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CHURCH LIFE: A JOURNAL FOR THE NEW EVANGELIZATION Church Life is published quarterly by the Institute for Church Life University of Notre Dame 372 Geddes Hall Notre Dame, IN 46556 Church Life explores the theological and pastoral roots of the new evangelization, with particular attention to catechesis, liturgy, adult theological education, a spirituality of vocation, and the formation of ordained and lay ministers. Manuscript submissions may be sent to Columns are 1,000 words, articles no more than 3,000 words, and more substantive essays 5,000-7,000 words. For style, see The Chicago Manual of Style and the USCCB Style Guide.

EDITORIAL Editor: Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D. Designer: Krista Seidl Photo Editor: Jeffrey McLean

DIRECTORS OF THE INSTITUTE FOR CHURCH LIFE Director: John C. Cavadini, Ph.D. Assistant Director: Jennifer A. Monahan, M.A. Catholic Social and Pastoral Research Initiative: Brian Starks, Ph.D. Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program: Colleen Moore, M.Div. Initiative on Spirituality in the Professions: Br. Robert Sylvester, C.S.C. Notre Dame Center for Liturgy: Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D. Notre Dame Vision: Leonard DeLorenzo, M.A. Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP): Thomas C. Cummings, M.Div. University Life Initiatives: Mary K. Daly © 2012 Institute for Church Life






DEAR READERS, What does the resurrection sound like? I had this thought earlier in the spring, when faced with the daunting task of teaching an undergraduate theology class on the resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, as Joseph Ratzinger notes in his Introduction to Christianity, is not simply the continuation of his earthly life. Whatever happened to him in the resurrection produces stammering in those who witnessed it, a kind of dissonance reverberating throughout the Gospels. In each resurrection appearance, vision is granted “only when he [ Jesus] opens men’s eyes and makes their hearts open up…” (Introduction to Christianity, 308).


Timothy P. O’Malley is (acting) director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturg y, a Concurrent Professor in the Department of Theolog y at the University of Notre Dame, and editor of the journal Church Life.

Our contemplation of the resurrected Christ, thus, requires a kind of purification of the imagination. The resurrection is not simply a matter of biology (the man physically dead, now physically lives) but the very transformation of history, of the cosmos. The entirety of our humanity, including the wounds of a life dedicated to self-giving love in a violent world, is taken up into the Triune life of God and bathed in resurrection light. Elsewhere, Ratzinger writes, “…resurrection [is] a pledge to the future of man and the cosmos, and in this sense a pledge to space, time and matter. History and cosmos are not realities alongside spirit, running on into a meaningless eternity or sinking down into an equally meaningless nothingness. In the resurrection, God proves himself to be the God also of the cosmos and history” (Eschatolog y: Death and Eternal Life, 116). How might the Christian teacher speak of such a transformation? If the evangelists themselves are reduced to stammering in their resurrection proclamation, what hope does the contemporary catechist have? Of course, this dilemma is not true of the doctrine of the resurrection alone. Can we persuade our students to perceive in creation not a rival account to scientific theories of the origin of the world, but the first act of a drama in which God tenderly draws us to himself? Can we move our students to recognize that the law of the Old Testament is not an imposition, but a sign of the Incarnation in which God’s own will is expressed through the spoken, mutable word? Can we open the imaginations of our students beyond understanding Jesus as a “moral exemplar”, seeing instead Jesus’ life as the non-violent, non-forceful, non-coercive, and thus salvific union of humanity and divinity? In the present age, in which our religious imaginations have become increasingly impoverished, can our proclamation of the Word of God become once again a source of wonder and delight, rather than boredom and disdain?




Hence, the question that began these musings: what does the resurrection sound like? One of the more apt media for teaching the Resurrection is not the spoken word but music. The fourth movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony (41 K551) can, if listened to through the eyes of faith (or perhaps more aptly the ears of faith), form the imagination of the student to understand what is at stake in Christ’s resurrection. The themes of the previous three movements reappear in this final movement, but in a novel way. What seems like the final note of the movement, opens up to an even more glorious crescendo. The darker sounds of the symphony are transfigured. And the listener learns precisely how beautiful creation can become. As one of my students aptly said, she herself was no longer listening to the music but the music was listening to her. In the resurrection, the themes of a human life are taken up and played anew, by the divine composer of time and space. The Church, the orchestra of selfgiving love, plays the symphony of the divine-human exchange for the entire world to hear. Each of the holy ones, those in heaven and on earth, becomes an instrument in this symphony of praise. Our lives, consisting of major and minor keys, are drawn into this ecclesial opus; until that day, when our whole selves (body and soul) will become an instrument of divine praise in the city of God. For, “nothing will be more delightful in that city than the song in glory of the grace of Christ, by whose blood we are made free” (Augustine, De civitate dei, 22.30; CCL 47B: 864.97-99). This is what the resurrection sounds like! And spending ten minutes listening to Mozart’s symphony elicits the kind of wonder that may renew the Christian’s own “image” of what occurs in the resurrection. The imagination is stretched, and we receive a glimpse (however momentary) of the resurrection itself. We, catechists or teachers seeking to reawaken wonder in our students, will need to become mystagogues of

wonder. The Christian mystagogue is one who leads (agogos) the initiated into the mystery (musterion) of God revealed in Christ. Each doctrine, each liturgical and spiritual practice of Christianity (when viewed contemplatively) reveals the depths of this love. Only through the wonder of contemplative sight can we begin to recognize how rich Christian teaching is. Defining this way of sight in philosophy and art, Christopher Dustin and Joanna Ziegler write: Contemplative seeing is like ‘studying’ the stars: how they differ and yet remain the same in summer and on cold nights, or how they looked when you were four years old and wished upon them, or how, in later life, the heavens appear so much more vast and infinite though one still discerns an undeniable ordering of the cosmos. It is like studying the face of one who love, and how well you recognize that face, because of how often you have seen and really looked at it. Seeing that face has meant becoming familiar with its particularities, its unique curves, texture, and luminousness. The more minute the detail, it seems, the greater we cherish the whole person who frames it (Practicing Mortality: Art, Philosophy, and Contemplative Seeing, 14). So too in Christian teaching. The more deeply we immerse ourselves into the particularities of the Christian narrative, allowing our imaginations to be filled with wonder, the more we come to know the face of God. Soon, our imaginations are evangelized, and we learn to experience life in Christ. Jean Mouroux notes regarding this transformation, “The Christian experience…interiorizes the truths of faith, awakens desire and aspiration, sustains and nourishes faithfulness; it enables us to see, touch, and taste God” (The Christian Experience: An Introduction to Theolog y, 369). As mystagogues of wonder, the catechist or Christian teacher seeks to interiorize the life of faith through the imagination, guiding students


to savor life in Christ. To see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to touch, the resurrection itself. At least, as much as we can in the present age, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). This “mystagogical” approach to the formation of the Christian imagination is the theme of this issue of Church Life. Happily, we have excellent guides for this re-formation of our imaginations. In addition to our regular columnists (who reconfigure our imaginations each issue), John Cavadinitakes up where his previous article left off (“Evangelization, Catechesis, and the Mystery of Christ: The Catechetical Legacy of John Paul II”, Church Life 1.1), arguing that the teaching of doctrine seeds the imagination with “information” that comes to form the Christian over the course of a lifetime of entrance into the mystery. His article, “On Teaching Christianity” provides not only an important corrective against the opposition of information and formation in catechesis, but also a prescription for how to teach “information” as a formation into the divine grammar of love. Colleen Moore, director of the Institute for Church Life’s Echo program, situates ministerial faith formation within the domain of the arts in her contribution, “The Dangerous Art of Becoming.” For Moore, art is not simply a component of a wellrounded ministerial formation program. Rather, ministerial formation itself is an art form in which the apprentice is invited “to situate their lives within the Christian mystery and to fashion their lives by this mystery through an ongoing relationship with the person of Christ and the Church” (39). The use of the arts in this formation cultivates the theological imagination of ministers, allowing them to become captured by the beautiful God. Leonard DeLorenzo, director of Notre Dame Vision and a doctoral student in systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame, practices the

catechist in contemplative seeing through the art of film in his “The Space Between: Film and the Theological Imagination.” As DeLorenzo maintains, many films may actually do harm to the theological imagination, rather than allow such an imagination to flourish. On the other hand, if given the space to ruminate, the imagination may find films, such as Good Will Hunting, Up in the Air, and Shrek, fruitful fields for cultivating a theological vision. Through DeLorenzo’s “exegesis” of these three films, the catechist or teacher learns the art of using film to create a space for theological reflection. Msgr. Michael Heintz, director of the M.Div. program at the University of Notre Dame and rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in South Bend, asks the reader to assess how we, reared in modernity, imagine Jesus Christ in his “Jesus: Sage or Sacrifice?” Msgr. Heintz tells the reader that it is “a perennial temptation to see in Jesus the instantiation of whatever ideals happen to be prized at any particular juncture in history, revealing much less about God and far more about our own predilections” (55). A healthy Christian imagination necessitates a “rule of faith” for contemplating Jesus, that of the sacrificial love of God. In a proper understanding of Christ, our imagination is purified of our own small way of imaging God as upholder of mores. Instead, we come to recognize that God is a communion of self-giving love, and in Jesus, we come face-to-face with the order of love himself. David Fagerberg, senior advisor of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and associate professor in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame, provides one final exercise to cultivate the imagination of the reader for the art of evangelization. His “C.S. Lewis and the Theological Imagination” asks a single question: “Why are undergraduates so attracted by the fiction of Lewis?” His thesis is one that will help orient the array of parish or college reading




groups, which dip into the Chronicle of Narnia on a yearly basis. Fagerberg argues that Lewis is successful as an imaginative theologian, because his stories breathe the ethos of Christian doctrine, inviting the reader into a sacramental world in which we are taught to break out of the confines of a secular enchantment. What Lewis does in fiction, the Church should do in her preaching, teaching, and worship. And dear reader, this renewal of the Church’s preaching, teaching, and liturgy is the precise reason why our cultivation of a theological imagination is the first order of business for the new evangelization. The Christian imagination is not a fanciful, disconnection from reality. Imagination is our bodily and spiritual participation in the economy of salvation, in the self-emptying love of God. Closing with a passage from Hans urs von Balthasar’s book on Prayer: Love desires to have the beloved before its eyes. Thus the contemplative will employ the powers of the soul to summon up the image of the Beloved, the powers of his “inner senses” and his imagination to call forth the image of the incarnate Word. He will contemplate Jesus as he dwelt bodily on the earth, the things he said, the sound of his voice, the way he treated people, his appearance when at prayer, at the Last Supper, in his Passion. This picture is not meant to be a realistic photograph, but love’s picture, solely concerned with love, the divine love of the Father, which is here manifested in the Son and in the concreteness of his whole earthly life. This is the only reason why, in prayer, we seek out the Lord’s earthly form. We do not use it as a crutch for our weakness because we are not yet ready to soar into the realm of pure spirit: we do so in order to seek for the love of God, to see, hear and touch it in the humble form in which it offers itself to man. In prayer, our love seeks love, divine love, through the earthly image (with which it cannot dispense). So it is continually drawn on by the historical Jesus to the Christ who died, descended into hell, rose again and ascended into heaven, who has put his whole self eucharistically into the Church, and to whose return in glory we look forward. He alone is the whole, living Christ over whom death has no power; he is the “Christ of faith” who gives and reveals himself to the believer who loves and prays, enabling him to share in his transfigured, eternal life (Rom 6; 2 Cor 5:15f). This is he whom love seeks to embrace in his earthly form (Prayer, 129-30).

ABOVE Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

May our prayerful practice of the theological imagination allow us to see once again with the eyes of a lover.












Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B.


















JESUS: SAGE OR SACRIFICE? Msgr. Michael Heintz










In the first of these regular columns that comment on the second pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I spoke of just one section, §1076, which offers a dense but accessible theological opening to the nature of the liturgy. This paragraph is followed by a section which bears the same title as the title of this present article. Sections 1077 to 1112 are a beautiful treatment of how the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all at work in the Church’s liturgy, each in a different but profoundly related way. The section is divided into smaller parts which treat in turn the roles of each member of the Trinity, beginning with the Father. I will comment now on the paragraphs that concern the Father (§§1077-1083), leaving the other sections for later columns. In all that I say about these paragraphs, I try to unfold the riches that are packed into the various formulations. It is my hope that, once having followed the commentary, my reader will find that the words of the Catechism thereafter stand forth in all their strength. And then one could refer back to the Catechism— and not this article!—to recall and deepen the grasp on the very rich thinking of the Church expressed there.

Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. is a monk of Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, OR. He is a professor of theolog y at Mount Angel Seminary and at the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’Anselmo in Rome.


One of the stylistic features of the Catechism that I particularly appreciate is how it very often just “talks Scripture,” that is, it embeds scriptural verses seamlessly into its discourse and makes these verses part of the whole. This is routinely done without a particular introduction that would begin something like, “As St. Paul [or somebody else] says…” This has the effect of saturating the catechetical text with Scripture and at the same time rendering the teaching in the form of a deepened grasp of Scripture or of its further unfolding. This Scriptural discourse is the style employed to open this section on the Father. Without saying so, the text begins with the beautiful hymn of praise that St. Paul uses to open his letter to the Ephesians. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (CCC §1077). The biblical text is well suited to begin a development on the Trinity, for it mentions “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and further says that it is he who is blessing us in Christ. (The Spirit will be mentioned shortly after; it is normal in Trinitarian talk to begin with Father and Son.) But the biblical text is likewise chosen because the Catechism wants to focus on the words blessed and blessing and to use the concept of blessing to describe liturgy.

The notion of blessing moves in two directions (CCC §1078). It describes what God has done and continues to do for us, but it also describes what we do in response to God’s blessing. We bless God, as the language of the psalter teaches us often to do, as in “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” or “I will bless the Lord at all times!” or many such similar expressions. With this twofold direction of blessing established, the Catechism can then make a very large statement: “From the beginning until the end of time the whole of God’s work is a blessing” (CCC §1079). It should be noticed that the Catechism’s language is not explicitly about liturgy yet. This approach wants to put liturgy into a larger category, a category as big as God’s whole dealing with his creation from the beginning to the end of time.

This thought is developed in the several sentences and paragraphs that follow. This huge sweep of “from the beginning to the end of time” is displayed in the way we know it from the Bible. The creation itself is a blessing, “especially man and woman.” The peace established after the flood with Noah is mentioned and the qualitative shift in blessing that begins with Abraham (CCC §1080). Then an impressive list of blessings is unfolded, and the Catechism’s language becomes an eloquent echo and summary of the major epochs of blessing that the Bible narrates:




The divine blessings were made manifest in astonishing and saving events: the birth of Isaac, the escape from Egypt (Passover and Exodus), the gift of the promised land, the election of David, the presence of God in the Temple, the purifying exile, and return of a ‘small remnant.’ The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, interwoven in the liturgy of the Chosen People, recall these divine blessings and at the same time respond to them with blessings of praise and thanksgiving (CCC §1081).

This long list successfully impresses upon us how varied and abundant the blessings of God have been. It is indeed “astonishing.” At the end of the paragraph just cited, liturgy is at last explicitly mentioned, “the liturgy of the Chosen People.” The twofold direction of blessing is recalled again because repetition is good teaching, and the point is more concrete now because of the preceding long list. The shape of liturgy is emerging out of the huge sweep of blessings mentioned: liturgy “recall[s] these divine blessings and at the same time respond[s] to them with blessings of praise and thanksgiving.” The next paragraph follows quite naturally from this, but at the same time it marks a significant qualitative shift. Carefully constructing this rich context of blessing from the beginning of creation and through the history of the Chosen People, the Church can now express in a very direct statement her belief about

her own liturgy: “In the Church’s liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated” (CCC §1082). A great deal is claimed in this simple sentence. In the context of the vast history of divine blessing (a history as old-as-the-world), the Catechism zeroes in on a particular context: the Church’s liturgy. And about this liturgy, two things are claimed. First, in the Church’s liturgy, divine blessing is fully revealed. Second, the blessing is not only revealed, it is also communicated. We should pause to be sure we have grasped the enormity and wonder of this claim. We should recall it every time we celebrate the liturgy. The short sentence needs development, of course. In the sentences that follow, the development is explicitly Trinitarian in its formulation. Likewise, the notion of blessing continues to be the leitmotiv of all that is said. So, developing this thought, it can be said that the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated in the Church’s liturgy because,


“the Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation.” This is a first dimension of liturgy: we acknowledge the Father as the source and end of blessing, and we adore him. We bless him for blessing us. But what is the climax of the Father’s action of blessing? The next sentence says it: “In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us, he fills us with his blessings.” In terms of Trinitarian theology this sentence is carefully constructed. The second person of the Trinity is acting in his incarnation, death and resurrection, but he is named as the Father’s Word in whom the Father fills us with his blessing. We are in the heart of the Trinitarian mystery here. The Father is the source of another, “his Word,” through whom he acts, through whom he blesses. This concentrated presence and action of the Father’s Word, Jesus Christ, is a second dimension of liturgy. The next sentence continues the development of this display of the mystery of the Trinity and gives us a third dimension of the liturgy: “Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit.” Theologically this is a perfectly balanced sentence

and a profound thought. The Father remains the subject; he acts through his Word; and through that Word he gives us the greatest blessing of all: the Holy Spirit. If one were to say, “Show me all that!” then we could point to the liturgy and say, “In the Church’s liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated.” The final paragraph of this section of the Catechism on the Father as the source and goal of all liturgy is an even more tightly packed Trinitarian formulation. The paragraph gathers into several statements all the rich ideas laid out in what has preceded. The twofold direction of Blessing remains essential to follow this paragraph’s sense. The liturgy is called “a response of faith and love to the spiritual blessings the Father bestows on us…” (CCC §1083). The two directions are both there: the Father’s blessings and our response. But our response is described in an elaborate sentence that names the Church in the liturgy and each of the members of the Trinity in different positions: …the Church never ceases to present to the Father the offering of his own gifts and to beg him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, upon herself, upon the faithful, and upon the

whole world, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life ‘to the praise of his glorious grace.’ We have come full circle from the citation of St. Paul that opened this section. In the liturgy we are exclaiming, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” A phrase from the full citation of the Pauline text is used again now to finish this section and to indicate that this paragraph concludes the development. Both directions of blessing are there. The Church prays that the divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of “the praise of his glorious grace.” The praise of his glorious grace— this indeed is an excellent way to say what we are doing when we celebrate liturgy.






Christ calls us to a freedom that flows from and ultimately rests in deep intimacy with Him and all the saints. This freedom is a participation in His divine life, which he shares willingly through the sacraments. To be free is to be with Him and in Him. To be free is to be bound to Him in a communion of love, in a reciprocal sharing of the self as gift. To be free is to have all of one’s decisions, thoughts and actions flow from interior communion with His salvific, healing mystery.

Deacon James Keating is Director of Theological Formation in The Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.


Such freedom characterizes those who have suffered the coming of Christ; it marks him or her as being Christ’s! To be so marked is to be one who is appropriating the grace of the sacramental life as one’s oxygen. This way of being configured interiorly, however, is not meant to simply give a Catholic inner consolation. Rather, such a powerful relationship with the Son of God has public effects as well. The first public effect of receiving the Love of Christ is the altered moral character with which such love gifts a person as a result of his or her receptivity to the paschal mystery. Such character is not private but displays itself always, wherever one is present. This public effect of receiving divine love is the first movement of evangelization. Such a moral character will radiate many dispositions, attitudes and virtues—giving birth then to the most public of all Catholic attributes—visible moral actions. These actions give witness to a person’s commitment to Christ. In these public moral actions, which are given birth to in the grace-filled conscience, one expresses the glory of the human being.




For freedom to be secured in a society it is vital that others respect public expressions of religious commitment. If this respect is absent in society then it becomes impossible for Catholics to have their deepest religious convictions become enfleshed. “The basic question before a democratic society is: “How ought we to live together?” Can the biblical wisdom, which played such a formative part in the very founding of one’s country, be excluded from that debate? Would not doing so mean that tens of millions of Americans could no longer offer the contribution of their deepest convictions to the formation of public policy?” (John Paul II, Homily in Camden Yard, 1995).

Of course to have a citizenry support the expression of religious conviction, they must first embrace the truth of religious liberty. According to Catholic teachings such liberty is not to be narrowly confined to formal worship alone but instead fans out to include public expressions of the love of God arising from the obedient conscience. Such expressions are better known as moral acts. To reverence the liberty of conscience as it is tethered to the truth which God reveals and reason discerns assures society that it is anchored securely. Without such respect for the freedom of conscience, a freedom that follows the truth born in love, one allows the social square to be ruled only by those who hold the most power. Love, then, is silenced; leaving only relativized and expedient values to fill the void. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes:

Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits. This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. (CCC §2106)


To receive the love of God involves the whole person. God gifts the lover with a fuller and richer life. To love God in Christ will inevitably lead to “life and life to the full” (Jn 10:10), and love is diffusive, generating more life and more love. Since then this is the nature of love, when one loves God a space opens up in public to contain and express that love. No one who loves murmurs about his beloved in isolation. Instead, one publicly witnesses in the town square that this person whom I have gazed upon and whose gaze I have received permanently alters my identity. This transfigured person now posits himself in the public pathways of culture. Those who may be threatened by the public nature of love might wish to reduce such a transfiguration to ONLY a “private”, self-enclosed “experience” of the heart. Authentic love resists this isolation. It has been consistent in Western culture that the public effects of being loved by Christ will be afforded space within the public square. Until now such love by God has been embraced as a social good, as has a person’s love of God in return (acts that flow from the conscience, the moral life). There are secular moral codes or systems of ethics— purely philosophical musings on right and wrong. These bear conclusions that flow from reason or logic alone in a strictly scientific way. The Catholic ethic possesses a more generous understanding of reason as Benedict XVI has noted recently (“Meeting with representatives of science”, University of Regensburg, 2006), generous enough to allow love to affect reason. Will there be a place in society for this kind of reasoning, this kind of ethic? In other words will citizens always make room for religious liberty, not simply freedom of worship, but the freedom to fall fully in love with God and have God possess the mind, affect and will in a dramatic movement toward public witness? If not there can be no lay life, no evangelization, no public meaning to the effects of

participating in the Eucharist. To ban such love from the public square is not to force it to disappear but to drive it to fidelity’s deepest expression: suffering for the name of Christ. To receive the love of Christ and to love Christ in return means to follow him to the cross—a very public place Calvary is, very public. The Catholic moral life begins and ends with one question: Do we have the courage to let Christ be the light of our conscience, to no longer hide in the darkness of sin? The pastoral, sacramental, and spiritual power of the Church, that is Christ’s own power made manifest through the mystery of the Bride and the Bridegroom, provides all the assistance needed to embark upon the pilgrimage of moral conversion. If we entrust ourselves to the power of the Paschal Mystery, the moral life will not be a burden but will become one’s whole life, one led entirely in Christ.




Lorenzo Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise, Moses on Mt. Sinai, 1452


HOLINESS AND PRAYER God is holy by definition. When the prophet Isaiah describes the seraphs as singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the Jerusalem temple (Is 6:3), a praise of God taken over in the Christian liturgy, the triple affirmation precisely describes God. The word “holy” (Hebrew: kdsh) means something like “separate” or “different.” The word designates God’s separateness: God is not the cosmos, not a creature, not we humans infinitely magnified. God alone can say without qualification “I AM” (see: Ex 3). Everything else called “holy” –whether it be places, times, instruments, clothing, images, persons or whatever – is holy only in relation to God who alone is holy. Not to put too fine a point on it: to be holy is somehow connected to God who alone is, in fact, holy. One primary link to the holiness of God is by prayer.





When we turn to God in prayer, either as a community or as an individual, we are doing something that is holy, which is to say, we are making some conscious connection to the source of holiness, God. The Catechism puts it nicely by saying that “the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion him” (§2565). That brief but powerful sentence contains within it three words that call out for closer examination: life, habit, and communion. These three terms serve as the inspiration for what follows. For the Christian, prayer is not a discrete act done now and again. It is a way of life. “Remembering God” (which is one way of describing prayer) is interwoven into one’s way of life whether it be a simple act of thanking God for the food set out at table or offering the day to God upon rising. Punctuating the week by participating in the liturgy is part of this way of life. To pray as part of one’s life constitutes a habit. When Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks of habits he has in mind a certain quality that gives form to the way we are. In the life of virtue, a habit shapes our truthfulness, our honesty, etc. To say that we are honest persons, to give an example, means more than performing an act of honesty on a single occasion. To have the habit of prayer is to say that prayer, as it were, comes naturally to us. It is a part of who we are. The habit of prayer is energized even when we worry that our prayers are not heard or when we find it hard to articulate our prayer. It is the disposition or intention to pray that counts. Thirdly, our life of prayer is done in communion. It is crucial to note that even when we are alone, our prayer is not solitary. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he began with the words “Our Father” not “My Father.” This Christian prays in union with Jesus. The liturgy addresses its prayer “To the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit.” That is why the Catechism cited above describes our prayer in the “presence of the thrice-holy God.” If we pray as a habit in our lives with some sense of all who pray with us, we are beginning to shape our lives as holy. We are a holy people in the sense that we attach ourselves consciously to the One who is by definition, Holy. Since our vocation is to be part of the Holy People of God we can say that if we remember God in our lives we are striving towards holiness.

Lawrence S. Cunningham is John A. O’Brien Professor Emeritus of Theolog y at the university of Notre Dame.


How, practically speaking, do we develop the habit of prayer? There is no single pattern suitable for everyone but there are some small things that we can do.


Begin each day by remembering God and asking for grace for that day.


Cultivate the spirit of gratitude for the gifts we have received.


Remember others, especially those in need, and “lift them” up before God.


One small gesture is to sign ourselves with the sign of the cross; it is both an act of faith in the Holy Trinity and a prayer which says that we do all things “in the Name.”

The great saint and Doctor of the Church, Saint Therese of Lisieux, taught what she called “The Little Way” which meant that she hoped to do every small thing in her life as a kind of prayer. She desired to do the ordinary and make it extraordinary. Her “Little Way” is one that we all can adopt by believing deeply that under the shadow of God all that we do that is good and all that

we are are themselves forms of prayer. Saint Paul tells us to “pray constantly” (I Thess. 5:17) and the best way we follow that injunction is to make our very lives a prayer. When we do that we are holy, which is to say, we are in communion with the “thrice-holy God.




Pietá, © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1395-1400




I grew up in a very Marian based Christo-centric tradition. From my earliest memories I remember beautiful Marian prayers like the Memorare, the many joyful hymns to Mary, pilgrimages, beautifully decorated home altars with her image, rosary devotions and lavish parish celebrations in her honor. We (those of us in this tradition) loved her because she was the mother of Jesus and our mother. Some have questioned our love of Mary reminding us that Christ alone is necessary for salvation. This is very true but is it not also the case that some of the most beautiful and treasured gifts in life are not necessary. The gifts of love are not necessary, and that is precisely why they are so precious.




Fr. Virgilio Elizondo is Professor of Pastoral and Hispanic Theolog y at the University of Notre Dame and a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Amazing but not surprising. Jesus left the best for the end. Throughout his life, he was always thinking of others and even offered his life on the cross for our salvation. His entire life was one of multiple gifts – the gift of his teaching, his healings, his feeding of the masses, his joy of table fellowship with anyone and everyone, his free conversation with women and even the gift of his own Body and Blood. At the very core of his life and message, he taught us to pray to God as our Father and invited us into intimacy with God as a loving father. It seems that just before uttering the final word from the cross, proclaiming that his work was now successfully completed (John 19:30), Jesus realized that there was still something missing from his redemptive mission. He came to initiate a new family based not on blood bonds but on the bonds of love (Matt 12:46-50). His entire life was expressive of unconditional love based upon intimacy with God who is love. He shed his blood so that blood would no longer be the dividing factor among individuals and nations.

Could there ever be a new family of humanity without the tenderness and loving heart of the mother who never abandons us, who will be ever at our side no matter what? Mary was such a mother. She not only gave birth to Jesus but accompanied him to the bitter end on the cross. Can you imagine her pain at seeing her beloved son betrayed by one of his trusted followers, abandoned by his closest friends, and condemned by the leaders of her beloved religion. The nails through the hands and feet of Jesus must have pierced her own heart as the thorns of the crown on his head must have dug into her mind and shattered it with incomprehensible violence as she witnessed the cruel end of a life dedicated to love and compassion. As Jesus was nearing the climatic moment of his life, and still thinking not of himself but of us, he looked down from the cross, the throne of his cathedral, and saw the very small group of faithful flowers centered around his mother. “Women, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple whom he loved “Behold your mother” and the gospel goes on


to say: “And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:27-27). The disciple is not named because that disciple is you and I, it is every faithful follower of Jesus who takes up the cross and follows him on the way. But there is more. The Gospel states that from that hour, the disciple took her home – there is no Christian home without Mary at the center of that home. Mary is the precious treasure of our homes Mary conceived Jesus in her womb, gave him birth, nourished him with her mother’s milk, gave him his first lessons on the love of God, launched him on his mission at Cana, accompanied him in life and was a faithful follower unto the cross. At the cross, the ever loving, understanding, compassionate, tender and faithful mother of Jesus now becomes our mother, the mother of all disciples. At the final and most sacred moment of his earthly life, as he enters the hour of his glorification, Jesus gave us the most tender gift of all. In life he had given us the Our Father but now, at the final moment, he gave us our Mother.

At the cross, Mary passes from being the mother of Jesus to being the mother of the new family of Jesus that is composed of all who listen to the Word of God, receive it into their hearts and put it into practice in their daily lives (Matt 12:46-50). As such she is the mother of the Church and in a very special way the listening and compassionate mother of each and every member of the Church. She reigns not just on altars, shrines and stained glass windows but even more so in the hearts and homes of all disciples. She continues to be the encouraging mother in moments of distress, the accompanying mother is moments of loneliness, the affirming mother in moments of rejection and self-doubt, the compassionate mother in moments of affliction and misfortune and the mother of unconditional love at all times.

With these totally unexpected and incredibly beautiful words Jesus completes his task on earth. “It is finished.” (John 19:30). He has triumphed over the most cruel powers of evil through the power of unlimited love and what a tender, loving and compassionate way to bring his work to completion; by giving us his own mother to be our mother. No wonder that Mary has such a deep place in the hearts and homes of Christians—for she is the precious and totally unnecessary gift bestowed by Christ upon the cross. At the hour of glorification Mary becomes our mother.






It is common knowledge that the homilies offered in many Catholic parishes (how can one say this charitably?) often have a lot of room for improvement. The quality of Catholic homilies, of course, varies widely according to the specific parish and priest involved. I have actually heard some of the best sermons of my life in Catholic Masses. But I have also heard plenty of lousy homilies too. So, if the common view on Catholic homilies has at least some basis in fact, it can only strengthen the Church if those responsible for offering homilies consider ways to improve them.

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociolog y and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. Smith’s research focuses primarily on religion in modernity, adolescents, American evangelicalism, and culture.


ABOVE Rembrandt van Rijn, Christ Preaching, 1652

As a sociologist of religion who has studied and reflected upon church meetings and sermons for many years, I suggest the following, which I think can significantly improve the quality of many Catholic homilies. One of the main reasons that homilies and sermons are bad is because they are unfocused; they try to make too many points at once. If so, that problem is readily fixable. How? Before addressing this problem, let us remember as background

that success here is not defined by the homily itself, but about how hearers are formed by homilies— their practical effectiveness in communicating truth. It does not matter that a homily is amusing or elegant or theologically astute or anything else in and of itself. Preaching is not ultimately about the homily or the person giving it. It is rather about effective communication by which the Church forms God’s people in truthful and good ways. Ideally, the homily and homilist should




become somewhat transparent, so that the message of the homily stands out and impresses itself upon the hearers in a way that forms them well. That said, how can the problem of unfocused homilies be fixed? The answer, I think, is to focus the homily on one and only one really important point. Way too many sermons (both Catholic and Protestant) have, as I have said, little focus. They often ramble about, saying various and sundry things that are more or less true and may be quite admirable. But, having listened for fifteen, thirty, or forty-five minutes, those in the pew end up walking away with little clue about what the speaker actually said. Much is spoken with minimal impact. Everything we know about human cognition and learning tells us that both operate with severe limits, even for smart people. People can only absorb so much information and engage so many challenges at one time. Every homilist therefore needs to get perfectly clear upfront regarding what exactly the people who hear it should walk away believing, thinking, knowing, or doing as a result. In what specific way should the listeners be different as a result of hearing the homily? If this homily were to succeed marvelously, what specifically would that success look like? How would its hearers live differently because they heard it? Then, every possible idea that does not clearly help to achieve that one purpose, that single focus, that clear vision of success, should go. Just cut it out.

This maxim does not mean that the homily consists of repeating the same thing over and over again. Talking about one important point is not the same as simply repeating oneself. In fact, it is usually necessary in any good presentation to craft a talk that leads up to, makes, circles around, and reinforces the same one important point in a variety of ways—perhaps including personal stories, scriptural reflections, doctrinal teaching, real-life illustrations, and so on. But never should any of that be included in a homily if it does not clearly contribute to communicating the one clear important point of focus. In short, always focus everything—every story, argument, reference, illustration, and exhortation— on the one point of the homily. Everything else is expendable, because it gets in the way. If something else is still really important but unrelated to this homily, it can be said later, in some other homily focused on that valuable idea. Remember: one point at a time. So, when the homilist sits down to work on the homily, the mantra should be: “Less is more. Focus. Make only one important point. Less is more.” If such a homilist can get their listeners to really hear, absorb, and work on living into or out of one important point per week, adding to fifty-two distinct, significant homily points per year, that would be a major success; compared to what usually happens, which is too many unfocused ideas not well retained or acted upon by anyone. And fifty-two really important points accumulated and reinforced over many years will surely help to form God’s people in good ways.


I hope this column itself illustrates my point. So, in keeping with this approach, cramming too many ideas into one homily is a bad idea. It backfires. The more homilies demand their listeners to hear, the less they actually get. We know that. So, Catholic homilies may be dramatically improved by implementing a few changes, the first of which is to always focus on one key point and to make sure everything that gets said in the homily states, clarifies, develops, and reinforces that one important point.





St. Augustine, early 6th c. fresco, Lateran, Rome

John C. Cavadini is the McGrathCavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life, Associate Professor of Theolog y at the University of Notre Dame, and a member of the International Theological Commission.



Did you ever wonder how the Apostle Paul might have been evangelized? He gives us a hint in a famous passage in 1 Cor. 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.




Paul here talks about what he “received”—you might say, the “information,” the basics of the Christian proclamation. As he says, he also “delivered” this or “handed it down” to the Corinthians in evangelizing or catechizing them in turn. This little catechetical formula is the basis for Paul’s long reflection and exhortation, in 1 Cor. 15, regarding the resurrection of the dead. Faith in Christ’s resurrection implies hope for a resurrection of our own, for Christ is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20). After reflecting with them on the hope implied in the message he had both received and delivered, he exhorts them to live in a spirit formed by this hope: “Therefore my beloved…, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). What is interesting to me about this passage is that, in a way, the “information” IS the “formation.” The “information” is formative. It is not just a set of facts, useful to know for lulls in 1st century conversations. The Christian message, summed up in this little formula, implies a formation for those who believe it. There is an interesting passage in the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians which illustrates the same dynamic. Have you ever wondered what Paul might have said to a community which had never heard the Gospel proclaimed and which had never even heard of the one God of the Jews? We get a glimpse at what he might have proclaimed in Paul’s earliest surviving letter (1 Thess.): For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Paul, it seems, had to start with the most elementary of Christian truths, the existence of the One God and the falseness of the idols, and also the unique relation to this God of Jesus as “his Son.” This Jesus was raised from the dead, and is to come again from heaven. There is a lot of what we might call basic “information” in this message, but once again I am struck by how “formative” it is to be “informed” with this message. In this passage, the formation that results from the “information” is folded right into an account of the “information” itself. How do the Thessalonians behave now that they have been evangelized or catechized by Paul’s message? They have “turned to God” from the worship of idols; they now “serve” the living and true God; and they live in hope, “waiting” for the Son of God, who is Jesus, to come again. They are a people “formed” in hope, a people whose service of God constitutes a “waiting” for the coming of the


Lord. In this passage, Paul can’t even give the message he taught, the “information” about the faith, except by remarking on the “formation” of the Thessalonians in response to the “information” they received in his earliest preaching to them. To know and to believe what is contained in the basic proclamation of the faith is to be formed by that proclamation. “Information” implies or contains “formation.” The relationship between information and formation is a point I made in the first issue of Church Life, when I analyzed Augustine’s sermon 212 on the handing over the creed. I concluded that Augustine’s attention to the information of the Creed means that the way that other people should “read” the Creed is to see the way in which it changes the identity or character of the person who has received it. The Creed, Augustine has explained, proclaims the unimaginably great love of God in Christ, so great that something truly unimaginable has happened, the Almighty has put himself into solidarity with our weakness and chosen to be, as a human being, vulnerable to all that we are vulnerable—false testimony, injustice, suffering death. Write this on your hearts, Augustine is saying: be formed by this love so that when people see you, they will see in practice the love, the pearl of great price, which the Creed talks about. The question remains, if the “information” of the Christian proclamation IS in some way a formation, and if the “formation” of Christians is carried out in imparting “information,” is there any difference? The answer to that question must be, of course, yes. In Sermon 212 of St. Augustine (as I noted in the last issue), the fact is, the Creed is not just handed over, plunked down, and left to somehow inscribe itself on the hearts of the catechumens. It is handed over with an explanation, in a homily, at Mass, and there is the support group of catechists acting in concert with the Bishop’s explanations. But, as the General Directory for Catechesis points out, the various tasks of catechesis— and mutatis mutandis of teaching religious in secondary schools or even theology in college—“are interdependent and develop together. Each great catechetical theme—catechesis of God the Father, for example—has a cognitive dimension as well as moral implications” (GDC §87). The task of “informing” is NOT independent of the other tasks relating to formation. We can see this interdependence in the example given from Augustine’s sermon 212. In this sermon, Augustine offers fairly precise information about the doctrines proclaimed in the Creed. But he tries very hard to draw out the formative implications of the information. With the image of the Creed written on the heart, he tells the catechumens that these teachings are formative: He explains




why it is important to believe in the equality of the Son with the Father. It’s not just a piece of information, just another interesting fact about the cosmos in a catalogue of interesting facts: giraffes have long necks; the earth is 93 million miles from the sun; Indianapolis is the capital of Indiana; and the Son is equal to the Father. Or, to put it into the words of a poem a student in a history of doctrine class once wrote for me: “Roses are Red; Violets are Blue; the Son is equal to the Father; and the Holy Spirit is too.” In the case of Augustine’s sermon, he explains why it’s important to believe that the Son is equal to the Father—because it means that the “One who suffered under Pontius Pilate” is God the All Powerful become weak out of Love. Unless you believe that the Son is equal to the Father, you won’t see this Love—but that is the very thing that makes this doctrine formative to our hearts. Augustine in

ABOVE Giotto, Ascension, 1304-1306


his sermon makes sure the catechumens see the “pearl of great price” which the doctrine contains. The doctrine has no value apart from its function of “carrying” this mystery of divine Love so that it can be handed on—so that this handing on or “tradition” may develop and continue. In a way, a doctrine of the faith is like a carrying case, a little suitcase, for Mystery. Doctrines are the normative way of handing on a mystery—they make it so we can pick mysteries up and carry them around and hand them to someone else and know we are handing on this mystery and not some substitute. But in order to hand it on properly the person has to know it contains a mystery, has to have it opened up so that receiving a doctrine means encountering the mystery it carries so that one can be transformed by it. In order to hand on the mystery you have to grasp on to the handles—the normative language of the doctrine—otherwise it’s untouchable—unspeakable—ineffable and therefore has no power to transform those who must hear and be touched in order to believe. But you can’t stop at the handles or you simply end up with mystification, a new intellectual puzzle (“3 in 1”), not transformation. Here is another example: the doctrine of Christ according to Chalcedon: two natures, divine and human, in one person. There’s a conversation stopper. If you are ever in a conversation that’s getting too interesting, just mention: “Did you know that according to Catholic doctrine Christ has two natures, divine and human, in his one Person?” and people will immediately start yawning and say, “Oh, like Breathmints!” as a student once said to me, “Two mints in One!” If you stop there, it seems like just another curious bit of information about the world, isolated and random as is the recipe for Certs. Why aren’t there just as easily five natures in 2 ½ persons in Christ? One has to take the time to open up the carrying case. Why do we talk this way? Because otherwise we aren’t handing on the full and complete mystery of God’s Love in Christ. If Jesus is not fully divine then what is revealed? That God is too busy to come to save us, can’t quite fit it into the divine corporate time? That God is reluctant or wary, that God doesn’t care enough to come personally? If Jesus is not fully human, then God hasn’t really emptied himself quite far enough for it to matter to me. What would be revealed is God’s reluctance to get fully involved. The Immortal and Almighty truly does not have to suffer, so why go to that great length? Why not just take a tip from the Greek gods and goddesses—they know how to appear human without going overboard. Appear on the battlefield in the Illiad, acquire a little fame, help out your favorite warrior and then go back to Olympus, no muss, no fuss. God should have consulted a more expensive vocational counselor who could have steered him away from something as drastic as the Incarnation. Fully divine—fully human—means God, the real God,




enters into solidarity with our condition fully and exactly as we know it, without special escape clauses. He enters into solidarity with us, and not even under the conditions he originally created us but under the conditions of the mess we have made of things, a condition in which telling the truth can get you killed and betraying someone falsely can get you paid. Without sinning himself, the “Almighty becomes weak” as we know weakness and vulnerability, in this world where vulnerability is almost always exploited to the full. Athena and Ares were too smart to get too involved in such a mess. No self-respecting deity really would. But the real God does, without reservation, emptying himself and declaring his radical solidarity with us unto the point of identification, as one of us. It reveals God’s foolishness—“but the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.” The Incarnation is the sheer foolishness of pure and true love without the slightest hint of self-interest, an utterly generous act of solidarity and compassion. To know that Jesus is fully divine and fully human is not to know just another nifty atom of cosmic information but to know an unimaginably deep mystery, the mystery of God’s unreserved absolutely unconditional love for us. It’s “information” which is formative, which is transformative. It is the way we “handle” and “hand on” the mystery of this profligate love, the love of God in Christ. The teaching of doctrine often gets a bad name because we conceive of it not as the handing on of formative mysteries, but as simply informative, as merely informational. How often have you heard the phrase, “we have to get beyond the ‘mere’ teaching of doctrine”? In other words, to the real stuff, the experience, relevance, etc. The hidden premise behind this sentence is that doctrine is mere information and not in some way itself formation. What I say is, we have to get beyond the teaching of doctrine as though it were mere information. Treating doctrine as though it were mere information is like treating the following sentence as mere information: “This man you are seeing dead by the roadside saved your life but it cost him his own.” That’s not just a factoid to file away with the rest of one’s collection of facts, but information that could form the whole way you look at your life from then on. In my opinion, we need to recover or recreate a way of teaching Christian doctrine that, as Bishop Augustine showed, grants “access” to it by bring out its formative dimension. Nor is it as difficult as it seems at first. Aren’t all the basic doctrines of the Church, those high up in the “hierarchy of truths,” doctrines of the divine Love? The doctrine of creation, of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, of the Holy Spirit, the Church and the communion of saints: these are all in some way attempts to express and specify the central mysteries of God’s love. Otherwise, they would not be worth teaching.


My own view is that the teaching of doctrine has somehow come unglued from integration with the other formational tasks of catechesis and religious education. This has happened, in my view, principally because we are still in the midst of a transition that began at Vatican II. Listen to this passage from the Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation, Dei Verbum: It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make known the mystery of his will (see Eph. 1.9), which was that people can draw near to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature (see Eph. 2.18; 2 Pet. 1.4). By this revelation, then, the invisible God (see Col. 1.15; 1 Tim. 1.17), from the fullness of his love, addresses men and women as his friends (see Ex. 33.11; Jn. 15. 14-15), and lives among them (see Bar. 3.38), in order to invite and receive them into his own company. The pattern of this revelation unfolds through deeds and words which are intrinsically connected: the works performed by God in the history of salvation show forth and confirm the doctrine and realities signified by the words: the words, for their part, proclaim the works, and bring to light the mystery they contain. The most intimate truth thus revealed about God and human salvation shines forth for us in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of revelation (DV 1.2). For the second Vatican Council, revelation was not conceived primarily as it was in the first Vatican Council and earlier conciliar literature, as first and foremost the revelation of certain first principles or propositions from which a theological “science” could be constructed (though it was still that), but rather first and foremost a Person, Jesus Christ himself, the “sum total of revelation.” Revelation is a making known of a mystery, that of God’s will or saving love, an invitation into a friendship hitherto unimaginable. The “words,” that is, the teaching or “doctrine,” and the deeds or acts of God are connected, and in fact inseparably together form one revelation. Dei Verbum makes the attempt to put back together the doctrines and the mystery of God’s inviting love that they proclaim but do not exhaust. Perhaps in the wake of Vatican II and its own invitation to put these back together, we have been working primarily on the second half—reinstating the invitational, more experiential, part of revelation in our teaching. Perhaps, weary of a teaching of doctrine practiced simply as the imparting of information without many connections to the formative dimension of that information, we tried so hard to recover the latter that we neglected, unintentionally, the former. When Vatican II came, perhaps the teaching of doctrine largely dripped away because it had been




practiced so long as the delivery of mere information and so it was left behind for the more relevant tasks of “formation”? I am not sure; but I think there must necessarily be for a slow way forward through a period of transition in which we create a pedagogy which does not continue the very thing the Council was trying to avoid; namely, the separation of “doctrine” from invitation to transformation, only now from the side of the invitation to transformation. It does not surprise me that it would take several generations to absorb this challenge and respond to it fully. Nor is it an accident that we have found in St. Augustine’s sermons a precedent for the reintegration of formation and information, because the Second Vatican Council itself returned to patristic styles of theology and preaching as a model for its own way of teaching and working. You might ask why I am concerned about this. Hasn’t the catechesis and religious and theological education of the last forty years been effective? I have to say half of me is tempted to say “NO!” due to the rampant religious illiteracy that is everywhere evident among young people and even among their parents. But the other half of me would resist my temptation to say no with an awareness of the huge difference in ecclesial vitality between this country, for example, and European countries such as Great Britain and Italy and even Ireland where secularism is rapidly emptying the churches. Perhaps, because doctrine is still taught there in a way that its character is formative was not emphasized, more or less a continuity with pre-Vatican II formation. So we must have been doing something right. The emphasis on formation, on making sure the faith is rooted in people’s lived experience and in shaping that experience according to ecclesial practice, seems to have had successful. But if for whatever historical reasons, our formation has been carried out largely apart from “information,” how much longer can it succeed in this way? Ignorance and confusion about basic Christian doctrines is widespread, even shocking. It would be exaggerating to say that many college students have never heard the word “incarnation” except with the prefix “re-“ in front of it, but not by much. And if these students are presumably among the best educated of younger Catholics, where are the rest of Catholic youth in this regard? How long can you keep handing on something when you don’t know what it is you are handing on? You might say, well, the essence of the Christian religion is to love one’s neighbor, but how long can one go on doing that if one does not know why we are supposed to love the neighbor? Whether we like the neighbor or not, whether the neighbor is attractive or not….In some cases it’s hard to love the neighbor, and very unattractive. It costs one to help the poor, and you can indeed be killed in this world for speaking the truth about your neighbor’s rights. Why would we? Because


God became our neighbor in Christ—fully divine and fully human—because we are formed into that Love, not a vague altruistic sentiment or a political ideology. The more that mystery recedes from memory, from articulation, from the effective awareness of educated Catholics, the more the reasons for radical solidarity with the neighbor become hazy, and so harder to pass on. Why are we pro-life? Because, among other things, God became a neighbor to us at every stage of life, including that of a crying newborn baby and all the stages preceding, as well as that of a criminal condemned to capital punishment. In the long run, if we lose our sense of what we are being formed into, we will lose our ability to form altogether Students become hungry for substance and if they find none, they turn elsewhere, to ideology, secularism, fundamentalism, or rank sentiment. So I believe it is time to redouble our efforts, already underway, to reintegrate the teaching of doctrine back into the rest of the catechetical and religious education tasks. And it is there waiting to be reintegrated because it is not simply a “cognitive” informational task without formational impact, as I have tried to explain. It is a forming of the intellect and the imagination and heart according to the vast contoured landscape of the immensity of God’s love. As the GDC puts it, “Secure possession of the language of the faith is an indispensable condition for living that same faith” (GDC §154). The language of the faith is formative of life and if we lose this language we will also lose the life it both forms and informs. This doesn’t mean that every student has to get a doctorate in theology or even an undergraduate major. But it does mean two things: the first is simply recovering a sense of doctrine as not just information, as not “merely” doctrine. Just doing that goes a long way. Recovering the sense of doctrine as the handing on of formative mystery already goes a long way towards completing our response to the challenge of Dei Verbum and other conciliar documents. The second is not to be impatient, not to beat ourselves up as teachers and catechists on various levels if it doesn’t seem to work right away or always. But I believe we will have already accomplished something in pressing forward with the transition after Vatican II just by reviving the renewing a culture of teaching doctrine. As I learned from teaching Confirmation class over the years, a little goes a long way. An imagination formed into the mystery of doctrine holds the basis, the foundation, to do more, to be “confessed and made progress in” as Augustine puts it—the basis and foundation for lifelong learning of the Faith.




LEFT Echo Retreat, LaPorte, IN



Colleen Moore is the director of the Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program, Institute for Church Life

I stopped writing cursive in the sixth grade. If I were to handwrite this sentence for you, you would likely find my penmanship immature, unrefined and inefficient. Its unwieldy form and bubbly profile— adorned with loopty-loops and fancy curls—would sit fat, proud and unapologetic upon the page, the way a toddler wears her protruding belly. Such is my cursive, hopelessly stuck in the grasp of my pre-adolescent hand. My painting, ceramic and clarinet playing skills are also frozen in an earlier time. I have just recently acquired a loom and an easel, though not with any intention of “showing” my work. Suffice it to say, no one would call me an “artist.” And yet, my experience of fashioning retreats for Echo apprentice catechetical leaders over the last eight years has made it impossible for me to consider faith formation without also considering art.

“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” Elbert Hubbard The art experiences that have become inherent to Echo formation retreats are not a professional cover to explore a personal hobby. They are not born of some grandiose idea to infuse faith formation with creative arts in a novel way. They are certainly not intended to give our




Echo apprentices expertise in various artistic media, or as a means of creating symbolic expressions of their lives to shelve alongside other memorabilia. They are not employed as fun pedagogical tools to keep apprentices interested and awake, or as cruel exercises in humility for those haunted by the voice of their internal art-critic, insisting that they will never get it right! No, these so-called “art experiences” are, quite simply, a way of doing what St. Irenaeus called “getting used to life with God.” They are a way of reminding ourselves that our lives are not our own. And frankly, I must admit that there was nothing intentional about them. When I consider my own and perhaps our culture’s general disposition toward “art,” I find that the world is divided roughly into “artists” and “non-artists.” “Artists” are those who create. “Non-artists” witness what is created. Thank God for “artists,” whose courage to create moves, awakens and inspires us. But this distance between “artists” and “non-artists” is problematic. For to what end are we “non-artists” inspired? To escape to another time and place? To understand ourselves and our experience more fully? To consider a different perspective? To admire artists? To become aware of our limitations as “non-artists?” None of these ends are necessarily bad. After all, an occasional escape can be refreshing. And it is true that we are not all capable of being professional artists. Nonetheless, is not the courageous work of the “artist,” professional or otherwise, an invitation to “non-artists”—like me and perhaps you—to create and be created as well? If our lives are indeed deep and unfolding mysteries, labored works of art, cast and recast by God in fits and starts over many years by many hands, then the tasks of creating and of being created cannot simply be delegated to others to experience on our behalf. To forgo creating and being created would be to forgo becoming more “Real.”

“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit one day. “It’s a thing that happens to you,” said the Skin Horse. “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

I have never really liked the idea of a retreat as a time to “leave life behind and reconnect with God.” What good is reconnecting with God if the self and relationships we need transformed are left at the retreat door, only to be picked up again on the way out? Instead, we wanted to create a space within the Echo program in which apprentices would not “escape life” but rather plunge into its depths through the lens of faith. We wanted to create a space in which all of the disparate or dis-integrated parts of the apprentice’s lives could be gathered up and offered to Christ for the healing, transformation and integration for which our lives are made. In 2004, Dr. Jan Poorman, the original architect and director of formation for Echo, and I began to develop a two-year theologically based retreat program for the apprentices in our program. We spent long hours discussing systematic theology and the ways in which the Trinity and Paschal Mystery frame, inform and transform the most dynamic and mundane dimensions of our lives and vocations.


Integrated faith formation does not rely upon some general notion of transformation but rather on the specific transformation of our concrete and varied lives. Our hopes and identities are shaped by the stories and images that form the horizons of our imaginations. We wanted to invite the apprentices not only to learn theological precepts, but also to experience their personal and collective lives as part of the history of salvation and awaken to the ways in which the Christian mysteries are alive and unfolding within, around and among us. In order to develop leaders who are led by the Spirit, we knew we must also help continue to shape our own theological imaginations and those of the apprentices. Our greatest task, then, was to offer the ideal conditions that might inspire the kind of vulnerability, malleability and trust that deep transformation requires. A lovely goal, perhaps, but how would we actually do this?

“The artist is always beginning.” Ezra Pound As Jan and I met, she spoke of the transformative power of grace: freeing us from all that is not life-giving and of God, and freeing us for greater communion with our divided selves, creation and God. As she spoke, images began to emerge in my mind: of charcoal drawings being splattered with shocking color; of ornately decorated wine glasses being shattered and strewn about the floor; of self-conscious figures beginning to move and dance in the dark; of organic ingredients being mingled to make bread; of stories being bound to other stories in a patchwork of once separated lives;

and of hands patiently kneading a dense and resistant mound of clay. As Jan and I shared our respective insights, they seemed at once to inform and animate one another. My images found meaning in her words as her words found expression in my images. Being freed from sin and freed for life by grace through the Holy Spirit were not just theological ideas to consider from a distance but realities to come to know and live. And there art was inserting itself as a way to explore these realities more deeply. And there I was, a bona fide “non-artist” compelled to create, to be created and to invite others to do the same. Still, there was one small problem with this newly acquired artistic insight. I did not know how to do art or, for that matter, where to get charcoal. But perhaps that was the point. Eight years later (with the benefit of hindsight), it appears that my inexperience in creating was not a lack at all. Rather it provided and continues to provide a space in which fear, imagination and hope are met by grace and together create something new. I, too, was an apprentice. We have learned a great deal in the eight years since art invited itself into Echo’s formation program. And we are only beginning to understand and articulate how important art is to faith formation and the development of the theological imagination. Five fundamental insights that have emerged for me thus far are: 1) all art is an encounter; 2) encounters with Divine beauty transform us; 3) encounters with Divine beauty unify us; 4) art—as an encounter with Divine beauty that transforms and unifies us—is not a luxury in faith formation and the development of a theological imagination; it is an absolute necessity; and 5) all art requires courage.





“ALL ART IS AN ENCOUNTER.” ROLLO MAY When a fresh ball of clay is set before the apprentices, their first question often is, “So, what are we going to make?” Our job is to remind them and ourselves that art in faith formation is not about making something; it is about experiencing an encounter that makes something of us. When the raw ball of clay, the blank screen, the empty stage, or the white canvas confronts us, we are not simply encountering the possibility within these media, but also the possibility within ourselves. For we are being asked not “who were you?” or “who are you?,” but rather “who will you become?” Art invites us to encounter our hopes and fears, the mysterious unknown, and the Spirit of God who transforms us into who we are not yet. In order to inspire and honor each art experience as an encounter with the Spirit of God, we, the facilitators of the experience, must attend to several practical matters: a) context, b) appropriate media, c) process, d) environment, and e) getting out of the way.


Appropriate Media

It is important to provide a theological, scriptural and spiritual context for any art experience. If we are engaged in art, not for its own sake, but rather as a way of “getting used to life with God,” then we must help the participants to situate this experience of creating and of being created within the Christian narrative and as an essential part of living a life of faith. As I mentioned earlier, our hope is not to become fluent in a variety of artistic media but to become fluent in what it means to belong to God. The more often we are given the chance to explore our personal and collective lives in light of the Paschal Mystery and the ongoing Christian narrative, the more likely we are to begin to see, understand, and live our lives through an implicitly cruciform lens.

We must choose media and theological, scriptural and spiritual contexts that animate one another. To use an obvious example, a reflection on King David dancing before the Lord with all his might is best animated by physical movement and dance, rather than seed planting or knitting. In developing art experiences, I have found that sometimes the medium emerges first and reveals the appropriate theological context, and at other times, the theological context emerges first and determines the particular medium to be used. In either case, it is important for the medium and context to connect to and inform each other.




In addition to context and media, it is important to clarify what this art experience is and what it is not. This art experience is about encounter, not product. We are not art teachers offering artistic instruction. We are simply creating the conditions for an encounter with God through art. This means that we should never ask that a specific object be made, or provide examples of potential “finished products.” In Echo, we have found that when we ask apprentices to make a specific object, the encounter is obscured not only by the details involved in making that particular object but also by the mere idea that there should be a final “product;” and that we, as facilitators, know what that final product should look like. Instead, we invite the participants to explore the media itself (clay, paint brushes, paint, canvas, oil pastels, organic ingredients for cooking, chalk, their own bodies, words, music, soil, seeds, fabric, etc.) When necessary, we provide basic instruction on how to handle a given medium, such as how to wedge clay. The experience of encounter often emerges from simply engaging the medium itself and not from an involved demonstration of the “correct” way to manipulate it. As the participants engage the medium, they begin to trust it and allow it—rather than us—to guide them.

The invitation to engage in an art experience can elicit a variety of reactions. The chance to work with clay may evoke excitement to create; it may elicit frustration at having to get our hands dirty; it may trigger fear of failure left over from a traumatic art experience in elementary school; it may inspire feelings of inadequacy from not knowing what to do with the clay. Given the delicate nature of the art experience, it is important to provide a calm, comfortable and safe space in which to work and to allow ample time to become familiar with and to explore the medium as a place to encounter not only our hopes and our fears, but also the Spirit of God who, as St. Paul reminds us, comes to help us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26).

Getting Out of the Way As facilitators, we are not responsible for the encounter itself but have the responsibility to create the best conditions for an authentic encounter. Once we have attended to the elements listed above, we should get out of the way. In order to keep the focus on the experience and encounter and not the outcome, we should take care not to critique or capture the work as one might do of performance art. We should do our best to encourage the participants to stay engaged with the medium and to let it lead them.





ENCOUNTERS WITH DIVINE BEAUTY TRANSFORM US Authentic encounters can be scary. At times we may avoid them because they leave us vulnerable to the affects of the person or experience we encounter. Several years ago, the cover of The New Yorker magazine depicted a young couple standing in an art museum before a large colorful piece of modern art. Their eyes are directed not at the artwork itself but rather at a 2”x3” image of the piece they had just captured on their digital camera. This scene is familiar to us; when we see something beautiful or interesting, our first instinct is often to try to capture the image to take with us. But on another level, the scene is deeply ironic as it illustrates our desire to capture beauty and contemplate it from a safe distance and on our own terms rather than to encounter it firsthand and risk being captured by it. For beauty—

which the Christian tradition often associates with the Divine— captures us, not the other way around. Once in her grasp, we no longer belong to ourselves, for we have entered that liminal state of grace in which we have ceased to be who we are and have not yet arrived at who we will become. Art, as an encounter with the Spirit of God, with Divine beauty, has the power to change us, which perhaps is why we are both drawn to it and frightened of it. And we have good reason to be frightened. Beauty, as Seamus Heaney reminds us in his poem entitled “Postscript,” can “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.” Our God is a God who catches our hearts off guard and blows them open. Getting used to life with God means getting used to a lifetime of having our hearts

caught off guard and blown open again and again and again. Being caught off guard can be exciting, startling, unsettling, even terrifying. It can suspend our breath and cause our heart to abandon its rhythm. Being blown open can be exhilarating but it also can be painful, causing us suddenly to lose possession of all that we had held close, and leaving us empty, raw, vulnerable and exposed. But this loss of self is an essential part of transformation. As T.S. Eliot reminds us in Four Quartets, “[i]n order to arrive at what you are not/You must go through the way in which you are not” (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: “East Coker,” [New York: Harcourt, 1943], 29).


Sometimes apprentices become frustrated with their inability to express themselves in familiar ways using unfamiliar media. But this is precisely the point; to become someone new requires passing through the stages of disorientation, instability and malleability that transformation requires. In

seeking transformation, then, there may be nothing better than the terrifying and exhilarating act of creating in a foreign medium to bring us to the unsettling edge of our mysterious selves and keep going. This journey may sound romantic, but it is a dangerous path for those of us content to stay the same. The use of art in

faith formation that I describe here is intended to move us beyond the safety of trying to capture or imitate pre-established notions of beauty or ourselves in our art, and instead allow us to be captured by God to become beauty as it is being born.


ENCOUNTERS WITH DIVINE BEAUTY UNITE US W. H. Auden has argued that, “since art by its nature is a shared activity, it is the first to feel the consequences of a lack of common beliefs, and the first to seek a common basis for unity” (W.H. Auden, “Criticism in a Mass Society in The Intent of the Critic, ed. D.A. Stauffer, 125). If what Auden says is true, it is not surprising that art imposed itself on Echo’s formation program and on me in 2004. I was just making the transition from graduate school to full-time formation work and was aware not only of profound changes in my own life but also of the changing ecclesial culture in the Church and the growing divisions within and among generations of Catholics. In the midst of these divisions, I wondered about my ability to serve the apprentices and their

more experienced parish mentors from around the country in ways that were familiar to me, meaningful for all of them, and relevant to the diverse Church we represented and served. While discursive approaches can be helpful in addressing and healing divisions at times, art—which often engages not only the mind, but also the body, the heart and the soul—can unite the self, and that self with others and with God, in ways that even the most sophisticated and generous discourse cannot. Tidy labels for ourselves, our friends, our ecclesial enemies, our Church, and our God, can be used to dismiss as often as they are used to acknowledge. The opportunity to create a space that disables easy labeling, allows us to see and experience




ourselves, one another, even God, in a new way. When apprentices engage in art experiences during Echo formation retreats, I cannot distinguish the progressive dancers from the conservative dancers, the scholarly potters from the pastoral potters, the peacenik painters from the papist ones, or the “really catholic” actors from those “not catholic enough.”

And neither can they. Formation, or conforming ourselves to God, is not only about confirming who we are but also about risking becoming who we are not yet and allowing others to do the same. Art provides an encounter not only for the healing of the individual, but also for the healing and unity of our immediate communities, the Church, and the world.


ART IS NOT A LUXURY IN FAITH FORMATION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE THEOLOGICAL IMAGINATION; IT IS A NECESSITY Integrated faith formation is intended to inform believers about the faith, to help them situate their lives within the Christian mystery and to fashion their lives by this mystery through an ongoing relationship with the person of Christ and the Church. Those of us who work in faith formation have a responsibility, then, to engage and cultivate our own theological imaginations and the imaginations of all believers

and ministers entrusted to our care. Beauty, Kant suggests, “is experienced as a free, unresolved play between the understanding and the imagination” (Susan Stewart, The Poet’s Freedom: A Notebook on Making, 138). We will not be able to access Divine beauty if we engage theology as a purely cognitive exercise, or if we consider the imagination somehow dispensable or an add-on if time allows.

Understanding—by the mind and the heart—and the imagination must be held together if we hope to preserve our already illusive relationship with Divine beauty. “Beauty will save the world,” Dostoevsky said. Art— with its unique ability to help us encounter Divine beauty and to be transformed and unified by it—must be considered an essential tool in programs of faith formation for all ages. Our


relationship with God and the life of the Church depend on it. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes: The Church is to transform, improve, “humanize” the world—but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection” (Joseph Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 126).


“ALL ART REQUIRES COURAGE.” ANNE TUCKER Engaging in the transformative art experience I have described above involves risking losing one’s self in order to be possessed and made new by the creative Spirit of God. As I mentioned earlier, this kind of transformation can be exhilarating as well as terrifying. Either way, it is clear that engaging in this

dangerous art of becoming requires a great deal of courage. While others can invite us to practice this art, no one can do it for us. To all the “artists” who have the courage to create and to be created, thank you. To myself and other “non-artists” beckoned by the Spirit to create and to be created, corragio.





“James Cameron is trying to do all the work for me.”

Leonard DeLorenzo is the director of Notre Dame Vision, Institute for Church Life and a doctoral student in systematic theolog y at the University of Notre Dame.

LEFT Photo by Kirstin McKee

I had this thought while watching Avatar in theaters a few years ago. Since then, I have thought back to some of Cameron’s other wildly successful films—especially the first two Terminators, The Abyss, Aliens, True Lies—and I started to notice a developing trend. I refrain from including Titanic for fear of emotionally-charged reprisals. These films seem to give me as much as possible. They want to surround me with images, inundate me with sounds, create realistic dimensions, and absorb my attention to the point that I come to live in the thick environment they create… at least for a couple of hours. Other films operate in similar ways, though perhaps luring my emotions, sensitivities, or fears into their domains instead. By one or another method, films have a tendency to want to do the work for me, and some more than others. Films like those mentioned above seem like great works of the imagination. Cameron’s films are replete with innovative technologies and cutting-edge cinematic strategies, which demand specially equipped theaters for their showings. His creations are often so overwhelming that it is difficult not to get lost in them. Typically, the more successful the film is at enveloping the viewer, the less activity is required for viewing. If I were a film scholar (which I am certainly not), I would claim that James Cameron stands at the end of a developing achievement in the




history of film: that of the “close-up.” As employed here, the “close-up” concerns more than the camera focusing in on a character’s face or zooming in on a landscape. It concerns the development of the sensation of immediacy that many filmmakers have been striving to create for decades. In this sense, the goal of the “close-up” is to create an experience whereby the viewer forgets that she is a viewer. Amid the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the film, this prompted forgetfulness fosters the illusion that this one scene or film is a self-contained experience. In this experience, the viewer herself is contained. If I were a film scholar, I would further assert that James Cameron has distinguished himself as one of the—if not the—most accomplished “close-up” artists in the history of film. Of course, I am not a film scholar; I am a theologian. Though I suppose it is not terribly uncommon for a theologian to claim more than he is entitled to. Therefore, as a theologian masquerading as a pseudo film scholar, I contend that the “close-up” drives towards immediacy, not imagination. It may take a great deal of imaginative power on the part of the filmmaker to produce the effect of immediacy, but the purpose of the “close-up” is to bring the viewer so close that there is very little-to-nothing left for her to imagine. As the viewer, one is given all there is to find: enjoy! As I consider film and theology—as I hope to do here—this claim bears upon the prospect of a “theological imagination.” This brings me to my central point: while theological imagination is not something that films can provide, it is something that films can exercise. A theological imagination can only properly come from experience in and through the life of faith. For Catholics, this imagination is given and nurtured most richly through participation in the sacramental life of the Church. The Sacraments teach us and train us to

believe that more is promised here than what appears present. Sacraments are first a gift and then an invitation: what is given does not overwhelm us, but rather beckons us as it heals us. The one who gives us the Sacraments exercises restraint: we are not meant to lose ourselves in the encounter; we are meant to find ourselves. Theological imagination is born of this ‘seeing beyond seeing.’ A theological imagination works diligently upon what is present in whatever area of life and tries to understand how it refers, in its own distinctive way, to God. If the Sacraments bestow and strengthen the ways in which we see, we might then come to see all things differently. Even if film cannot produce theological imagination, at least this much can be said: One of the great gifts of film is that it creates ample opportunities to exercise the theological imagination. Conversely, one of the great dangers is that film can also make it incredibly easy to not exercise the theological imagination. As compared to literature or even theater, films demand very little of the viewer. Literature requires at least the act of reading. Even if a book is read aloud—as is often the case with children—one must create the scene in one’s mind in order to “see” what is happening. Illustrated literature still leaves the audience to work out the motion of what is happening. By its very nature, literature requires a good deal of effort. Theater may require less effort than literature, though perhaps still more than film demands. For one, theater cannot just happen anywhere: the audience must share a space with the performers. Insofar as they share a space, the audience becomes part of the performance. The audience’s laughs, silences, squirms,


coughs, and applause—these all become part of the material with which the performers must reckon. Moreover, though the stage may be set and reset to create the appearance of certain kinds of scenes, the audience must work with the cast and crew through an act of assent. Everyone knows that they are not in Verona as they watch these two star-struck lovers, yet all agree to imagine that they are. Now consider what happens in film. When one goes to see a film, one encounters a finished product. Sure, the way in which you interpret or experience the film may depend somewhat on those with whom you see it, but the facticity of the film is secured. It is prepared for you; it is just there. Some films require more attentiveness than others depending on the amount of dialogue, subtleties, nuance, etc., but, on the whole, film requires less attentiveness than literature might. Perhaps most interestingly, the present and growing accessibility of film is further reducing the demands placed upon the viewer. This particular form of art is becoming increasingly portable, individualized, and accessible. Once upon a time, you had to go to a theater to see what had been created. Today, you can watch almost whatever you want—even in 3-D!—on your phone, which fits into your pocket. Of course, books have become that accessible, too, though you still have to read them. In short, films give you a lot. They give you a visual, they give you audio, and they give you motion. They are finished before you arrive, and they will remain the same after you leave. They are there. All of the meticulous work has been done in advance and, in many instances, that work has been done so you will not have to do much—if any— yourself. You can just be there to take it in. (There may be some interesting parallels here with the performance of liturgical celebrations, but that is best left to another article.)

But imagining is itself an activity. No one can imagine for us. One does work when one imagines. Idle daydreaming is only barely imagining, and passive movie watching is almost never so. Imagination is what enables us to look at the brute fact of existence and see more than a brute fact. Is it wrong to escape into a movie from time to time? I hope not, because sometimes that is about all I care to do at the end of a long week. What is dangerous, though, is to think that just by watching films I am exercising a theological imagination—stretching and strengthening the ways in which I see all things according to how I learn to see in the Sacraments. Without exercise, the spiritual muscles for this kind of seeing will atrophy. Only when engaged rightly do many films serve as opportunities for such exercise. I would like to offer three examples of film scenes that allow for this sort of exercise. These scenes give you something, but they do not try to do all the work for you. Even though they may say a lot, they don’t say everything, and that restraint creates the space for the free activity of the theological imagination.




Scene 1: Good Will Hunting I think Good Will Hunting may have been running on a loop in my dorm room all four years of college. I know this film inside and out. I have carried on lengthy conversations simply by stringing together quotes from this movie. Some would consider me a subpar conversationalist. One the one hand, it may not come as a surprise that I would choose to highlight a film that I know so well and like so much. On the other hand, perhaps we might consider it even more unlikely that, despite my thorough familiarity with the story of this

boy genius from Southie, I still find myself delightfully puzzled when I remember one particular scene. In this particular scene, Will (Matt Damon) is sitting in a counseling session with Sean (Robin Williams). By this point, the recalcitrant Will has started to open up to Sean. That is, instead of literally counting the seconds until the session ends, he is actually engaging in conversation. In the course of only moderately personal dialogue, Will asks Sean when he knew that his late wife was “you know, like, that she was the one.”

“October 21st, 1975… it was game six of the World Series. Biggest game in Red Sox history… My friends and I had, you know, slept out on the sidewalk all night to get tickets.” “You got tickets!” “Yep… I was sitting in a bar, waiting for the game to start, and in walks this girl. Oh it was an amazing game… Bottom of the 12th, in stepped Carlton Fisk. Old Pudge. Steps up to the plate… And BAM! He clocks it… it HITS the foul pole! Oh, he goes [crazy], and 35,000 fans, you know, they charge the field!”

“I can’t believe you had a ticket to that game!” “Yeah!” “Did you rush the field!” “No… I didn’t rush the field. I wasn’t there.” “What?!!” “No. I was in a bar having a drink with my future wife.”


The pandemonium of Fenway Park, which temporarily erupted in this psychologist’s office, is now subdued under stupefied shock. It’s like Pudge’s homer had just been called foul after all. Why wasn’t Sean there? Why was he in some bar with some girl he didn’t even know, missing the biggest event in Red Sox history (pre-2004) and thus the biggest event in Boston history (post-1773 and pre-2004)? Will is shocked. Sean had the thing everyone wanted—a ticket to THE GAME—and he just slid it across the table because he had to “go see about a girl?! You’re kidding me.” “No, I’m not kidding you, Will. That’s why I’m not talking right now about some girl I saw at a bar twenty years ago and how I always regretted not going over and talking to her. I don’t regret the 18 years I was married to Nancy. I don’t regret the six years I had to give up counseling when she got sick. And I don’t regret the last years when she got really sick. And I sure as hell don’t regret missing the damn game.” And with those last six lines, something happens. What happens is not just in the film; something happens to you—or, as it were, to me—the viewer. The scene has not given me so much that it absorbs me, yet it does give me something significant. The scene has shocked me. In the shock, I remember myself. A space is created: a space for exercising the imagination. As I return to this scene over and over again in my memory, I find myself asking: What do I cling to? What am I willing or unwilling to give away? What would I be willing to pay for a truly meaningful life? Would I slide that ticket across the table on the hunch that there was something worth exploring? Would I really do it just because of a hunch?

Game 6 loomed so large on October 21, 1975. Giving away that ticket was Sean’s price of admission. Twenty-plus years later, that foolhardy act was merely the turnstile for the real story. The real story was a life given over as self-giving love. It meant six years with a spouse with cancer, constant care, ignoring the end of visiting hours. It meant breaking all the conventional rules because of a fiercely faithful love. It meant watching someone die and refusing to look away. It meant 18 years of marriage to a woman who, apparently, “used to fart in her sleep.” It meant embracing an idiosyncratic life with an idiosyncratic person who loved him with all of his own idiosyncrasies. For Matt Damon’s character in the film, this was a pivotal moment. He was afraid of committing to someone—to anything really—because he was afraid of getting hurt. He was afraid of losing his already fragile sense of security. Yet here, sitting across from him, was a man who lived and loved and lost. He paid a price and what he got was real life. He wasn’t perfect, but he was real. For me, as I have recalled this scene innumerable times over the years, I find myself challenged to imagine a love like that. Do I really desire to love like that? Forget for the moment whether I think I am capable of loving like that or not… do I at least desire it? Do I want to be that real? Would I be willing to pay the immeasurable cost of love for a shot at its immeasurable value—the value of being someone? What do I cling to that keeps me from that? That scene invites me to imagine.




Scene 2: Up in the Air A second film scene that beckons the theological imagination is from Up in the Air (2009). This is a peculiarly charming movie. I would guess that I am not the only one who found myself almost immediately liking Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), though I cannot exactly explain why. Here is a guy who gets paid to tell people that they’re being fired… during a recession. He is a professional hitman for careers and livelihoods. At times it seems like he has made this into an art form, when perhaps he’s actually performing something more like a surgical air strike. According to Ryan, the secret to success and happiness in life is having an “empty backpack.” This means that one should not be attached, should not have baggage, should not be tied down. Whatever is in your backpack—“your couch, your car, … acquaintances, friends… your husband, your wife”— weighs you down. But life is movement and weight is an impediment to living. Relationships are the weightiest parts of who we are, and these inhibit us from maintaining lightness to our being (compare to Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being). “We are sharks,” Ryan proclaims. We go it alone and we must travel lightly. The proof of Ryan’s movement through life is his travel all over the map doing his job. He is a true professional and an expert traveler. If fact, he has moved around so much that he is close to entering the 10 million mile club on American Airlines: this is his major life goal. This is Ryan’s complete profile, until he makes a certain acquaintance in a frequent flyer lounge. Ryan is in-between flights, abiding in that nowhere space that is the closest thing he has to a home. Here, he

finds a woman who is, by all appearances, his mirror image. Alex (Vera Farmiga) is a “60,000 mile a year” traveler. She’s uncomplicated. She’s moving from place to place without attachments. And she’s available, as he is, for a highly casual relationship. “The slower we move, the faster we die… we’re sharks, we have to keep moving.” Unsurprisingly, what starts out as casual sex between acquaintances in Hilton Hotels slowly becomes something of an attachment, despite all intentions to the contrary. He takes her home to his sister’s wedding, he starts to think about her when he’s not with her, and, ultimately, he finds that he no longer wants to be in that nowhere space in-between definite places. He is beginning to want to be somewhere— that is, with her. So Ryan is standing at the podium in a conference center, going through his well-rehearsed backpack spiel, when the weight of this unexpected relationship bears down on him. He has a moment of clarity and courage, so he goes. Right then and there, in the middle of a speech, he walks away, hops on a plane, lands in Chicago, knocks on Alex’s front door holding a bouquet of flowers and waits to take a chance. He is waiting to take a chance on being attached to someone, defined by something, grounded in some way. When the door opens, Alex’s kids are running around in the midst of a chaotic evening ritual, while her husband is somewhere out of sight, calling to her. Standing well back on the stoop, Ryan peers into a life already in motion. Here, it appears, Alex is already grounded. Ryan met her up there, in the sky, where an empty backpack got him far.


Photo by Sergio Calleja, View from Airplane, 2007.




Watching this scene is like seeing someone totally stripped down, completely exposed. You shift your focus back and forth from him to her to see one, then the other, exposed. He, for all he never was and never pretended to be. She, for all that she pretended not to be but actually was. Here is a hollow man standing before the embodiment of hollow lies. When Alex later calls to excoriate Ryan for showing up in her “real life,” she utters one of the most profoundly accurate lines in film history. It is also brutal: “I thought our relationship was perfectly clear. You are an escape. You’re a break from our normal lives. You’re a parenthesis.” You’re a parenthesis. That is exactly what he was. This is what his whole life had become, and it was in his parenthetical existence that he met her. He lived in a bracketed space, between places, between gates, between meetings. This enclosed space was devoid of any connections to greater meaning. He set his heart on this non-space and desired only what it had to offer: maximum mobility, 10 million miles, no strings attached. He was a weightless traveler with a fast-moving life, abiding nowhere and going nowhere in particular. The scene is so appropriate to the film and yet so unexpected. It is shocking, really. The man that was inexplicably likable now stands as a subject to be pitied. Why did I like him in the first place? The charm, the confidence, and the certainty were all appealing when he was content. Now that he is brokenhearted, it is frankly pathetic.

I have only seen Up in the Air once, and yet that scene still haunts me. There was George Clooney— the man who gives meaning to the phrase “put together”—standing on the doorstep of an illusion, completely unmasked, startlingly exposed. I have wondered more than once: Why did I like him to begin with? I cannot help but ponder whether there is something of that ungrounded life that is just so alluring. It just seems so much like freedom. Moving around, 10 million miles, empty backpack, brimming with self-confidence. If that is so alluring, why do I pity the logical conclusion of this perpetual motion? Why do I pity him as he stands there as a man who moved so fast that nothing stuck? Why did I want to say “Yes!” to his beginning but not to his end? I suppose I am not the only one who has had moments like his, when the truth unveils the illusions I pretended were realities. I have had them in hard conversations as well as during private examinations of conscience. More than a few trips to the confessional have resembled that moment on the stoop. And when those falsehoods are stripped away, what is left? I struggle, yet I try to believe that I am what I have been given. In my better moments, I hope I can become what I have received.


Scene 3: Shrek The first two film scenes are ones that have remained with me over time; they are present to me in my memory and they continue to give me opportunities for exercising my theological imagination. As I think about films these days, though, I cannot help but think about my kids. My kids like to watch movies… a lot. My wife and I do not let them watch movies too often because we can see how they get lured in to them. I am pretty sure their eyeballs are physically sucked towards the television whenever they are watching one of their “shows.” In fact, this parental observation prompted me to start thinking about the distinction between immediacy and imagination in the first place.

ABOVE Shrek, Madame Tussauds, London

Like them, I loved watching movies as a kid, especially the Star Wars trilogy (and Annie before that, but let’s keep that between us, okay?). Besides the thrill of light sabers and Storm Troopers, I wonder how Star Wars exercised—or blocked up—my imagination. It is hard for me to know. What I can ask about, though, is what I hope my kids might see in some of the movies they watch. And so I think of the one they have watched more than any other: Shrek. Shrek is hilarious for both kids and parents, albeit not always for the same reasons. I know my kids have learned that “parfaits are delicious” and that “Duloc is a perfect place.” I wonder, though, what they make of the film as a whole, especially in light of the ending. It is fitting, of course, that the fairy tale is completely subverted in the last scene, where the princess is turned into an ogre rather than the ogre turning into a prince. But isn’t there something even more remarkable about that occurrence than just the




thwarting of the fairly tale status quo? Seen with a theological imagination, perhaps there is. What do fairy tales about princesses usually reveal? The princess is beautiful, something ugly has happened to her, and ultimately the ugliness needs to be removed so that full beauty can be restored. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast: check, check, check, check, check. In Shrek, Princess Fiona is basically cut from the same cloth as the other princesses. She is desperate for “true love’s first kiss” and pining for her “happily ever after.” Predictably, she’s cursed. She turns into an ogre in the darkness of the night, under the cover of which she hides her ugliness. “I’m a princess! And this is not how a princess is supposed to look!” She wants to be beautiful, and she wants everything else in her life to be beautiful, too. Typical princess stuff. En route to this happily ever after, she happens to fall in love with an ogre. This is unfortunate for a princess. “Princess and ugly just don’t go together.” According to the paradigms of the fairy tale narrative, she is absolutely right. These are polar opposites. The princess is supposed to be freed from whatever is ugly so as to be made secure in a state of beauty. Only those things that are beautiful are loveable in fairy tale land. She cannot love something ugly. Fairy tale logic would dictate that the full-time ogre, Shrek, must be changed into something beautiful in the end in order for Fiona to truly love him. “That’ll do, Donkey… that’ll do.”

What would serve as a shock to the casual observer is that this narrative logic is foiled at the end of Shrek. While Princess Fiona does kiss her true love, the transfiguration does not happen as conventionally scripted. In another film, we would have expected the ogre to become a handsome prince. At the very least, we would expect the princess’s beauty to stabilize. To the contrary, what emerges from the luminous transfiguration cloud is Princess Fiona, the ogre. “But… I was supposed to be beautiful.” “You are beautiful,” Shrek responds. This is not a sappy scene. It is rather a fitting ending to a smart and overtly subversive story. The question for me, though, is what do I hope my kids see? If the regular fairy tales about princesses would teach them that ugliness is the opposite of beauty and thus a hindrance to being loveable, then what might this film show them? There is no summary message at the end: it is left to their imaginations. What I hope they are able to see is something akin to what a lifetime of receiving Communion is meant to teach them: God does not love you because you are beautiful; God loves you, and that makes you beautiful. God loves you, warts and all. I don’t know if my kids see that yet, but if they live a life that flows from and returns to the Eucharist, I hope they might remember the “show” they watched umpteen times as kids and imagine how God must love them.


Memory This brings me to just one concluding remark: films exercise our imaginations mostly in our memory. It is hard to think about a movie scene very long or very hard while watching it. Unless you pause the film—and you better be the only one in the room if you do!—this scene is going to fade away as the next one hastens to the screen. I, for one, remember movie scenes (as shown above, I also retain movie quotes like I am getting paid by the word to do so). Because they give me so much— sight, sound, motion, etc.—the impression upon the memory can be pretty vivid. Of course, if I just passively float through a film without actively engaging it at all, I will forget everything but the self-contained experience. But if I pay attention, if I remember myself as the viewer, and if I try to work through the story as it is unfolding, more enters my memory and remains with me to work on later.

I never fully know why one particular scene or line or image stays with me, but I find that I am most curious about those scenes or characters or lines that are enigmatic in some way: Did you rush the field? You’re a parenthesis. Princess and ugly just don’t go together.

In moments like these, there is more promised than appears present at first glance. These scenes make me wonder.

The response of wonder testifies to what I believe to be creative restraint on the part of the filmmaker. The filmmaker has respected me as a viewer. Oftentimes, those moments of shock—those occasions for wonder—are what snap me back to a conscious awareness of myself as a viewer. Even though I am watching closely, I am not in the scene. There is a space between. I am not trapped in or absorbed by what is given. In this free exchange of give-and-take, a genuine act of communication occurs. Ultimately, the space between art and audience is the condition of the possibility of exercising the theological imagination.






Msgr. Michael Heintz is rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in South Bend, IN and director of the Master of Divinity Program at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a faculty member in the Department of Theolog y.

LEFT El Greco, The Resurrection, 1596-1600

Jesus taught. An even cursory reading of the Gospel texts demonstrates that a significant amount of Jesus’ public ministry was given over to preaching and teaching. Jesus’ teaching is also distinctive; while he clearly understood himself within the tradition of Jewish teaching, worship, and praxis, Jesus also presented himself as enlarging or fulfilling that tradition. Hence, perceptive readers of Matthew’s Gospel can clearly pick up hints that Jesus is understood as a new “Moses,” a new, authoritative lawgiver for God’s People. But is that all Jesus is? Since the early modern period, and for a number of complex historical reasons that need not be rehearsed here, it has become common (and easy) to see Jesus largely as a sage, a philosopher of sorts, an itinerant preacher who offered insight and wisdom about the human condition and moral behavior, a teacher of peace, tolerance, and acceptance. An early American intellectual like Thomas Jefferson could produce an edition of the Gospel, tellingly entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, which is purged of anything supernatural or seemingly mysterious, anything that cannot or could not be “proven” within the canons of modern, empirical science, anything which might be a matter of the evangelists’ interpretation, rather than the historically verifiable “facts” (more commonly known as The Jeffersonian Bible). What is left is largely a collection of sayings, aphorisms, and teachings about moral behavior. This is a very limited presentation of who Jesus is, and further it presumes that his most important work was imparting a particular message or teaching, essentially moral in tenor. This is a Jesus who “says” a lot, and we are left to imagine (or rather, forget or even dismiss as much less significant) what it is that Jesus “did” or (arguably, at least) “does.”




This particular misreading of the Gospels, this reduction of Jesus to a wise moral counselor or spiritual therapist, is both easy and perilous. When one domesticates the great Lion of the Tribe of Judah into a tabby cat, his teaching swiftly loses its bite, either because we have made selective use of that teaching, dislodging it from the context of his life and death, or because we have informed it with whatever particular cultural ideal of which we happen at any particular moment to be enamored. It is instructive to note how often the values and priorities of any particular age or culture are “read back” into the words of Jesus; it is a perennial temptation to see in Jesus the instantiation of whatever ideals happen to be prized at any particular juncture in history, revealing much less about God and far more about our own predilections. The beginning of St John’s Gospel makes the bold claim “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (Jn. 1:14). It is bold not least because it associates logos, Word, with sarx, flesh, a link almost inconceivable, and likely quite embarrassing, to an educated Greek mind, nourished on the philosophy of Plato, who had a rather dim view of our embodiment. But it is precisely this unity of Word and flesh, of divinity and humanity, which is most distinctive of God’s revelation in Jesus, his Son. By the time of St Paul, the title Christ and the name Jesus – what he does and who he is – had already become instinctively yoked together in liturgical witness to this unity of person and work. Because of what the Tradition has come to call the “hypostatic union” (two complete natures, divine and human, subsisting in the one divine person of the Son), in Jesus we see embodied and enacted perfectly what he taught. It’s not so much that his teaching is tangential; quite the contrary, his teaching is of paramount importance. But this teaching can never be severed or dislocated from the particularities of his life – and his death. As Word-made-flesh, who Jesus is and what Jesus does reveals the full meaning of what he teaches. He enacts fully his own teaching, and so reveals to us its full meaning and beauty. Of course, this is seen most fully on the Cross, where the completely free gift of self (as agape, the sacrificial love he had spoken of so many times to his disciples) is manifested in something simultaneously horrific and beautiful. In fact, this is the “glory” spoken of at the beginning of the Fourth Gospel and to which Jesus alludes throughout his teaching, and it is at this very “hour” that he shows his followers what this love he had been teaching them looks like. Jefferson’s project (and there have been legion who have promoted similar ideas and approaches since) shares – though for rather different reasons – much with the project of the early gnostic movements, a common element of which is that the details of Jesus’ earthly life and death are understood as somewhat incidental to his teaching; most of the gnostic texts that have been preserved are not narrative gospels (like the four canonical Gospels, which are very much concerned with the particulars of Jesus’ life and the circumstances of his death), but groupings of sayings or teachings (called logia, a


diminutive coined in the nineteenth century which captures with unintended irony the woeful reduction and dissipation of the fullness of the incarnate Logos proclaimed by the apostolic faith). Most gnostic texts offer little about the crucifixion, and when they do, they expend great effort to dissociate the Christ who had come to reveal a saving gnosis from the figure or phantasm named Jesus who suffered on the Cross (modern distinctions between the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith” thus unwittingly ape one of gnosticism’s fundamental concerns). From the perspective of the Great Church, Jesus was indeed sent by God to reveal something. But this revelation was not a set of ideas, a novel doctrine, or particular “data” accessible only to a few, elite intellectuals. Rather, this revelation was very public, almost embarrassingly so: what he reveals about God is shown by who he is and what he does on the Cross, where he freely offers himself to the Father as a sacrifice “for the life of the world,” pinned to a tree between two otherwise unknown insurgents. Irenaeus in the late second century could aver that it is this Jesus who makes the unseen Father visible (Adversus Haereses 4.6.3) and two generations later Origen would follow up with the assertion that God is made accessible only by a correct apprehension of who Jesus is (De principiis 1.2.6); and this apprehension is much more than a matter of correct conceptualization. Jesus does not come to tell us “about” God. He comes to show us God, God-in-action, as it were, the life-giving and dynamic relationship which the Incarnate Son shares with his Father; an eternal relationship whose Love has been termed in the Tradition their Holy Spirit; a life of self-emptying love into which he invites those who follow him to share, but to do so only by losing or forgetting themselves. And this share, of course, has a significant cost. “Are you not aware,” Paul had rather sternly to remind the Romans, “that you who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The life of Christians is not fundamentally a morality (though of course, it is indeed this too), but a personal and corporate configuration to a real, living Person: Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One. This configuration to Jesus begun in baptism is expressed fully in Eucharistic communion, where our share in his dying and rising, which Paul tells us we somehow carry about in our own bodies, is made both tangible and personal. This is why the Eucharist is not just one more thing we Christians “do,” nor even, among the many things we do, the most important, but rather it is the central Mystery that formats our existence, our manner of being, our affections, our thoughts, our words, indeed divinizes every aspect of our humanity. It is a real participation in the Saving Mystery of the Word-made-flesh-now-made-weak-on-the-Cross (as a brash young intellectual named Augustine would come to discover in the wake of his failed attempts at Platonic ecstasy (Confessiones 7.18[24]-7.19[25])); it is a deeply personal share in the Paschal Mystery of the Logos who does not remain aloof from the concrete particulars of our earthly existence, and who daily makes himself present on the altar and accessible to believers as the esca viatorum, nourishment for pilgrims; it is the foretaste here and now of the Age to come,




an age inaugurated with an Annunciation that one might describe as a covert operation undertaken behind enemy lines and whose scandalous public nadir on a hill outside Jerusalem is the apparent zenith of foolishness. In fact, the first pictorial representation of this moment is not the work of an admirer, but of a satirist whose graffito depicts a man with the head of an ass hanging on a cross, an indictment of those who are so senseless as to follow the Crucified. All of the sacraments of the Church make present in one respect or another not what Jesus taught, but who he is and what he did–and continues to do–in the life of the Church. Thus St Thomas begins the Third Part of his Summa by noting that the sacraments of the Church continue and extend the saving work of the Incarnation (the Word-made-flesh) in time. The sacraments all consist of matter (usually a material element, water, oil, bread, wine) and form (usually particular words spoken), and thus we can experience them as reflecting –and continuing–the paradigm established in the divine economy by the Incarnation of the Word. This pattern is also witnessed in the lives of the saints, who themselves, Pope Benedict has observed, should serve as “fonts” of theology. At the General Audience of April 13 2011, Pope Benedict concluded a lengthy series of catecheses (spanning a number of years) on the saints. He continually emphasized that the saints – from the Apostles to more contemporary men and women of faith – are a source of theological insight not simply or even primarily as moral exemplars, but more because these individuals, under the guidance of grace, themselves came to embody the Mystery of Christ, each in very different ways. It is not so much that they simply follow with a kind of intense punctiliousness or strident fidelity the words of Jesus the teacher, but rather that they themselves enact and embody anew the Mystery of Christ, revealing in the concrete particularity of their daily life their configuration to Christ which began at baptism. This is certainly more than mere moral imitation. It’s not that they just listen more attentively than others to Christ the teacher or are more self-disciplined in following the moral mandates of his Gospel, but rather that they have become something new, new wine-skins, as it were, fashioned anew from their friendship and sacramental communion with him, and so are capable of drinking in what Jesus teaches and thus living a particular, deeply graced kind of life. In effect, it is his life they come to live, through a participation in his Mystery recapitulated by sacramental grace within the gritty and often undramatic particularities of their own time and place.


ABOVE Boticello, Adoration of the Magi, 1475

None of this is to suggest that the teaching of Jesus is unimportant; the rather cheeky title of this essay is not meant to imply a real choice. However, it is to suggest that Jesus’ teaching is coherent and persuasive–and that we who claim to be his followers are effective witnesses–only when it is understood as part of the fabric of a life lived and handed over freely in sacrificial love; a life communicated to his followers sacramentally. Attempts to abstract from the apostolic kerygma nuggets of wisdom, no matter how wellintentioned, do a disservice to the Gospel of Jesus by presuming (often unconsciously) that Mystery of God in Christ is reducible to bullet-points or as the building blocks of more elaborate moral theories; this does not merely diminish the Gospel, it distorts it. What God has made known and revealed in Christ is not a teaching, no matter how eloquent. Rather, he has given us something even more beautiful: himself.






David Fagerberg is an associate professor of theolog y at the University of Notre Dame and senior advisor of the Notre Dame Center for Liturg y, Institute for Church Life.

LEFT Author and Cambridge on C.S. Lewis” ©Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos, 1958

Every other spring semester for the past seven years I have found myself in front of a class of 70 undergraduate students discussing questions like “What shall an Oyarsa do with a bent hnau?” Or, “how is John’s Island an ectype of the Landlord’s castle archetype?” Or, “what is the goal of the Lowerarchy when it comes to the patient’s experience of pleasure?” Or, “what does the Green Lady mean when she says she grows older more quickly than she can bear?” There may be some C. S. Lewis fans who recognize these references to Out of the Silent Planet, The Pilgrim’s Regress, The Screwtape Letters, and Perelandra. I teach a course entitled “Transfiguration in the Fiction of C. S. Lewis,” and it has proven popular with the undergrads. Half of the students enrolled are not theology majors, and cannot check off any requirements box by taking this course, but do so for pure intellectual pleasure. Josef Pieper notes that the word “scholar” comes from the Greek word skole which means “leisure” – much to the surprise of any students’ busy calendar. Aristotle said the servile arts are utilitarian for being concerned with an end beyond themselves, but the liberal arts are concerned with knowledge as an end in itself. So even though my syllabus puts students through the pace of a book a week (that is on Tuesdays; on Thursdays we read additional selections from Lewis’ nonfiction), I consider it a leisurely course. A liberal arts course. A scholarly course. Persuading my students that this course is leisurely might actually be easier than persuading some academic colleagues that this course is scholarly. Scholarship is supposed to be erudite, complex, arcane, bookish, eggheaded, and Lewis is not this. At least not in the corpus I’m talking about here. (I did become interested at one point in Lewis’ day job at Oxford and read the books he had written that better fit our expectation of what an academic should produce: a detailed analysis of two dozen allegories of courtly love, a masterful summary of the medieval world view, and an etymological study of individual English words.) I will not here bore the reader with too much personal detail, but the point I am making might come clearer if I use myself as an example. I read C. S. Lewis when I was in high school, but then in college I became a philosophy major and stopped, because I thought I should put away




childish things. I permitted myself Lewis’ fiction for illustrative purposes, but serious philosophy occurred on a different plane. I did not give him a serious second look until doctoral study, under the influence of my mentor Paul Holmer. In class he would orally tell the story that he briefly summarizes in the preface of his book, C. S. Lewis: the Shape of His Faith and Thought. This book is written partly to discharge a debt incurred during the early days of World War II. An angry and impetuous letter was sent to Mr. C. S. Lewis at Oxford. A lengthy response came; it was so full of charity and plain wisdom that it made at least this then frustrated and distraught student see very clearly how tangled his own life actually was. That was many years ago; and a lifetime of concern with logical issues, on the one side, and moral and religious-Christian concerns, on the other, have made Lewis’s writings, of all kinds, both more interesting and more profound than they initially seemed to me. (The Shape, ix) Some years after Holmer received this kind response he audited a seminar with Lewis at Oxford, and integrated some of those insights into his own work, which, in turn, rubbed off on me. This essay is about how the theological imagination is captured by Lewis’ use of imagination, fiction, and story, but I want to begin by establishing the purpose of theology. So if you will permit me to tarry a moment longer on this scaffolding I will soon turn to my main point. Holmer continues to be our guide. Most people are familiar with the fact that C. S. Lewis spoke of a “mere Christianity.” And the majority of these people believe that what Lewis meant by the phrase was some sort of stripped Christianity that is simple and not complex, heartfelt and not intellectual. They suppose it intends to ignore the hard doctrines, since these are unimportant to the average Christian, anyway; it exchanges a simple mood for a complex thought; it focuses only upon the most basic doctrines for the sake of ecumenical relations. None of this is what Holmer thinks Lewis meant by mere Christianity. Holmer used to speak about two kinds of knowledge. One consists of statements that may simply be taken from the book – what 2+2 equals, the date of the Revolutionary war, how many atoms a certain molecule has, etc. This comes from a pile of facts that grows the larger as generation after generation tosses new discoveries upon it. We can see farther from our higher perch. So we believe ourselves smarter than Newton because we live later than him, and have more information. But are we smarter than Socrates for the fact that we live later than him?


That question is a hook to bring us into a second kind of knowledge. About it Holmer used to say in class, “You cannot peddle truth or happiness. What a thought cost in the first instance, it will cost in the second.” The thinker must make some attempt at the truth if this second kind of knowledge is to be had. Therefore, what is at stake is not simply the clarity of the thought, but the condition of the subject grasping it. And this was Holmer’s concern throughout his career: “What we know depends upon the kind of person we have made of ourselves. The world’s infinite riches, its values and worths, its pleasures and depths can be found only if we are qualified subjects” (The Shape, 90). Now this is the home where Holmer locates Lewis’ concept of mere Christianity: Lewis knew how tempting it was in Christian circles to move with the times. … A certain kind of ‘theology’ was written, trying to translate, usually by both elimination and a reshuffling of the issues under new concepts, the major primary teachings. … The picture is dismal, for it means that we are invariably imprisoned in these large philosophical or quasi-theological views before we can speak about specific Christian issues. There seems to be no primary language at all. All apprehension and knowing of Christian things is via the theology or the second-level discourse. (The Shape, 100) Lewis would prefer us to concentrate on the freight, not the boxcar that is hauling it. “Christianity is, as Lewis saw it, early and late, just about the last subject in which to attempt originality” (The Shape, 101). But this still does not quite get us to the point. We have to get from the subject thought about to the subject who is thinking. Holmer suggests that the mere Christianity of which Lewis speaks “requires not translation into a new and better conceptual system; it enjoins a refashioning of the individual” (Ibid). When Lewis speaks about mere Christianity he does not have in mind the watering down of the subject of knowledge to the lowest common denominator, he has in mind the conversion of the knowing subject to a newfound capacity. “It is too simple to say that this is only a matter of stressing the minimal teachings or the lowest common denominator. The form of one’s thought has to be different even to get at that ‘mere’ Christianity” (The Shape, 97). A kind of orthodoxy and ordering of our reflection is required, and when we achieve it then mere Christianity turns out to be “that kind of ordering and enlivening of our lives that means that daily existence becomes a joy …” (The Shape, 115).




Lewis is interested in affecting the form of a person’s thought. But how does one go about that? How can one school not only the intellect, but the whole person, the emotions and imagination, as well? We have already seen that Lewis will not pin his hopes upon one more shuffle of the intellectual notecards on the table; his goal is not one more new and up-to-date conceptualization (moving the freight to the latest boxcar). But then how? Holmer answers the question by borrowing a metaphor from another philosopher whom he spent his life studying, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was a linguistic philosopher who reflected on how language met up with reality. In his early work, the Tractatus, he tried to show the limits of language, and wrote in the preface, “The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.” But the later Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations) saw that language is much richer – and a bit sloppier – than he originally thought when he tried to make it mimic mathematical precision. Holmer joins others in thinking that Wittgenstein was distinguishing between what can be said, and what cannot be said but only shown. The whole point is that the inexpressible, that which is really important, cannot be said by natural sciences, it can only be shown by music, art, literature, religion, etc. Some things cannot be said, they can only be shown. Holmer can borrow this insight to say about Lewis, In brief, then, Lewis’s literature shows us something without quite arguing it. … Lewis would have it that literature actually creates thoughts in us; it is not only about thoughts, it causes them to exist. It is as if literature is not a description of emotions; rather, it so describes states of affairs that the ordinate emotions are invested in us. Literature is not about existence so much as it is an addition to it. It gives us experiences, feelings, moral pangs, wishes, hopes that we have never had … [Literature] communicates in such a way that, when successful, it creates new capabilities and capacities, powers and a kind of roominess in the human personality. One becomes susceptible to new competencies, new functions, new pathos and possibilities. (The Shape, 20) Combine all this when we arrive at the threshold of the Chronicles of Narnia: Lewis is showing truth to the reader. He is not describing it, circling it, propositionalizing it, categorizing it, filing it, footnoting it, or recounting it. He is showing it. He is showing a truth to us in order to create new capacities in us. He does not describe emotions in his fiction; he tries to create a sentiment in the reader. This is what


he, Tolkien, and the other Inklings hatched together in their meetings at the Eagle and Child pub (the “Bird and Baby,” as they called it). Where, they asked, was the mythology today that would create sentiments of heroism and virtue? If it was not forthcoming, they would have to write it themselves. In his book Abolition of Man, Lewis speaks of the fact that our schools have neglected to train such sentiment. “St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought” (Abolition, in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, 700). The capacitation of a student to feel these sentiments is the purpose of a good education because “The head rules the belly through the chest – the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments” (Ibid, 704). However, we have become a generation of what he calls “Men Without Chests”, and he thinks it an outrage that they be spoken of as intellectuals. In fact, “their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so” (Ibid, 704). Perhaps the clearest account Lewis gave of his intentions was given, fittingly enough, not to the Academy but to a group of fifth graders who wrote him in 1954. Lewis always answered with a handwritten note any letter he received, whether it be from an angry philosopher or from a fifth-grader. The following passage is contained in a collection entitled Letters to Children, and he always truthfully answered every question. I am so glad you liked the Narnian books and it was very kind of you to write and tell me. … You are mistaken when you think that everything in the books “represent” something in this world. Things do that in The Pilgrim’s Progress but I’m not writing in that way. I did not say to myself “let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia”: I said “Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion that there, and then imagine what would happen.” If you think about it, you will see that it is a quite different thing. … I’m tall, fat, rather bald, red-faced, double-chinned, black-haired, have a deep voice, and wear glasses for reading. … Best love to you all. When you say your prayers sometimes ask God to bless me. Yours ever, C. S. Lewis




He further makes it clear that he does not write fairy tale merely as illustration in an essay he entitled “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said.” Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. (Essay in the collection entitled Of Other Worlds, 36) In his own account of his conversion, Surprised by Joy, he says it was the atmosphere of a certain faeire romance by George McDonald, Phantastes, that got under his skin. I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos. I do now. It was Holiness. … That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes. (Surprised by Joy, 179) The whole atmosphere of the piece worked on him, and Lewis wants to create whole atmospheres to work on us. “Baptizing imaginations” seems a pretty good way to describe it. And he does recognize the value this could serve. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could. (Of Other Worlds, 27) Making things appear in their real potency for the first time is something I hope for my students’ experience. Chesterton said “The success of any work of art is achieved when we say of any subject, a tree or a cloud or a human character, ‘I have seen that a thousand times and I never saw it before.’” In his stories we see the doctrines of creation, sin, salvation history, the incarnation, the sacrificial crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, Christ leading his Church, the demand of the virtuous life, the sinister qualities of temptation, the malicious intents of Satan, the necessary ascetical discipline, the creation of a new habitus within, and a hundred more, and are driven to say “I never saw it before.”


So my class conducts its lessons in doctrine in a strange language, one hardly intelligible to a visitor who was not up to speed. • “How can you say the Island is all bad when longing for the Island has brought me this far?” • (Screwtape) “We must face the fact that all the talk about the Enemy’s love for men… is not mere propaganda but an appalling truth. He really does want to feel the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself.” • Heaven will hurt the ghosts from the grey town until they become solider. “It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened.” • The eldila council was astonished at what they’ve heard of human history. “It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself.” • This was enchanted Turkish Delight and “anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.”

Lewis thought that everything in creation had a sacramental scent, even though we have been told for three-hundred years that this material world is all there is. He would awaken this sense of the eternal, if we would allow. His images and characters and narratives create in us a sentiment of longing, because all things in this world point beyond themselves. They are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. (“The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 6-7) This mere Christianity is designed to break our enchantment.






As I pass by the Main Building (a.k.a. The Golden Dome) at the University of Notre Dame, I often think back to my freshman year on campus. How often I found myself interrupted by the extraordinary beauty of this building throughout the year. The shimmering gold on a football Saturday framed against the outline of leaves ablaze; the more muted tones of the gold against the snowy, grey sky of late winter; the brilliant, even transcendent light that the Dome provides on the darkest of nights, visible in all of its grandeur from St. Joseph Lake.

it was me who had changed. Abiding on campus over the years, the building became part of my home, my “dwelling.” And as the work load increased, as the extra-curricular responsibilities grew, the Dome devolved into the building I passed on the way to class, to a football game, to this practice or that meeting. Perhaps once or twice a year, normally after a long absence, the beauty of the building would strike my eye. But for the most part, the campus monument had become “background noise” that invited my attention only now and again.

Inevitably, as I became used to perceiving this building throughout the seasons, wonder ceased. It wasn’t that the Dome was any less beautiful. Rather,

The great temptation of the Christian life is that the Scriptures, our spiritual practices, our liturgical prayer, even our spaces for worship will become the

“background noise” of a life that has become comfortably Christian. When the Gospel is read at Mass, we immediately become distracted, knowing already how the story turns out. The gorgeous art that adorns the walls of the church is passed by, without eliciting in us the desire to pray. Prayer itself, the recalling of our attention to God, devolves into half-hearted words of obligation. So how do we receive an inoculation against this forgetfulness of wonder? To once again attend to the interruption of beauty that characterizes Catholicism in particular? Might I suggest the reading of the following three books?


Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski Prayer: A History Boston Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005 $15.95

Prayer is dramatic; a strange statement for those of us, who more often than not fail in our prayer. A Few Good Men is dramatic. Schindler’s List is dramatic. Even, Harry Potter is dramatic. My prayer life is nearly devoid of drama. It is me fumbling through half intelligible words uttered before the break of dawn. It is me overlooking prayer until the very end of the day; when exhaustion wins out, and my closing prayer is Lord, forgive my neglect. It is me praying the rosary and forgetting what mystery I

am on. It is me attending Mass and only later recognizing that rather than lift up my heart to the Lord, I have been considering the possibility that the Cubs could finally win the World Series. If my prayer is a “drama,” then it is more akin to a critically acclaimed independent movie about a slacker in his early thirties, waiting to make a new start to his life, but continually running into the force of his own inertia. Philip and Carol Zaleski’s Prayer: A History reminds the reader that, despite the often non-dramatic nature of our own prayer, the very fact that human beings pray at all is a remarkable phenomenon worthy of contemplating. The opening lines of the text inform the reader that Prayer is a work of deep




spiritual depth and admiration: “The story of prayer is the story of the impossible: of how we creatures of flesh and blood lay siege to heaven, speak to the Maker of all things, and await, with confidence or hopeful skepticism, a response” (3). The Zaleskis’ are not phenomenologists or religious historians, presenting a systematic account of prayer in world religions. Instead, they are interested in the mystery of prayer itself: “We can describe the visible world of prayer in sumptuous detail, and a resplendent and fascinating world it is; but the most intimate dance between God and the soul occurs at a level beyond human perception” (354). The reader, then, should treat Prayer less as a typical historical introduction to a religious topic, and more as the contemplation of a mystery: “Why do we pray, and what do we pray for? How do we pray, and how does it change us? What does prayer say about us, as separate cultures and as a species” (32). Prayer is a love story, told from the perspective of the various cultures, who have reached out to God through words, through silence, and through ritual practice. In fact, the multi-religious approach to Prayer contributes to the authority of the work. A diverse assortment of human beings has sought to speak to God. In chapters four through seven, the Zaleskis offer portraits (or archetypal figures) of humanity at prayer. • The prayer of the refugee (chapter four) is the cry for help, addressing “the raw fundamentals of life—sin and illness, suffering and death, fear of evil and the longing for redemption” (97).

• The prayer of the devotee (chapter five) is the regular, routine of prayer practiced by the believer as a sacrifice to God, one that serves to sanctify both time and the cosmos (129). • The prayer of the ecstatic (chapter six) is the engulfing, total prayer of pure bliss: “it is sharp, precise, engulfing; it turns one inside out; there is nothing vague about it at all. And for this very reason it remains under descriptive embargo” (161). • The prayer of the contemplative (chapter seven) is a life become prayer, “a pattern of behavior that embraces all modes of prayer but is characterized above all, by openness: to God and to the world” (197). Just as a reviewer of a novel is careful to not give away too much of the plot, it would be an injustice to over-summarize the Zaleskis’ portraits of prayer. What makes these archetypes so remarkable is that they take seriously, without the slightest tone of disbelief, the particular religious convictions of the Hindus, Pentecostals, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Christians under examination. Simultaneously, they do not reduce Catholic prayer to Hindu prayer. But, if the reader of Prayer is a Catholic, who takes the life of prayer seriously, that reader cannot help but admire a fellow sojourner in the spiritual art of prayer. Even more important, these archetypal figures of prayer awaken in the reader the desire for a more serious engagement with the traditions of prayer. Reading the text, I wanted to pray like the refugee, the devotee, the ecstatic, and the contemplative. Every time, I enter into the simplest of prayers, because of the Zaleskis’ text, I cannot help but realize the spiritual adventure I am undertaking.


And perhaps, that’s the subtle undercurrent of the work as a whole; to reawaken human beings to the mysterious wonder of seeking God through prayer. The two chapters on magic that begin the book (chapters two and three) subtly challenge the disenchantment brought about by modernity. Quoting the Zaleskis: The early Christian portrayal of Jesus and the sacraments draw upon a tradition of magical language and practice to convey a deeper, redemptive magic that Christians believes to be the core mystery of faith. Deeper magic it may be, but recognizably magic nonetheless. It was necessary and inevitable…that the magic of the gospel would partake of the magic of the many cultures to which Christianity spread. The relics, rosary beads, statues, icons, medals, and votive offerings that line the old highways of Europe, and especially the great pilgrimage routes; the magical use of familiar prayers; the vigils, pilgrimages, processions, novenas, and litanies of the faithful—all these are sign not of atavism or degeneration, but rather of a fully realized culture of prayer (56). The magic of Christian prayer does not manipulate the gods, but rather enters one into “a relationship to living persons: the three Persons of the Trinity, the incarnate Redeemer, the Mother of God, the heavenly companies of saints” (56). The later chapters of Prayer (chapters eight through thirteen) seek to negotiate the “deep magic” of praying in light of a forgetfulness of tradition, the relationship between prayer and the modern arts, the legal challenges to prayer in the public square, and the efficacy of prayer vis-à-vis science.

At the conclusion of the work, one gets the impression that a society without any form of visible prayer, of seeking God through word and practice, of silent waiting and ritual, is one without a culture. In fact, if evangelization includes the transformation of culture through an encounter with the Gospel, then Christians have a significant amount to learn from the Zaleskis’ treatment of prayer. To enter into the drama of prayer is to become a sign that there are still those, who dedicate themselves to a way of life that refuses to accept the greyness of a disenchanted world. It is to nurture a culture of prayer. The Zaleskis’ Prayer also should draw the attention of the American Catholic Church, coming to a deeper realization of the public spiritual practices of Hispanic Catholicism. Rather than dismiss such practices as “mere” popular piety, the attentive reader of Prayer: A History will come to recognize that Latino Catholicism may be an opportunity for a spiritual renewal in Catholicism itself, a reclamation of the deeper magic intrinsic to the drama of prayer.




Cecilia González-Andrieu Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty Waco, TX Baylor University Press, 2012. $29.95

Judgments regarding beauty are exceptionally problematic. This is particularly the case in matters of liturgical prayer. On one hand, the high liturgical aesthete might argue that the truly beautiful rite is one with incense, suffused with Gregorian chant, golden vestments, and laced albs. On the other, the low liturgical aesthete will judge the beauty of a rite by means of the spontaneous, the informal, and the sparse. In both cases, a prior concept of the beautiful trespasses upon the Eucharistic performance. And as the philosopher Jean-Luc Marion has made clear in his God Without Being, “To justify its Christianity, a theology must be conceived as a logos of the Logos, a word of the Word, a said of the Said—where, to be sure, every doctrine of language, every theory of discourse, every scientific epistemology, must let itself be regulated by the event of its redoubling in a capital, intimate, and anterior instances” (143). The

Eucharistic celebration is that event in which the Christian is taught to perceive the beautiful and thus become a site of beauty (sainthood). And as the horrors of the twentieth century make clear, many have participated in the Eucharistic rites without perceiving the presence of a beautiful God, who loves unto the end. Cecilia González-Andrieu’s stunning Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty is an antidote to the wars of aesthetics, embroiling liturgists. It is simultaneously a prophetic challenge to those who seek in beauty a way to cover over the horrors of injustice. Undoubtedly, González-Andrieu’s approach to theological aesthetics is influenced by her early immersion into the theological art-forms of her native Cuba, her immigration to the United States, and her later “grafting” into the Mexican American community of Los Angeles. Her life has been immersed in the arts, from her father’s painting to her deep appreciation for music. And thus, as a theologian, how could she not turn to the arts as a source of “theology”?


For González-Andrieu, beauty is not a category denoting the pristine, the splendid, or the popular. Instead, the category of the beautiful comes to be known fundamentally through the paradoxical sign of Jesus Christ himself: In Christ, the exquisite Prince of Peace and the despised, battered, and bleeding man are paradoxically united, constituting the deepest insight into the nature of the beautiful. What is beautiful can be so most powerfully in that it wounds us and directs us to the longing our wounds reveal. In this beauty that is most fully revealed in Christ, the good and true are woven together and made sensible, so we may want them, grasp them, inhabit them, and love them (24). When we recognize that Christ’s wounded aesthetics is the source of all beauty, we are awakened to wonder, or what González-Andrieu refers to as “asombrado.” Asombrado is not strictly speaking a “positive” category alone. Instead, “wonder stops what is routine and causes asombro. When we become asombrados we are no longer able to cling to the illusion of control and omnipotence. We have been made small and take on the characteristics (in ourselves) of our awe-filled response” (36). The Gospel is beautiful, not because it is saccharine, safe, and acceptable, but because it continually invites the human being to asombro, to wonder infused by humility. González-Andrieu’s viewing of Luis Valdéz’ La Pastorela serves as a kind of “icon” into this sort of wonder in which “the story of salvation plays out on stage and inside each heart” (32), inviting the viewer to see anew the “unexpectedness of being” (32), and thus come to a renewed perception of Jesus’ poverty

vis-à-vis the marginal state of farm workers today. Here, a hallmark of González-Andrieu’s writing surfaces. Her very language, her way of writing, invites the reader into a play that one has never seen, coming (however inadequately) to “see what she saw.” González-Andrieu’s narrative itself elicits this wonder (and the images of paintings included in the text are an extension of this invitation)! And in fact, this revelatory wonder is what makes art “theologically beautiful.” Art interrupts our assumptions, forces us to re-examine ourselves, and thus to perceive anew the Triune God we confess to have faith in. Much of González-Andrieu’s Bridge to Wonder is itself a contemplative examination of such moments of revelation. In chapters four and five, she treats the 2000 exhibit at the National Gallery in London, entitled Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ in Art. The noteworthy attendance at this exhibition, as well as scholarly commentary upon it results in a working methodology for making theological judgments regarding art: “An effective methodology for relating art and religion has to take seriously the faith experience of the communities producing and receiving the art, as well as to question overly rationalistic paradigms that remove the experiential from both art and theology” (84). Here, GonzálezAndrieu makes an especially important point regarding the catechetical nature of art; art is “catechetical”, not simply when it communicates doctrinal truths to a receiver-participant. Instead, art is catechetical when it opens up to a moment of asombramiento, of transformative wonder. For this reason, the theologian who seeks to analyze the revelatory nature of art will need to understand both the Christian tradition (and how it is practiced today), while also attentive to the




way that art makes transformative experience possible (84). This method is one that González-Andrieu calls acercamiento, a movement from far to near, “a moment when a multistranded cable is woven in order to connect me to the art and the art to me in intimate closeness” (90). In chapter seven, González-Andrieu continues to practice this method of acercamiento in examining the nature of art; in chapter eight, as she treats the role of the commonplace in art, and how the artfulness of life is essential to theological aesthetics in a theological tribute to her mentor, Alejandro García-Rivera; and in chapter nine, as she turns to a particularly important case study for those interested in the role of the arts in the Church: the building of the Little Church at Assy. Here, the reader comes to see the subtlety required in assessing the theological function of the arts in liturgical space, in particular. The liturgical worshiper must recognize in the piece of art the depths of the tradition, while also being stretched to re-imagine their own images regarding this tradition. But, liturgical arts fail when they try to communicate a message unintelligible to the worshipers; or to provoke an experience, even if intelligible, that is manipulative of a community’s religious experience. González-Andrieu writes, “powerful arts must do more than expose problems; they must also make us asombrados, grateful and wonder-filled beings…” (150). Liturgical artists would be wise to keep a copy of Bridge to Wonder in their studios, as a constant reminder of their vocation as liturgical artists of wonder.

As the ninth (and final) chapter of Bridge to Wonder makes clear, our awakening to such wonder through the arts, places before our eyes the vulnerable and the needy. González-Andrieu concludes: Through the work of our religious senses and our artistic making, we can come to know one another better, to value the gift of mystery bestowed through radical otherness, and ultimately come to love one another truly. How we share the wisdom of our ancestors, how we glimpse the struggles of our young, how we denounce what is wrong and celebrate what is right, how we build communities of compassion and instill compassion for the most marginal in our communities—all of this doing becomes possible when we come awake to the power of beauty (166). Therefore, Bridge to Wonder is more than a methodological introduction to theological aesthetics. González-Andrieu provides a formation of the Christian imagination, wooing the reader into the transformative practice of asombrado. Our churches, our music, and our plastic arts will only become evangelical, catechetical, and liturgical, when the criterion of beauty is not simply a matter of “taste”, but a renewal of human perception through Christ himself.


Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life (Unabridged Edition) Translated by Michael J. Miller and Matthew J. O’Connell. San Francisco Ignatius Press, 2011. $31.95

I have often wondered why so little of Christian preaching or catechesis actually addresses the Scriptures or Christian doctrine. The narratives woven by expert preachers or catechists are stunning in their complexity; subtle in their use of imagery; and careful in their development of plot. When, the preacher or catechist turns to the Scriptures or doctrine itself, it’s akin to moving from a digital Technicolor film to an old black and white movie. Indeed at times, it seems as if the preacher or catechist is applying the doctrine to the life of the assembly with the following proviso: “Sorry, I have to turn to the Scriptures, but we must!” Of course, one should be careful not to dismiss such an approach to preaching or catechesis as a “modern” failure

of the imagination. Preaching and teaching Christian doctrine in any era is a difficult task, worthy of consideration by the best theological minds of the day. In Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life, the preacher and catechist receive the essential handbook for the art of teaching Christianity today—an Augustinian De doctrina christiana for the modern world. This new, unabridged translation of Ratzinger’s Dogma und Verkündigung is a significant contribution to both English-speaking catechists and preachers. Beginning with a theology of preaching, Ratzinger notes that “Christian preaching is not the proclamation of a system of doctrines that follow from one another but, rather, guidance to a reality that is challenge, gift, and promise all in one.” (47). In the first part of the book, one then encounters a theory of preaching, which begins with the origins of preaching in the Church, standards for preaching the Gospel today, Christocentrism in preaching, and the relationship between theology and preaching in the Dutch Catechism.




In this last chapter of Part I, Ratzinger makes an indispensable contribution to pastoral theology as a whole. A theology of preaching (and thus catechesis) requires a two-fold translation—the first a discernment of the “matter” behind the formulas of faith; the second, “a further and separate step of translating what has been grasped through that reflection into the language of preaching” (73). The remainder of Dogma and Preaching performs precisely this two-fold task, emulating Augustine’s division of De doctrina christiana: a way of “finding” the truth and a way of communicating the truth. And Ratzinger, as one has come to expect, is a highly capable translator of ancient theological formulae into the preached word. In Part II (major themes on preaching) I discovered one of the most successful introductions to Christian doctrine that I have read. Ratzinger considers how the contemporary person can understand the Triune nature of God; what role prayer has in theological discourse; the importance of Christology as the heart of the spiritual life; the doctrines of grace, creation, and the Christian’s relationship to the world; the often confused doctrine of the Church; and, eschatology, including a theology of death and resurrection. A reader familiar with Ratzinger’s corpus of writings will not discover anything remarkably new in these theological chapters. But, the brief, sustained attention to these themes would provide those “Ratzinger novices”, an imaginative, persuasive, and sophisticated introduction to a biblically-rich, philosophically sound, and prayerful approach to theology. Every undergraduate, every pastoral minister, ever catechumen, every high school student seeking understanding of their faith, should read Part II of Dogma and Preaching. In Part III, Ratzinger moves from the first translation of theology to the second translation of preaching. Here is where the imagination of the preacher and

catechist is truly formed. The meditations and sermons of Part III on topics ranging from the genealogy of Jesus to the Easter Vigil are theologically sound, spiritually rich, and contemporary in voice. In these sermons, one begins to notice how the entirety of humanity is transfigured through an encounter with the Word of God. In Ratzinger’s meditation upon New Year’s Eve, the celebration of the end of the year, becomes a stunning reflection upon the shortness of human life, and how Jesus Christ (the one who had time for God), “freed us from the dictatorship of time” (351). Each doctrine, each moment of the liturgical year, becomes a “sign” that leads the Christian to contemplate the reality of God in Ratzinger’s preaching. To renew the world itself through the Christian imagination! It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of Ratzinger’s Dogma and Preaching for pastoral theologians, including religious educators, liturgists, preachers, and catechists of the faith. The program of translation he sets out is the work of each pastoral theologian. And the art of this translation will require the full attention of theological faculties, seminaries, and doctoral programs in preaching and catechesis. Implicitly, in Dogma and Preaching, the reader encounters the outlines of a comprehensive approach to “catechetical theology,” one that takes up the mantle of Augustine’s De doctrina for a contemporary age. To be a pastoral theologian or Christian teacher, in the line of Ratzinger, would require the cultivation of a literary imagination, a deep appropriation of the biblical narrative, an astute philosophical mind, an awareness of the challenges posed by modernity toward Christianity, an openness toward beauty, and an immersion into the depths of the theological tradition. And when theological faculties give themselves over to cultivating this approach to catechetical theology, then our catechesis and preaching will cease being mere entertainment. It will be an invitation to wonder.



Eric Buell is the department chair of religious studies, Presentation High School, San Jose, CA and graduate of Echo: Faith Formation Leadership Program.

Sometimes I wonder what my Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh students think of when they hear the word ‘evangelization.’ In fact, in a school where non-Christians make up a significant portion of the population, I sometimes wonder what my task is for this segment of our population. When I first moved to San Jose, CA I stepped into the most diverse place I have ever lived. I moved here to teach Catholic theology at an all-girls high school, and found an apartment next to a small Mormon church. Within the week, I had a polite knock on my door asking if I have heard of the joy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To which I (perhaps antagonistically) responded, have you heard of the joy of the Holy Roman Catholic Church? I invited the man in for a beer and quickly learned a significant difference between our two faiths. After a pleasant forty-five minute conversation as we quoted Paul at each other (and yes, I mean at), the man politely left, refusing to take the copy of St. Augustine’s Confessions which I offered him. I closed the door and thought if that is how I am perceived by the non-Christian population of my school. While the circumstances are quite different (they do after all, knowingly attend a Catholic school), I spend my days not only engaging young women in elements of moral truth and social justice, but in the language of sacrament and doctrine. What does




evangelization look like to non-Christians without sounding patronizing or with the intent to convert? Pope John Paul II began his encyclical Veritatis Splendor with the following: “Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, “the true light that enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:9), people become “light in the Lord” and “children of light” (Eph 5:8), and are made holy by “obedience to the truth” (1 Pet 1:22)” (§1). We always read portions of this encyclical at the beginning of our Moral Theology course, and most always a common student response (regardless of faith) I bet sounds familiar for most teachers, “whose truth?” I dove in head first responding to the question with “the Truth.” I have heard it said that the one prayer God always answers is the prayer for humility. Amen, amen I say to you, that is the truth. I learned two very important lessons that class. First, high school students can be incredibly insightful. It is a temptation when living in a Catholic world to assume most people hold very similar worldviews. The lesson took an unexpected turn for me and I spent the next sixty minutes engaging in a dialogue about how different faiths perceive the idea of “truth.” Soumya, one of my Hindu students, raised her hand during the discussion: “Mr. Buell, so you believe that Jesus is God?” “Correct.” “And this God of yours only incarnated once?” Brilliant. A question that could only come from a particular perspective, but a question that is incredibly insightful. We began to understand our different positions.

Observation number two: they can be obsessive relativists. “Well, aren’t all religions the same thing anyway?” Sigh. I find this attitude most especially in my Christian students, trying to assert that all faiths are true for the individual person, that everyone’s image of God is just as valid as the next, and one’s image of God becomes God for each one. Whatever one believes is true for oneself. I am caught asking myself if this is a sign of water downed theology or a reflection of a desire to accept and respect all viewpoints. This attitude towards catechesis can lead many to see these classes as one more grade on the report card, and thus the responses to questions will often aim to say what the student thinks I want to hear instead of an honest interaction with the material. I will never forget one of my non-Christian students, writing a response about how her Catholic parish does service work after Mass on Sunday to connect the Eucharist with acts of justice. It can be a real danger when grades trump knowledge. As a graduation requirement, we sit down with each departing student for a final interview. One question that I always anticipate asking is “Name a gospel value of Christ.” A common response to this question is, “Love. Christ taught us how to love.” At first, this repeated response drew my ire. I was frustrated as to what I viewed as “Hallmark” theology. Yet in this response I gradually came to see the universality of the Gospel. No matter the faith, I am proud to say that many students walk away from our school understanding that the central message of Christ and the Gospel is to love. I can think of no better message that can be echoed for a generation of young people who are being told that their worth is tied up in what they own, instead of what they are.


Whatever the faith my students call home, the message of the Gospel and the message of the Church has a universal appeal. This appeal is echoed in the opening lines of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the more I teach, the more it rings true. “At every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.” Students of any faith find this quest for truth and love in any Catholic environment they step into. Over and over, my message to incoming students is that there is value in learning another faith and there is value in religious literacy in a time when misunderstandings divide peoples. For catechesis today must not only seek for our students to understand, but as catechists to understand their faith. And thus, our students’ response of love is a reflection of our current Pope’s first encyclical: “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (§1).


Church Life: A Journal for the New Evangelization (Spring 2012)