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.

profile 3 john.jpg

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Do we want Christ to come?: A Lessons and Carol Reflection

This is a reflection given at a Lessons and Carols service recently by a CTU student.

The Lessons and Carols Readings are:

Genesis 3:1-15
Isaiah 40:1-5
John Paul II Advent Sermon in 2008
Luke 1:26-38
Isaiah 9:1-6
John 1:1-18

Reflection:

Think of the last party you planned? How big was it? What was the occasion? What was involved in the preparation? Texting your friends to come and hang out on a Friday night at 10PM is “preparation,” but think bigger. What is needed for a successful party? A good location, food, beverages, the proper arrangement of furnishings, maybe a theme for dress and activities, but importantly awesome music? Overall, proper party planning takes a lot of work and energy.

Tonight, we have heard stories from our past. Some have been disappointing, others uplifting, some consoling, maybe one or two curious. But they are stories for us, actuality, they are stories about us. We easily understand the challenges of temptation seen in Adam and Eve. How our pride drives us to be something or someone we are not. How shame prevents forgiveness or admitting our weaknesses. We know our pitfalls and shortcomings.

And we know Isaiah’s story as well. When too we have been broken by stress and torn apart by trauma like Israel during the Exile. We know loneliness, we have felt forgotten. But even greater, but even greater, we too have experienced the power of God’s comfort.

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Think of the countless times God has spoken to us through our friends and family. In the pit of despair, how God has sent his angels as our loved ones who have pulled us out of the darkness and into his glorious light. How the Lord always manages to speaks the peace we long to hear.

And in the fullness of time, as the evangelist Luke and John proclaimed, God set his love in person. A love so great, so generous, so magnificent that the Creator would be become a creature to be with His creation that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us named Jesus. A love so tender desiring to walk with us once again like in garden so long ago. How beautiful, how loving.

And as Pope John Paul II said, Advent is not just about commemorating historical events. We do not just dwell in the stories of yesterday, we recall the past that we may see Christ walking with us today – in the present – in the garden of our hearts. For the promises of the past, are made manifest in the present that shows forth a guarantee toward the future.

Now think once again of the last party you planned? How big was it? What was the occasion? What was involved in the preparation? While, food and drink and location are important, what makes a party is who comes.

Who do you want to invite, who do want to be celebrating with you? Christ wants to be in your our lives. Regardless of our shortcoming, he dispels the darkness of loneliness and walks directly into our arms, pouring forth comfort and joy.

Advent is our party preparation. Advent allows us to reflect that Christ wants to be in our lives and Advent calls us to question, “Do we want Christ to come? Do we want to invite Christ into our daily lives, to transform us, to glorify us, to make us wholly human?” If so, let us cry out with the ancient command handed down through the ages, “Maranatha,” “Maranatha,” “Come, Lord Jesus!”

This is a reflection for a Lessons and Carols service by a CTU student who wishes to remain anonymous. The blog curator vouches that this student is in fact a CTU student. 

 

Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life applied to Human Trafficking

Bernadin Scholar and MA Student, Susan Francois, CSJP, shares her reflections on Cardinal Bernadin and human trafficking. 
 
Cardinal Bernardin

Cardinal Bernadin

I have had the amazing opportunity these past 2+ years to study at Catholic Theological Union as a Bernardin Scholar. This has given me an opportunity–and responsibility–to learn more about Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and the great contributions he made to our church and Catholic social thought.  Perhaps his greatest and most far reaching contribution was his development of the Consistent Ethic of Life.

I am presently beginning work writing my masters thesis on human trafficking as social sin. One aspect of the trafficking experience is the commodification and dehumanization of the trafficked person. As I was writing the section on dehumanization, I thought I would look at what Cardinal Bernardin wrote about human dignity and see if I could weave it in. I vaguely remembered reading something he wrote which would apply, and happily just found it.

It’s an address he gave in 1984 to the National Consultation on Obscenity, Pornography, and Indecency. Here’s just a bit:

The theological foundation of our opposition to obscenity, pornography, and indecency is the dignity of the human person. …

It is clearly simply inadequate simply to say that human life is sacred and to explain why this is so. It is also necessary to examine and respond to the challenges to the unique dignity and sacredness of human life today. Human life has always been sacred, and there have always been threats to it. However, we live in a period of history when we have produced, sometimes with the best of intentions, a technology and a capacity to threaten and diminish human life which previous generations could not even imagine.

In the first instance, there are life-threatening issues such as genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare, and euthanasia. These assaults on life cannot be collapsed into one problem; they are all distinct, enormously complicated, and deserving of individual treatment. ….

That is why I have argued frequently during the past year for the need of developing a ‘consistent ethic of life’ that seeks to build a bridge of common interest and common insight on a range of social and moral questions. Successful resolution on any of these issues is dependent upon the broader attitude within society regarding overall respect for life. …

In the second instance, there are life-diminishing issues, such as prostitution, pornography, sexism, and racism. Again, each is a distinct problem, enormously complex, worthy of individual attention and action. Nonetheless, understanding that they all contribute in some way to a diminishment of human dignity provides a theological foundation for more specific reflection and concrete action.

Keep in mind, he wrote these words in 1984. Decades before human trafficking became a public policy issue on the national and international stage.  However, it is not really a stretch to expand his observations about the dehumanizing effects of prostitution and pornography—which can be considered trafficking when force, fraud, or coercion is involved—to other forms of human trafficking, such as forced labor, where the creative capacities of the human person are exploited for profit and ill-gotten gain.

Ultimately, Bernardin’s consistent ethic of life helps us focus our attention on the human part of human trafficking. When we realize that what is at stake is the inherent human dignity of persons deserving respect, hopefully we are spurred to “more specific reflection and concrete action.”

Pray for us, Cardinal Bernardin.

 

This post first appeared on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.

Mysteries of Jesus the Migrant

Br. Maxime Villeneuve, OSA, is a new student at CTU. He has offered these mysteries of the Rosary below for our reflection and prayer.

Br. Max writes: I am proposing these mysteries in solidarity with the millions of our brothers and sisters who live in the shadows of our society.  It is my prayer that these mysteries may be meditated upon by all, especially those undergoing great suffering. I pray that they may find solace in the hardships faced by Jesus and the Holy Family, and know that the Lord walks with them.

 Mysteries of Jesus the Migrant

1st Mystery- Mary, who is in labor, and Joseph find no room at the inn.

Luke 2:7 “And she gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

2nd Mystery- The Flight from Herod’s Persecution.

Matt. 2:13 “When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

3rd Mystery- The Journey through the Desert

Matt 2:14 “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.”

4th Mystery- The Hidden Life of the Holy Family in a Foreign Land

Matt 2:15 “He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

5th Mystery- The Son of Man has no place to lay His Head

Luke 9:58 “Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

The Migrant Jesus

(c) Liguori Publications

Happy New (School) Year!

Welcome (back) CTU students!!!

The Theophilus Journal would like to invite you to get involved in the vibrant CTU community this school year by submitting to both the Journal and the blog!

To submit your academic work from this past year to the Theophilus Journal, you can look online for the submission requirements and then submit your work by October 1st!  Email the Editor-in-Chief, Matthew Dougherty, at Theophilus@ctu.edu with any questions you may have.

To submit other material to the blog, whether it be a poem, a Scripture reflection or homily, some photography, a reflection on your summer ministry or current ministry, or anything else school- or ministry- or spirituality-related, email the blog’s curator, Melissa, at melissa.carnall@gmail.com.

One of our new students already did just that! I hope you’ll follow suit!

To start off our new year, here is a poem by new student, Neil Conlisk:

Familiar Courts

Father, companion,
Source of all rivers.
Your blessings are pleasant,
Your courts are familiar.
Who would reject
The host of the pillars?
He’s risen again
and remembered forever.

Roots and Spectacles

Below is a preview of the 7th and final article of the inaugural issue of the Theophilus journal, by CTU student Fr. Martin-Edward Ohajunwa. You can click here to read the rest of it and to read the other inaugural articles

Roots and Spectacles: The Impressions of an African-American Missionary in the Western Church

roots spectacles2

The Catholic Church in the West is faced with a dearth of priestly and religious vocations amidst a growing cultural diversity. This situation poses many pastoral challenges, one of which is the need to meet the demands of ordained clergy in many of the parishes and dioceses across Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. What used to be a vibrant and dynamic local church has in recent years seen its numbers of clergy dwindle. This has necessitated the creation of a new dimension of assistance and sustenance for parish life: the use of international priests from countries where vocations are still growing. These international priests are otherwise called the Fidei donum (gift of faith) priests by the Diocese of Belleville and many other dioceses in the United States. These priests are mainly immigrants from Asia, Africa, and South America, with a greater number from countries like India, Poland, and Nigeria in West Africa. In fact, according to the Directory of African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS), Nigeria contributes the highest number of priests and religious working in the United States in relation to other African countries.

The dearth of vocations has made it an imperative for the local church of the United States, like in most western countries, to reach out to priests, with the consent of their individual bishops and Ordinaries, from far away dioceses and Congregations to invite them to come over and support the U.S. Church in its pastoral need. This is in tune with the mark and mission of the Universal Church that is in communion with local churches and so shares the gift of faith (fidei donum) in her unity and catholicity.

This paper is my reflection as an African international priest on pastoral assignment in the United States. It is a reflection on my observations of the conflict of culture that has become a major concern for the local churches in the on-going engagement of international priests in the dioceses of the United States, with particular interest in the Catholic Church of Southern Illinois. The conflict of culture and the process of engagement of the international priests are areas of greatest concern. This reflection has been inspired by a talk originally given to the priests of the Diocese of Belleville for the Clergy Day of October 28th of 2010, when I was invited to share my impressions with the priests of the diocese as an international priest from Nigeria working in their midst. Thus, one may see dominating these perspectives and impressions experiences from both my homeland in the Eastern heartland of Nigeria with its typical Igbo church and the Church in Southern Illinois. However, these perspectives will be broadened to accommodate, where necessary, impressions from outside these precincts.

I have chosen to call this reflection “Roots and Spectacles: The Impressions of an African Missionary in the Western Church.” It serves as a kernel for appreciating the common heritage, the “common meaning,” and the experiences which all priests share with the “one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church” that is missionary. It is of great importance to appreciate this fundamental character and formation of the true Church that informs us of a great and unique tradition of faith and apostolate. Though we may travel far and wide, the consciousness of this unity in faith affords me the leisure of a realistic reflection. So, in order to proceed with this reflection, I will briefly explain my use of terms as it applies to this paper and then delve into where and how these terms apply in the universal mission of the Church. I will present a brief survey of the Nigerian Church, and then, the Church in the western world with particular reference to the United States. I will also examine the cultural and pastoral challenges facing this mission with some proposals for moving forward into the future.

Click here to continue reading!

Suffering, Remaining, and Witness

Below is a post by Theophilus editorial board member and CTU MA student, Susan Francois, CSJP. She reflects on this year’s LCWR address which happens to correlate to work that Susan is doing right now as she prepares for her comprehensive exams. This post first appeared on her blog.

I was delighted to see that Nancy Schreck, OSF drew upon the work of Shelly Rambo in her 2014 LCWR Keynote address. I have been 412Gx1t-D-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_reading (and re-reading) Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (2010 Westminster John Knox Press) these days. I first used Rambo’s book for a paper I wrote on the ministry of reconciliation with trafficked persons. I’m now using it as part of my thesis work (today in fact …. it sits open before me as I procrastinate in my research with this blog post!)

It was interesting to read Schreck apply Rambo’s work on trauma to the place where women religious find themselves today.

This shifting within religious life and in world events has taken us to what I call a middle space. We find ourselves in this place of both creativity and disorientation. Much of what was is gone, and what is coming is not yet clear….

I am greatly helped in this next section by the work of Shelly Rambo and her book Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Rambo speaks about a theology of remaining in difficult places because “when you enter certain worlds, they do not let you go.”

Though her work is with trauma survivors and in no way do I want to diminish the aspect of trauma, I do think some parallels with or experience can be drawn….

The task of “remaining” in this uncertain place is to pay attention to the reality that does not go away. In this experience all of our theological categories are re-defined: concepts like love, divine presence, incarnation, and world view are reshaped. Knowledge, truth, and experience of our world are transformed, placed on much more fragile terrain because of the radical disruption….

What we try to do in the middle space is to describe events that shatter all that one knows about the world and the familiar ways of operating within it. What if from this place we simply witness to and provide testimony about this experience, with special attention to truths that often lie buried and are covered over….

In this middle space that is what we do: we call attention to things, things others might bury, or are afraid to face. That is why I say, however long the night we will be faithful and we will speak about what we are learning in the middle space. We trust Holy Mystery revealed in our midst. (Excerpt, Schreck, pages 7-10)

I need to think and pray into that some more, especially as it relates to my experience as a woman religious.

I’ve certainly been thinking and praying with a heavy heart today about the immense (human induced) suffering in our world today. And I mean, quite literally, today. A friend recently posted a very poignant list she’s been carrying around with her these days: “Fergusson (police state, Black Man Walking), Gaza, Ukraine, Malaysian Air Flt 17, Refugee kids fleeing violence in Central America, Yazidi’s fleeing the Islamic State, The Islamic State, Syria, Afghanistan, Ebola …” No doubt you have your own (similar) list. It seems to be growing by the day. So much violence, oppression, death, and trauma being caused to human beings by other human beings. One can feel paralyzed, helpless, or even complicit. Our globalized media savvy reality means that we are present to this suffering on one (superficial/virtual) level, even though the vast majority of us are removed in our privileged spaces of comfort and safety. In my case, I think that’s at the root of much of my own sense of being uncomfortable in my own skin as human induced suffering rages on and seemingly spreads. Removed as I/we are from the reality of suffering, I worry that it becomes easier to ignore or fail to act against it, thereby fueling more suffering.

Which is where I find Shelly Rambo’s work so helpful:

In our current world, we are witnessing ongoing atrocities and different manifestations of suffering. The invisible forces of global capital and the undetectable effects of new wars and their justifications demand that theological accounts of suffering attend to the elisions constituting traumatic suffering. Although some may say that all ‘suffering is suffering,’ there are different expressions of that suffering and its effects that press for renewed theological articulation. I understand this as the increased invisibility of suffering and the power of its erasure. The discourse of trauma engages these invisible realities, continually calling attention to what falls outside the lines of what is, or can be, represented. The challenge of theological discourse is to articulate a different orientation to suffering that can speak to the invisibility, gaps, and repetitions constituting trauma….

A theology of the middle Spirit can help us rethink the theological discourse about suffering, given its new unique dimensions in trauma. Bessel van der Kolk acknowledges that one of the primary effects of trauma is a crisis of the human spirit. This crisis refers to a complete loss of meaning and trust in the world. … How does a theology of the Spirit meet this crisis of spirit?….

I have started to envision practices patterned after this testimony, practices of tracking and sensing that propel us to recognize suffering amid its multiple elisions….

The tracking and sensing, then, not only unearth and give theological significance to the unknown and unutterable within human experience, but these practices also testify to something of who we understand God to be. The work of the witnesses is to track the undertow and to sense life. But this witness is, as well, a testimony that runs deeper than we might imagine, to the nature of divine love. In the middle, divine love is witnessed in its remaining. …The work of tracking and sensing is sanctifying work, the work of making love visible at the point where it is most invisible.

If we read this sacred story as a story of survival, we are pressed to think about what it means to remain in the aftermath of a death that escapes our comprehension. To witness this sacred story is also to receive it for the truth that it tells: love remains, and we are love’s witnesses….

From this space, a different vision of life can be glimpsed. It is life as remaining. This transformation, this redemption in the abyss of hell, is not about deliverance from the depths but, instead, about a way of being in the depths, a practice of witnessing that sense life arising amid what remains. The middle story is not a story of rising out of depths, but a transformation of the depths themselves.

(Excerpt, Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, 169-172)

A lot of words, many of them big theology words. But really, if I am even beginning to understand their power, I think it is summed up best by these two contrasting photos that have come out of Ferguson:

Top: Violence, suffering, and trauma.                                                           Bottom: Witness, remaining, and healing.

 

Reading Contemporary Responses to the Resurrection

Below is one of the inaugural journal articles by Donald Hermann, a current Mdiv student who has already completed his MA at CTU. 
 
hermann

Reading Contemporary Responses to the Resurrection: Metaphorical, Historical, and Naturalistic

For the contemporary Christian, as it was for the early believer, the Resurrection of Christ is foundational for religious belief. Paul states the centrality of the Resurrection to the Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15:14-17: “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too your faith…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” The doctrine of the Resurrection remains central to Christian faith.

For many centuries, the resurrection was either believed literally or not at all. Beginning with the Enlightenment, however, different sets of questions arose as some were skeptical about the actual possibility of an occurrence of Resurrection; while others, accepting its possibility, questioned whether the Resurrection should be understood as a spiritual or miraculous event. By the nineteenth century, controversy developed over whether there was a historical basis for belief in the Resurrection. Over the last forty years, there has been a revived interest in the historical Jesus along with significant attention directed to the subject of the historical evidence for his Resurrection. One survey reported that since 1975, there have been more than 1400 scholarly publications on the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus. This literature provides the basis for this paper, which will examine several trends in contemporary scholarship on the Resurrection. I will begin with an identification of some of the traditional approaches to the subject of the Resurrection which have largely been put aside. This earlier commentary either did not consider the Resurrection a possible event in history, or otherwise dismissed the historical aspectsof the Resurrection as largely irrelevant to the matter of Christian faith. I will follow this with a brief survey of the range of contemporary writings on the subject of the Resurrection. A key concern of this paper is to suggest that these contemporary discussions treat the Resurrection in either a metaphorical, historical or naturalistic manner. Finally, I conclude with evaluations of the persuasiveness of and critical reactions to these understandings of the Resurrection.

To continue reading Donald’s article, check it out here!