Tag Archives: theology

Internal Forum: the priest’s confessional as a dialogue with salvation

Benedict XVI
addressed participants in a short course on the internal forum on March 11 hosted and organized by Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, OFM Conv., of the Apostolic Penitentiary. Next
to the celebration of the Mass, there is likely no other important work of a
priest than to reconcile sinners to God. This is a helpful teaching of the Pope’s since at the seminary dinner table these days there’s much conversation about the priest’s ministry of forgiveness. Note what I think are the important
points the Holy Father makes regarding the dialogue of salvation.

Your course is placed, providentially, in the Year for Priests, which I
proclaimed for the 150th anniversary of the birth in heaven of St. John Mary
Vianney, who exercised in a heroic and fruitful way the ministry of
reconciliation. As stated in the letter of proclamation: “All of us
priests must hear those words which regard us personally that he (the Curé
d’Ars) put in Christ’s mouth: ‘I will charge my ministers with proclaiming to
sinners, whom I am always ready to receive, that my Mercy is infinite.’ From
the Holy Curé d’Ars
we priests can learn not only an inexhaustible trust in the
sacrament of penance, which drives us to put it at the center of our pastoral
concerns, but also the method of the ‘dialogue of salvation’ that should be
carried out in it

hearing confession.jpg

Where do the roots of heroism and fruitfulness sink,
with which St. John Mary Vianney lived his own ministry of confessor? First of
all in an intense personal penitential dimension. The awareness of one’s own
limits and the need to take recourse to Divine Mercy to ask for pardon, to
convert the heart and to be sustained on the path of sanctity, are essential in
the life of the priest
: Only one who has first experienced its greatness can be
a convinced herald and administrator of the Mercy of God. Every priest becomes
minister of penance
by his ontological configuration to Christ, High and
Eternal Priest, who reconciles humanity with the Father; however, fidelity in
administering the sacrament of reconciliation is entrusted to the responsibility
of the presbyter.

We live in a cultural context marked by a hedonistic and
relativistic mentality, which tends to cancel God from the horizon of life,
does not favor the acquisition of a clear picture of values of reference and
does not help to discern good from the evil and to mature a correct sense of
sin. This situation makes even more urgent the service of administrators of
Divine Mercy.

We must not forget, in fact, that there is a sort of vicious
circle between obfuscation of the experience of God and the loss of the sense
of sin. However, if we look at the cultural context in which St. John Mary
Vianney lived, we see that, in several aspects, it was not so dissimilar from
. Also in his time, in fact, a hostile mentality to faith existed,
expressed by forces that sought actually to impede the exercise of the
ministry. In such circumstances, the Holy Curé d’Ars made “the church his
home,” to lead men to God. He lived radically the spirit of prayer, the
personal and intimate relationship with Christ, the celebration of Mass,
Eucharistic adoration and evangelical poverty, appearing to his contemporaries
as such an evident sign of the presence of God, as to drive so many penitents
to approach his confessional.

In the conditions of liberty in which it is
possible to exercise today the priestly ministry, it is necessary that the
presbyters live in a “lofty way” their own response to their
vocation, because only one who becomes every day the living and clear presence
of the Lord can arouse in the faithful the sense of sin, give courage and have
the desire born for the forgiveness of God.

Dear brothers, it is necessary to
turn to the confessional, as place in which to celebrate the sacrament of
reconciliation, but also as place in which to “dwell” more often, so
that the faithful can find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and
understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy, close to the real
Presence in the Eucharist.

The “crisis” of the Sacrament of Penance,
so often talked about, is a question that faces first of all priests and their
great responsibility to educate the People of God to the radical demands of the
Gospel. In particular, it asks them to dedicate themselves generously to the
listening of sacramental confessions
; to guide the flock with courage, so that
it will not be conformed to the mentality of this world (cf. Romans 12:2), but
will be able to make choices also against the current, avoiding accommodations
and compromises. Because of this it is important that the priest have a
permanent ascetic tension, nourished by communion with God, and that he
dedicate himself to a constant updating in the study of moral theology and of
human sciences.

St. John Mary
Vianney was able to establish with penitents a real and proper “dialogue
of salvation,” showing the beauty and greatness of the Lord’s goodness and
arousing that desire for God and heaven, of which the saints are the first
bearers. He affirmed: “The good God knows everything. Before you even
confess, he knows that you will sin again and yet he forgives you. How great is
the love of our God, which drives him to willingly forget the future, so as to
forgive us” (Monnin A., Il Curato d’Ars. Vita di Gian-Battista-Maria
, Vol. 1, Turin, 1870, p. 130). 

It is the priest’s task to foster
that experience of “dialogue of salvation,” which, born of the
certainty of being loved by God, helps man to acknowledge his own sin and to
introduce himself, progressively, into that stable dynamic of conversion of
, which leads to the radical renunciation of evil and to a life according
to God (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1431).

Dear priests, what an
extraordinary ministry the Lord has entrusted to us! As in the Eucharistic
Celebration he puts himself in the hands of the priest to continue to be
present in the midst of his people, similarly, in the sacrament of
reconciliation he entrusts himself to the priest so that men will have the
experience of the embrace with which the Father receives the prodigal son,
restoring him the filial dignity and reconstituting him fully heir
(cf. Luke

God Today: With Him or Without Him Everything Changes

Almost two weeks ago Pope Benedict sent a message to the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, who is chairing a meeting where the agenda is talking about God, of all things. Well, it beats talking about bishops, nuns and the environment all the time. This topic interests me not in the sense of mere curiosity but because it is taking seriously my seeking the face of God (this topic ought to concern all people who consider themselves Catholic, spiritual and/or religious). To say God interests me sounds like an academic exercise; it is and it is not entirely that. God is interesting to me because seeking God is like no other search I know of, for it concerns my entire self and it intersects all that I do in the world. Is God totally unknowable, the Mystery and desirous of a personal relationship with me (and you)? The Pope makes some great points in these few paragraphs. The curious points are emphasized below.

On the occasion of the Congress “God Today: With or
Without Him Everything Changes,” which is taking place in Rome from
December 10-12, I wish to express to you, venerated Brother, to the Italian
Episcopal Conference and, in particular, to the Committee for the Cultural
Project, my profound appreciation for this important initiative, which
addresses one of the great topics that has always fascinated and questioned the
human spirit.

Vision of John the Evangelist JAlbergno.jpg

The question of God is also central in our time, in which man is
often reduced to one dimension, the “horizontal,” considering
openness to the Transcendent as irrelevant for his life. The relationship with
God, instead, is essential for humanity’s journey
and, as I have had the
occasion to affirm many times, the Church and every Christian, in fact, have
the task to make God present in this world, to attempt to open to men access to

Planned from this perspective is the international event of these days.
The breadth of the approach to the important topic that characterizes the
meeting, will make possible the sketching of a rich and articulated picture of
the question of God, but above all it will be a stimulation for a profound
reflection on God’s place in the culture and life of our time.

On one hand, in
fact, an attempt is being made to show the different ways that lead to
affirming the truth about the existence of God, that God which humanity has
always known in some way, even in the chiaroscuro of his history, and who
revealed himself with the splendor of his face in the covenant with the people
of Israel and, beyond that, in every measure and hope, in a full and definitive
way, in Jesus Christ.

He is the Son of God, the Living who enters into the life
and history of man to illumine him with his grace, with his presence. On the
other hand, the desire is precisely to bring to light the essential importance
that God has for us, for our personal and social life, for understanding
ourselves and the world, for the hope that illumines our way, for the salvation
that awaits us beyond death

Directed to these objectives are the numerous
interventions, according to the many points of view which will be the object of
study and exchange: from philosophical and theological reflection on the
witness of the great religions; from the impulse to God, which finds its
expression in music, literature, the figurative arts, the cinema and
television; to the development of the sciences, which attempt to read in depth
the mechanisms of nature, fruit of the intelligent work of God the Creator; from
the analysis of the personal experience of God to the consideration of the
social and political dynamics of an already globalized world.

In a cultural and
spiritual situation such as the one we are living in, where the tendency grows
to relegate God to the private sphere, to consider him irrelevant and
superfluous, or to reject him explicitly, it is my heartfelt hope that this
event might at least contribute to disperse that semi-darkness that makes
openness to God precarious and fearful for the men of our time, though he never
ceases to knock on our door

The experiences of the past, although not remote
to us, teach us that when God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its
direction and runs the risk of taking steps to its own destruction
. Faith in
God opens man to the horizon of certain hope, which does not disappoint
; it
indicates a solid foundation on which to base life without fear; it calls for
abandoning oneself with confidence in the hands of the Love which sustains the

To you, cardinal, to all those who have contributed to prepare this
congress, to the speakers and to all the participants I express my cordial
greeting with the desire for the full success of the initiative. I support the
works with prayer and with my apostolic blessing, propitiator of that light
from on High, which makes us capable of finding God, our treasure and our hope.

Weinandy – Tilley: disputes between theologians or the Tradition?

Thumbnail image for Weinandy Tilley.jpg

When the average Catholic thinks of theological
disputation they quickly surmise that they can be tedious, if not irrelevant.
Connections are not made for the average Catholic between relevance of a theological truth or an idea to the spiritual life and the teaching of Truth and one’s salvation. Believe it or not, theology means something. Admittedly, I don’t blame people’s reluctance to enter into the fray of the
issues because they are complicated, convoluted and cause considerable
consternation between the interlocutors. But what else would you expect from
intelligent people? Theological matters are incredibly important for the life
of the Church particularly in the realm of protecting the deposit of faith from
charlatans. I, for one, love the controversy that’s stirred up because it gets
people talking and thinking about the issues posited by Catholic theologians.

Capuchin Father Thomas G. Weinandy (Dir. of Doctrine
Committee, USCCB) thinks Dr. Terrence W. Tilley (Fordham Univ. theologian &
chair of the Dept of Theology) is on the outer limits of what theological
reflection and research legitimately allows for. Tilley believes he and others
are recovering an older theological approach (method).

I for one think Weinandy
has the stronger argument.

Father Weinandy’s article is presented here Weinandy on
Tilley’s theological argument.pdf
Dr. Tilley’s address is found here Tilley CTSA
address 2009.pdf

NFP (Natural Family Planning): formation for a fertile life

Saint Joseph Seminary – Dunwoodie was the setting today for a clergy seminar on Natural Family Planning (NFP) sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York Family & Respect Life Offices, The Couple to Couple League International and with the generosity of others as well. Some 40 clergy types (priests, deacons and seminarians) attended. It was a blessing to have Dr Theresa Notare, Dr Kyle Beiter, Richard & Vicki Braun, Dr. Jack Burnham, Fr John Higgins, Andrew & Tracey Pappalrdo, and Erik & Anne Tozzi as presenters.

So what did I learn today?
YOU can control YOUR reproductive health care sensibly and morally without spending tons of money and selling your values. The point of the day was to introduce us to the most wholistic, safe form of family planning that there is today. This approach is pro-life, pro-woman, pro-faith, and pro-humanity. NFP is totally Catholic. It shows that it’s possible for a husband and wife to communicate and to collaborate with each other on all facets of life, especially the facet of sex and reproduction.

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Leaning on the Master

I frequently
stand in awe of people who, like Pope Benedict, can draw my attention to the
essentials of faith, reason and culture. His audience on Wednesday where he
speaks about St. Bernard is one of these instances because he shows me the
beauty of St. Bernard, the purpose of theology study, life with the saints, and why we have to suffer some things for the Kingdom. For example, the Pope
offers a corrective in my work as a seminarian.

St resting on Jesus' Chest.jpg

Here are a few germane sentences with emphasis added: In one place in the talk Pope says: “Faith is above all an
individual and intimate encounter with Jesus
; it means experiencing His
closeness, His friendship and His love.” He continues “St. Bernard, solidly
based on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound
faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by a profound relationship
with the Lord
, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming a futile
intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility
. Theology takes us back to
the “science of the saints,” to their intuitions of the mysteries of
the living God, to their wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit, which become the
point of reference for theological thought.”

And given that I think there’s much discussion
in a seminary work, sometimes too much discussion, I am leaning St. Bernard as
he says, “but perhaps He can be sought better and found more easily with
prayer than with discussion. We put an end here to the book, but not to the

(Pope Benedict XVI,
Wednesday General Audience, October 21, 2009) 

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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