments against the legalization of ‘physician-assisted dying.'” Throughout the book the authors are redefining terms “that used to have nothing to do with administering death-producing drugs,” explains Benestad. For them, “Lethal pills are called medication; helping suffering patients to kill themselves is called virtuous (beneficent, just, etc.). Not helping these patients is a failure to respect their dignity.” In Principles, the authors state: “We maintain that physician assistance in hastening death is best viewed as part of a continuum of medical care.” Benestad counters the argument, citing “the medical profession’s devotion to heal and refuse to kill – its ethical center – will be permanently destroyed” by such a policy. (courtesy of the Cardinal Newman Society)

 

So much for professors at so-called Catholic universities either thinking with the Church or at least not publicly contradicting Catholic teaching. Is this beyond the exercise of academic freedom viz. faith and reason? It’s interesting Beauchamp received the Pellegrino Medal in 2004 which honors recipients for contributions made in healthcare ethics following the spirit of the father of the American bioethics movement, Dr. Edmund Pellegrino. Pellegrino is a practicing Catholic and on faculty of Georgetown.

Washington State approves suicide as a “right”: Is it truly death with dignity?

Voters in the State of Washington approved Initiative 1000, the so-called Death with Dignity Act in November. According to the media it’s modeled closely the Oregon law allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients determined to have six months or less to live. Oregon‘s suicide law is now 10 years old and Washington has become the second American state to legalize assisted suicide.

 

As a result of last year’s state ballot Initiative 2000, terminally ill patients in Washington State can now obtain lethal medications from doctors in order to kill themselves. Washington‘s hospitals are now forming a suicide plan to facilitate this newly found “right.”

 

Suicide is a tragedy. People who elect to do this act are not thinking in a right manner and are looking for a way out of their pain, sometimes they say they want to ease the pain of loved ones who care for them. Whatever the reason for acting this way is, their desperation leads to a permanent self-inflicted act leading to their intended death. Suicide prematurely and violently leaves loved ones to pick up the pieces post-mortem. Many are physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted from their health issues which is understandable: chronic illness can be painful but suicide is an inadequate way to deal with the harsh reality of life.

 

The Church’s teaching is: “Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God” (Catechism, 2281).

 

But quoting the Catechism is insufficient in dealing with the issue at hand. Let’s not be confused: we need to know and follow what the Church teaches. Her wisdom is immensely reliable and it ought to form our conscience. Here I want to raise the matter of dealing with the issue pastorally, lovingly with courage and strength. No statement of teaching is going to ease the pain of illness or feelings of desperation. Only the love and mercy of the one who made us can do that. The Lord loves and cherishes each one of us, and He gives the grace to sustain us until the moment of natural death. The Lord knows our pain and our human struggle because He is a man. What the Washington and Oregon state laws do is replace the love the Lord and family offer us with a cold mechanism releasing us from our human need. These laws replace the reality of humanity with a cold, shallow perfunctory “right” that gives a person the possibility of hurting themselves and family and friends deeply not to mention it wounds their relationship with the Lord (whether they know it or not).

 

Responding to the poignant human need of those who face the hard fact of someone taking their own life, the Catholic Information Service commissioned a booklet dealing with this subject. It was our effort to help those who are looking for truth and love and the assistance of the Church. You can order a copy of Coping with a Suicide: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice by emailing or calling the office (cis@kofc.org or 203.752.4267and tell them you saw the ad here) The feelings of sadness which result from the violence of suicide are never removed from the hearts and minds of the survivors even if they try to believe that Auntie is in a better place (a saccharine nosegay that whitewashes the pain temporarily). While the deceased is in the hands of God and clearly live in His mercy, we can never be presumptuous to believe that it is “alright” because “God will deal with it”: the reality life is far more important than me and my own needs. The act of suicide is an act of desperation; the person who does (or thinks of committing the act) acts from feelings of exhaustion, fear, and a false sense of security. Our human response needs to be love. Our response as Christians needs to be one of faithfulness to the Lord who made us and it is He who will call us home, and it is our responsibility to be agents of reconciliation showing mercy and forgiveness.

Theological Education in 21st Century: an Orthodox bishop’s perspective

I am presenting excerpts of a lecture delivered by Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev at the Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, October 21, 2008. This work was made known to me by a friend, Paulist Father Ron Roberson heads the Orthodox desk for the US Bishops ecumenical office in Washington, DC. The emphasis I added to the lecture are the ideas that are striking deserve greater attention by us. The keys are “personal encounter,”  and the lex orandi tradition and being conscious of the great divorce of faith and reason. Thanks for your patience.

Evagrius.gifAccording to a classical definition by Evagrius, ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian’. In traditional Orthodox understanding, theology is not a science, or a scholarship, or an academic exercise. To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship.

Theology ought to be inspired by God: it ought not to be the word of a human person, but the word of the Spirit pronounced by human lips. A true Christian theologian is one who is able to be silent until the Holy Spirit touches the strings of his soul. And it is only when the human word falls silent and the word of the Spirit emerges from his soul, that true theology is born. From this moment ‘a lover of words’ is transformed into ‘a lover of wisdom’, a rhetorician into a theologian.

According to St Gregory Nazianzen, not everyone can be a theologian, but only the one who purifies himself for God. Not all can participate in theological discussions, but only those who are able to do it properly. Finally, not every theological concern can be discussed openly.

Discussion of theology is not for everyone, I tell you, not for everyone – it is not such inexpensive and effortless pursuit… It must be reserved for certain occasions, for certain audiences, and certain limits must be observed. It is not for all men, but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul.


St Gregory Nazianzen.jpgTheology
, according to St Gregory, is nothing other than the ascent to God. Gregory uses the traditional image of Moses on Mount Sinai to emphasize that the true theologian is only someone who is able to enter the cloud and encounter God face to face. In this multi-dimensional, allegorical picture Moses symbolizes the person whose theology emerges from the experience of an encounter with God. Aaron represents someone whose theology is based on what he heard from others; Nadab and Abihu typify those who claim to be theologians because of their high position in the church hierarchy. But neither acquaintance with the experience of others nor an ecclesiastical rank gives one the right to declare oneself a theologian. Those Christians who purify themselves according to God’s commandments may take part in a theological discussion; the non-purified ought not.

Thus, purification of soul is a necessary precondition for practicing theology. Its central point is summed up in the following dictum: ‘Is speaking about God a great thing? But greater still is to purify oneself for God’. Here, purification (katharsis) is not opposed to theology: rather, theology is that ascent to the peak of Mount Sinai which is impossible without purification. What is required for practicing theology is not so much intellectual effort, neither external erudition, nor wide reading, but first of all humility and modesty. According to Gregory, humility is not to be found in someone’s external appearance, which may often be deceitful, and perhaps not even in how someone is related to other people, but in his attitude to God. The humble, in Gregory’s judgment, is not he who speaks but little about himself, or who speaks in the presence of a few but rarely; not he who ‘speaks about God with moderation, who knows what to say and what to pass over in silence’.

In other words, everyone can be a good Christian, but not everyone is able to investigate the depths of doctrine, where many things should be covered by an apophatic silence. Everyone can contemplate on matters of theology, but not everyone can be initiated into its mysteries.

All Christians must purify themselves for God: the more a person is purified, the more discernible are the words of the Spirit in his mouth. True theology is born out of a silent and humble standing before God rather than out of speculations on theological matters. We can see that this understanding is radically different from what we normally mean by ‘theology’. One of the tragic consequences of the divorce between Christian theory and praxis, between faith and knowledge, is that nowadays knowledge about theological subjects does not necessarily presuppose faith. You can be a theologian and not belong to any church community; in principle, you do not need to believe in God to receive a theological degree. Theology is reduced to one of the subjects of human knowledge alongside with chemistry, mathematics or biology.

Another divorce which needs to be mentioned is that between theology and liturgy.
schola.jpgFor an Orthodox theologian, liturgical texts are not simply the works of outstanding theologians and poets, but also the fruits of the prayerful experience of those who have attained sanctity and theosis. The theological authority of liturgical texts is, in my opinion, higher than that of the works of the Fathers of the Church, for not everything in the works of the latter is of equal theological value and not everything has been accepted by the fullness of the Church. Liturgical texts, on the contrary, have been accepted by the whole Church as a ‘rule of faith’ (kanon pisteos), for they have been read and sung everywhere in Orthodox churches over many centuries.

Throughout this time, any erroneous ideas foreign to Orthodoxy that might have crept in either through misunderstanding or oversight were eliminated by church Tradition itself, leaving only pure and authoritative doctrine clothed by the poetic forms of the Church’s hymns.

Coptic dec.jpgSeveral years ago I came across a short article in a journal of the Coptic Church where it stated that this Church had decided to remove prayers for those detained in hell from its service books, since these prayers ‘contradict Orthodox teaching.’ Puzzled by this article, I decided to ask a representative of the Coptic Church about the reasons for this move. When such opportunity occurred, I raised this question before one Coptic metropolitan, who replied that the decision was made by his Synod because, according to their official doctrine, no prayers can help those in hell. I told the metropolitan that in the liturgical practice of the Russian Orthodox Church and other local Orthodox Churches there are prayers for those detained in hell, and that we believe in their saving power. This surprised the metropolitan, and he promised to study this question in more detail.

During this conversation with the metropolitan I expressed my thoughts on how one could go very far and even lose important doctrinal teachings in the pursuit of correcting liturgical texts. Orthodox liturgical texts are important because of their ability to give exact criteria of theological truth, and one must always confirm theology using liturgical texts as a guideline, and not the other way round. The lex credendi grows out of the lex orandi, and dogmas are considered divinely revealed because they are born in the life of prayer and revealed to the Church through its divine services. Thus, if there are divergences in the understanding of a dogma between a certain theological authority and liturgical texts, I would be inclined to give preference to the latter. And if a textbook of dogmatic theology contains views different from those found in liturgical texts, it is the textbook, not the liturgical texts, that need correction. Even more inadmissible, from my point of view, is the correction of liturgical texts in line with contemporary norms. Relatively recently the Roman Catholic Church decided to remove the so-called ‘antisemitic’ texts from the service of Holy Friday. Several members of the Orthodox Church have begun to propagate the idea of revising Orthodox services in order to bring them closer to contemporary standards of political correctness. For example, the late Archpriest Serge Hackel from England, an active participant in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, proposed the removal of all texts from the Holy Week services that speak of the guilt of the Jews in the death of Christ (cf. his article “How Western Theology after Auschwitz Corresponds to the Consciousness and Services of the Russian Orthodox Church,” in Theology after Auschwitz and its Relation to Theology after the Gulag: Consequences and Conclusions, Saint Petersburg, 1999; in Russian). He also maintains that only a ‘superficial and selective’ reading of the New Testament brings the reader to the conclusion that the Jews crucified Christ.

In reality, he argues, it was Pontius Pilate and the Roman administration who are chiefly responsible for Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion. This is just one of innumerable examples of how a distortion of the lex credendi inevitably leads to ‘corrections’ in the lex orandi, and vice versa. This is not only a question of revising liturgical tradition, but also a re-examination of Christian history and doctrine. The main theme of all four Gospels is the conflict between Christ and the Jews, who in the end demanded the death penalty for Jesus. There was no conflict between Christ and the Roman administration, the latter being involved only because the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death penalty. It seems that all of this is so obvious that it does not need any explanation. This is exactly how the ancient Church understood the Gospel story, and this is the understanding that is reflected in liturgical texts. However, contemporary rules of ‘political correctness’ demand another interpretation in order to bring not only the Church’s services, but also the Christian faith itself in line with modern trends.

Theotokos.jpgThe Orthodox Tradition possesses a sufficient number of ‘defense mechanisms’ that prevent foreign elements from penetrating into its liturgical practice. I have in mind those mechanisms that were set in motion when erroneous or heretical opinions were introduced into the liturgical texts under the pretext of revision. One may recall how Nestorianism began with the suggestion to replace the widely-used term Theotokos (Mother of God) with Christotokos (Mother of Christ), the latter was seen as more appropriate by Nestorius. When this suggestion was made, one of the defense mechanisms was activated: the Orthodox people were indignant and protested. Later, another mechanism was put into operation when theologians met to discuss the problem. Finally, an Ecumenical Council was convened. Thus, it turned out that a dangerous Christological heresy, lurking under the guise of a seemingly harmless liturgical introduction, was later condemned by a Council.

To rediscover the link between theology, liturgy and praxis, between lex orandi, lex credendi and lex Vivendi would be one of the urgent tasks of theological education in the 21st century. The whole notion of a ‘theology’ as exclusively bookish knowledge must be put into question. The whole idea of a ‘theological faculty’ as one of many other faculties of a secular university needs to be re-examined. The notions of ‘nonconfessional’, ‘unbiased’, ‘objective’ or ‘inclusive’ theology as opposed to ‘confessional’ or ‘exclusive’ must be reconsidered.

 


Hilarion.jpgHilarion Alfeyev was born on July
24, 1966 in Moscow. He studied violin, piano and composition. He graduated in 1991 with a Master of Theology from the Moscow Theological Academy. In 1995, Alfeyev earned a doctorate from the University of Oxford (UK) under the supervision of Bishop Kallistos Ware writing defending a thesis titled “St Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition.”

He entered the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he was tonsured as a monk, ordained a deacon and a ordained priest in 1987. His bishop assigned him to serve as parish priest in Lithuania, including two years as dean of Annunciation Cathedral in Kaunas.

From 1995 to 2001 Hilarion Alfeyev served as Secretary for Inter-Christian Affairs of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. He also taught part time at Smolensk and Kaluga Theological Seminaries (Russia), at St Vladimir’s and St Herman’s Theological Seminaries (USA) and at Cambridge University (UK).

On 27 December 2001, Alfeyev was elected a bishop and consecrated by His Holiness Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia in January 2002. The Patriarch assigned him to serve as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Sourozh in Great Britain until the Holy Synod decided, only a few months later, that he was to be nominated as Head of the Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions in Brussels. Since May 2003 he has served as Bishop of Vienna and Austria, administrator of the Diocese of Budapest and Hungary, in addition to his position in Brussels, which he continues to hold.

Bishop Hilarion has authored numerous musical compositions including “St Matthew Passion,” grand oratorio for soloists, choir and orchestra, with performances at the Great Hall of Moscow Concervatory, the Auditorium Conciliazione, Rome and at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne. Equally well received was his 2008 “Christmas Oratorio,” performed in Washington, Boston and New York and later in Moscow.

Preaching to Young Adults

Clearing Away the Barriers: Preaching to Young Adults Today” is an insight and very helpful address by Dominican Father Augustine DiNoia.

 


J Augustine DiNoia.jpgThe Very Reverend J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. is one of America’s most active and respected theological minds. In April 2002, the Pope John Paul II appointed Father DiNoia to work at the Vatican as undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. The congregation oversees and promotes the doctrine on the faith and morals in the Catholic world. Until 2005, Father DiNoia served under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

 

Raised in New York, DiNoia is a member of the  Province of St. Joseph of the Dominican friars. He earned a doctorate from Yale University in 1980. The Order of Friars Preachers granted him the master of sacred theology (S.T.M.) in 1998.

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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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