The Chapel of Resurrection

Introduction to the poem:
The Church of the Immaculate Conception near the Piazza Barberini in Rome is the site of one of the Capuchin Bone Chapels. It is composed of 5 chapels: the first chapel reminds the visitor that, “As you are now, we once were and as we are now you will be.” Then there are three chapels each composed focusing on one major bone type… the femur, skull, and pelvis. The final chapel, the Chapel of the Resurrection, has at its center a picture of the Resurrection of Lazarus rather than a picture of Christ’s Resurrection.

The Chapel of the Resurrection

Bone Church

david hirt poem pdf-page-001

The poet, Br. David Hirt, OFM, Cap., professed his perpetual vows in July of 2013. He graduated with an AB from Wabash College, received an MFA from Wayne State University in Scenic Design, graduated with an MDiv from CTU
in 2013 and is currently doing the summer Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University. After graduating from CTU he spent a year and a half at St. Lawrence Seminary High School as a Spiritual Director and Campus Minister and is currently the Activities Coordinator at St. Ben’s Community Meal in Milwaukee. He is a poet and an artist.

Fifty Days and a Little Fire

A Poem by Marci Madary

Fifty days and a little fire-page-001

Marci Madary, CTU DMin. student, fell in love with poetry when she was a child and began writing poems during her teenage years.  In her undergraduate studies, she majored in English education.  Marci is currently an Affiliation Co-Minister with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, but still enjoys reading and writing poetry to express who she is as a woman, mother, and child of God.

In Our Time

Golden anniversaries are occasions for great celebrations, honoring the life and spirit it takes to make it to the fifty year mark. Anniversaries ask us to celebrate what has been, but also to look forward to the new and exciting things that are not yet. 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate clearly outlines the vision of the Council Fathers for building lasting intentional, mutual relationships with people of various faith traditions.  The Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops along with the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America are working together to commemorate this pivotal occasion in the life of the Church with a three day conference, “Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of Dialogue with Jews and Muslims”. In our time, scholars and religious leaders from three monotheistic traditions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—are able to come together to rejoice in the fruits borne of interreligious dialogue.

Nostra Aetate calls upon the Catholic faithful to strive beyond mere toleration of the religious other, toward honoring the human dignity of the other through encounter, mutuality, and friendship. In our time, Catholics are able to live more deeply into their faith commitments by sharing with and learning from the diverse nature of the human family.

This celebration is important not only because we need to take the time to reflect and recognize the great strides in friendship that have been made through dialogue, but also to think critically about the future of interreligious dialogue and the fruits it bears. In our time, the diversity of voices critically engaged with the religious other can be heard and respected.

While the strides the Catholic Church has made over the past 50 years to nurture friendship and mutuality among practitioners of differing religious traditions has enabled dialogue to flourish, the work is not finished. Interreligious Dialogue is a process. It is not always easy, but it is on the journey from stranger to friend that the fruits of dialogue and encounter shine forth. Nostra Aetate is the tool that allows faithful Catholics to engage the religious other with love, without fear. In our time, it takes courage and strength to speak out against religious persecution, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue, will give the opening night keynote lecture, “The Catholic Church in Dialogue with Islam Since the Promulgation of Nostra Aetate.” Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York will give keynote lectures about the Church’s relationship with Jewish people, both internationally and nationally. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, and Rabbi Noam Marans as respondents to the keynote addresses, respectively. In our time, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders and theologians are able to listen to one another and respond with thoughtful insights and critiques.

As the years go by, and we are ever farther away from the Council, and can sometimes lose the momentum of the Spirit ripping through the Second Vatican Council, we must look back in order to direct the course for the future.  Notably Fr. Thomas Stransky, CSP, who was present during the crafting of Nostra Aetate at the Second Vatican Council, will be giving a presentation about his experience, “From One Who Was There: The Crafting of Nostra Aetate.” This testimony of the creation of Nostra Aetate is invaluable for the those just beginning their engagement with interreligious dialogue, as well as the seasoned dialogue veteran. In our time, we must remember our past while looking to the future.

Currently, Pope Francis is the leading voice for an increased “culture of encounter.” Introduced to the world by Cardinal Tauran in March of 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio took the name of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis not only cared deeply for the poor, but he also engaged in (what we would now label) dialogue with the religious other. In our time, Pope Francis embodies the spirit of St. Francis and is able embrace a Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam at the Western Wall.

With the same spirit of friendship and encounter the Council Fathers espoused, you are invited to join the celebration of the golden anniversary of Nostra Aetate. If you are not able to make it to Washington, DC for the conference, please follow along via social media. Twitter @USCCBLive and hashtags #NostraAetate #InOurTime. In our time, the entire world is able to celebrate, engage, and dialogue in ways unprecedented in history.

Translated from the Latin, Nostra Aetate means “In Our Time”. How apt is that for a title concerning the relationships among followers of various religious traditions in an ever growing globalized community? Though Nostra Aetate was written in the 1960’s, the importance of the declaration is just as important today as it was then, even possibly more so.  In our time, the Church recognizes the inherent dignity, beauty, and truth in faith traditions the world around, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.” (NA 2).

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a  Program & Research Specialist with Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Julia McStravog, a recent CTU alum, is a Program & Research Specialist with the Secretariat of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

This is an edited version of a talk given by Ernest J. Miller, FSC, to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

The Call to be Prophetic Prisoners of Hope

I am one humbly trying to fulfill my small role in the world as a Brother of the Christian Schools, as a teacher with a liberationist orientation, and assuredly as a Christian, because I don’t know how to be a Christian and not be concerned deeply about love, hope and justice.

I invite you to walk with me, to listen as well as you hear. I hope I say something that unsettles you, unnerves you, and even if for a moment, un-houses you.

I want to begin with Zechariah chapter 9 v. 11-12, to draw on its central theme as a frame for our reflection this morning.

And you, because of my blood covenant with you, I’ll release your prisoners from their hopeless cells. Come home, hope-filled prisoners! This very day I’m declaring a double bonus – everything you lost returned twice-over! (The Message)

I want to have a conversation with you about the call to be positioned as powerful prisoners of prophetic hope. The Book of Zechariah is a short, unfamiliar book to most, tuck away near the end of the Old Testament.

The prophet Zechariah’s message was addressed to those he described as prisoners of hope. These prisoners of hope had come up from slavery, the Babylonian exile, now back home struggling to complete rebuilding the Jewish temple. But obstacles were in their way, stopping them from completion.

The prophet, speaking for God, does not deny the challenges the people faced. He does not dance around their despair.

In verse 11, the prophet owns where they are: metaphorically describing their situation as hopeless cells, or in another version, waterless pits.

What Zechariah does is a crucial step to prophetic hope.  Publicly owning the despair.

You ask, “What does this scripture has to say to us today?”

Sisters and brothers, as individuals within community, you have the exhausting task to respond to Zechariah’s call to be prisoners of prophetic hope.

Publicly owning the trouble that comes from bigotry based another person’s gender, ethnicity, skin complexion, sexual orientation, income, or religion, indeed, owning all that disrespects the humanity, the dignity of other persons is a crucial step to prophetic hope. It opens us up to renewing the movement for community rooted in prophetic hope.

We are now living in a difficult moment in the history of the grand democratic experiment in the United States.

On child poverty, which affects a disproportionate number of brown and black children, the U.S. ranks 36 out of the top 41 wealthy nations in the world.

Something is wrong.

Protests following the grand jury decisions in the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island has largely died down. While each of these cases including Fruitvale represent a tragedy for all involved, the case that tears at my heart the most it is the death of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, gun down by a police office in 2 seconds time.

But, as is often the case, there is still no full resolution or reconciliation in these cases. New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes: “The issue of police-community relations was raised but not solved. The memory of mistrust still wafts through the air like the smell of rot being carried by the breeze.”

Something is wrong.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 939 active hate groups all stripes in the U.S. A hate group is defined as having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.

hate map

Hate groups by state. http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map

Though it is a despairing moment in U.S. history because of the distance that still remains in achieving democracy, it is crucial that we continue to look for sources of light to sanctify our public life.

The Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton tells us:

Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which [people] can do about the pain of disunion with other [persons]. They can love or they can hate.

That is why you and I must hear the call to be prophetic prisoners of hope.

We must help our nation develop the grand vision of public life, which is to say how we live with one another, that we see articulated in the elegant prose and poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Dorothy Day, and Maya Angelou, among others, in whose work we find a democratic vista.

The Athenian thinker and social critic, Socrates, expresses how vital self-criticism is when he pronounces in line 38a of Plato’s Apology, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Here, Plato’s Socrates is concerned with both the life of the individual as well as the community to which one belongs.

My hope is to urge you towards embracing criticism of self and society with a Socratic, jazz-infused democratic sensibility, wrestling with this fundamental question: whether the grand Christian and democratic traditions of “struggle for decency and dignity, the struggle for freedom and justice” can be both sustained and expanded across our city, our nation, and our world.

The goal of such Socratic questioning and critical exchange is democratic paideia—the cultivation of an active, informed citizenry—in order to preserve and deepen our democratic experiment.

Cornel West eloquently describes this Socratic, jazz-infused sensibility this way:

“The interplay of individuality and unity is not one of uniformity and unanimity imposed from above but rather of conflict among diverse groupings that reach a dynamic consensus subject to questioning and criticism.  As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group—a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project.”

Recognize the distinction between individualism and individuality—it is rooted in community, it seeks dialogue and engenders respect amidst the diversity that is humanity.

Theologian Shawn Copeland from Boston College in her theological work tries to

Shawn Copeland

unmask the thought-systems that would allow for the stigmatizing, identifying, and eradicating of whole groups of persons—persons deemed different, inferior, dangerous. Indeed, her theological vocation may be described as a defense of the vulnerable, not only from invisibility in society, but from evils that render them all-too-visible in the body public: that is, racism, sexism, and classism. (Pramuk, Horizons)

Merton offers this image: the human person as a body of broken bones. “As long as we are on earth,” Merton writes, “the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.

To reset this Body of broken bones, we must become prisoners of prophetic hope.

The unmasking of systemic colorism, classism, religious bias, homophobia, and sexism is a task that all us—black, white, yellow, red, and brown, gay and straight, rich and poor, of whatever religion, no matter bank account size—must shoulder together.

Each issue demands attention. For now, allow me permission to dwell on the question of “race” for a moment. I believe that “race” is arguably the most nettlesome of issues.

Copeland tells us: “The most mundane as well as the most significant tasks and engagements are racially charged—grocery shopping, banking, registering for school, inquiring about church membership, using public transportation, hailing a taxi- cab, even celebrating the Eucharist or seeking a spiritual director. We  see race. . . . We see and we interpret.”

So, what do we see when we see “race”? What do we see?

It’s about the color line. We’ve heard the experience of those who are perceived as too “white” or light-skinned by some in their brown and black communities. Look at black-oriented music videos and see colorism upfront.

This conundrum of “race” results from the fumes and odor of the Enlightenment discourse (beginning in the late 17th century) beginning with Rene Descartes.

Race is a social construct, an ideological, cultural construct.

Race has no biological element. To the degree there are those who believe race does have a biological dimension, it is because we have awarded it one. Over history race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.

“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires pseudo-science looking for a reason to fix certain people into categories to claim a false sense of superiority. (T. Coates, The Atlantic)

Yet, the paradox is race remains a phenomenon we must confront. Yes, it is a social construct but it’s institutionalized.

Copeland puts it succinctly: “The ability to read race accurately, to categorize people (black or white, red or brown) has become crucial for social behavior and comfort; the inability to identify accurately a person’s race incites a crisis.” (Horizons)

As I prepare to conclude, let me offer these final thoughts.

First and foremost, keep examining self and community.

Second, a Catholic school, especially a La Salle school must be a place where justice education is a priority. Listen to what Brother Alvaro Echeverria, FSC, former Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, writes:

Education for justice should not be merely a specific subject area but a common thread that runs through the whole
curriculum. This common thread should be reinforced by daily practice within the school. It is important to create a kind of micro-climate which offers an alternative, miniature model that does not support the anti-values which society often presents to us: … Otherwise the school runs the risk of duplicating the system and preparing students for a society of privileges … where there is no solidarity. It is precisely this situation which we have to try to avoid … (Pastoral Letter, 2003)

If education for justice is to truly take hold and diversity matters are justice issues, it must be a commitment of the whole educational community. It is not just for religious studies to consider. Education for justice cuts cross disciplines; it a concern for the whole academy.

Third, the great activist and historian W.E.B DuBois gives us two questions to consider, joining the mix of other questions we have:

What does honesty do in the face of deception? Deception defined as false, a fraud, a ruse.

What does decency do in the face of insult?

Finally, my sisters and brothers, you must possess courage. You have to be courageous to think critically, to cut against the grain. Professor West asserts: “Recognize that it takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than for a solider to fight on the battlefield.”

Part of the challenge for this generation is that we have too many imitations, not enough originals—too many folks just trying to fit in because we hear that success and fitting is adjusting to the status quo. Be attentive to acquiring a Disneyland mentality where we perceive the sun is always shining and everybody is smiling. Be wary of a living in a culture of superficiality.

But Martin King and Dorothy Day and all those folks in that sculpture would say don’t be well adjusted to injustice; don’t be well adapted to indifference. Be like Martin and Dorothy and all those giants, maladjusted to bigotry and all forms of injustice.

Courage is the great enduring virtue that allows one to realize other virtues such as love, hope and faith. Courage requires knowledge that transforms who you are. The struggle for freedom and justice, for decency and dignity is a long-distance race. As Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

It is up to you to say yes to committing yourself for the long haul to be prophetic prisoners of hope. It is a long-distance run.

 

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

Ernest J. Miller, FSC, a CTU D. Min student, gave a version of this talk to the Diversity Week Assembly at De La Salle High School in Concord, CA.

On Dying (a poem)

In honor of World Poetry Day, we'd like to share this poem by CTU Student, Neil Conlisk, Carmelite Pre-novice.

On Dying

I know this place
I’ve been here before,
It’s something about
The rug and the door.

I’m leaving this town,
My presence is fading,
Like handfuls of sand
Thrown to the wind.

My head’s underwater,
My nose on the ground,
But something inside me
Hears a sweet sound.

Punished by banquets
Of beauty and bliss,
And sweet berry wine,
And good angel’s kiss

Thank you, Neil, for sharing your poetry!

Thank you, Neil, for sharing your poetry!

 

And given this poem’s topic, Theophilus, along with the Student Representative Council (SRC), would like to extend a quick invite for at an upcoming lecture we’re hosting at CTU. Herbert Anderson, former professor at CTU, will speak on his new book, The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying on Wednesday, April 8th at 4pm. Save the date!

CTU_FLY_Anderson_2015_FNL

 

CTU_FLY_Anderson_2015_FNL

Artist Showcase and Cover Art Competition

As students of CTU, we at Theophilus seek to engage the voices and perspectives of our
academic community in the contemporary dialogues of theology and ministry through the annual
publication of an academic journal and our ongoing blog.

We also hope to promote the artistic endeavors of our diverse and talented community. This
artist showcase presents the creative work of a number of CTU students for our wider
community to enjoy. All students and alumni were welcome to submit two pieces for the
exhibition.

In addition to providing a forum for students to share their creativity, this event will help us to
select the cover art for the 2015 publication of Theophilus, The Student Journal of CTU.
All members of the community who come to see the show can vote for their favorite work by this Friday, March 13th! The winning work will be featured on our cover!

Not all works are presented here as some artists did not wish to have their work shared digitally.

Enjoy the creativity present in our CTU community!

J. Bernardo Ávila Borunda, M.Div./M.A. Student

Icon of Kateri Tekakwitha
egg tempera and gold leaf on panel
1 Avila Borunda kateri tekakwitha

Mother of Hope
acrylic guache gold leaf on pane
17 avila borunda mother of hope

Nhan Anh Bui, CPPS, M.Div. Student

Saint Gaspar’s Call
The Mission for Reconciliation in Vietnam
carved wood (digital photo of original work)
2 Bui Saint Gaspar

Ora et Labora
Prayer and work are inseparable in our missionary activities
carved wood (digital photo of original work)
3 Bui ora et labora

Sharon Dobbs, M.Div. Student

Sharon writes:
“I am a mother and an M.Div. student at CTU, and I am drawn to taking photos of children and women. The first photo is of children that do not have a mother, and are being cared for by a Catholic order of sisters in India: Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity.  The second photo was taken on a cycling trip in northern China.  We stopped along the way to rest, and during this stop in a small farm village were warmly welcomed by all including this beautiful mother and baby and their proud grandmothers.”

Girls praying before dinner in Vasai India
digital photograph
4 Dobbs Girls praying

Family love in northern China Ningxia Province
digital photograph
5 Dobbs Family Love

Susan Francesconi

Susan writes:
“This is a botanical illustration of a rose hip in early fall. This particular rose hip came from a bush in my garden which at the time still had a few roses in bloom. However, none of those flowers could compete with this luminous, glossy rosehip that seemed to be telling me ‘the best is yet to come.’”

Susan has a BA in Fine Art and studied botanical illustration for a short time at the Morton Arboretum.

Fruit of the Rose, 2007
watercolor on paper (digital reproduction)
6 Francesconi Fruit of the Rose

 

Graham R. Golden, O. Praem., M.Div. Student

Untitled (crucifix in Sacred Heart Parish, Española, NM)
digital photograph
15 Golden Untitled Crucifix

Untitled (bell tower of San Francisco de Asís, Ranchos de taos, NM)
digital photograph
16 Golden Untitled Bell Tower

Ali Kenny, M.A. in Intercultural Ministry Student

Jerusalem
acrylic paint (digital reproduction)
sewing needle used as painting utensil (in lieu of traditional brush)
7 Kenny Jerusalem

Sarah Martz, OSF, M.A. Justice Ministry Student

Gift
acrylic on foam core
18 Martz Gifts

Steve Niskanen, CMF, D.Min. Student

Tree Burst
digital photograph
9 Niskanen Tree Burst

Autumn Path
digital photography
10 Niskanen Autumn Path

Mauro Pineda, M.Div. student, Romero Scholar

Mauro writes:
“I am… a parishioner at St. Gall Parish on Chicago’s Southwest Side.  I was born in Mexico and grew up in Chicago. I am passionate about the art of expression in any medium. Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso are the two artists that have been an inspiration.  I have admiration for the entire Renaissance, particularly Michaelangelo.  That motivated my leaning towards Fine Arts.”

Gavan Y Huaraches
charcoal on paper
This drawing was inspired by Luke 9:3, the New Testament image of the disciples being sent by Jesus to spread the Word, taking only the clothes on their back and sandals on their feet.
He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there. And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” Then they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

11 Pineda Gavan y Huaraches

Resortera
prismacolor on paper
This drawing was inspired by 1 Samuel 17:49, the Old Testament image of David taking down Goliath with a mere sling shot.
David put his hand into the bag and took out a stone, hurled it with the sling, and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone embedded itself in his brow, and he fell on his face to the ground. Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with sling and stone; he struck the Philistine dead, and did it without a sword in his hand.
12 Pineda Resortera

Josh Van Cleef, M.A. Student

“Jesus was not crucified on a marble altar between two golden
candlesticks, but on a city garbage dump, outside the walls,
between two thieves”- George Macleod

Mary, Mother of God
acrylic and gold leaf on salvaged material
13 Van Cleef Mary mother of God

Jesus, Giver of Life
acrylic and gold leaf on salvaged material
 14 van cleef Jesus Giver of Life

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro

by: Clifford Douglas Hennings, OFM

Weary my soul no longer friend, stay your embrace no more

A ramshackle such as is me,  is at the ready to disembark

To depart this ship of memory, thrashing in an ocean dark

And to step into that land long now seen, and kiss its gentle shore

In this time, my twilight hour, I do now name you friend

Long I dubbed you enemy, against your press I did defend

 

But Lo, you know, healing were the days and years of yore!

The dawning age of youthful dreams, thoughts of you I had none

A shadow cast and never seen, for having always faced the sun

A heart alight, green with glee and leaning into the fore

By quick expectancy, seeing neither starboard, port nor stern

Brilliant were the waters then, with passion mine eyes did burn!

 

Yet in the high-light hours of day, came a tempest’s rolling roar

Ahead it drew before the light, throwing gloom, arousing fear

Against the squalling of its breath, valiantly I fought to steer

Straining for victory and pressing on, ever clutching to my oar

I saw the fright of shadows then, and new my fate to be

And saw the swells of water then, swallow many into the sea

 

But Woe!, I said full throatily, this affront means War!

I steeled myself, prepared my arms and set my face like flint

To cast my bones as iron shod, resolved to remain unbent

Yet vain were my labors made, when nearing the endless bore

Alas, I did not see you then, did not know your subtle way

How your casting shadows made, a contrast for the day

 

How the gleaming things of light, always you they wore

Your darkness ever follows them, beauty wears you at her feet

And all the burnished sights of day,  in the end you they meet

For how confused  a world would be, so made without your score

A puzzled dash of colors thrown, senseless and undefined

And so for life to win its fame, with you it is entwined

 

It took the years for me to see, to find your hidden lore

Now I see your shadow caste, from a mountain out at sea

The sun behind its highest peak, and no more long to flee

Readied to quit this feeble ship, and breach its veiled shore

Name my life by these final hours, you my constant kin

And tell my tale of dread and joy, as it has always been!

 

Cliff Hennings, OFM

Cliff Hennings, OFM

Clifford Hennings, OFM is a solemnly professed brother of the Order of Friars Minor in the Province of Saint John the Baptist. He is a third year student in the Master of Divinity program at Catholic Theological Union.

Rahner at the Oscars: A Sacramentology of Film

by Stephanie Cherpak Clary
Moving pictures—shadows and light—like a magic trick, done in plain sight. Why do we love them? Why do we care when they’re just moving pictures that aren’t really there?” –Neil Patrick Harris
neil-patrick-harris-87-academy-awards-show-gi

Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 87th Academy Awards

Neil Patrick Harris opened the 2015 Academy Awards with an entertaining, musical number that begun by asking just why we all care so much about what was being celebrated that night—actors, actresses, directors, cinematographers, make-up and costume designers, editors, musicians, writers, artists, and more. The vast majority of us do not work in the production industry and will never attend the Oscars as either nominee or guest. Still, many of us care deeply for the work honored at this ceremony because it has entered our theaters, our family rooms, our minds, and our hearts. It has awakened our emotions. It has touched our lives. But, just why does an audio-visual story represented on a screen affect us so significantly? By using the framework of Karl Rahner’s sacramentology, one can see how a categorical expression of existential human experience sacramentalizes these experiences into something that can be meaningful for all who encounter it.

Rahner’s Sacramentology

Karl Rahner’s theology of sacrament begins with assertion of the church as the basic sacrament of Christianity:

As the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ in time and space, as the fruit of salvation which can no longer perish, and as the means of salvation by which God offers his salvation to an individual in a tangible way and in the historical and social dimension, the church is the basic sacrament.[1]

The church (as sacrament) does not cause Jesus to exist historically or cause Christ’s resurrection. These are events that have already taken place—historical realities to which the present existence of the church points and simultaneously pushes forward into a future reality by its very existence. Therefore, by saying that the sacrament of the church does not cause the initial existence of Jesus of Nazareth and the risen Christ, one is not saying that the church has no effect on the promulgation of these realities and their subsistence into the future, but is, instead, suggesting that the church is a categorical expression of an event (God’s revelation) that is already taking place and, aided by this categorical expression, will continue to take place in the future.[2]

By understanding the church as the basic sacrament, with past, present, and future dimensions[3] (i.e., the result and proof of the historical Jesus and risen Christ which already existed and exists; the present, tangible manifestation of Christ’s existence and message; the foundation for the continuation of Christ’s existence and message into the future), one

Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner

establishes a framework with which to view “the sacraments” as meant by the typical use of the term within Catholic doctrinal theology—the seven sacraments of the church (i.e., Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Orders, Matrimony, and Anointing). In the same way that the church does not cause the existence and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sacraments are not magic rites causing miraculous events to occur. Rather, the sacraments are rituals categorically expressing “existentially fundamental moments of human life,”[4] moments filled with God’s grace regardless of whether they take place within or outside of the sacramental ritual. Rahner explains:

We are not people who have nothing to do with God, who do not receive grace and in whom the event of God’s self-communication does not take place until we receive the sacraments. Wherever a person accepts one’s life and opens oneself to God’s incomprehensibility and lets oneself fall into it, and hence wherever one appropriates one’s supernatural transcendentality in interpersonal communication, in love, in fidelity, and in a task which opens one even to the inner-worldly future of humanity and of the human race, there is taking place the history of the salvation and the revelation of the very God who communicates Godself to humanity, and whose communication is mediated by the whole length and breadth and depth of human life.[5]

What the sacraments do is express these experiences of God in a way that is tangible in time and space. Additionally, like the expression of the church as the sacrament of Christ’s presence, the sacraments not only celebrate the ongoing existence of transcendental experiences of God, but also promote future, similar experiences. After recognizing God’s action and presence in the seven sacraments of the church, one should be led to recognize God’s action and presence during other times “when a person believes, when one hopes, when one loves, when one turns to God, when one turns away from one’s sin, when one acquires an inner and positive relationship to one’s death, when one opens oneself in eternal love to another person in an ultimate way,”[6]as well as amidst any other number of existentiell[7] human experiences. It is the act of existentially and categorically expressing existentiell and transcendental experiences that sacramentalizes universal life events into the faith-based, faith-filled, and faith-promoting rituals commonly known as the seven sacraments.[8]

Film as Sacramentalizing Human Experience

Rahner’s strongly anthropological theology allows film to be sacramental because it reveals existential, human experiences. S. Brent Plate highlights this idea in his reflection on Man With A Movie Camera, saying,

by focusing on the profane, the everyday and taking the events to the editing room, the film gives insight into the extraordinary events of life: birth, death, love, community. . . . It is only through the world’s re-creation that the sacredness of such profane activities can occur.[9]

In the same way that a sacrament sacramentalizes an event of God’s grace, calling attention to, expressing, and affecting the reality of the event, film has the capacity to sacramentalize life events. The capturing of oft occurring events of human life onto a screen, within specific constraints of time and space, from particular distances, angles, and perspectives, sacramentalizes these events for no other reason than that they are purely human. Identifying with the events expressed in the film and recognizing the commonalities amongst humanity represented by the sacramentalized events allows one to observe and experience these events in a different way than when experienced in reality. It is because of this sacramentalizing of existential events of human life that a conversation between film and theology is possible.

By approaching study of film and theology in with this methodological framework, one avoids forcefully thrusting a reading of God’s presence into a film’s narrative or lying a theological theme over a film as a filter through which it should be viewed. Instead, the film is encountered on its own, often atheological, terms and theological connections are allowed to be raised by the film’s sacramentalizing of human life. This method of film as sacramentalizing requires one to first discuss the way that the film cinematically represents the existential life event(s) in question and then to discuss the suggestions and implications this representation has for theology.

Near the end of Neil Patrick Harris’s 2015 Oscars’ opening number, he aims to answer the question with which he opened the performance: why do we care so much about films when we know that their stories are carefully planned and presented representations of reality, but nonetheless, representations. His answer, “Moving pictures—millions of pixels on screens—moving pictures, they may not be real life, but they’ll show you what life really means,” proposes nothing advertently theological; but, because it speaks to the experience of being human, of finding meaning in life, and of seeking truth, it suggests that our films are so important to us because they are nothing short of sacramental.

—–

[1] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity (New York: Crossroad, 1978), 412.

[2] Lambert J. Leijssen, “Rahner’s Contribution to the Renewal of Sacramentology,” Philosophy & Theology 9, no. 1-2 (January 1, 1995): 210.

[3] Rahner, referring to Thomas Aquinas, explains how sacraments are simultaneously signa rememorativa, demonstrativa, and prognostica (Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, 428-429).

[4] Ibid., 415.

[5] Ibid., 411; Quotations throughout this paper have been edited for inclusive language.

[6] Ibid., 429.

[7] “The two spellings, ‘existential’ and ‘existentiell,’ follow the German usage. ‘Existential,’ as in Rahner’s phrase ‘supernatural existential,’ refers to an element in humanity’s ontological constitution precisely as human being, an element which is constitutive of one’s existence as human prior to one’s exercise of freedom. It is an aspect of concrete human nature precisely as human. ‘Existentiell,’ as in Rahner’s phrase ‘existentiell Christology,’ refers to the free, personal and subjective appropriation and actualization of something which can also be spoken of in abstract theory or objective concepts without such a subjective and personal realization” (Ibid., 16, footnote).

[8] Leijssen, “Rahner’s Contribution to the Renewal of Sacramentology,” 206-207, 214-215

[9] Ibid., 52-53.

photoStephanie Cherpak Clary is an M.A. Student in Systematic Theology at CTU, focusing her studies at the intersection of film and theology.

Now is an Acceptable Time: A Challenging Ash Wednesday Reflection

by John DeCostanza

Working together, then,
we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
For he says:

In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.[1]

Now.  This is it.  The acceptable time, the day of salvation, the moment at hand, NOW Paul tells us.  These words from today’s second reading were written for me and they were written for you.  The call for a “clean heart” as the psalmist tells us is never more true than this moment at the beginning of this Lent.  As I write, NOW would be an acceptable time for many of us to become aware of the machinery at work around us and I ask you to consider this as your walk to the cross this Lent.

The machinery I refer to has brought the names and stories of men who lost their lives tragically, needlessly into our minds and hearts in these past few years – Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless others.  If there is a name you don’t recognize here, commit to understanding why.  It may just be that you do not live with the reality that ultimately claimed their lives.  Perhaps you, or your son, or your neighbor, or your friend has never been read as a threat before being understood as a person.  You have been privileged.  NOW is an acceptable time to begin to understand why that happens to African-Americans and Latinos at a staggering rate compared their white peers.  NOW is also an acceptable time to ask yourself why your life looks different than theirs.  I know many whites like me have been pained at succession of black lives lost to police violence. One friend envies my pain.  He has nothing left to lament.  He is an African-American male.  We are the same age.  “Oppression feels normal,” he said recently.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time.

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.[2]

Many hearts have been shred anew by the recent punishing reminders of violence fueled by fear and hatred.  The news of this past week’s murder of three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, NC should pain all of us.  The beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians should be a reminder that unbridled evil can emerge from the hearts of humans.  It is true that the intersection of race and religion is a complex crossroads, but we cannot move beyond atrocity without moving through it.  Rending hearts in this season means recognizing our common humanity even in the face of such pain.  As King wrote over fifty years ago from a jail cell in Birmingham to a group of white pastors who regarded the movement as too radical and his actions as being outside agitation:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.[3]

Returning to the Lord means taking steps beyond the slacktivism of a Facebook post.  There are so many creative endeavors to bring restorative justice, God’s justice, to communities.  One of the marks of a good creative venture in restorative justice is that it highlights the true relational fabric of which King writes.  Soul Fire Farm in New York is a farm that “bring[s] diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, cooking, and natural building, and contribute to the movements for food sovereignty and community self-determination.”  This is multivalent right relationship with the earth, with others, and with self and God.  The farm sponsors various programs that promote solidarity with the marginalized.  This is just one example.  To be woven into a single garment of destiny means regarding ourselves as having a common future in full awareness of the blessed and broken character of our disparate pasts.  In that future, we cannot set ourselves apart as the “the hypocrites do” in today’s Gospel.  Their pious practice turns in on itself and what is meant to be the habits of focusing us outward on solidarity and justice – prayer, almsgiving, and fasting – becomes the stuff of egocentrism.  NOW is an acceptable time to make Lent more about others than it is about us.

A clean heart create for me, O God,

And a steadfast spirit renew within me.[4]

Too often, the Lenten imaginary privileges lament and does not move us toward compassion.  The traditional Lenten praxis of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can be more bound up in sackcloth and ashes than in the relationships with God, self, and others which we contemplate.  ash wednesdayOn this day especially, the sacramental of ashes on the forehead readily fills pews, but I often wonder if there is as much desire to walk the long journey that comes after.  In a beautiful discussion of compassion’s role in more adequate Roman Catholic engagement in racial justice, Bryan Massingale uses stories of deep relationship between whites and blacks to call those of us in the dominant group to task on how we might imagine ourselves into our privilege.  Drawing on the work of social scientist Joe Feagin and personal narratives from whites in transracial families, Massingale unpacks how deep identification through love and friendship can disrupt socialized norms to foster a new identity.

Such loving and committed relationships give one the visceral outrage, courage, strength, and motivation to break free from the ‘rewards of conformity’ that keep most whites complacent with white privilege.  Transformative love, or compassion, empowers them for authentic solidarity… Without the cultivation of such solidarity – rooted in lament, compassion, and transformative love – truth-telling and affirmative redress result in superficial palliatives that leave the deep roots of injustice undisturbed.[5]

If Lent truly does move us outside of ourselves to constitute a world that is more fully as our God intends it to be, then we cannot sit idly by while our sisters and brothers suffer.  There are too many alternatives.  As King wrote so prophetically, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”  Those words cannot be more true and more relevant than they are today.  A clean heart and a steadfast spirit are needed to face the difficult and grinding reality of racial injustice in our society and hatred in our world.  More importantly, they are what is needed to be able to forge meaningful relationships across difference.  Friendship and love are our hope.  This Lent our practice has to go beyond lament for what is broken and reach toward compassion and transformative relationship.  If all my friends look like me, I have to ask myself, “Why?”  If I struggle to build bridges between different ideologies and belief systems, the question remains, “Why?”  If I struggle to value what is unique in “others” in my life and I tend to remake them in my own image and likeness, I should always question “Why?”  Today is the day.  In this first moment of Lent, feel the fierce urgency of now for justice delayed is justice denied.  After all, it’s not justice for me that matters anyway.  What begins in me must come to be realized in us.  Moving through lament we can arrive together at right relationship.

NOW is the day of salvation.  NOW is the time.

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This blog post’s author, John DeCostanza, is a D.Min student at CTU, a member of the Theophilus Editorial Board, and the Director of University Ministry at Dominican University

[1] 2 Corinthians 6:1-2

[2] Joel 2:13a

[3] King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.

[4] Psalm 51:12

[5] Massingale, Bryan N. Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2010. 120.

Preparing for Lent

Frater Mike Brennan, O. Praem., offers some helpful resources as we prepare our hearts for Lent. 

Needs some ideas for Lenten practices? Ash Wednesday is upon us this week. Here are some thoughts to get you started!

Thanks for sharing, Mike! What are others’ favorite Lenten practices? Share in the comments!