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More questions...and responses

Why do we have Knights of Columbus?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 12, April 2018 Categories: Church History
Knights of Columbus
Over a million Knights worldwide put their nearly $100 million in annual contributions toward papal charities and projects. Tens of millions of service hours annually are donated by members to their local communities.

The first time you see those guys with the swords and feathered caps march up the aisle of a church, you might well wonder: what does this have to do with Catholicism? The Knights’ history begins in 1882 with Father Michael McGivney, a diocesan priest in New Haven, Connecticut. McGivney had two concerns: the strong attraction of local youth to secret societies like the Masons, and the number of families struggling with the loss of their breadwinner. The Knights of Columbus were created to address both needs: a Catholic fraternal society offering an insurance policy to support families in times of loss.

McGivney chose Christopher Columbus as the society’s patron, a strong symbol of the Catholic contribution to our national story. This was a calculated choice in an era when Catholic immigrants were far from welcome, and Protestant societies like the American Protective Association questioned Catholic patriotism. By 1905, the Knights could be found in every state of the union and beyond. A powerful sense of ritual enabled its immigrant members to assimilate a new identity, avoid shrinking into ethnic particularity, relinquish old world ties, and affiliate with the story of America. The K of C soon became and remains the largest organization of Catholic laity in the world.

The Knights’ activities evolved along with the nation’s needs. In generations when the church faced prejudice, the Knights studied bias in the press and politics. When U.S. troops needed respite that was safe and wholesome, the K of C provided “Huts” where every soldier was welcome, and everything was free. After the First World War, the Knights sponsored college scholarships and night schools for veterans. In 1922, a K of C Racial Contribution Series published monographs by W.E.B. DuBois, George Cohen, and Frederick Franklin Schrader about the respective contributions of Black, Jewish, and German citizens to the United States.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Knights reorganized with a strong social justice component. Over a million Knights worldwide put their nearly $100 million in annual contributions toward papal charities and projects. Tens of millions of service hours annually are donated by members to their local communities. The K of C still run a well-respected insurance company. All this, and swords too.


Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 14:28-29; 16:11-12; 24:17-22; 27:19; Isaiah 10:1-2; Malachi 3:5; Acts of the Apostles 6:1


Patriotism and Fraternalism in the Knights of Columbus, by Christopher Kauffman (Crossroad Publishing Co., 2001) 

Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism, by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster (Harper Perennial, 2007)

Why do older folks keep quoting the Baltimore Catechism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 12, April 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History
Baltimore Catechism
The revised Baltimore Catechism of 1941, which is the one folks of a certain age love to quote, arrived on the scene in three versions: for very young children, those receiving First Communion, and adults.

U.S. Catholics brought up between 1885 and the Second Vatican Council in 1964 learned their religion lessons from this ubiquitous text. The concept of a catechism—in Q&A format reviewing doctrine and belief—is attributed to Martin Luther in the 16th century. Luther’s invention worked so well for the Reformation that the Catholic Church embraced the catechism as an educational tool for the next four centuries. Two Jesuits, Dutchman Peter Canisius and Italian Robert Bellarmine, wrote influential catechisms in the following century. These were joined by French, Spanish, English, and Irish versions. The proliferation of national catechisms ignited debates on the need for a universal text. Until the 20th century, no such document was attempted.

As the U.S. church coalesced under Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore in the late 18th century, the need for an American catechism became apparent. Immigrant Catholics were learning their faith from a multiplicity of foreign texts. “The Carroll Catechism” (sponsored but not written by the Bishop) was based largely on catechisms from England, embracing the introductory questions familiar to anyone who remembers the final text: “Who made you?” and “Why did God make you?” In use through the 19th century, the Carroll Catechism was never mandatory; it merely joined the European texts preferred by local bishops.

American bishops argued for a catechism until the Third Plenary Council, which finally produced a serviceable version in 1885 under Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore. Known by the unwieldy title A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Prepared and Enjoined by the Order of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, it ran 72 pages, included 421 questions and answers, and was organized in groupings covering the Creed, Sacraments, and Commandments.

Almost immediately, this effort was labeled an educational and theological failure, incomprehensible to children, dull, and monotonous. Among its problems was the lack of priority assigned to beliefs. (Incongruously, a single question addressed the Resurrection, central to our faith, and that weakly: “On what day did Christ rise from the dead?”) Yet for fifty years it endured, before receiving a considerable revision. The revised Baltimore Catechism of 1941, which is the one folks of a certain age love to quote, arrived on the scene in three versions: for very young children, those receiving First Communion, and adults. After the Second Vatican Council, faith formation took another direction, and the Baltimore Catechism became a footnote of history.


Exodus 24:12; Proverbs 1:1-7; Wisdom 3:11; Isaiah 2:3; Mark 4:2; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 14:6; Ephesians 6:4; 1 Timothy 1:5


Pride of Place: The Role of the Bishops in the Development of Catechesis in the United States, by Mary Charles Bryce (The Catholic University of America, 1984)

The Catechism Yesterday and Today: The Evolution of a Genre, by Bernard L. Marthaler, O.F.M.Conv. (Liturgical Press, 1995)

Why is Easter Season so long? What should we be doing?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 06, March 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
What happens next in the story is nothing less than the birth of the church.

The Easter Season is determined by the seven weeks it takes to get from the Resurrection to Pentecost (which means “50th day”). While many of us might do with a little more Advent and a little less Lent, at least we’re clear what these seasons signify and what we’re to be about. During Advent, we await and prepare for the coming of Jesus. In Lent, we embrace penitential practices as we anticipate the resurrection of Jesus. But after Easter, liturgical time feels frankly anticlimactic. Once the tomb is discovered to be empty, really, what else is there?

What happens next in the story is nothing less than the birth of the church. But let’s not rush past the Easter event too quickly. The practice of the church certainly doesn’t. The Easter Vigil is the longest and most elaborate ritual of the church year. It’s the final segment of a three-part liturgical movement, known as the Triduum, which begins on Holy Thursday, continues on Good Friday, and culminates on Holy Saturday night. We keep vigil with Jesus through the commemoration of his Last Supper, the anguish of his crucifixion, and the dark void between the death of hope and the dawn of resurrection. We listen to a well-chosen train of Scripture readings that trace the story of our walk with God through time. It takes a while to process this much intense human experience, and it’s wise to go slowly and thoughtfully through these days.

Easter itself is an Octave, or eight-day feast, just like Christmas. In terms of liturgical practice, the Octave is like a week of Sundays as we light the Paschal candle, sing the Gloria, and continue to contemplate the wonder that death has a door, Jesus has passed through it, and so will we. Is a week too long to ponder this idea?

After Easter, Jesus continues to appear to disciples in groups large and small. Luke says he teaches them more about God’s kingdom for 40 days, a sacred number that symbolizes completeness. Then Jesus returns to his Father in the Ascension—which we celebrate 40 days after Easter (or on the nearest Sunday, in some dioceses). The disciples devote themselves to prayer from that hour until Pentecost morning, when the Spirit comes and the church is launched into prime time. What should we be doing from Easter through Pentecost? Imitate the disciples in celebrating, contemplating, learning, and praying to prepare for the mission ahead.


Mark 16:1-20; Matthew 28:1-20; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1—21:25; Acts of the Apostles 1:1—2:47; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11


Easter, Season of Life and Fire, by Barry Hudock (Liturgical Press, 2017)

A Spirituality of Mission: Reflections for Holy Week and Easter, by Mark G. Boyer (Liturgical Press, 2017)

What do I need to know about Mary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 06, March 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
The church continues to develop a Marian theology that honors both who Mary has been historically and who she remains in the life of the faithful.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, as she’s familiarly known, is best approached from several directions: biblically, doctrinally, devotionally, and theologically. First, there’s the biblical Mary of Nazareth. She fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in giving birth by the power of the Holy Spirit to Emmanuel, “God with us.” The canticle Mary sings about her conception gives praise to God for the same activity her son Jesus will one day proclaim as the coming of God’s Kingdom: that the mighty will be toppled, while the poor will be lifted up. Mary plays noteworthy roles after the Nativity, including advocating for the miracle at Cana, her presence at the cross, and her participation in the Spirit’s release at Pentecost.

The church teaches four doctrines about Mary. Two declarations from the early church are that Mary remains a virgin perpetually and that she is the Mother of God. Both doctrines point to the divine origin of Jesus. Two later doctrines are that Mary herself was conceived immaculately (that is, without original sin) and that at the point of death, she was assumed body and soul into heaven. These are related teachings: since death is a consequence of sin, and Mary is spared sin’s effects, her body does not undergo the corruption of the grave.

Devotionally, Mary has played a large role in the church’s popular piety. Her icon has been venerated since the early centuries in the East, and by means of the rosary, litanies, and pilgrimage, people of many lands have felt a special closeness to the mother of Jesus who is mother to all. Throughout history, Mary has been known to pay singular visits, known as apparitions, to humble folk around the world. These appearances underscore Mary’s concern for her children and their needs.

The church continues to develop a Marian theology that honors both who Mary has been historically and who she remains in the life of the faithful. In the spirit of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI offered principles for consideration. First among them is that Christian faith must be rightly prioritized: nothing said about Mary can detract from the honor due to God. Also, that Christ alone mediates between God and humanity. Finally, since Mary is the first disciple of her son, she is the ideal model for what we all can do. Pope John Paul II also advanced the idea of Mary as the special champion of the poor.


Isaiah 7:10-15; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-52; 8:19-21; John 2:1-12; 19:25-27; Acts of the Apostles 1:14


Marialis Cultus / For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary - Pope Paul VI (Pauline Books and Media, 2003)

Redemptoris Mater / Mother of the Redeemer - Pope John Paul II (Daughters of St. Paul, 1987)

What is spirituality?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 31, January 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Prayer and Spirituality
Spirituality has to make a difference. Its purpose is to infuse meaning and direction into everything else.

My theology professor Francis Baur used to say: spirituality has something to do with the living of our lives; otherwise it’s not spirituality, just pious embroidery. The idea that spirituality is woven into our corporeality is key. It can’t be a vague cloak of values added on top of a lifestyle established and immutable. Spirituality has to make a difference. Its purpose is to infuse meaning and direction into everything else.

We’re tempted to think of it as some sort of technique we elect to practice: I do yoga, you do centering prayer, he does the rosary, and they join the Third Order Carmelites. Spirituality-as-technique deceives us into imagining it as a skill we can acquire with enough rehearsal, like making tolerably good birdcalls. It also lures us into magical thinking: if I tough out 30 days of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I will ascend to a higher moral plane.

Rather than a method of praying, spirituality informs our perception of reality, then moves us toward the values and behaviors that further such a vision. The end of spirituality is not “the mastery of practices but the quality of our very existence,” says Baur. Which means it’s not as esoteric as “spiritual” people sometimes make it sound. Spirituality isn’t for the elite but for all, since we all have an existence, and its quality is largely in our hands.

The pursuit of spirituality will take us through the thickets of theology: What do I believe about who God is and what God wants from me? What is life for? What is the church for? Who is Jesus to me, and how does that affect my decisions? If for example I believe God is love and God wants a relationship of love with me, then the path is plain: the ways of love must inform my spiritual quest. The church’s assembly, teachings, and worship must aid in my learning how to be a more loving person. Following Jesus means becoming a disciple in his school of love.

A piecemeal approach to spirituality will never lead to wholeness or viability. Focusing on procedures for contacting the Divinity makes religion too much like Star Trek’s quest for contacting new life forms—and spirituality truly isn’t rocket science. Faith, in the end, is about faithfulness; not what you believe, but what you do about it. What are you willing to settle for, with your one life? That’s a question worthy of spirituality.


Matthew 5:1—7:29; 10:37-39; Luke 5:33-39; 9:23-27; 11:1-13; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Galatians 5:16-26; Colossians 3:5-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 1:13-25


Life in Abundance: A Contemporary Spirituality, by Francis Baur, O.F.M. (Paulist Press, 1983)

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? byTimothy Radcliff, O.P. (Burns & Oates, 2005)

What do Catholics believe about the Eucharist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 31, January 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.

The centrality of Eucharist to Catholic life can’t be overemphasized. It’s “the source and summit” of Christian life. (Lumen Gentium, no.11) This means our life as disciples begins at the Table of the Lord and always returns here.

Eucharist means thanksgiving. Eucharist refers to the ritual of the Mass as a whole, or is shorthand for the Body and Blood of Christ we share in communion. The term reminds us that what brings us together is gratitude. What are we grateful for? The mystery of Christ who has died, is risen, and will come again in glory. This past/present/future reality of Christ includes us in its magnificent unfolding. We’re not bystanders at a miracle, but participants in a never-ending feast.

Like many of our Protestant sisters and brothers, Catholics celebrate Eucharist as a memorial of the last supper Jesus shared with his friends. However, we also believe this sacrament renews the sacrifice Jesus makes of his life expressed in his words: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood….” What was, now is. Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.

When the early church gathered for what they called “the breaking of the bread” or “the Supper of the Lord,” they did more than eat and drink. They also listened to instruction from local leaders, prayed, supported each other, shared financial resources with those in need, and received teachings from the apostles—whether in person, delivered by an eyewitness, or by means of a letter passed among the communities. The gathering also served in a variety of ministries as the Spirit inspired the members to do. We preserve these elements of Eucharist in the prayers, Scripture readings, homily, and collection, as well as opportunities for faith formation and service practiced in various ways by each parish community.

Recent Catholic theology also directs our attention to the “dangerous memory” contained in our Eucharist. Christ’s passion points to the reality of unjust suffering, the need for its redress, and the hope of transcendence from a world marred by sin and death. Our Eucharist reminds us that the call to justice sounds every time we “proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.”


Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:34-59; Acts of the Apostles 2:42; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26


The Eucharist: A Mystery of Faith, by Joseph M. Champlain (Paulist Press, 2005)

The Eucharist and Social Justice, by Margaret Scott (Paulist Press, 2009)

What does it take to be recognized by the church as a saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 09, January 2018 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Today’s potential saints face a ladder of steps to be entered into the canon.

Becoming part of the official register or canon of the church’s saints has been an evolving process. There used to be one sure way to get there: martyrdom—which, in centuries of persecution, was a serious possibility after baptism. After Christianity became an established religion of the Empire under Constantine in 325, martyrs were rare. “White” martyrdom—the sacrifice of one’s life to prayer and penance—led to the monastic movement. Gradually, a virtuous life became the popular standard for sanctity.

Today’s potential saints face a ladder of steps to be entered into the canon. You live a heroically virtuous life. That’s the easy part. You die or are killed. (It’s necessary to be dead. Canonically, there’s no such thing as a living saint.) Five years pass; though for both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, even this brief waiting period was waived. Next a petitioner—a parish, diocese, religious community, lay association, or civil body—must adopt (promote and finance) your cause. Then a postulator or official agent is named from the diocese in which you died. (If you die outside the place your virtue was best known, another diocese can petition to have your case returned to them.) At this point, everyone is calling you a Servant of God.

A formal inquest begins in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS). The local bishop collects any information about you, including all your published and unpublished works. (In the future, this will hang up the process indefinitely unless prospective saints routinely delete their e-mail.) Two theologians read everything in search of red flags. If there are none, they recommend you for the nihil obstat (no apparent obstacles).

Eyewitnesses are now interviewed extensively and transcripts made. If all goes well, a decree of validity is added to your cause by the CCS. The most crucial step follows: composing the positio, an enormous document including a comprehensive biography and the written testimonies. Three bodies of experts at the CCS comb through the positio: historians, theologians, and prelates. If your cause survives their scrutiny, you’ll either be fast-tracked to beatification as a martyr, or attain the title Venerable for your heroic virtues.

Once you’re venerable, you only need one exceptional miracle attributed to your intercession (vetted by the CCS) to become beatified and earn the title Blessed. From beatification to sainthood takes one more proven exceptional miracle. After your canonization, don’t expect to retire. People will be asking for your help forever.


Leviticus 20:7; Deuteronomy 7:6; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:17; 6:11; Ephesians 2:21-22; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 5:23; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:9


Divinus Perfectionis Magister (Divine Teacher, Model of Perfection) – Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitutions, Vatican City, 1983. See:


Canonization: Theology, History, Process, by William H. Woestman (Faculty of Canon Law, St. Paul University, 2014)

Two Americans were beatified by Pope Francis. What do I need to know about them?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 09, January 2018 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Father Stanley Rother
Father Stanley Rother, a diocesan priest from Oklahoma martyred in Guatemala, was beatified in 2017.

The U.S. saints roster is exploding lately. Growing up with statues of Teresas, Francis, Anthony, and Patrick, we may have imagined sainthood as a European phenomenon. Today’s young Catholics learn about 12 canonized U.S. saints and eight beatified ones. In addition, an astonishing 18 Venerables have been named by the last three popes, all candidates for canonization. Their stories challenge us to consider that holiness is achievable—and expected—in the U.S. church.

The “Blesseds” who share in the American story (with beatification dates in parentheses) are: Mary Frances Schervier, who resided only briefly in this country (1974); Diego Luis de San Vitores, martyred in Guam (1985); Francis Xavier Seelos, who died ministering to yellow fever victims in New Orleans (2000); Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Santiago, catechist of Puerto Rico (2001); Eduardo Farré and Lucas Tristany, martyred in Tucson during the Spanish Civil War (2007); and the latest two, Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, mystic from New Jersey (2014) and Stanley Rother, diocesan priest from Oklahoma martyred in Guatemala (2017).

Even saying “mystic from New Jersey” sounds new. Holy living isn’t confined to the long ago and far away anymore. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (1901-1927) was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. Her parents were immigrants from Slovakia. As a teenager, Teresa felt a vocation to the convent. The early death of her mother, however, led her to remain home with her father until he died in 1926. While at home, she took classes at a college run by Sisters of Charity. After her father’s death, she entered their order. Teresa’s deep spirituality was so apparent she was asked as a novice to write anonymous instructions for the other sisters. Her book, Greater Perfection, passed from her community to the public, and has inspired millions globally. Sister Teresa herself died a year after her entry to the community.

Stanley Rother (1935-1981) was born on a farm in Okarche, Oklahoma. Feeling called to priesthood, he was sent to seminary in San Antonio but performed poorly in the required Latin and was dismissed. He was able to complete his studies at Mount Saint Mary’s in Maryland in 1963. After serving five years in an Oklahoma parish, Father Rother went to the diocesan mission in Guatemala, where he learned both Spanish and Tz’utujil skillfully. Thirteen years later, his life was threatened during the civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Recalled to Oklahoma, he insisted on returning to his adopted people: “The shepherd cannot run.” Back in Guatemala, he was murdered in his home a month after his return.


Leviticus 20:7; Deuteronomy 7:6; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 3:17; 6:11; Ephesians 2:21-22; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 5:23; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:9


The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma, by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015)

Sister Miriam Teresa: A Biography, by Sister Mary Zita Geis, S.C. (Sister Miriam Teresa League of Prayer, 2013)

Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story, by Henri J.M. Nouwen (Orbis Books, 2006)

What’s the purpose of Ordinary Time?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 29, November 2017 Categories: Liturgy
Ordinary Time
Its purpose is grander than its name: maturity in Christian living.

From the earliest biblical records, God’s people have recognized ritual time as a divine gift that makes present the blessings of the past. Our Christian liturgical year embraces that understanding. Ordinary is a word we normally use to distinguish something from the unusual. “Ordinary Time” sounds like it marks routine weeks not contained within the more eventful seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, or Easter. Yet the mundane truth is, the term comes from the Latin tempus ordinarium, or “measured time.” These are, simply, the numbered weeks of the year, ordered from 1 to 34.

Unlike other seasons that occur in uninterrupted blocks of days, Ordinary Time inhabits two sections of the calendar. The first is a five-to-eight week period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. Ordinary Time is then “interrupted” by the major seasons of Lent and Easter for about 14 weeks. The second, longer block of the season occurs after Pentecost, continuing to the end of the church year on the feast of Christ the King, which would otherwise be the “34th Sunday in Ordinary Time.”

(An aside about the variant weeks: the date of Easter determines the liturgical year. Easter Sunday is determined by the Jewish custom of setting Passover on the first full moon after the spring equinox. Once the date of Easter is determined, we count six and a half weeks back to Ash Wednesday. Whatever time is left between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is the length of the first segment of Ordinary Time, which in turn affects the count of the second.)

This merely establishes the territory of this season. Its purpose is grander than its name: maturity in Christian living. Every Sunday is a “little Easter,” the church fathers remind us. Each Sunday we gather to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, just as each Friday we commemorate his death with abstinence from meat or another sacrificial act. Saturdays within Ordinary Time are observances of Mary, mother of the church, who exemplifies the “yes” of discipleship. Saints’ feasts sprinkled through the weeks recall what martyrs and holy ones have made of their response in faith. The color green marks the vestments and altar cloths to remind us of the growth in the Spirit expected of us. In fact, at an earlier time these ordinal weeks were considered part of Pentecost altogether: a full season of celebrating the life of the Spirit at work in the church.

Scripture: Exodus 12:1-20; 23:14-17; 31:12-17; Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:1-44; John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 13:1; Acts of the Apostles 2:1 

Books: Introduction to the Study of Liturgy, by Albert Gerhards and Benedikt Kranemann (Liturgical Press, 2017)

When I in Awesome Wonder: Liturgy Distilled from Daily Life, by Jill Crainshaw (Liturgical Press, 2017)

The church made Mother Teresa a saint overnight. Why is it taking so long for Bishop Oscar Romero?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Wednesday 29, November 2017 Categories: Pope Francis,Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Oscar Romero
Whether you considered Romero a martyr or a victim of his outspoken politics was a matter of opinion—until recently, when Pope Francis beatified him in 2015.

Oscar Romero (1917-1980), slain archbishop of San Salvador, was as revered by some as deemed controversial by others. Romero studied theology in Rome, served as a bishop’s secretary, edited his diocesan newspaper, pastored the cathedral parish, served as rector of the minor seminary, and was elected to the bishops’ conference of El Salvador as well as the Central American Bishops’ secretariat, all before 1977. For none of these things was he assassinated while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel.

Ironically, Romero was recommended for his office by the same civic leaders who most surely ordered his death. They viewed him as a safe choice in a time of upheaval, with his scholarly manners and reluctance toward public action. A month after Romero was made archbishop, however, his friend Jesuit Rutilio Grande was murdered for his support of guerillas fighting the U.S.-backed military dictatorship. Romero—cautious, conservative, and steadfastly un-political—was shocked into reconsidering his silence about the injustices borne by the poor of his country.

Whether you considered Romero a martyr or a victim of his outspoken politics was a matter of opinion—until recently, when Pope Francis beatified him in 2015. As early as 2007, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina referred to the slain Archbishop as a martyr and declared: “If I were pope, I would have already canonized him.”

If a person dies for the faith, isn’t that an automatic pass into sainthood? Yes: but only if it’s clear that the death is related to matters of faith. In Romero’s case, accusations flew that he was “Che Guevara in a cassock”: a communist, a Marxist, or a liberation theologian. The latter theology is a mode of thought that some have characterized as a mixing class theory with religious principles. The question remained on the table for a long time: was Archbishop Romero martyred for defending the gospel against its enemies, or for stepping into a military struggle he had no business with in the first place?

Romero traveled to Rome four times in the three years he served as Archbishop to explain that it was the gospel that convicted him to side with the poor against their oppressors and murderers. His homilies were broadcast on the radio across his small country. Weekly he read the names of the dead who fell to the military. He encouraged soldiers not to follow orders that were unjust. His canonization may soon verify that speaking truth to power remains a vocation of the church.

Scripture: Ezekiel 2:1-10; 3:17-21; John 10:17-18; 14:6; 15:13, 18-27; 16:13; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 3:16

Books: Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings, by Marie Dennis, et. al. (Orbis Books, 2000)

Oscar Romero: Love Must Win Out, by Kevin Clarke (Liturgical Press, 2014)

What does the phrase “consubstantial with the Father” in the Creed mean?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 12, September 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Shamrock as symbol of Trinity
Jesus puts it more elegantly when he declares in John’s gospel: “The Father and I are one.”

If you’d recited the Creed before the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, the line you indicate would have read: “Of one substance with the Father.” After Vatican II and before 2011, that phrase was: “One in being with the Father.” The Greek word translated all three ways is homoousion, “single essence.” The Latin word is consubstantialis, bringing us to the current translation, consubstantial—a word you probably won’t hear in any context other than reciting the Creed.

Jesus puts it more elegantly when he declares in John’s gospel: “The Father and I are one.” He makes a similar proposal to Philip, when the disciple innocently asks to see the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

The first Christian leader to use the term consubstantial was Origin (185-254). He insisted: “There is no dissimilarity whatever between the Son and the Father.” He further declared “the power of the Trinity is one and the same” by quoting Saint Paul: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; there are diversities of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God who worketh all in all.”

The Council of Nicaea (325), dominated by Athanasius, eliminated any hint of subordination within the Trinity. Meanwhile Arius and his followers, who questioned the equal natures of Father, Son, and Spirit, were branded heretical.

Expressions of the single essence of God became the matter of many early homilies. Irenaeus (130-202) trusted that “When Christ comes, God will be seen by men.” Peter Chrysologus (400-450) affirmed that God becomes known to us in being born for us. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) preached: “In the fullness of time, the fullness of divinity appeared” in Bethlehem.

Some church fathers took consubstantiality a radical step further. Hilary (315-368) proposed: “We are all one, because the Father is in Christ, and Christ is in us…. With Christ we form a unity which is in God.” Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) went so far as to say: “If we have given up our worldly way of life… it must surely be obvious to everyone that … our nature is transformed, so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature.” Augustine (354-430) dared to speak the phrase that still stuns us: “God became man so that man might become God.” Complete communion with God remains the goal.

Scriptures: John 1:1-5, 14; 5:19-30; 14:7-11; 17:20-26; Romans 13:14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Galatians 2:19-20

Books: The Trinity: Insights from the Mystics, by Anne Hunt (2010)

The Trinity: An Introduction on Catholic Doctrine of the Triune God, by Gilles Emery, O.P. (2011)

What does Pope Francis mean by “rapidification”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Tuesday 12, September 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Climate change
Unsustainable production, consumption, and disposal is NOT progress, the pope insists.

We humans have an expression for the pace that makes us impatient: “glacially slow.” Not too slow, we imagine, if you’re a glacier. The biological world moves at a pace quite natural to it, with the rhythm of seasons, centuries, and eons performing an ecological waltz that’s both graceful and, yes, glacial. But human history is running a marathon against time, our little lifetimes being the scale by which we measure what’s an acceptable momentum for change.

This intensified pace of social evolution leads to a phenomenon the pope calls “rapidification.” In Chapter 1 of his encyclical Laudato si, he expresses concern that “the myth of progress” accepts that our present technological juggernaut is sustainable, and that any collateral “ecological problems will solve themselves.” This confidence is irrational, the pope notes. Natural ecosystems are circular: taking, using, and returning goods for the next cycle of life. Human production, by contrast, is linear: taking resources, passing them through non-biodegradable, toxic, and radioactive processes, and returning hundreds of millions of tons of often poisonous waste to the earth.

Our rapidified consumption of resources is having immediate critical effects. The planet is warming. Glaciers are melting at a not-so-glacial pace. Sea level is rising, biodiversity is shrinking, and tropical forests are being lost. Overfishing threatens the oceans’ abundance. Essential resources such as water and agricultural production are waning in availability. Within a few decades, water scarcity is likely to affect billions of people. Animals and plants alike are migrating in an attempt to adapt. This dramatic shift affects human lives, as the poor too must migrate to survive.

The global migrations we’ve already seen, from south to north, are posing complex problems for countries that cannot or will not receive those in motion. Environmental degradation will only worsen these social pressures, setting the scene for more violence and new wars. As the pope says: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.”

Rapidification is a lifestyle that must be reconsidered. This is not to denounce progress. Unsustainable production, consumption, and disposal is NOT progress, the pope insists. A fundamental shift in our thinking is needed: to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. We need to think and act together. The planet is too small, and life is too fragile, to take sides.

Scripture: Genesis 1:26-31; Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 8:7-20; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Joel 1:16-20; Matthew 6:25-34; Revelation 22:1-5

Books: Care for Creation: A Call for Ecological Conversion, by Pope Francis (2016)

Apocalyptic Ecology: The Book of Revelation, the Earth, and the Future, by Mical Kiel (2017)

I'm having trouble finding a religious community that will consider me as a candidate because I'm older. Why?

Posted by: Jennifer Tomshack 🕔 Sunday 20, August 2017 Categories: Consecrated Life,Vocation and Discernment
Older discerners
Finding a religious community when you're older is not impossible.
Many communities don't accept older candidates; however, some will consider making exceptions. We usually advise older discerners to directly contact communities that interest them and discuss their circumstances.

There are several reasons why communities are less inclined to consider older discerners. For starters, the formation process can take as many six years, which makes candidates that much older when they finally enter.
Financial concerns are another reason. New members are expected to work and older candidates have fewer years to do so. There are also greater potential healthcare costs associated with aging.

But the biggest reason is that communities have found that it is harder to adjust to community life after living as a single or previously married Catholic for so many years. The transition to community life and the loss of independence at a later age is simply too difficult for many older discerners. It's also hard for religious who have spent their lives in community to adjust to new members who have had a lifetime of very different experiences.

However, finding a community when you're older is not impossible. Below are links to resources that might help you, including a list of communities that will consider older discerners.

I don’t read papal documents. What do I need to know about Laudato Si?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 14, August 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
Laudato Si
The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

I don’t read many papal documents either. Nor bishops’ letters, to be honest. I make exceptions for those that are turning points in the church’s self-understanding. These would include Vatican II Constitutions, like those on the church (Lumen Gentium), on divine revelation (Dei verbum), and the church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes).  When I read statements like these that express a bold gospel vision for the future, it makes me wish I read more papal documents.

Pope Francis’ graceful encyclical on the environment (Laudato Si, “On Care For Our Common Home”) is one such game-changing text. The pope puts the urgency of his argument bluntly: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.” This is no dry repetition of churchy ideas: God made the world, life is sacred, respect the planet, and love your neighbor as you recycle. In fact, the pope’s been criticized by some for NOT writing that document. Instead, he’s presenting a vital summons to the global conscience anchored in the language of the age—science, economics, and social theory—yet cradled in scripture, prayer, and passionate moral appeal. The pope touches third-rail politics and tramples on toes; but who wants a pope who minces pieties or holds his tongue? As Teresa of Avila said: “The world is in flames! Let’s not waste our prayer bothering God with trifles!”

Impressively, this is not just a Vatican document. The pope quotes his fellow bishops around the world, voices that are seldom heard: from Canada, Japan, Paraguay, Bolivia, Portugal, New Zealand. He’s as comfortable citing the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church as he is the canon of saints, leaping from international conference findings to sacramental realities. Laudato Si sounds the warning to this generation and points toward hope. If you’re not stunned, breathless, and convicted by this message, go back and read it again.

And yes, it has 246 paragraphs, which is a lot to read in one sitting. Read a paragraph a day and be done in eight months. But I bet you can’t stop at one. You’ll be collecting pearls like I did: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.” “We are not God.” “The earth is essentially a shared inheritance.” “Purchasing is always a moral act.” Happy collecting.

Scripture -

Genesis 1:31; 2:15; 3:17-19; Psalm 24:1; 104:31; Sirach 38:4; Wisdom 11:24; Luke 12:3; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:16

Website -

Laudato Si

(On Care for Our Common Home)

Pope Francis    

Is God a name, like Allah or Jesus?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Monday 14, August 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
God the Father
Monotheism clearly doesn’t mean God responds to one name only.

Most Christians tend to use God as the proper name of our Deity. As monotheists (believers in one Divine Being), we profess that all other gods are false. This is another way of saying our God IS God, and there is no other. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah was very keen on this point, in an era when his fellow countrymen were perfectly content to worship any divinity that might help them get ahead.

The claim that the Holy One of Judeo-Christian tradition is a singular Divinity doesn’t necessarily imply that God the Father doesn’t answer to other names or respond to worshippers of other religions who make their prayers in other forms. In Scripture, the writers use many names for the Holy One of Israel: El, Elohim, El-Shaddai, and especially the name too sacred to say out loud—YHWH—usually replaced with Adonai, which is the respectful title “Lord”. In most Bibles, when you see the all-caps rendition of LORD, you know the name intended is the four unspeakable letters known as the Tetragrammaton. Monotheism clearly doesn’t mean God responds to one name only. It simply rejects the notion that there are multitudes of gods out there who must be appealed to separately or even selectively. God is ONE.

Having said that, please note that the name of God we invoke does matter greatly, since traditions vary as to the nature of the Holy One to whom we are appealing. The God of Judeo-Christian tradition is a self-revealing God who seeks an intimate relationship with us. By means of our sacred history, we understand our God to be moral and just, not simply powerful and capricious. The Bible reveals God to be Lord of creation and history, stronger than empires but also respectful of human freedom. Finally, in the person of Jesus, God’s self-revelation takes a dramatic turn. God makes common cause with us by sharing our life, with its limitations and suffering, including death. Through this daring and loving incarnation, the God we profess changes the rules of time and mortality.

All of this sidesteps the question: if God isn’t really a name, what is it? Linguistically, God is a noun that describes what theologian Terrence Tilley calls “the irreducible center of meaning, power, and value.” This definition covers all the kinds of gods we may chase after: money, control, celebrity, love. We need to be clear, not only which name we choose for God, but which God we choose for ourselves.

Scripture -

Exodus 3:13-14; 6:2-8; 20:2-3; Deuteronomy 5:6-7; 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 48:12-13; John 1:1-18; Acts 17:22-31; 1 Corinthians 3:21-  22; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Books -

Chasing Mystery, by Carey Walsh (Liturgical Press)

What Is the Point of Being a Christian? – Timothy Radcliffe (Burns & Oates)

Why should I go to church?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy,Prayer and Spirituality
Pope Francis sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us.

It’s interesting that Richard Gaillardetz asks the same question—and he’s a professional ecclesiologist, whose business it is to explain the church. Yet he admits convincing his own children of the necessity of going to church is another matter entirely. Why does church attendance need persuasion?

Gaillardetz identifies four troublesome modern obstacles. The first is widespread institutional distrust. We just haven’t seen all that many churches, banks, governments, or schools with a sterling track record lately. Add to that the more recent conflation of religion with partisan politics. Now, it seems, your church comes with obligatory party affiliation attached! That is understandably distasteful to many. A third problem with church affiliation is the social decline of absolutes. We once hung our hats on doctrine with confidence. But today a black-and-white approach to any issue seems simplistic, self-righteous, and begging to be debunked. Frankly, we don’t want some exterior machinery regulating what we’re allowed to believe about our reality. Finally, there’s the “fragilization” of religious identity. This lovely term expresses how religion, once the defining principle of a person’s life, has recently been downgraded to a lifestyle choice: a thing you have, rather than a thing you are. So, Catholic paraphernalia may be in your ethical toolkit. But you don’t see yourself as “a Catholic” anymore.

All of which explains why more people are skipping church. It doesn’t argue why they might not want to. Gaillardetz suggests that church might benefit from a reintroduction: not as mind-controlling Hall of Obedience, but a re-imagined School of Discipleship. Such a school exists to form us in the way of Jesus, not to keep us on the straight-and-narrow (much less save us from eternal fires). Old-school church asks different questions of us: “What do you think or believe about God, morality, your place in the scheme of things?” The School of Discipleship model asks, rather: “Whom do you love?”

This approach is in keeping with the teaching of Pope Francis, who sees servile obedience as the wrong spirit in which to develop a mature faith. The church exists to console, clarify, and challenge us. It shouldn’t simply deliver to the adherent a longer set of reliable truths than the person down the street enjoys. In the School of Discipleship, we would decree or forbid less, and trust ourselves as “liturgical animals” more. Rituals work on us as we worship, teaching and shaping us as we say grace, give alms, fast, stand in praise, kneel in humility, or share a meal. This is what church does best.

Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; Isaiah 2:2-5; Joel 2:12-17; Matthew 18:20; John 17:20-26; Acts 2:1-4, 42-47

Books: A Church With Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium – Richard Gaillardetz (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 2015)

Go Into the Streets: the Welcoming Church of Pope Francis – Thomas Rausch and Richard Gaillardetz, eds. (Mahwah, MJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

What is the common good?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 08, June 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Pope Francis
Common good
“The attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of the civil authorities,” Pope John Paul II declared.
Human nature may be viewed from two perspectives: the individual or the social. Which perspective reveals our true identity? Our society ensures we’re well schooled in individual rights and freedoms. From these principles I will navigate toward goals that satisfy my longing for the good life. I may believe that striving for what I want leads to my fulfillment. I may expect the state to safeguard the pursuit of my prosperity by whatever means necessary.

The common good, a tenet of Catholic social justice teaching, moves from the opposite assumption. It presumes human nature is essentially social. It’s not good for us to be alone, as our Creator originally determined. Our fulfillment involves creating conditions that are good for all of God’s children, with whom we share an origin and destiny. This creates a different expectation of the state: “the attainment of the common good is the sole reason for the existence of the civil authorities,” Pope John Paul II declared in Pacem in Terris.

Once we embrace the social nature of the person, the common good becomes a new lens through which to view social policy. What do rights and freedoms look like from a social perspective? Pacem in Terris defends the right to bodily integrity for all, including what’s necessary for life’s proper development: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and social services. The common good requires freedom to worship, work, and form associations—to gather for mutually beneficial reasons. Immigration becomes a universal right, to care for one’s family or security. All should be free to take an active role in public life as well.

Some resist the common good ideal as a brand of totalitarianism: a system that subordinates the individual to the group. Totalitarians don’t value a universal good, but only their party’s vision of the good. The common good has also been suspect as a communist value. It doesn’t erase individual rights or deny private property; it does view them as limited by and subordinate to the needs of others whose existence is in jeopardy. Pope John Paul II spoke of  “the universal destination of goods”; that the good things of this world are intended to be shared. He also boldly proposed that “personal property is under a social mortgage”. What belongs to us is ours as stewards of God’s gifts, not as guardians of our personal stash.

Scripture: Genesis 2:18; Isaiah 2:2-5; 25:6-10; Romans 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-6, 15-16; Philippians 2:3-4

Website: Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (ICCD) A free resource related to the common good can be found at 

Books: Common Good, Uncommon Questions – William C. Graham, ed. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014)

Public Theology and the Global Common Good – Kevin Ahern, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016)

Why is prejudice against Catholics called “the deepest bias in the history of the American people”?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 04, May 2017 Categories: Church History
Anti-Catholic prejudice
The spirit of nativism arose in some Protestant enclaves, as migrating waves from historically Catholic countries arrived on “their” shores.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr.—not a Catholic—made the oft-quoted assertion. It acknowledges that England rallied to Protestantism with the establishment of its national church, and British mistrust of Rome was imported to the New World. So few Catholics came to the colonies (35,000, or 1% of the population by 1790) that no threat seemed apparent. Catholics kept to themselves in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The 1800s, however, saw a century of massive immigration. The spirit of nativism arose in some Protestant enclaves, as migrating waves from historically Catholic countries arrived on “their” shores. Catholicism gained an official foothold with the appointment of John Carroll as Bishop of the new See of Baltimore. Carroll put an emphasis on opening seminaries and schools, to create a homegrown, educated leadership and laity capable of engaging the national conversation. The schools attracted religious orders from Europe to staff them, and as convent schools sprung up in the Northeast and Midwest, nativist alarms grew louder. 

A church was burned in Charlestown, Massachusetts, followed by two more in Philadelphia. Convents and rectories were likewise visited with arson. A visiting papal nuncio was burned in effigy in many cities. In Indiana, Mother Theodore Guerin’s sisters were spat upon in the streets and denied the customary store credit. Wherever Katharine Drexel purchased land for schools, she typically worked through agents so the sellers didn’t know the buyer was Catholic.

Nativist groups assumed names such as the “United Sons of America” in 1844 and “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner” in 1849. The latter became known as the “Know-Nothings” for their secrecy about their membership. Future U.S. saints including Guerin, Drexel, Philippine Duchesne, John Neumann, Marianne Cope, and Frances Cabrini all reported dealings with Know-Nothings and their offshoots. Finally, the most aspiring opposition group, the American Protective Association, was founded in 1887. APA members swore not to hire Catholics, enter into business with them, or elect them to public office. They sought to curtail immigration to stanch the Catholic population, and falsified scandalous documents from the pope or bishops to perpetuate fear of Rome. At its height in 1894, a million Americans were on the rolls of the APA, and the group controlled local governments in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Kansas City.

The APA fizzled by 1911; by 1915, a reconstituted Ku Klux Klan added anti-Catholicism to its principles. The story of U.S. bias has hardly reached its end.

Books: Documents of American Catholic History – John Tracy Ellis (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987)

The Party of Fear – David Bennett (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988)

Why does going to Mass on Saturday night “count” to fulfill the Sunday obligation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Thursday 04, May 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Liturgy
Saturday evening Mass
The Hebrew definition of a day is measured from one desert sundown to the next.

Plenty of folks, including my Dad, have viewed the “Saturday Five” Mass as an unwelcome innovation. It’s been decried as one more Vatican II accommodation to flabby Catholicism: dumbing down our vigorous commitment to the Precepts of the Church. Most decriers would be surprised to hear that a prior evening anticipatory Mass was recommended and defended by 4th-century heavyweights including Augustine and Jerome. Where does the idea come from?

The fifth verse in the Bible declares: “Evening came, and morning followed—the first day.” The phrase is repeated after each of the first six days of creation, giving rise to the Hebrew definition of a day as measured from one desert sundown to the next. Examples in both Testaments testify that time makes a significant shift at sundown: the Temple is closed as shadows lengthen, or crowds bring their sick to Jesus as night falls. Even Easter is counted as “the third day” when the women approach the tomb under cover of darkness.

To be on the safe side in observing erev (Hebrew “evening”), rabbis say wait for three stars to appear in the sky. When you think about it, the concept that the a.m. (ante meridiem, Latin for “before noon”) period begins at midnight is not much more than a decision. The day has to start somewhere.

Jewish practice carries over in the anticipatory Mass for Sunday, or the Vigil Mass of a feast. In 1969, Paul VI wrote that ''the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.” Although this was a moto proprio (personal papal initiative), it built on formal teaching issued two years earlier granting permission for the anticipatory Mass. It also acknowledged what the Liturgy of the Hours had promoted for centuries: a Sunday celebration lasting from Evening Prayer on Saturday night until Evening Prayer on Sunday.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law notes that “assist[ing] at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass." (no.1248) The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept … is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.” (no.2180)

Scriptures: Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Leviticus 23:5, 32; Nehemiah 13:19; Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-2; Luke 4:40; 2 Peter 1:19

Books: Celebrating the Easter Vigil – Rupert Berger, Hans Hollerweger, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1983)

Let Us Pray: A Guide to the Rubrics of Sunday Mass – Paul Turner (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012)

Don’t we have to obey what the church teaches, or be kicked out?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille 🕔 Saturday 15, April 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs
Catholic school teacher
Teaching is not about imparting abstract truths written in stone but awakening an appreciation for the rules that govern reality.

The phrasing of this question suggests a difficult academic experience! The church’s role as teacher, expressed as magisterium, describes the church as “master” in the school of faith. But who, precisely, holds this authoritative position? Thomas Aquinas applied the term magisterium to the university professor (master of a given subject) as well as to the bishop. Our present understanding limits the teaching role to popes and other bishops, who in turn rely on Scripture and tradition.

Most of us are lulled by our past schooling to equate teaching with telling—and not listening as grounds for failure or even expulsion. “I am teacher, hear me impose!”, as a professor once summarized. This relationship to the teacher/headmaster presumes that teaching is a matter of laying down the law or the truth. If teaching is merely telling, then what the bishop says, rules. Not submitting is therefore a kind of crime with consequences that match the severity of the offense.

The Old Testament word for law or commandment is also understood as guidance. Law dominates from a higher position; guidance operates as a benevolent companionship—like the fellow holding the lamp just ahead so you can find your way on the footpath. This fellow may call out instructions—“Avoid the thorny branches on the left!”—because if you don’t, there will be consequences, some costly. Yet this fellow’s not out there to identify and punish your failures along the route. His intent is always that you make your way safely.

“Teaching is a real-world intervention,” as professor Molly Hiro notes. It’s not about imparting abstract truths written in stone but awakening an appreciation for the rules that govern reality. History is full of competing truths that have led along some pretty dark routes. When the church teaches, it shines light on the path to assist our discernment of the morally secure way. Just as in mathematics, not all rules are created equal. Some bend, others are unyielding. It takes practice and experience along the path to know which is which.

When Augustine reflected on a more biblical relationship to law, he arrived at this conclusion: “Love, and do as you will.” If love truly does shape and inform our will, then we can safely follow it. The church describes this condition as “the informed conscience,” the highest authority to which we must answer. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the fellow with the lantern, calling out from his long mastery of this road. Love is the subject he’s mastered, and it’s the lamp he shares with us.

Scripture: John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 14:6; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4—13:13

Books: The Church, Learning and Teaching: Magisterium, Asset, Dissent, and Academic Freedom – Ladislas Orsy (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987)

With the Smell of the Sheep: the Poe Speaks to Priests, Bishops, and Other Shepherds – Pope Francis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017)



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