Category Archives: Theology

The Christian witness today in light of the family

The Holy See’s office for the Synod of Bishops release its working document for our –particularly the synodal participants– reflection, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. One of the very interesting paragraphs that deserves personal attention is paragraph 15 which is noted below. But before you get there, it would be could for all of us to give some attention to the first paragraph of the Preface of the same document where it says,

The proclamation of the Gospel of the Family is an integral part of the mission of the Church, since the revelation of God sheds light on the relationship between a man and a woman, their love for each other and the fruitfulness of their relationship. In these times, a widespread cultural, social and spiritual crisis is posing a challenge in the Church’s work of evangelizing the family, the vital nucleus of society and the ecclesial community. This proclamation of the Gospel of the Family takes place in continuity with the synodal assembly on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith and the Year of Faith, announced by Pope Benedict XVI.

I find this to be a key section that deserves lots of time:

Some episcopal conferences argue that the reason for much resistance to the Church’s teaching on moral issues related to the family is a want of an authentic Christian experience, namely, an encounter with Christ on a personal and communal level, for which no doctrinal presentation, no matter how accurate, can substitute. In this regard, some responses point to the insufficiency of pastoral activity which is concerned only with dispensing the sacraments without a truly engaging Christian experience. Moreover, a vast majority of responses highlight the growing conflict between the values on marriage and the family as proposed by the Church and the globally diversified social and cultural situations. The responses are also in agreement on the underlying reasons for the difficulty in accepting Church teaching, namely, the pervasive and invasive new technologies; the influence of the mass media; the hedonistic culture; relativism; materialism; individualism; the growing secularism; the prevalence of ideas that lead to an excessive, selfish liberalization of morals; the fragility of interpersonal relationships; a culture which rejects making permanent choices, because it is conditioned by uncertainty and transiency, a veritable “liquid society” and one with a “throw away” mentality and one seeking “immediate gratification”; and, finally, values reinforced by the so-called “culture of waste” and a “culture of the moment,” as frequently noted by Pope Francis. (15)

The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, 2014

How does one identify what it means to be an “authentic Christian witness”? What does the author hope for us to identify as ways to approach and follow the teaching of the Church? What does the author mean by “communal”? What are Catholics doing already to live the communal? How do we address the challenges noted in the paragraph?

Hans Urs von Balthasar remembered

Von BalthasarToday is the anniversary of death of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the renowned theologian of our era. Remembering Balthasar I also recall my dear friend, Jesuit Father Edward T. Oakes, who did much to make Balthasar’s theological perspective known and used.

Father Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988), a Swiss Catholic theologian, is remembered as one of the 20th century’s great theologians yet was not never a university professor nor invited as a theological expert at the Second Vatican Council. Balthasar’s theological and philosophical output was massive which has influenced the course of theology today. His key idea was the idea that God’s relation to creation is the convergence of of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  It was Oakes who would remind me that Balthasar was the “kneeling theologian,” that is, appreciating the contemplative and liturgical tradition and indicating the way I ought to reflect on the Divine Majesty versus the academic or “sitting” theological approach (most often credited to people like Karl Rahner).

In 1929, he entered the Society of Jesus with a doctorate in literature. During theological studies for priesthood he found himself discouraged by the neo-scholastic theology offered having been attracted to the Church Fathers. He and the Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth had mutual interest in theological thinking; Balthasar later wrote a book on Barth.

From experience we know that we all have our complements. Balthasar’s was doctor and mystic, Adrienne von Speyr, whom he had received into full communion with the Church. Their complementarity was friendship in the Lord looking for greater communion in the Divine, Trinitarian Life. Balthasar and Speyr founded a Secular Institute, the Community of St John –which you can read about in the book, Our Task, that tries to bridge religious and lay vocations. At this point he was dismissed from the Society of Jesus.

In 1988, John Paul II announced his intention to name Balthasar to the College of Cardinals. He had been offered the red hat before, but declined its acceptance. He died two days before the consistory on June 26, 1988.

“In the trinitarian dogma God is one, good, true, and beautiful because he is essentially Love, and Love supposes the one, the other, and their unity.”

Prayers for Hans Urs von Balthasar: priest, theologian, cardinal-designate.

Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization

Holy Family ABronzinoIn advance of the October 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and family, the “instrumentum laboris,” —the working document of 75 pages— offers a broad picture of the ways the Catholic Church witnesses to the Gospel and teaches and lives the moral life and the significant work that needs to be done to adequately address contemporary challenges. The office for synods published “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.

The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is the third of this category. One might say this is the first synod with such wide interest, international participation in the initial stages and hope for good work going forward.

The Pastoral Challenges of the Family” is based on the feedback and analysis requested from the national various Conferences of Bishops around the world late in 2013. So, besides the questionnaire, the document also incorporates the concerns of those who sent their reflections directly to the Pontifical Council for the family with the appropriate theological reflection. This is the first Synod for Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri.

The Holy Father has placed the work of the Synod under the patronage of the Holy Family. The Synodal prayer concludes the instrumentum labors.

Theological commission defines role of sensus fidei in Church

A high powered theological commission, the International Theological Commission (ITC) gave a detailed definition to what Catholics mean when they say they have, or employ, a sensus fidei in Church life. Over the last decades various meanings have surfaced, and not all of them are correct. The ITC has stated in another place, “Catholic theology speaks the truth in love, so that the faithful may mature in faith, and not be ‘tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine.’” 

The focus of Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church historical method identifies (discerns) the authentic contributions to the sensus fidei, by two criteria: conformity to the apostolic tradition and active participation.

Concluding the 85th session of the The International Theological Commission, released a new document . “Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church” deals with the role of sensus fidei (the sense of the faithful) in the Church. There was one American on the sub commission that produced the “Sensus Fidei, Sister Sara Butler, M.S.B.T. (a former professor of mine).

The Catholic understanding of the sensus fidei “does not consist solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful. Following Christ, the Church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as the majority opinion. The Church values sociological and statistical research when it proves helpful in understanding the historical context in which pastoral action has to be developed and when it leads to a better understanding of the truth. Such research alone, however,” he insists, “is not to be considered in itself an expression of the sense of faith.” That was Pope John Paul II said. His successor the emeritus Pope Benedict XVI taught, “It is particularly important today to clarify the criteria used to distinguish the authentic sensus fidelium from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, this is because the sensus fidei cannot grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her Magisterium.”

As a technical term, sensus fidei describes the our ability as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, to discern how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is lived. The document’s works with with the survey sent to national episcopal conferences on the Synod of the Family.

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Elizabeth of the TrinityOne of the local Dominican friars put me on to the life and insight of the French Carmelite nun, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (whose feast is November 8). Thinking of this Blessed woman on Trinity Sunday draws me to think more deeply of what Love is in my own life and how it exists.

Blessed Elizabeth (1880-1906) had a personal mission of making the Holy Trinity better known and widely loved by every Christian. Hers is a manner of living the baptismal consecration we have received by the power of the Holy Spirit as a gift of living in the Father, Son and Spirit who make Their home within us (cf. Jn 14:23). Some of the many things she said:

The Trinity – this is our dwelling, our ‘home’, the Father’s house that we must never leave.

I think that in heaven my mission will be  to draw souls, by helping them go out of themselves to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement,  and to keep them in this great silence  within, that will allow God to communicate Himself to them and transform them into Himself.

To her mother she said: Oh, may the Master reveal to you His divine presence, it is so pleasant and sweet, it gives so much strength to the soul; to believe that God loves us to the point of living in us, to become the Companion of our exile, our Confidant, our Friend at every moment.

A Christmas poem of 1901 states: He comes to reveal the mystery, To give all of the Father’s secrets, To lead from glory to glory, Even unto the bosom of the Trinity.”

Why is Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity important for today? Why is this very young Carmelite nun relevant to my experience of faith? True to the meaning of her name, Elizabeth (means ‘house of God’), she communicated to the world that “God wants to make is His home in us.” She is widely admired and her writings are read the important and common persons because people seen in them a certain authenticity, a call to go deeper into the mystery of Love, that is, God Himself. Many call Blessed Elizabeth a “prophet for our time” saying that she heard God’s call, and speaks the truth to us today. In his beatification homily Pope Saint John Paul said that Elizabeth is “a brilliant witness to the joy of being ‘rooted and grounded in love'” (Eph 3:17). Can we say the same for ourselves?

Years later in the mid-20th century the Servant of God Father Luigi Giussani would echo the teaching of Blessed Elizabeth by reminding his followers that God is not an abstraction, an idea, a figure of ages past.  But that God is a Presence here-and-now, contemporaneous with human experience. Blessed Elizabeth and Father Giussani would indicate that a true Christian cannot claim with any degree of seriousness that we are surrounded by God as by air, light or energy, BUT that God is present within us; that God is at home in the human heart, that He exists in our concrete experience; that the newness of Christianity is that God wants to be in relationship with each person, and that God really cares and loves us. God incarnate –Jesus Christ– is not absent but truly present in every facet of human life. We know this by way of His eucharistic Presence.

Blessed Elizabeth’s writings reveal an awareness of the indwelling presence of God. She wished to “live through love in his presence” and to be in communion with Him for ever.

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]
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