Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books
John Christman, SSS
At the parish where I currently serve, we have between 80 and 90 funerals a year. So, celebrating a funeral is a weekly routine. As I sit down with families to prepare the funeral, I take it as an opportunity to minister to them in their mourning and grief. I find so often, especially with people who pass away in their late eighties or early nineties, that their family tends to get stuck in the events of the last years of their loved one’s life. Perhaps they had dementia. Perhaps they needed fulltime nursing care. Often, they are not the person they remember.
As a way to break them out of this and help them process things, I take them back to the beginning. I ask them questions about their loved one, starting with where they were born. Then I slowly have them tell the story of their loved one’s life. Often laughter and tears surface as they tell stories they haven’t told in a very long time. Their loved one is no longer the diminished, dying relative of recent years, but the vital, unique person that made such a difference in their lives. Remembering rejuvenates them. Remembering brings the most meaningful memories to the present, and their loved one feels close again.
Sometimes the connection between remembering and Eucharist becomes all the clearer when I discover that cooking and sharing meals was one of the primary ways they expressed love and shared life. In my parish I’m delighted to often hear stories of Italian grandmothers who drew everyone to the table. Family, friends, and neighbors alike were welcomed to the table with sumptuous, always abundant meals. These grandmothers knew everyone’s favorite food: fresh bakery, homemade pasta and sauce, maybe even some homemade wine. Relationships and memories were created and sustained around their family tables.
In these instances, I try to make the connection between remembering and Eucharist more tangible in my homily. I often say that remembering is so important. In fact, remembering is a very important part of being a Christian. At every celebration of the Mass, the priest takes bread and wine and repeats Jesus’ words from Scripture, “Do this in memory of me.” And when we do this, we make Jesus present. We bring him back to mind. We remember him.
I think it can be somewhat similar for the family and friends of the deceased. In continuing to share stories about their loved one, in continuing to say their name, and in continuing to share meals and life as they did, they help keep their loved one present as well.
The painting on the cover of Emmanuel this month is a painting inspired by the Gospel of Mark’s account of the feeding of the four thousand (8:1-10). It could easily evoke similar scenes in Luke’s Gospel as well. These are very Eucharistic scenes. They not only show the great generosity of Christ, but teach us how we are to be of Eucharistic service to others, especially those most in need.
Pope Francis offered a beautiful reflection upon this in a Corpus Christi homily in 2016. He said of Luke’s account of the feeding of the multitude, especially Jesus’ instruction, “Give them something to eat yourselves” (Lk 9:13): “Clearly this miracle was not intended merely to satisfy hunger for a day, but rather it signals what Christ wants to accomplish for the salvation of all mankind, giving his own flesh and blood (cf. Jn 6:48-58). And yet this needs always to happen through those two small actions: offering the few loaves and fish which we have; receiving the bread broken by the hands of Jesus and giving it to all.”
The theologian Nathan Mitchell takes this even further. He interprets Jesus’ injunction, “Do this in memory of me” to mean “Free yourselves from bondage to rules that ignore human need. Break your bread gladly with any and all — leaving to God the task of distinguishing the worthy from the unworthy.” “Do this in memory of me” here becomes so much more. It is about building the kingdom of God in our midst. It is about sharing God’s generosity as Jesus modeled for us. It is also about remembering. It is about uniting our stories to Christ. It is about building relationship through breaking bread with “any and all.”
And whether you learn this lesson from Scripture, from reading theology, or from your grandmother is less important than taking it to heart, and putting it into practice. But it probably tastes better when you learn it from your grandmother!
1 http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/homilies/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160526_omelia-corpus-domini.html accessed April 9, 2019.
2 Nathan Mitchell, Eucharist as a Sacrament of Initiation (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994), 99.
God’s glory conveyed in one syllable — host —
opens our litany of praise.
He is the hostia, the victim who atones for our crimes,
the sacrificial lamb, the blood over
the lintel of our lives, the slain savior
then, now, forever.
He is both the guest and the holy welcome,
the hospes and the hospitis.
With our hands and our tongues
we greet this visitor to sojourn in our souls,
the flesh and the feast, the hostel,
the God who empties himself
This one syllable gift of love
is bestowed on us
no matter what we may be —
hostage or hospitalier.
Philip C. Kolin
Donald Senior, CP
Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2015
167 pp., $19.95
I received this very welcome Christmas gift to read and reflect upon during my break. I am a big fan of noted scripture scholar Passionist Father Donald Senior, and I admire his gift for writing. He was the president of the seminary I attended (Catholic Theological Union) and is still working “in retirement” as a scripture professor and the chancellor of CTU in Chicago. After stepping down as president, a position he held for 23 years, he wrote this book based on his experience in order to offer a theology for the vocation of governance and administration.
This book aims to support pastors, principals, business managers, or any other administrators for a Christian organization, including faculty and volunteers who serve in leadership. It is not a “how to” book. Instead, he shares his experience with others who have been chosen to work for Church organizations, as he himself was. It is also helpful in guiding administrators of other non-profits in helping them make peace with the responsibility of leadership.
The title is somewhat “tongue in cheek,” since many would never see the “gift” in being called to administrate! He does not explore this word enough, but instead places the emphasis on the notion of “vocation.” The book clearly is a reflection on the vocation to which many are called by God and a particular religious community or organization to serve in administrative work.
Administrating is challenging. Senior gives apt illustrations from Scripture, for example, the apostle Paul’s fundraising efforts for needy churches. He uses Scripture to show how Jesus and the early church built up the Christian community for the common good. Senior brings the Gospel to the workplace (102).
The book is divided equally among topics like institutional modeling, mission, and planning, the importance of finances and fundraising, “habits of the heart,” and “remembering whose we are.” It is a wonderful book to give or to receive as reading material for a retreat, to renew one’s commitment to the call of service in administration. It encourages a faith-based management style that builds one’s skills and gifts for the greater good and for better organizational development.
John Thomas Lane, SSS
Pastor and Liturgical Consultant
Saint Paschal Baylon Church
Highland Heights, Ohio
Trudy D. Conway, David Matzko McCarthy, and Vicki Scheiber
Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2017
306 pp., $29.99
The book is a real gem. At first sight, it looks long and heavy. Second sight offers a look at the whole criminal justice system in the United States. It is a book for anyone and everyone involved in the system: lawyers, judges, counselors, people working in prisons and those in prisons, along with police, victims, their families, and communities, etc.
One can read the whole book through, Chapters 1-14, or use it as an encyclopedia looking at various sections on how to deal with all aspects of restorative justice. Each chapter has a theme, a review of the theme, a look into the next section, and a set of discussion questions.
The goal of the book is to offer a process of restorative justice that treats the victim and the perpetrator with dignity and respect, helps return the perpetrator to the community, and helps in the healing of the victim and the community.
The book challenges citizens of the United States to move from a punishing system to a forgiving process of restorative justice. For too long, the approach of our justice system has been “an eye for an eye.” Two chapters (6 and 7) explain restorative justice in the Hebrew Bible and in Jesus’ teaching and example in the New Testament.
Chapter 3 offers a plethora of vital statistics to describe our present unjust system, in terms of numbers, race, and inequality of sentencing, along with the misuse and abuse of the economic system. Some examples: one in ten adults is incarcerated in a prison or local jail. In 2012, the government spent over $274 billion on the criminal justice system. Eleven states spent more money on the criminal justice system than on education. The incarceration rate continues to rise while crime rates have fallen 39% since 1980. And many more.
One would think that just looking at these statistics we would realize that the system is more than broken.
Chapter 12 gives a 10-step process to move from a retributive practice of justice to a restorative practice. It also includes models of restorative justice.
Chapter 13 explains the role of faith communities and organizations in moving to restorative communities. Throughout the whole book, practical examples of ordinary individuals, groups, and communities practicing forgiveness and restoration are making a difference. It is a sad book about our criminal justice system, but also a hopeful one. It gives a practical process for change and multiple examples of individuals and groups who have already begun to build a more biblical and humane system.
Marie Vianney Bilgrien, SSND
El Paso, Texas
Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2018
232 pp., $19.95
Stephen Walford, a British pianist and a teacher, took an interest in the pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, after having read complaints about its alleged errors. Walford had written religious books before and felt motivated to undertake the process again. While developing this text in consultation with 14 priests, he thoroughly researched the field and produced a text that Pope Francis himself endorses.
Walford begins his treatise by reviewing the crisis in marriage today. While emphasizing the importance of indissolubility, he knows that marital situations are often complex. Divorce and adultery have both victims and culprits that come in many different varieties. Conversion requires different responses in different situations.
Before treating the controversial Chapter 8, the author systematically reviews each of the chapters, drawing on relevant quotations along the way to illustrate the warmth of familial love. He presents Chapter 8 separately due to the controversy it has attracted.
Walford accurately takes into account the subtleties of what mercy may require. While the media falsely give the impression that now those who are divorced and civilly remarried may simply receive Communion, the author correctly notes that Francis has altered the discipline for those in irregular situations, but only if there is a proper exploration and resolution of the issues in the internal forum of confession (61). Black and white solutions cannot incorporate the mercy that love requires.
Walford then reviews relevant scriptural passages, each of which supports his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia. While his position seems thoughtful, it could have been greatly enhanced by citations to respected scriptural commentaries.
The author next traverses familiar territory concerning the imputability of sinful actions and the mitigation of responsibility. He reports Aquinas’ dictum that general rules, while essential, cannot adequately address every circumstance. He also cites a significant principle from Paul VI: while it is never permissible to do an evil act so that good can come of it, “sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good” (96). A statement from the CDF in 1989 affirmed this principle. Dilemmas can creep into life, and Amoris Laetitia is well grounded in taking a compassionate position regarding them (100).
While the author does yeoman work in pulling together many documents and insights, his case could have been strengthened by reference to Eucharist as a Celebration of Forgiveness, the recent work of Francis Moloney, SDB, who explores the background and reasoning behind Saint Paul’s dictum against receiving Communion “unworthily.” The term does not refer to the lack of grace in an individual’s soul, but to the lack of unity in a congregation that fails to treat lowly social members with dignity and respect.
After considering John Henry Newman’s principles on the development of dogma, Walford ventures into making a blanket judgment about the truth of magisterial statements. He goes so far as to say that “errors are not possible in any magisterial teaching concerning faith and morals” (144). Surely that statement requires much qualification. This lack of nuance mars an otherwise splendid effort that considers many diverse approaches in explaining Amoris Laetitia.
Nevertheless, Walford has produced a formidable text, with papal approval. Those who opine on the principles of Amoris Laetitia would do well to consult it, and consider seriously its arguments.
Gerald Bednar, PhD
Saint Mary Seminary
Thomas P. Rausch, SJ, and Roberto Dell’Oro, ed.
Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2018
200 pp., $24.95
The editors of this very useful anthology have selected nine experts to comment on various aspects of Amoris Laetitia, the controversial apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis. Questions for discussion assist readers and groups to understand the material at the close of each chapter.
After a chapter summarizing the contents of Amoris Laetitia, sociologist John Coleman, SJ, brings readers up to date on the latest statistics concerning marriage in America. Although the statistics will generally sadden those who value marriage, the author offers at least one slim ray of hope. The number of couples who agree that divorce is not the best solution to marital difficulties actually increased between 2002 and 2013. Nevertheless, Coleman notes that few Catholics pray together as a family, making it difficult to characterize the family as the domestic church (33).
After a chapter on the spiritual and sacramental dynamics of marriage, Michael Lawler and Todd Salzman offer a sexual anthropology in support of Amoris Laetitia. The pope has not changed doctrine; he has changed pastoral practice in view of a modern conception of the human person. The authors think it essential that older practices be revised in light of the discovery of the female ovum in the 1850s. Prior to that time, it was thought that the man’s seed contained the complete human being, which would grow while it resided in the friendly confines of a woman’s womb (63-64). Earlier judgments on sexual matters need to be revisited in light of common assumptions that have since been disproven.
The authors call attention to the fact that, while Francis professes the faith of the Church in rejecting cohabitation and same-sex unions, he also refrains from condemning them. This illustrates not doctrinal laxity, but the pope’s determination to accompany such couples in a gentle way (70). The authors’ presentation of the indissolubility of marriage is informed by historical and scriptural nuances that are too seldom considered by opponents (73-74). Although the authors make many good points, they venture beyond Church teaching when considering homosexual unions, while giving only one footnote to back up their claims.
In the next chapter, Roberto Dell’Oro explains the complexities of morality by easing moral decisions away from the mere application of law. Conscience should focus on a person’s “growth in communion with the good” (83). It considers acts in the context of a specific person’s life in all its complexity. It looks to the values that are perceived and interpreted in the concrete circumstances of life, and cultivates freedom in the process. Conscience can recognize, in Francis’ words, “what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God . . . while yet not fully the objective ideal” (AL, 303).
After a chapter on the domestic church, including helpful hints on how to enhance the experience, Craig Cox offers a set of reflections on the canonical implications of Amoris Laetitia. He unfolds the pope’s motu proprio Mitis Iudex, as a response to canonical procedures that, while workable in rich countries, were so burdensome in poorer countries that they became practically impossible. He reviews the major reforms enacted for tribunals, and gives background for the problem of the reception of Eucharist for those in irregular marriages. The author clearly would interpret law in a way that allows for the reception of Communion more readily than was allowable in past days. More than the law needs to be considered.
The author favors recasting annulment cases in more pastoral terms that avoid the off-putting categories that are imposed on a person’s life. As it stands now, a “petitioner” must submit to a “trial” before a “tribunal” with “judges” and “witnesses,” a process that culminates in a “legal sentence.” The author suggests that a “decree of freedom to marry” would be more palatable than a declaration of nullity that seems to render a significantly painful episode in a person’s life as a mere nothing (130).
After a beautiful and insightful chapter on marriage preparation by Maureen Day, James Keenan, SJ, gives a curiously one-sided report on the reception of Amoris Laetitia. It is no secret that the document has suffered a difficult reception. Four cardinals issued dubia that questioned its doctrinal purity. A group of laity offered a filial correction to the document. Websites have published at times wildly inflammatory denunciations of those who defend the pope. Nevertheless, Keenan ignores those interventions and reviews only the positive comments of those writing in Theological Studies and Commonweal.
Certainly the author is correct in highlighting the document’s positive reception, especially noting the statements of the various national conferences of bishops along with prominent cardinals, such as Cardinals Schönborn and Kasper. The negative reactions do pale in comparison, but not to the point where they should be ignored. He suggests that people in the United States were caught by surprise because only a third of the dioceses participated in the consultation of the laity that preceded the synod on the family (161).
Pope Francis and the Joy of Love should contribute well to the continued reception and understanding of Amoris Laeititia. Its chapters and follow-up questions should aid all in appropriating the message of the pope.
Gerald Bednar, PhD.
Saint Mary Seminary