Category Archives: Theology

A catechist is a Christian who keeps the memory of God alive, Pope Francis tells

Mass offered today by Pope Francis marked an International Day for Catechists organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization for the Year of Faith. Patriarch John X of the Syrian Greek Orthodox Church was present.

It is a day to remember what teaching the faith to others means. Indeed, we can focus on the gifts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Key to any method of teaching is knowing what the role of the teacher has. In the Church, we say that Catechists are not the focus of our attention in passing on the Tradition of the faith, Christ the teacher is. We who teach the faith to others, especially the young, don’t replace the parents as the first teachers of the faith, nor do we, when it comes to adults, obscure the fact that each person makes the decision to freely follow Jesus doing the hard work to know what Jesus said and did.

As Pope Francis said, catechists reflect the memory of God in concrete ways; a line of thinking that Pope Benedict also taught us. Attend to what Francis says. Keeping the memory of God is an intriguing idea: the gift of being able to give clear witness to the Creator, indeed the work of the Holy Trinity. In Ignatian terms, we know God to labor for us but do we recognize this fact? This is one of the reasons we are to be familiar with narrative of divine revelation. There are many patron saints for catechists but we ought to consider important to go to are Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint John Bosco and Saint John Baptist de la Salle, among others. Go to the saints help you to remember God.

Pope Francis’ homily follows:

1. “Woe to the complacent in Zion, to those who feel secure … lying upon beds of ivory!” (Am 6:1,4). They eat, they drink, they sing, they play and they care nothing about other people’s troubles.

These are harsh words which the prophet Amos speaks, yet they warn us about a danger that all of us face. What is it that this messenger of God denounces; what does he want his contemporaries, and ourselves, to realize? The danger of complacency, comfort, worldliness in our lifestyles and in our hearts, of making our well-being the most important thing in our lives. This was the case of the rich man in the Gospel, who dressed in fine garments and daily indulged in sumptuous banquets; this was what was important for him. And the poor man at his doorstep who had nothing to relieve his hunger? That was none of his business, it didn’t concern him. Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the centre of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings. The rich man in the Gospel has no name, he is simply “a rich man”. Material things, his possessions, are his face; he has nothing else.

Let’s try to think: How does something like this happen? How do some people, perhaps ourselves included, end up becoming self-absorbed and finding security in material things which ultimately rob us of our face, our human face? This is what happens when we no longer remember God. If we don’t think about God, everything ends up being about “me” and my own comfort. Life, the world, other people, all of these become unreal, they no longer matter, everything boils down to one thing: having. When we no longer remember God, we too become unreal, we too become empty; like the rich man in the Gospel, we no longer have a face! Those who run after nothing become nothing – as another great prophet Jeremiah, observed (cf. Jer 2:5). We are made in God’s image and likeness, not that of material objects, not that of idols!

2. So, as I look out at you, I think: Who are catechists? They are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others. This is something beautiful: to remember God, like the Virgin Mary, who sees God’s wondrous works in her life but doesn’t think about honor, prestige or wealth; she doesn’t become self-absorbed. Instead, after receiving the message of the angel and conceiving the Son of God, what does she do? She sets out, she goes to assist her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. And the first thing she does upon meeting Elizabeth is to recall God’s work, God’s fidelity, in her own life, in the history of her people, in our history: “My soul magnifies the Lord … For he has looked on the lowliness of his servant … His mercy is from generation to generation” (Lk 1:46, 48, 50).

This canticle of Mary also contains the remembrance of her personal history, God’s history with her, her own experience of faith. And this is true too for each one of us and for every Christian: faith contains our own memory of God’s history with us, the memory of our encountering God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us. Faith is remembrance of his word which warms our heart, and of his saving work which gives life, purifies us, cares for and nourishes us. A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to be important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and his fidelity.

Saint Paul recommends one thing in particular to his disciple and co-worker Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, whom I proclaim and for whom I suffer (cf. 2 Tim 2:8-9). The Apostle can say this because he too remembered Christ, who called him when he was persecuting Christians, who touched him and transformed him by his grace.

The catechist, then, is a Christian who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life and who is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others. This is not easy! It engages our entire existence! What is the Catechism itself, if not the memory of God, the memory of his works in history and his drawing near to us in Christ present in his word, in the sacraments, in his Church, in his love? Dear catechists, I ask you: Are we in fact the memory of God? Are we really like sentinels who awaken in others the memory of God which warms the heart?

3. “Woe to the complacent in Zion!”. What must we do in order not to be “complacent” – people who find their security in themselves and in material things – but men and woman of the memory of God? In the second reading, Saint Paul, once more writing to Timothy, gives some indications which can also be guideposts for us in our work as catechists: pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness (cf. 1 Tim 6:11).

Catechists are men and women of the memory of God if they have a constant, living relationship with him and with their neighbor; if they are men and women of faith who truly trust in God and put their security in him; if they are men and women of charity, love, who see others as brothers and sisters; if they are men and women of “hypomoné”, endurance and perseverance, able to face difficulties, trials and failures with serenity and hope in the Lord; if they are gentle, capable of understanding and mercy.

Let us ask the Lord that we may all be men and women who keep the memory of God alive in ourselves, and are able to awaken it in the hearts of others. Amen.

Oakes on nature and grace

Just finished reading and editing a terrific and challenging book on nature and grace yet to be published by my friend Jesuit Father Ed Oakes. It is  tentatively titled, The Candle Within: A Theology of Grace as Seen Through Six Controversies (expected from CUA Press). Oakes is writing this text as a seminary and university text. The Candle Within is likely to be his last significant work, save an essay, since he is battling pancreatic and liver cancer.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for Edward.

Servant of God Father Augustus Tolten, pray for Edward.

Labor Day 2013

truck-thumb-250x162-13063The Christian finds in human work a small part of the cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted the cross for us. In work, thanks to the light that penetrates us from the resurrection of Christ, we always find a glimmer of new life, of the new good, as if it were an announcement of “the new heavens and the new earth” in which man and the world participate precisely through the toil that goes with work.

Blessed John Paul II
Laborem exercens, 27

Letter of Father Pedro Arrupe on Humanae vitae

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Servant of God Father Pedro Arrupe’s letter to the Society of Jesus on the Servant of God Pope Paul VI’s teaching, Humanae vitae. This is the first time I’ve seen this letter and it portrays the Jesuit’s in a different light, one that is unexpected and consistent with what we know to be the mind of Saint Ignatius and the Church. Without a doubt, Father Arrupe wrote a beautiful letter, too bad it was buried for so long.

Epistula A.R.P.N. Generalis ad omnem Societatem occasione Litterarum Encyclicarum “Humanae vitae.” Acta Romana Societatis Iesu.  Vol. XV, Fasc. II, anno 1968

Dear Fathers and Brothers,  Pax Christi

We are all aware of the response given to the most recent encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae, about the problems raised by the question of contraception.  While manycompletely accept the teaching of the encyclical, a number of the clergy, religious and laity violently reject it in a way that no one in the Society can think of sharing.  Yet, because the opposition to the encyclical has become widespread in some places, I wish to delay no longer before calling to mind once more our duty as Jesuits. With regard to the successor of Peter, the only response for us is an attitude of obedience which is at once loving, firm, open and truly creative.  I do not say that this is necessarily painless and easy.

In fact, on various grounds and because of particular competence, some of us may experience certain reservations and difficulties.  A sincere desire to be truly loyal does not rule out problems, as the Pope himself says.  A teaching such as the one he presents merits assent not simply because of the reasons he offers, but also, and above all, because of the charism which enables him to present it.  Guided by the authentic word of the Pope- a word that need not be infallible to be highly respected – every Jesuit owes it to himself, by reason of his vocation, to do everything possible to penetrate, and to help others penetrate, into the thought which may not have been his own previously; however, as he goes beyond the evidence available to him personally, he finds or will find a solid foundation for it.

To obey, therefore, is not to stop thinking, to parrot the encyclical word for word in a servile manner.  On the contrary, it is to commit oneself to study it as profoundly as possible so as to discover for one self and to show others the meaning of an intervention judged necessary by the Holy Father.

Once we have correctly grasped the meaning of the encyclical, let us not remain passive.  Let us not be afraid to rectify our teaching, if need be, while at the same time explaining why we are doing so.  Let us develop our teaching as profoundly as possible rather than restrict it.  Let is strive for a better pastoral theology of the family and of the young people.  We must not forget that our present world, for all its amazing scientific conquests, is sadly lacking a true sense of God and is in danger of deceiving itself completely.  We must see what is demanded of us as Jesuits.  Let us collaborate with others in centers of the basic research on man, where the specific data of Christian revelation can be brought together with the genuine achievements of the human sciences and thus achieve the happy results that can be legitimately anticipated.  In all this work of sympathy, intelligence, and love, let us always be enlightened by the Gospel and by the living tradition of the Church.  Let us never abandon the papal teaching we have just received.  Rather, we must continually seek to integrate it into an ever-widening anthropology.  The present crisis makes clear this urgent need.

In so fulfilling our mission as Jesuits, which is to make the thought of the Church understood and loved, we can help the laity, who themselves have much to bring to the problems touched on in the encyclical, and who rely on us for a deep understanding of their points of view. [“atque nostram expectant cooperationem pro intimiore penetratione magisterii Pauli VI.”]

You understand well that it is the spirit of the Constitutions which inspires me as I write these words.  For, as the Constitutions tell us in substance, each member of the Society must remember that his personal manner of serving God is realized through a faithful obedience to the Roman pontiff.  That is why I am certain that today too, the Society is able to show itself worthy of four centuries of complete fidelity to the Holy See.

It certainly cannot be said that the Second Vatican Council has changed all this.  The Council itself speaks formally of “this religious submission of will and of mind,” which “must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.  That is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence and the judgments made by him sincerely adhered to according to his manifest mind and will” (Lumen Gentium, n.25).

Nor can it be said that the Pope was speaking of matters that do not involve our faith, since the essence of his teaching directly concerns the human and divine dignity of man and of love.  In the enormous crisis of growth which envelops the whole world, the Pope himself has been what the entire Church must be, and Vatican II affirmed, “both a sign and a safeguard of the transcendence of the human person” (Gaudium et Spes, n.76).  For this reason the service we as Jesuits owe to the Holy Father and to the Church is at the same time a service we owe to humanity itself.

In my awareness of our obvious duty as Jesuits I could say much more, particularly at this time which seems to me crucial for the Church. Difficult times are times made for the Society, not to seek its own glory, but to show its fidelity.  This is why I am certain that all of you will understand my words.  As for those for whom the encyclical presents  personal problems of conscience, I wish to assure them that for that very reason I am keeping them in my affection and prayers.

May St. Ignatius help each of us to become, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, more Ignatian than ever.  May he obtain for us the understanding that our legitimate desire to be totally present to this world demands of us an ever-increasing fidelity in the service of the Church, the Spouse of Christ and the Mother of all mankind.

I commend myself to the prayers of all of you.

Rome, 15 August 1968.
Most devotedly in Christ,

Pedro Arrupe
Praep. Gen. Soc. Iesu.

[This English translation was transcribed by Fr. Joseph Carola, S.J., from the article “Father Arrupe: ‘Think with the church’,” which appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, September 18th, 1968, p. 7]

Jesus is united to the whole of humanity

A little significant theological reflection is needed. What actually is the point of the Incarnation of Jesus? What difference does it make? Why is what happened to Jesus in the Paschal Mystery important for my redemption and salvation? One of my favorite Orthodox theologians/historians of theology, Father Georges Florovsky points to the fact Christ is not for one person, but for all people, and that all people are to become divine. Make sense to you?

Christ Pantocrator, detail of the Deesis mosaic

The Word became man so that we could “become divine,” “in order to deify us in Himself.” Deification is adoption by God, and “humans sons have become the sons of God.” We are “received by the Word and are deified through His flesh” by virtue of the Incarnation. Born from the Virgin, the Word was not united with only one man, but with the whole of human nature. Therefore everything that was achieved in the human nature of Christ is immediately extended to all men because they have a body in common with Him. There is no coercion involved here. Men are more than similar to Christ; they are truly participants in the human nature of the Word. Christ is a vine and we are the branches, “united with Him by our humanity.” In the same way that the tendrils which grow from a grapevine are consubstantial with it, so are our bodies consubstantial with the body of the Lord, and we receive what He has accomplished. His body is the “root of our resurrection and salvation.” Everyone is renewed, anointed, healed, and exalted in Christ, for “He has taken everyone on Himself.” This is not merely similarity or substitution, but actual unity. Therefore all humanity is anointed by the Spirit in the Jordan, dies on the cross, and is resurrected to immortality in Christ because “He Himself bears our body.”

Father Georges Florovsky, discussing the theology of Saint Athanasius the Great, in chapter two of Florovsky’s patrology.

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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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