Hope Arisen

Below is a poem by Mdiv student, Clifford Hennings, OFM. To read another poem by Clifford, click here.

A Lake Michigan sunrise (credit: Melissa Carnall)

O what a new day, the sun picking up and the darkness falling

Bristling rays paint colors clean and the earth shrugs the dew.

Early melodies fill the air and charm the wind to dance anew

And I greet it with a quieted soul, still and reverent to its calling.

The dreams that caged this restless spirit have now dropped away

Fleeing with the somber moon to leave me with this day.

What approaches is a mystery, and yet its promise so enthralling .

A time to find that which my heart has for a lifetime sought

The cache for which by heavenly grace I have so sternly fought

Is glimmering in the dawning light, to it my soul is crawling.

To cast aside this awesome promise and fritter away the time

Would be to rebuke what lies ahead, a covenant sublime.

Yes that ignoble deed would be an action most gravely galling

To the righteous hand that has shaped  beauty by a word

And wrongly call the breath of life, a curse idly slurred

So yes I say to the risen sun I will heed the master’s calling.

I will chase what eternal providence has so kindly borne for me,

Starry eyed with arms outstretched, enraptured and wholly free

Seeds of Peace: Thomas Merton’s Ecological and Peacemaking Consciousness

This article, by Susan Francois, CSJP, was published in the inaugural issue of Theophilus. Susan is a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.  She a Bernardin Scholar and Maters of Arts in Theology candidate at the Catholic Theological Union, specializing in Ethics and Spirituality. Her previous ministries have included social justice education and advocacy and local government administration.

The ecological conscience is also essentially a peacemaking conscience.” These are the words of the 20th Century American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, from a book review he wrote just months before his death in December 1968. While Merton is well known for his spiritual writings on a variety of topics, including peace and nonviolence, he never published a major work on ecology. However, recent scholarship has highlighted his evolving ecological consciousness, sprinkled throughout his writings, in particular towards the end of his life.

Like Merton, my own religious community, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace (CSJP), has recognized the connection between the ecological and peacemaking conscience. We recognize that “[w]e live in a society marked strongly by the violence of war, violence to people through poverty and a sense of powerlessness and alienation, violence to earth, sea and sky—violence that is truly cosmic.” At our 21st General Chapter in 2008, we adopted two Chapter acts, both under the theme of “Seeds of Peace,” that continue to guide our efforts to develop this ecological and peacemaking conscience. The first Seed of Peace Chapter Act is a commitment to growing in nonviolence. The second is a commitment to care for creation and respond to the crisis of climate change. Our Seeds of Peace commitments call us to deepen our CSJP spirituality of peace regarding care of creation.

This paper will consult Merton’s own writing and recent scholarly research to survey and explore the evolution of his ecological conscience and spirituality, particularly in the last six years of his life after his encounter with Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring.  His ecological spirituality will be discussed in dialogue with his spirituality of peace in the context of the moral and spiritual crisis of the nuclear age. The present ecological crisis and my own religious congregation will also serve as conversation partners to consider how the writings of this 20th Century contemplative might be a resource for 21st Century Christians seeking to integrate spirituality with ecological concerns in the midst of our own moral and spiritual crisis and the urgency of human-induced global climate change.

Click here to continue reading Sr. Susan’s article!

On the pilgrimage of life

This week’s blog is a reflection by Kevin Devotta, a CTU student who started in the Spring semester and is a candidate with the Society of the Divine Word (SVDs).
Kevin on pilgramage,  contemplating the meaning of life at the Mayan site of Tikal

Kevin contemplates the meaning of life at the Mayan site of Tikal

Going on a pilgrimage is a long established tradition among Catholics. Whether out of a sense of devotion, penance, adventure, or any other number of reasons, a journey to a sacred site often opens one’s eyes and heart to the reality of our loving and ever-present God. Being on pilgrimage gives us the opportunity to be open to the Spirit and encounter Jesus in those we meet. Recently, I had the blessing of backpacking for three weeks in Central America, starting out in Guatemala and passing through to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua before arriving in Costa Rica. Though I wasn’t journeying to a particular religious site, I still felt that I was on pilgrimage because I trusted that God would bless me along the way with people and events that would help deepen my relationship with God. And indeed, God delivered and I can honestly say I felt that I met Jesus in many people in some of the most unexpected places.

Travelling to five countries in just three weeks meant I was on the road a lot and usually only had a day or two in each hostel before moving on. The amazing sites – ancient Mayan ruins and cloud rainforests among others – were complimented by the wonderful people I met along the way. Since I was travelling alone, being open and friendly to my fellow travellers was one of the few ways I could change an otherwise lonely dinner into a night of companionship and sharing. In other words, it was by being open to those God placed in my path that I was able to add depth and meaning to my trip.

Being on pilgrimage is a way that I would also describe my time at CTU. I am an Associate (or candidate) with the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), and I moved to Chicago from Toronto at the start of the spring semester at CTU earlier this year. Coming from a multicultural city like Toronto, there wasn’t much of a culture shock for me to be in the ethnically diverse environment of CTU. The challenge, however, was filling the void left from being far away from family and friends. Just as I had to be open during my backpacking pilgrimage to the people God put in my path, I had to be open to those around me in my SVD community, in my classes and CTU in general, and in Chicago as a whole. By being open and friendly to those I met, I was able to add depth and meaning to my time as an Associate with the SVDs and as a first-year student at CTU.

Throughout my backpacking travels and my first semester at CTU, the thought of being on pilgrimage kept coming back to me. True, in most of those instances I wasn’t headed towards a particular sacred site; yet, I certainly was and continue to be on a journey, one that I make with great trust in God, looking out for the ways in which God will bless me, whether through people I encounter or events that pass my way. As I journey on my current pilgrimage with the SVDs, I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up: I’m continuing my discernment, open to the possibility that God is calling me to continue with the SVDs or to walk a different path. In any case, I know that by trusting in God and being open to the Spirit, I will encounter Jesus along the way and thus grow in my relationship with the loving God Who has made this all possible.

Eucharistic Foundations and Social Transformation: The Eucharistic Thought of Benedict XVI

This article, by Graham R. Golden, O. Praem., was included in the inaugural publication of Theophilus. Graham Golden is a member of the Norbertine Community of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque, NM. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Divinity at CTU with an emphasis in intercultural ministries. In addition, Graham also recently graduated with a Masters of Arts at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration with a broad focus on macro-level social interventions in policy and social program development.

Eucharistic Foundations and Social Transformation: The Eucharistic Thought of Benedict XVI

Between October 1 and 16, 2013, the Federal Government of the United States was effectively “shut down” due to Congress’s inability to resolve the budget for fiscal year 2014. In contemporary American politics, we have become accustomed to stalemates in public policy and political processes being driven by ever-increasing polarization. These polemical trends have become the dichotomous lens through which the media and our world perceive reality. The Church is not immune to such polarization, especially in how the media and general public often caricaturize Church leadership and doctrine.

Since his election on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis has been a media darling, being frequently portrayed in stark contrast to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, especially in terms of the pastoral and social emphasis of his pontificate. The height of Pope Francis’s 2013 media rise was his being named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. A lesser known public media accolade was that The Advocate also named the Pontiff as their Person of the Year, a surprising pick for a LGBT publication. Although both Time Magazine and The Advocate couched Francis’s often-interpreted liberal worldview in a more balanced light, such nuance is lost on most of the media. A quintessential culmination of the division depicted between Francis and Benedict in public discourse is the February 13, 2014 Rolling Stone cover story: “Pope Francis, the Times They Are A-Changin’.” A central theme of this division is the caricaturization of Benedict’s doctrinal and liturgical emphasis and Francis’s interest in poverty and inequality. The article claims:

Francis threw down a real marker in November, with the release of his first apostolic exhortation, or official written teaching. Apostolic exhortations under John Paul II and Benedict tended toward the dogmatic (JPII’s Familiaris Consortio restated orthodox Church teaching on birth control and the traditional family) or the wonky (Benedict’s Sacramentum Caritatis spent 32,000 words on the Eucharist). In this context, the blistering attacks on income inequality in Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) resonate like a bomb.1

Many conversations, formal and informal, in theological circles seem to focus on how “progressive” Francis is or is not. However, little energy seems to center on determining the legitimacy of portraying his predecessor as out of touch and disinterested in the concerns of our time. Has Francis departed that significantly from Benedict? Is a pontificate that would dedicate so much verbiage toward the Eucharist somehow inherently disinterested in the plight of the poor, or is there more depth to what Benedict was attempting to accomplish? Did he provide a more significant foundation for the social emphasis of Francis than may be thought by the general public?

Given the popular conception of Pope Benedict XVI as a radical conservative, there was little surprise when he issued the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, allowing what he called the extraordinary form of the Mass (usus antiquior), the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII—functionally known as the Traditional Latin Mass of the council of Trent—to be celebrated more freely in the Church. He is also known for attempted reconciliation with the schismatic conservative group The Society of St. Pius X. Under him, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith took steps toward correcting what the Roman Curia deemed a “doctrinal crisis” among women religious in the United States. More surprising to many has been the pastoral nature of his encyclical letters Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salve, along with the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. Yet more striking still was the release of Benedict’s last official encyclical as a reining pontiff, Caritas in Veritate. Lisa Sowle Cahilldescribes the encyclical letter as “a concrete response to global poverty and violence, especially the inequities and imbalances of power that lie behind the global economic crisis of 2008 to 2010.”2

For many, this document was so unexpected that some of Benedict’s greatest supporters, like George Weigel, responded with criticism and even redactions in search of what was an “authentic” voice of the Pope amidst what were seen by critics as external intellectual influences. Benedict advocated both for what some would classify as anachronistic liturgy and ritual, and major structural change in social, economic, and political spheres. For many this is inherently contradictory. I believe that these two “poles” grow from the same intellectual tradition exhibiting a remarkable continuity (though not without evolution of thought) within the theology of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.3 If this continuity of thought is true, then the emphasis of Francis on the poor is not a departure from the theology of Benedict but an ever increasing praxis of what was set forth by his predecessor. It may be in fact a concrete manifestation of the liturgical axiom, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

To continue reading this timely article, please go to the Theophilus Journal website.

Another Medium

This is a spoken word poem that Melissa, a rising 3rd-year Mdiv student,  performed recently at an open mic night. Unfortunately, the video from that night was too dark, so this is actually a  re-creation of her performance that night…please still pardon the quality of the video ;) The poem was inspired by her field education experience this past school year as a chaplain intern in a hospital. Melissa is a chaplain intern again this summer at another hospital in Chicago doing her Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). 


Another Medium

I got a B minus in art in the 4th grade.
I didn’t get another B for 10 years
And I gave up any hope of being an artist for more years than that.
I had tried and been found wanting,
So I would leave the art to the artists
And I would stick with numbers and then eventually with words.
Words could be my medium.
They can be inserted passionately into space
And their absence can adopt as much meaning as their presence
They can speak life or indict injustice
They can explain, and qualify, and be understood.
Unlike my 4th grade art that couldn’t explain itself.
That couldn’t cry out in self defense–
I was trying.
Words. Words. Words could be my medium of choice
While I pondered the possibility of me
An artist.

An artist
I pondered another medium too.
Alongside my precious words, I found another art form that awakened my soul.
That worked with words but also with silence
And that used the 64 colors of the Crayola box
With the 65th color of the breaking of a heart
And the 66th color of the vulnerability of a hospital bed
I feel my words get jealous as I get acquainted with this new medium
But don’t you see, words?
I still love you.
I’m using you right now.
Together we’ll create our art, with this medium of words and silence
And color and breath and heartache and joy.
Our medium is life itself.

I tried out this medium recently.
Furtively, like an imposter, I painted and composed and mixed words.
I stood silently at hospital beds in utter confusion
And in awe of the vulnerability of our human condition
Masked more easily for some.
I entered into the pain of rejection with our sisters and brothers with mental illness.
I crossed myself with fellow Catholics
And waxed rather nonpoeticly when asked deep theological questions.
And I fumbled words of español and uttered honest prayers for our searching.
My heart swelled in the swirling of the graced mystery
I thrived on the poetry of it all.
Or so I thought.

Then I couldn’t leave the room
I felt trapped by his presence
And then trapped by my mistake.
And my iron ran low
And my frustration ran high
And suddenly, my new medium appeared as a fraud.
I was kidding myself.
There’s nothing poetic about ministry, about life.
He was tired of life
And I was just tired.
And my iron ran low
And my frustration ran high.
And my new medium appeared as a fraud.

I wasn’t an artist
And life wasn’t a poem.
I was bumbling and tired and life was a mess.
But outside my own willing
I’ve felt the beauty amidst the mess
The graced mystery swirls and I’m not strong enough to resist
Love has captured me.
So sooner rather than later
The romantic in me can’t deny the canvas being painted
And I want to be a brush.
Coaxed back to art with empathy and concern,
Iron and friends, the trust of my patients and the brushstroke of the Artist.

In my art with a patient
I thank God aloud that God has created her in God’s image.
So she can consider her dignity and worth.
And since art is meant to stir in us
Is it lacking in humility to say
It stirs me to consider that I am created in the that image
Of our artist-God too?
I am a brush and a pencil, a painting and a poem.
Art and artist.
Words and image and life and pain and beauty.
Our medium is life.
Maybe I am an artist after all.


This poem was originally posted on Melissa’s blog, like sunlight burning at midnight.

Tinted Glass: The Trinity and a Discourse of Dialogue

Below is an excerpt from one of the articles in this year’s inaugural Theophilus journal. It is by Brendan Dowd, a recent graduate of CTU with an MA in Theology. You can read the rest of it and check out the other articles in our online publication.
The author of "Tinted Glass," Brendan Dowd

The author of “Tinted Glass,” Brendan Dowd

Human life is sustained by the expansion and compression of breath entering in and out of the lungs. Breath brings nourishment but does not settle. It swirls through the body and returns again, in new form, to the world. Similarly, the spirit that filled Jesus did not remain in him but flowed outwards for the sake of love of the world. These images we have of God not only help us understand complex/abstract concepts, they also implicate ethical responses. Elizabeth Johnson writes, “…symbol gives for the occasion of thinking.”1 Images provide the symbolic and metaphorical language that gives substance to living. I will explore three images of God created by a Trinitarian theological analysis; God as polyphonic movement, God as circle of relationship, and God as boundary crosser. In light of these pedagogical reflection points, I propose that Trinity be considered the motivating theology for directing the adoption of a dialogical theology of radical openness and particularity required by the Church’s foundational initiative for creating a society of sisterhood, brotherhood, unity, and respect…

Click here to continue reading!

Trusting in the Father to give New Meaning to Fatherhood

Below is a Father’s Day reflection from Frater Jim Garvey, O. Praem, a Norbertine brother pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at CTU.

When I met with my children to inform them of my discernment to the priesthood I did so with trepidation.  Never wanting them to feel their father was abandoning them, their approval was crucial to my ultimate decision.   My eldest was local, meaning Philadelphia.  My second son was living in Slovenia and my daughter was in New Orleans.  I preferred to meet them individually.  I wanted them to absorb what I was saying and asked each of them to offer their response in a few days.  To my surprise they all said “Well Dad, I can’t say that I am at all surprised.”  And each of them offered their blessing.

My discernment had practical issues beyond their emotional response.  I wondered how would I be able to provide for them financially with weddings ahead and first homes to purchase?  Like the Rich Young Man I faltered.  Through spiritual direction clarity emerged.  “How could God be asking this of me if he was not also willing to provide for their needs?”  I knew what I needed to do – I had to hand them back to the care of God.

As my spirits lightened with the delight in their faces I joked with them.  “I’m going to be adding new meaning to the word father for you.”  God makes all things new.



Black Theology of Liberation: Towards Achieving a Prophetic Vision of Justice and Community

Below is an excerpt from this year’s PAUL BECHTOLD LIBRARY FACULTY CHOICE AWARD article, by Br. Ernest Miller, FSC, from this year’s inaugural journal. You can read the rest of it and check out the other articles in our online publication.
Ernest Miller, FSC, this year's Paul Bechtold Library Faculty Choice Award Winner

Ernest Miller, FSC, this year’s Paul Bechtold Library Faculty Choice Award Winner

An excerpt:

…When we look closely, a hotel civilization is indicative of the American worship of wealth and the insatiable desire for convenience and felicity, which leaves the tradition of struggle for decency, dignity, freedom, and democracy aimless.

In his 1998 State of the Union Address, President Bill Clinton made a bold pronouncement that because those times [late 1990s] were good, we have a stronger nation: “We are moving steadily toward an even stronger America in the 21st Century; an economy that offers opportunity; a society rooted in responsibility: and a nation that lives as a community.”5  Clinton’s perspective is paradigmatic of what still masks the struggle of ordinary Americans to live decent and dignified lives.  What Clinton espouses provides ground for the Jamesian notion of a “hotel civilization” to serve as a heuristic to contextualize Cone’s method of linking theological scholarship and identification with those for whom this moment in American civilization is not beneficial; the city on the hill is fiction.

Cone would suggest that black liberation theology ask, “Beneficial for whom?”  What is the evidence that makes us think America has created a society in which the disinherited, who are disproportionately black and brown folk, are provided an equal opportunity to access economic and social betterment?  What is the evidence that makes us think that the nation has achieved community?  These are among the questions a black theology of liberation must confront.  West takes particular affront at the “sugar-coated language that accents the superfluities and superficialities of our day [that] must be pierced to deal with the harsh realities.”  He extends his critical analysis here:

[T]oday we face a new moment of triumphalism with new idols like markets and privatizing forces, accompanied by new forms of mendacity, such as using stock market records and balanced budgets as benchmarks of good times rather than the quality of lives lived for the least in society.  Perhaps good times should be gauged by the depth of spirituality needed to keep keeping on in the midst of material poverty, and also in the spiritual poverty of brothers and sisters disproportionately white in disproportionately vanilla suburbs.  These sisters and brothers are dealing with existential emptiness and spiritual malnutrition because they have not received enough care and nurture and love along with all their money and prosperity.6

In the intervening years since Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death in 1968, and Howard Thurman’s death in 1981, the nation has come a long way.  Yet, we are still living in a difficult moment in the history of the grand American democratic experiment.  The American political discourse and the nation’s priorities are tilted away from pressing social problems. Thus, it is crucial that we continue to look for theological sources of light to sanctify our public life.

The goal for black liberation theology is to achieve a way of living unchained that is available to all who hunger and thirst for justice, especially those whom Thurman calls the “disinherited,” or, put another way, those who “stand with their backs against the wall.”7  The same question that Thurman raised many decades ago—and black theology must still raise—remains as relevant as ever: “Why [is it] that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore, effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice…? Is this impotency due to a betrayal of the genius of the religion, or is it due to a basic weakness in the religion itself?”8

Framed by these questions, this paper proposes that black liberation theology urges a progressive movement toward achieving justice and genuine democratic community for all Americans… Continue reading (with full text and his citations) here

A Summer Update

Theophilus friends–

The blog was on hiatus while we transitioned from the 2013-14 Editorial Board to the 2014-15 one. But now we’re back and we’re ready for summer! The Theophilus blog will continue posting almost every week this summer and we want you to be a part.  We would love to highlight the work of any CTU student, alum, staff or faculty member. If you have a short reflection, a poem, some photography, or anything else blog worthy, please feel encouraged to submit it to the blog. This is a way to submit work that is of a different genre than the academic journal, but is nonetheless a integral part of the formative CTU learning environment.  Also, consider commenting on blog posts as a great way to stay in touch with CTU and be community from afar.

we want you meme


And consider submitting your academic work from the 2013-2014 school year to the Theophilus Journal while you’re at it!

Summer posts will start next week!

In the meantime, email Melissa, the blog’s curator, at melissa.carnall@gmail.com, with bold suggestions, hesitant ideas, courageous submissions, curious questions, and all other manner of blog-worthy communication.

Theophilus: The Student Journal of the Catholic Theological Union Symposium

Please join us in celebrating the release of Theophilus: The Student Journal of the Catholic Theological Union 

April 14th


CTU 210 B/C 

The event will include the presentation of the first

Paul Bechtold Faculty Choice Award 

as well as a light reception afterwards. 

Please see the attached.

    Symp Flyer (1)