Theology: November 2012 Archives

First Things editor RR Reno published his "A 2012 Ranking of Graduate Programs in Theology" yesterday, the annual romp through what's out there for theological formation. A somewhat helpful review but it doesn't really cover some important data. Nevertheless, it is good to see a review that advances a good perspective. What is that perspective? In my humble opinion: that in all things God may be glorified AND thinking with the Church.

The study of theology is not merely doing an academic program but it is truly a formation of the person so that he or she can be not only an excellent leader in theological investigation, spiritual formation, good pastoral practice but also work that one works out his or her own salvation.

  • The five areas a good school of theology needs to be attentive to: sacred Scripture, sacred Liturgy, patristic study, dogmatic study and ethics. I fully believe that Prosper of Aquataine is correct, and ought to orient all study of theology: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi. In shorthand, the law of prayer is the law of belief.

I am happy that UND ranked high. I am interested to see how CUA will do in the year to come with the new dean Father Mark Morozowich. He's got a lot of work to do. CUA is poised.
In recent years, we have seen a significant interest in teaching the faith more authentically, but also we've become more attentive to answering the real questions believers and unbelievers have. With the Year of Faith fully engaged now, I think we need to attend to three unavoidable questions whether we are teaching teens, adults, or expanding the horizons of our faith and understanding of the cosmos we live in.

There are no easy answers in proposing the Christian faith to others, especially to teens. Do you want pablum when considering real questions?

When Fig Leaves Sprout

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Fig Tree by mumacas.jpgMy neighbor has several fig trees. His children are now in the process of wrapping them up for the winter --New England is not an agreeable place to raise fig trees all year.

The opening prayer for Mass today speaks of "the constant gladness of being devoted to you [that is, God]" because God is "the author of all that is good." This gladness, this happiness, and good is always lived in posture of hope. Symbolically, in many ways the fig is a tangible sign of happiness and goodness. In the Bible the fig tree is posited as figure of these virtues. Variously the fig is interpreted as symbolic of the good, of peace, personal and national prosperity, safety, concern for the other, personal and national fulfillment, and probably the most important, the Promised Land.

Likely to be the most spoken of tree is the fig. Our first parents cover themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7), as a sweet and satisfying fruit is the fig (1 Kings 4:25) and if you need shade when you study the Word of God outside you would sit under a fig tree (John 1:48) or if you need a spring fruit for the table you would have figs (Hosea 9:10). So, it's no surprise that the Lord uses the fig to illustrate a point in the synoptic gospels about being a disciple and of the Church.

Based on today's Scripture readings, the poem "When Fig Leaves Sprout" by Minnesota composer William Beckstrand captures the sense of what we are about in the Christian life.

When fig leaves sprout, the summer's near;
Just so, when sun and moon grow dim,
This earth and heav'n will pass and Christ
Will come and raise the dead with him.

This coming Christ, who once for all
A sacrifice for sin's dark stain
Has offered, will bring back to life
All those who sleep, for doom or gain.

Secure with Jesus, Advocate
Who pleads for us at God's right hand,
We daily work to do God's will,
And wait His coming stern and grand.

The front page of today's New Haven Register carried an article by Jordan Fenster, "Right-to-die bill may be discussed by legislature" by which the citizens of Connecticut were alerted to the possibility that in the next session of the legislature the question of assisted suicide will be on the table. Following the defeat of Massachusetts ballot on the same subject last week, the contagion is now again flowing south. Already three US states, Oregon, Montana and Washington, allow for physician assisted suicide. 34 states prohibit lethal doses of medication that would end human life.

Let me say from the outset, this is not a Catholic issue. Persons of belief and unbelief ought to be concerned about the potential passing of a law that legalizes medically induced suicide. Hence, this is not a conservative issue. This is not a an anti-human dignity issue. It is just the opposite: this is a human issue. Who we are a human beings, and how we teach each other is a human issue that is informed by what we believe and how we behave. Committing this legislative error is a problem of education. Recall that in the past when a similar bill was brought to the CT voters it failed only 51-49%.

Several weeks ago there appeared in the New York Times an intriguing OP-ED article that I believe we need to seriously consider in the discussion of physician assisted suicide. Considering voices that differ from ours need to be thoughtfully taken into account because we are people use who reason to frame our moral lives. We can't simply dismiss the other and therefore I appeal to people of belief and unbelief to reasonably discuss what's at stake. When we rush the discuss without fact we always get burned.

In my opinion not enough attention has been devoted to considering how this legislation has been lived out in this country and in others, nor have we considered the philosophical, theological, sociological and human consequences of such an act. Most often our heart-strings are pulled, even stretched leading us to decide weighty matters without due attention to the reality in front of us --to the person and people and intimately connected with life and death issues. We also don't always adequately consider the eternal consequences of killing someone before natural death happens. 

Who's life are we "making dignified" by engaging death before it's naturally presented? What really is human dignity? What does it mean to be truly a man or a woman in relationship with other men and women here-and-now, and following death? To what extent does fear, anxiety and perceived suffering dictate how we think and act toward others? Are we sufficiently aware of and sensitive to the difference between ideology and being a person, no matter how debilitated?

Here is Ben Mattlin's October 31, 2012 New York Times article published online.

Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast

The USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan began his address saying that we need to attend to "First things first: we are first believers in Christ: the way, the truth and the life...We need to recall that the Lord said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God": it is God who first engages us..."

Thumbnail image for St Gregory delivers the soul of monk GB Crespi.jpg

The month of November is the Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. I was thinking after a funeral celebrated earlier today for a friend, Jack, who died last Saturday, about my on-going responsibility for the souls in purgatory. This after being reminded that I am called, as are all the baptized, to be an echo of the encounter with Christ in this world, but also in eternal life. What I do here and now has a direct consequence in the later in the promised Destiny with the Savior.

Is it a matter of saying the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary and the Glory Be with the Eternal Rest prayers around the time of a person's death, or only on the anniversary of death of a loved one or friend? Somehow I doubt it.

The law of charity that I think Christians are called to live with certainty makes a claim on us to pray for the dead and dedicate some portion of prayer, fasting and almsgiving for the Church Suffering (the Holy Souls) so that one day they become part of the Church Triumphant. Being Friends in the Lord (disciples of Christ) can't be indifferent to those who have died. We believe that the bonds of love don't unravel with the death of the body. We promise the dying that we won't forget them. If this is true, then why do we so often forget to have a Mass offered for their intentions, or say a rosary for our loved ones, or absent ourselves from visiting the cemetery? Mass, the rosary and a visit are concrete acts of love that have a real consequence for real people we knew and loved in this life.

Consider the image of posted above is a example of spiritual works effecting the soul of another. Here the Baroque Master Giovanni Battista Crespi, "Il Cerano" (1573-1632) paints in 1617 Saint Gregory the Great "delivering the soul of a monk." The deliverance is the result of the monk and pope Gregory offering Mass for the soul of a monk. The depths of mercy and love are mined by the devotion of the Mass for another.

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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This page is a archive of entries in the Theology category from November 2012.

Theology: October 2012 is the previous archive.

Theology: December 2012 is the next archive.

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