A Brief Christological & Ecclesiological Reflection

As I promised in my last post (though a day later than originally stated), here’s the reflection I was satisfied enough with to post on this blog. This reflection was the final writing assignment for the first week of one of my online Theology courses through the University of Dayton. The prompt was, “Name one of the new issues in Christology and describe how it relates to our current cultural issues,” referring to an article by Elizabeth Johnson we read earlier in the week. The reflection follows underneath the line.

A goal of many contemporary theologians is to discover the “Jesus before Christianity,” to get beyond all the cultural accretions that have been put on to the person of Jesus throughout the centuries. Dominican Albert Nolan has written a seminal text on this topic, and there are groups of students who meet regularly to discuss this topic. In a post-World War world, where figures of authority are not trusted and long-standing cultural institutions are considered irrelevant, it is not a huge surprise that such a quest exists. To a certain extent, it is a worthy quest, as we all know there have been depictions of Jesus throughout the past 2,000 years that are not consonant with the figure of Jesus in the Gospels.

At the same time, I am wary of this search for the “Jesus before Christianity.” In fact, I think the phrase itself is an oxymoron: there is no Jesus without Christianity, nor can there be. Indeed, Jesus himself ensured that he would continue to be present to people of all times precisely through Christianity, better expressed as the Church, his mystical body. Furthermore, he made sure this group of people, this culture, would preserve his image well by giving those people the Holy Spirit as helper and guide to “teach us all things” – presumably also things about himself. When I hear of the search for the “Jesus before Christianity,” I worry that people might be searching for a Jesus outside the living tradition of the Church – which, note, has never been the one to (officially) endorse an image of Jesus that is in contrast with the Jesus of the Gospels. Certainly individual figures within the Church have distorted the image of Jesus, and cultures apparently rooted deeply in the Church have actually been in opposition to it at the core. But the Jesus of true Christianity is indeed the true Jesus – historical developments and all.

Perhaps a better way to term this issue would be the search for “Jesus above Christendom.” Soren Kierkegaard liked to distinguish between Christianity, the true life of Jesus Christ carried out in his people, and Christendom, the formalized, governmentally influenced state church of his time. The image of Jesus in the latter was undeniably distorted and deserves “digging behind” to get to the true Jesus. Hopefully that digging, however, would eventually lead to the Jesus of Christianity, which in the end is not merely each individual’s relationship of faith with Jesus, but the whole community, the Church’s understanding of Jesus throughout all of history.

Thoughts? This was actually written rather quickly, so there might be some holes, and since it’s also brief I hope it doesn’t imply anything I wasn’t able to develop. Ready, go!

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Ordinary Time

As the Church moves forward liturgically into what I think is misnamed “Ordinary Time,” so too my life, after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, returns to what is normal… for now. That always seems to be changing every year, but that’s ok! That’s what the mid-twenties are for, right?

In any case, the Christmas season was absolutely jam-packed, both at work and in my personal life. So many hours to work, so much family to visit, so many friends to hang out with. Although it was absolutely exhausting, this past Christmas season was perhaps my most rewarding in many years. Not only did I get to see pretty much all the people I wanted to, but we really had some quality time spent together. For all that, I am very grateful.

Of course I’d like to blame my lack of posting on this near-the-brink-of-extinction blog to the business of the past month or two, but considering I haven’t posted since August, well, that’s not really the reason. In fact, I kind of just forgot about this baby. Shame! Well, time to make reparation for my neglect these past hundred days or so. I have made some minor tweaks to the appearance of the blog, mainly incorporating my “brand identity” of a St. Ignatius background and Cleveland skyline header that I also use on Twitter and other social media sites. Also, I’ve updated the tagline section to actually include a tagline. It’s a subtle twist on the Twitter banner that I use everywhere else, emphasizing the specific nature of the endeavor on the blog in particular. Finally, I have slightly modified the sidebar, making the patrons of the blog more relevant to me today, and adding a short Twitter feed, along with a follow button… hello!

What sparked me to even revisit the blog in the first place was a reflection I wrote for an online course I’m taking right now via the University of Dayton. I really liked it, and I look forward to sharing it with you later today. Can’t have two posts right next to each other, and I don’t want to bury the reflection under this re-re-introduction post, so keep an eye out around 5PM for the reflection. Or sign up for email notifications of posts. Or for my RSS feed for your reader. Or follow me on Twitter. And so on. So many ways for you to access my blogged thoughts. Aren’t I so considerate?

Hope you all have had a happy new year thus far. Glad to be returning to the blogosphere to share 2013′s riches with you all.

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Return

Hello, blog world. I have returned.

Returned in many ways. I have returned back to my parents’ home, after a wonderful year living in Ohio City and working at my alma mater, St. Ignatius High School, for a year of service. I have returned to the East Side after being tempted and seduced by the urban niceties of the near West Side for many months.

And, after a hiatus of some time, I am back to blogging in a more philosophical, theological, and perhaps even political vein.

It was a pleasure to share with you, dear reader, my experiences of and reflections on my year of service the past 12 months. However, after recently scanning back through this blog to remove any potential “black spots” (aka imprudent or offensive rants), I have realized how much I used to read, write about, and think about the big issues of our time, and the human condition generally. And, of course, I have realized how little I have done this kind of thinking in the past year or two. This observation, coupled with some difficult conversations with friends over the past few weeks and months, have spurred me to begin thinking a little bit more clearly and thoroughly on those issues of our times and condition, and how to best approach the challenges within these issues.

I hope to be able to share with you all, once again, these issues and my take on them, for what it’s worth. If anything, it will help me flesh out my own ideas in a public forum open to constructive criticism. Hopefully, these thoughts & reflections will also provide material for edification and discussion for all as well.

May all these thoughts, words, and deeds be done Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, nunc et semper, through the intercession of our Mother and Bl. John Henry Newman, who occupies a special place in my mind and heart at this time.

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A Reflection on a Year as a Volunteer Alumnus

Today, Monday June 4th, hosted the end of the year all-faculty meeting at St. Ignatius High School. Yesterday was graduation day for the class of 2012. Even these past few weeks have been days full of consummations and commencements – the Magis Retreat for seniors, a 24-hour period of Eucharistic Adoration for the class of 2012, Prom, celebratory dinners with the Theology Department, the CAT team, and so on. Just as much as it is for the young men who I can now call alumni brothers of Ignatius, this May-tide season is an extended period of reflection and gratitude for me.

When asked at various points in this past month-plus to reflect on my time as an Alumni Volunteer, the most resonating thought that comes to my mind is how much of a gift this year has been to me. It’s often spoken of, in varying degrees of seriousness (usually quite serious) how I and my two fellow volunteers are “major benefactors” to the school. And this is true – the school would have to hire a few people and pay them many thousands of dollars to do the work we did for free. The Arrupe afterschool programs would likely not exist without the manpower of three Alumni Volunteers (and the womanpower of a Jesuit Volunteer) to plan, staff, and guide the programs. It would be quite a daunting task for one or two teachers to take on the load of the 150+ funerals served by the Arimathea ministry this year. Mr. McLaughlin would have to spend as much time on the road as a professional race car driver to shuttle all the sophomores to and from their service placements without our help.

Still, comparing who I am now with where I was at this point last year, I have grown a nearly immeasurable amount, thanks to the opportunities I have had at my alma mater this year. Coming off of my MA year of 2010-2011, I sought to teach Theology or work in campus ministry in the high school environment. With all due respect to my past self, I can see why I mustered out nary more than one or two interviews at this time last year. I had virtually no skills and no experience working in the high school environment. Through the aforementioned activities (Arrupe, Arimathea, and Sophomore Service) as well as ample time spent on Campus Ministry retreats and in the freshman Theology classroom, I can say I at least have the dimmest idea of how these environments – and more importantly, the people in them – work and function to the best of their ability.

It helps that I got to work with some of the best teachers, ministers, and service leaders that one could possibly ask for. As Fr. Libens said so emphatically at today’s faculty meeting, St. Ignatius has an incredible adult community. To have worked with them this past year as a volunteer has been quite the blessing. And of course, not only is the adult community here remarkable. So too are the students. The minds and hearts I have been able to communicate with and form this year are some of the richest, most vibrant I have encountered. Let’s pray for these boys as they go through their difficult college years, that they may stay true to the formation they received at this school to continue living well in the good gifts God has given them.

One of the greatest graces of this past year for me has been living the Faith in a much more concrete way. Not to knock the life of the mind in any respect – in a culture so fixated on experience, the intellectual life often takes an undeserved backseat. But on the other hand, one can’t be in the books all the time. Taking a year off from a lifelong immersion in academia was one of the best choices I made. It has reminded me how thinking out the faith amongst a select group of philosophy students at a top tier college is one thing. It is an entirely different thing to communicate the person of Christ and His call to all of us to your theologically uninterested relatives, your hardened agnostic or apathetic student, your wounded and sorrowful homeless brother or sister. To do the latter requires much faith, much hope, and much, much love.

Another one of the major graces this year has been the grace of failure. Up until roughly my senior year of college, I had been pretty much your perfectionist poster child. It wasn’t until my senior year at BC, when I graduated a few months late to take care of a language requirement, that I had really “failed” for the first time. And then, when I needed to take time off from life in Boston and life in philosophy, I “failed” again. The key was, never really having had these experiences before, I had no idea how to deal with them. Through the opportunity for much prayer, spiritual (and otherwise) conversation, and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation this year (makes it easy having 12 Jesuit neighbors) I have begun to become much more capable of dealing with – well – being human! And, more importantly, being loved by an infinitely merciful Lord. Deo gratias.

So yes, as an Alumni Volunteer during the 2011-2012 school year, I was able to give much to the St. Ignatius community. And yes, I received even more than I could have asked for – other than a job! ;). And in this way, I think my life this year has been, thanks to Him, such an image of the love of our Triune God. Total gift of self from one person to another,  and vice versa, creating another great gift of love in the exchange. Blessed may He be.

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A brief post on the new Missal translation

Lately, I’ve been posting much tamer, more reflection-like material on the blog. However, today I can’t help but post briefly about a subject of some minor controversy (which I think has mostly died down by now), that of the new translation of the Roman Missal.

I think most people complained about the new translation because of its replacement of old familiar phrases like “And also with you” (though as a Catholic consciously saying those words for over a decade, my first impulse just a moment ago was to write “And with your spirit,” so the change happens pretty fast if you’re willing). Another bone of contention, and probably a more important issue, would be the higher-gravity theology vocab words like “ineffable” and the like, as well as literalistic wordiness of the prayers. The “dynamic equivalence” tactic of the 70′s translation attempted to simplify the sometimes difficult to understand theological terms and the sometimes winding multi-phrased sentence long prayers in the original Latin text. Those who did not accept this method would note that not providing a literal translation of the texts would likely water down the theology expressed in those prayers. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Let’s do a brief WDTPRS style comparison to see the difference between the new and old translations for the collect on Thursday of the Second Week of Easter, and see how much of the new literal translation is expressed in the old.

New translation:

“O God, who for the salvation of the world brought about the paschal sacrifice, be favorable to the supplications of your people, so that Christ our High Priest, interceding on our behalf, may by his likeness to ourselves bring us reconciliation, and by his equality with you free us from our sins. Through our Lord…”

Many strong theological concepts expressed in this prayer: salvation through sacrifice, having to ask for God’s favor, Christ as our intercessor like us but equal with the Father bringing us the salvation we seek.

Now, the old translation:

“God of mercy, may the Easter mystery we celebrate be effective throughout our lives.”

Uh… how is this anything close to the first prayer? Sure, Easter implicitly suggests the paschal sacrifice, I suppose, and its effect would be our reconciliation… but you can’t tell any of that from the actual words of the prayer! What’s clear, comparing these two texts (assuming the new translation truly is literal to the Latin text) is that the old translation so often (not always, this is an extreme case) fell miles and miles short of expressing anything close to what the prayer actually tried to say in the Latin. Thank God we have a new translation for the Mass that will help people to pray the theology of the Church in a rich way and so help people come to a greater belief in what the Church actually teaches!

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