A baby, Archbishop Sheen and a miracle

Melvin Arrington, Jr.

GUEST Column
By Melvin Arrington
In one of the most famous sports calls of all time, Al Michaels, counting down the closing seconds of the 1980 U. S. Olympic hockey team’s upset victory over the mighty Soviet Union team, shouted at viewers, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
Well, of course, Catholics believe in miracles but, unfortunately, our modern culture does not. Those who subscribe to the prevailing secular philosophies of our day believe the natural world is all there is: no heaven or hell, no angels and certainly no miracles. In short, our culture pounds it into us on a daily basis that the miraculous simply does not exist and anything remotely considered supernatural is nothing more than superstition or a fraud.
Enter Bonnie Engstrom, popular Catholic blogger and speaker from central Illinois and mother of eight. She and her husband Travis beg to differ. In her recently published volume, 61 Minutes to a Miracle: Fulton Sheen and a True Story of the Impossible (Our Sunday Visitor, 2019), Engstrom relates the gripping facts of how her son James, who was delivered stillborn, suddenly came back to life 61 minutes after his birth.
All the while James was cold and blue and without a pulse or a heartbeat, Engstrom continually invoked the name of the famous Catholic radio and TV evangelist Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) and asked for his intercession for her son. Sheen, a native of central Illinois whose cause for sainthood is currently moving forward, went to school in Peoria and was ordained to the priesthood there one hundred years ago.
The long, winding road to Sheen’s canonization began in 2002 with the opening of his “cause,” at which time he was given the title “Servant of God,” the first step along the way. Then, in June of 2012, following years of investigation into Sheen’s life, writings and broadcasts, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the Archbishop had lived a life of “heroic virtue” and named him “Venerable” (Step two).
Since the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Pope have already given their approval for the cause to go forward, at some point in the not-too-distant future, God willing, the Diocese of Peoria will celebrate Sheen’s beatification, at which time he will be declared “Blessed,” leaving him one step away from sainthood.
Engstrom’s personal devotion to Sheen developed slowly. Oddly enough, her first impression of the pioneer Catholic televangelist was not a positive one. On one occasion when she was back home from college watching television in her parent’s living room, she came across a rerun of one of Sheen’s programs. There was something mesmerizing about his overly dramatic style, his long, flowing cape and the penetrating gaze of those deep-set eyes that led her to ask her mother, “Who is that man? He looks like a vampire.”
However, as Bonnie and Travis uncovered more information about Sheen and watched his videos, they became fascinated with this future saint who was born and grew up only twenty miles from their house. When choosing baby names, the one they settled on for a boy was James Fulton.
This book is difficult to put down, not only because of Engstrom’s captivating, fast-paced narrative but also because of her brutally honest account of her thoughts and emotions. Especially poignant is the chapter where she reveals a deeply troubling dream, she had eight months into her pregnancy, a nightmare that would soon become reality.
During the 61 minutes and the aftermath, when the doctors told her that, if James lived, he would be severely handicapped, she experienced moments of questioning and doubting her faith. But through it all she remained steadfast in prayer, asking for Archbishop Sheen’s intercessory prayers. Meanwhile, James began to reach his developmental milestones. When an MRI showed that the child had no brain damage, it was clear that a second miracle had occurred. And now, at age nine, he is a happy, healthy boy.
Engstrom provides many spellbinding details that add to the compelling nature of this story, details that, because of space limitations, must be omitted from this brief review. And those are what make reading 61 Minutes to a Miracle so enthralling. Because of Sheen’s upcoming beatification, this is a timely read but its subject matter of a miraculous healing is timeless.
And so, each reader, after finishing the book must answer one question. It’s the same question that everyone sooner or later has to answer: Do you believe in miracles?

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)

Imagining grace

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Imagine this: A man, entirely careless of all moral and spiritual affairs, lives his life in utter selfishness, pleasure his only pursuit. He lives the high life, never prays, never goes to church, has numerous sexual affairs and has no concern for anyone but himself. After a long life of this, he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness and, on his deathbed, tearfully repents, makes a sincere confession, receives the Eucharist and dies inside the blessing of the church and his friends.
Now, if our reaction is, “Well, the lucky fellow! He got to live a life of selfish pleasure and still gets to go to heaven!” then (according to Piet Fransen, a renowned theologian on Grace) we haven’t yet, at all, understood the workings of grace. To the degree that we still envy the amoral and wish to exclude them from God’s grace, even as we count ourselves in, we are the “older brother” of the prodigal son, standing outside the Father’s house, heaven, in envy and bitterness.
I teach in a seminary that prepares seminarians for ordination. Recently our professor of Sacramental Theology shared that he’s been teaching a course on the Sacrament of Reconciliation for more than forty years and only in the last few years have the seminarians asked: “When do we have to refuse giving someone absolution in confession?”
What’s betrayed in this concern? The seminarians asking the question are, no doubt, sincere; they’re not trying to be rigid or hard. Their anxiety is rather about grace and mercy. They are sincerely anxious about perhaps dispensing God’s mercy too liberally, too cheaply, too indiscriminately, in essence, too unfairly. Their fear is not so much that God’s mercy is limited and that there’s only so much grace to go around. Not that. Their concern is more that by giving out grace so liberally they are being unfair to those who are practicing faithfully and bearing the heat of the day. Their fear is about fairness, justice and merit.
What’s at stake here? That grace is not something we merit. After the rich young man in the Gospels turns down Jesus’ invitation to leave everything and follow him, Peter, who watched this encounter and who, unlike the rich young man, has not turned down Jesus’ invitation and has given up everything to follow him, asks Jesus what those who do give up everything are going to get in return. In response, Jesus tells him the parable of the generous land owner and the vineyard workers who all arrive at different times, wherein some work for many hours and some for virtually no time at all, and yet they all receive the same reward, leaving those who worked the full day and bore the heat of the sun bitter with sense of unfairness. But, the vineyard owner (God) points out that there is no unfairness here since everyone has in fact received an over-generous return.
What’s the deep lesson? Whenever we are protesting that it “isn’t fair” that those who are not as faithful as we but are still receiving the full mercy and grace of God we are some distance from understanding grace and living fully inside it.
My dental hygienist knows I’m a Catholic priest and likes to ask me questions about religion and church. One day she shared this story: Her mother and father had both, as far as she knew, never attended church. They had been benign enough about religion, but not interested themselves. She, their daughter, had begun practicing as a Methodist, mainly through the influence of friends. Then her mother died and as they talked about plans for a funeral, her father revealed that her mother had been baptized as a Roman Catholic, though she had not practiced since her middle-school years. He suggested they try to arrange a Roman Catholic funeral for her. Given all those years of absence, it was with some trepidation that they approached a priest at a nearby parish to ask whether they might have a Roman Catholic funeral for her. To their surprise, the priest’s response was non-hesitant, warm and welcoming: “Of course, we can do this! It will be an honor! And I’ll arrange for a choir and a reception in the parish hall afterwards.”
No price was exacted for her mother’s life-long absence from the church. She was buried with the full rites of the Church … and her father, well, he was so touched by it all, the generosity of the church and the beauty of the liturgy, that he has since decided to become a Roman Catholic.
One wonders what the effect would have been had the priest refused that funeral, asking how they could justify a church funeral when, for all these years, they weren’t interested in the church. One wonders too how many people find this story comforting rather than discomforting, given a strong ecclesial ethos today wherein many of us nurse the fear that we are handing out grace and mercy too cheaply.
But grace and mercy are never given out cheaply since love is never merited.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com. Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

WWJD? He would love first

By Fran Lavelle
I was in Vicksburg several weeks ago and was asked if I knew what the acronym HWLF stood for. I did not. I was told that it is the response to the question, “WWJD? (What would Jesus do?)” The answer, “He would love first.” In the weeks since that brief graced moment, I have had several reasons to remind myself HWLF.
On Catechetical Sunday the Gospel was the parable of the prodigal son. It is a reading that has the power to speak to us in a myriad of ways depending on where we are in our own spiritual journey. The parable lesson is one I have visited and revisited on several occasions. I don’t know if you are ever at Mass and something is said that strikes you to the core of your being, but that is exactly what happened to me that Sunday. Father Cosgrove was talking about the two sons and he simply said, “The father loved them both. You know what I mean? The father loved both of his sons.” Yes, He Would Love First. Loving first means we welcome home those who have strayed and loving those who can no longer see the belovedness of the other.
All of this got me thinking about two unrelated deaths of men who were likewise loved by God, Father Al Camp and a high school friend of mine, Mickey. Father Al and I had several things in common; of great importance was our Ohio roots. When ever Father Al saw me he would say, “Hey, hey there Buckeye.” To be clear, Buckeyes are the nut bearing state tree of Ohio and Ohioans are known as Buckeyes. While I hold no hostility to the large state school in Columbus, Ohio I am not that kind of a Buckeye. I could always count on a flash of Father Al’s cheeky smile and his easy-going disposition, but I knew that below the smiles and salutations was a deeply faith filled man and true servant of God’s people. Hearing stories about Father Al at his memorial Mass underscored for me the importance of living an intentional life of authentic service. I was also reminded not to sweat the little stuff and to laugh. Father Al had a wicked dry sense of humor and loved to laugh.
Later the next week I found out that a guy I went to high school with had died a few weeks shy of his 54th birthday from an overdose. Mickey was a brilliant man with Kennedy-esque good looks. He was the only child of a well-known, well to do family in town. Mickey went to law school and spent most of his career as a prosecuting attorney. About a year ago, Mickey was indicted for federal tax fraud. He spent the past year in federal prison. On July 1, Mickey got out of prison and was sent to a halfway house. A few days after returning home from his year-long incarceration, Mickey overdosed and died. His long battle with addiction ended Mickey’s life just as his friends were hoping he would have a new beginning. I read the eulogy that one of his closest friends gave at Mickey’s funeral. It was filled with the sadness one expects when a life so full of promise tragically ends.
I found myself reflecting on these two lives, both in how they lived and how they were memorialized. The stark difference in their lives seems so apparent, one an 87-year young servant of God’s people and the other a gifted 53-year-old who struggled with addiction. But they also shared many things in common. Both were smart and handsome. Both were raised Catholic. As with all of us, both men lived with the consequences of their choices. I thought about God’s love for Father Al and Mickey. I felt a profound gratitude in knowing that they were both beloved sons of God. They were loved first.
That understanding is exactly what our broken world is in most need of. To know we are loved. Loved by God. Every single one of us. That is the central message of all catechetical formation. It is easy to fear that our catechetical programs, RCIA sessions, adult faith formation classes are watered down by relativism. It is easy to get too far into our heads and look at rubrics and rules and make black and white determinations about who is and who isn’t worthy of this or that. We want to “give them” the truth, not mince words, tell it like it is, but when we approach formation like an academic endeavor, we can turn out people who know the faith but have not experienced it.
We all have the responsibility to share the love of God and the gift of faith. We cannot approach love the same way we approach learning, although we do learn by loving. Now more than ever it is critical that we inspire others to see the belovedness of one another.
In those moments when we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” may we respond, “He would love first.” And do likewise.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Holy garments for glory and for beauty

Father Aaron Williams

By Father Aaron Williams
People are always complimenting my vestments after Mass. Kids at the school recognize the certain vestments that I only pull out on big feasts. Parishioners like to tell me which vestment is their “favorite.” When I was preparing for ordination, I gave some time to consider what sort of vestments I was going to order or who would make them. I noticed a lot of my classmates buying matching vestments in each color from various catalogue producers—the church equivalent of off-the-rack clothing companies. I just wasn’t too excited about the idea of spending a large amount of money on standard vestments which everyone else had and honestly weren’t too impressive. So, I began to consider the directives of the Church.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, “sacred vestments should contribute to the beauty of the sacred action itself” (335). This is further developed in a later paragraph reading, “It is fitting that the beauty and nobility of each vestment derive not from abundance of overly lavish ornamentation, but rather from the material that is used and from the design. Ornamentation on vestments should, moreover, consist of figures, that is, of images or symbols, that evoke sacred use, avoiding thereby anything unbecoming” (344).
So, from this we learn that the intention of the Church is that the vestments used at Mass are themselves beautiful—but that their beauty is derived not from being elaborate or lavish but their material and design. This is further explained by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council: “[Bishops], by the encouragement and favor they show to art which is truly sacred, should strive after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display. This principle is to apply also in the matter of sacred vestments and ornaments.”
Thus we see the Church desires a glance between sumptuous/gaudy vestments, but also vestments that are noble and beautiful. Now, God is beauty itself. St. Augustine praises this in his Confessions. “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient ever new.” If vestments are beautiful, it is because they reveal to us the beauty of God. And, here we find the purpose of church vesture at all. We use vestments in the liturgy not to honor the minister, but to honor God—or, more explicitly, to reveal God’s beauty to humanity.
And, this was the approach that God himself used in defining the vesture and ornamentation of the liturgy in the old covenant. In commanding Moses to make vestments for Aaron, God declares, “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Ex 28:2). Later in the same chapter, God described each vestment in detail—which threads will be used, which colors, how they are ornamented (cf. Ex 28:31-38).
When you consider the prescribed design of these vestments in light of the whole of the Old Testament, it’s easy to see why God demanded these figures. The colors, fabrics, styles and ornaments are all evocative of the Garden of Eden. The same was true of the decoration on the walls of the temple itself, which included designs of trees and flowers. The whole purpose of these ornaments was not “art for the sake of art,” but so that the worshiper would be drawn in to the act of worship by the beauty surrounding him, and even more so, to be taken back to the Garden—to the paradise of God.
In a similar way, the Church exhorts us to build beautiful churches, have beautiful music and wear beautiful vestments not simply because it makes the Mass more dignified, but because this beauty is meant to invoke in our minds a longing for the beauty of heaven.
Regrettably, in recent years it has not been uncommon to find sacristies which once housed beautiful and historic vestments now filled with simple and mass-produced polyester counterparts—often equally or even more expensive than vestments purchased from sellers who today are using truly noble fabrics and designs such as silks or damask fabrics with patterns of flowers, angels, crosses and crowns.
Often these catalogue vestments are bought because of a myth that they must be cheaper than the custom option. The reality is that most of the mass-produce sellers use very inexpensive fabrics but overcharge. My most expensive vestment, which was custom designed by a one-man company in Poland, was less expensive than the average vestment sold by the largest vestment seller in America—a Belgian-based company that exclusively uses factory-made artificial fabrics, many of which are simply plain polyester with printed designs, if any.
I remember one of my professors at the Liturgical Institute was speaking about the need for beauty in the liturgy today. He proposed the question of whether, in a society with such poverty, we should invest in beautiful churches or vestments. He said, “The poor today live under concrete bridges, and in parks, and see ugliness all around them both in their surroundings and in how they are treated. But, the riches of the Church are their riches. There’s a reason you find the poor at churches and not a government buildings. Everything at the church is theirs and they deserve something beautiful.”
Nobility is not the enemy of beauty. We can have beauty without becoming ornate and extravagant. “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Ex 28:2).

(Father Aaron Williams is the Director of Seminarians and Parochial vicar at Greenville St. Joseph Parish)

Echegaray cardenal, Henri de Lubac y Vaticano II

Obispo Robert Barron

Por Obispo Robert Barron
La semana pasada falleció el cardenal Roger Etchegaray. Quizás el suyo no era un nombre familiar, pero este hombre muy decente hizo una contribución sustancial a la vida de la Iglesia, sirviendo en varias capacidades diferentes a lo largo de los años y colaborando estrechamente con el Papa Juan Pablo II. Tuve el privilegio de conocerlo a mediados de la década de 1990, cuando visitó el Seminario Mundelein donde yo era profesor de teología. El Cardenal quería dirigirse a la comunidad, pero su inglés era un poco inestable, así que traduje para él. Pero recuerdo que su sonrisa y su gozo evidente en el Señor no necesitaban ninguna traducción.
La primera vez que vi a Roger Etchegaray fue algunos años antes, en un día extraordinario en la Catedral de Notre Dame en París: el funeral del legendario teólogo Henri de Lubac. En ese momento, como estudiante de doctorado de tercer año, me dirigí a Notre Dame, con la esperanza de poder participar en la misa del funeral. Cuando me acerqué a la puerta, un agente de seguridad me detuvo y me preguntó: “Est-ce que vous êtes membre de la famille? (¿Eres miembro de la familia?),” “Non,” respondí. Luego me preguntó: “¿Est-ce que vous êtes theologien? (¿Eres un teólogo?). ”Con cierta inquietud, dije:” Oui (Si), ”y rápidamente me guió a una posición privilegiada cerca del frente de la Catedral.
Al sonido profundo de las campanas de la Catedral, el sencillo ataúd de madera de de Lubac fue llevado por el pasillo central. Noté, cuando pasó por mi posición, que el ataúd estaba coronado por la birreta roja del cardenal de Lubac. Al final de la misa, el cardenal Etchegaray se levantó para hablar en nombre del Papa. Leyó un hermoso homenaje de Juan Pablo II, y luego compartió la siguiente anécdota. Poco después de su elección al papado, John Paul vino a París para una visita pastoral. Hizo una parada especial en el Institut Catholique de Paris para reunirse con teólogos y otros académicos católicos. Después de sus comentarios formales- continuó Etchegaray – Juan Pablo II levantó la vista y dijo: “¿“Où est le pere de Lubac? (¿Dónde está el padre de Lubac?) ”El joven Karol Wojtyla había trabajado estrechamente con de Lubac durante el Vaticano II, específicamente en la composición del gran documento conciliar Gaudium et Spes. De Lubac dio un paso adelante y, Etchegaray nos dijo que el Papa Juan Pablo II inclinó la cabeza ante el distinguido teólogo. Luego Etchegaray, volviéndose hacia el ataúd, dijo: “Encore une fois, au nom du pape, j’incline la tête devant le pere de Lubac (Una vez más, en nombre del Papa, inclino la cabeza ante el padre. de Lubac).“
Esto es mucho más que una historia encantadora, porque sobre la reverencia de Juan pablo II por Henri de Lubac hay una historia muy interesante de relevancia continua para nuestro tiempo. De Lubac fue el defensor más destacado de lo que llegó a llamarse la nouvelle theologie (la nueva teología). Apartándose del Tomismo estricto y bastante racionalista que dominó la vida intelectual católica en la primera mitad del siglo XX, de Lubac y sus colegas se volvieron con entusiasmo a las Escrituras y a las obras maravillosas y multifacéticas de los Padres de la Iglesia. Este regreso a las “fuentes” de la fe produjo una teología que fue espiritualmente informada, ecuménicamente generosa e intelectualmente rica, y que puso a de Lubac “al fuego (hot water)” a un nivel considerable con el establecimiento académico y eclesial de esa época. En el apogeo de sus poderes, durante la década de 1950, fue silenciado y se le prohibió enseñar, hablar o publicar. Rehabilitado por el Papa Juan XXIII, de Lubac desempeñó un papel fundamental en el Vaticano II, influyendo decisivamente en muchos de sus principales documentos. Es completamente correcto decir que este defensor de la reforma del Concilio Vaticano II no era amigo del conservadurismo católico preconciliar.
Sin embargo, en los años inmediatamente posteriores al Concilio, Henri de Lubac se impacientó con el liberalismo católico, liderado por figuras como Hans Küng, Karl Rahner y Edward Schillebeeckx, que estaba superando los textos del Vaticano II y que se acomodaba demasiado fácilmente con la cultura ambiental, perdiendo su union con el cristianismo clásico.
Y así, junto con sus colegas Hans Urs von Balthasar y Joseph Ratzinger, fundó la revista teológica Communio, que era un contrapeso a la revista Concilium, que publicó los trabajos de los principales liberales. Fue esta escuela de Communio, ese camino intermedio entre ambos, el conservadurismo y el liberal rechazo del Vaticano II, algo que Juan Pablo II abrazó con entusiasmo. Si usted busca una evidencia clara de que el Papa polaco favoreció este enfoque, no busque más allá del Catecismo de 1992, que está lleno del espíritu de la nouvelle theologie (la nueva teología), y del hecho de que Juan Pablo II honró especialmente a los tres fundadores de Communio, haciendo a José Ratzinger jefe de la Congregación para la Doctrina de la Fe y nombrando cardenales a de Lubac y a Balthasar.
¿Se exhiben hoy los rechazos del Vaticano II de parte de la izquierda y de la derecha? Simplemente vaya usted al espacio de los nuevos medios católicos y encontrará la pregunta fácilmente respondida. Lo que aún es muy necesario es la actitud de Lubac: profundo compromiso con los textos del Vaticano II, apertura a la conversación ecuménica, disposición a dialogar con la cultura (sin ceder) y reverencia por la tradición sin sofocar al tradicionalismo. Quizás podría invitarlo a usted a reflexionar sobre ese gesto y esas palabras del cardenal Etchegaray que aprendí hace muchos años: “Una vez más, en nombre del Papa, inclino la cabeza ante el padre de Lubac.”

(El obispo Robert Barron es autor, orador, teólogo y fundador de Word on Fire, un ministerio global de medios de comunicacion – Wordonfire.org)

Cardinal Etchegaray, Henri de Lubac and Vatican II

Bishop Robert Barron

By Bishop Robert Barron
(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz is on vacation at press time. His regular column will return in our Oct. 11 edition.)
Recently, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray passed away. Perhaps his was not a household name, but this very decent man made a substantive contribution to the life of the Church, serving in a number of different capacities over the years and collaborating closely with St. Pope John Paul II. I had the privilege of meeting him in the mid 1990s when he visited Mundelein Seminary, where I was serving as professor of theology. The Cardinal wanted to address the community, but his English was a bit shaky, so I translated for him. But I recall that his smile and evident joy in the Lord needed no translation whatsoever.
The first time I ever laid eyes on Roger Etchegaray was some years before that, on an extraordinary day in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris: the funeral of the legendary theologian Henri de Lubac. A third-year doctoral student at the time, I had made my way to Notre Dame, hoping against hope that I might be able to participate in the funeral Mass. As I approached the door, I was stopped by a security agent who asked, “Est-ce que vous êtes membre de la famille? (Are you a member of the family?)” “Non,” I responded. Then he inquired, “Est-ce que vous êtes theologien? (Are you a theologian?)” With some trepidation, I said, “Oui,” and he promptly directed me to a prime position near the front of the Cathedral. To the tolling of the deepest bells in the Cathedral, the simple wooden coffin of de Lubac was wheeled down the middle aisle. I noticed, as it passed by my position, that it was topped by de Lubac’s red cardinal’s biretta.
At the close of the Mass, Cardinal Etchegaray rose to speak on behalf of the Pope. He read a beautiful tribute from John Paul II, and then he shared the following anecdote. Soon after his election to the papacy, John Paul came to Paris for a pastoral visit. He made a special stop at the Institut Catholique de Paris to meet with theologians and other Catholic academics. After his formal remarks, Etchegaray continued, John Paul II looked up and said, “Où est le pere de Lubac? (Where is Father de Lubac?)” The young Karol Wojtyla had worked closely with de Lubac during Vatican II, specifically in the composition of the great conciliar document Gaudium et Spes. De Lubac stepped forward and, Etchegaray told us, Pope John Paul bowed his head to the distinguished theologian. Then, turning to the coffin, Etchegaray said, “Encore une fois, au nom du pape, j’incline la tête devant le pere de Lubac (Once more, in the name of the Pope, I bow my head before Father de Lubac).”
This is much more than a charming story, for upon John Paul’s reverence for Henri de Lubac hangs a very interesting tale of continuing relevance to our time. De Lubac was the most prominent proponent of what came to be called la nouvelle theologie (the new theology). Departing from the strict and rather rationalist Thomism that dominated Catholic intellectual life in the first half of the twentieth century, de Lubac and his colleagues turned with enthusiasm to the Scriptures and to the marvelous and multifaceted works of the Church Fathers. This return to the “sources” of the faith produced a theology that was spiritually informed, ecumenically generous and intellectually rich — and it got de Lubac in considerable hot water with the academic and ecclesial establishment of that time. At the very height of his powers, throughout the 1950s, he was silenced, prohibited from teaching, speaking or publishing. Rehabilitated by Pope John XXIII, de Lubac played a pivotal role at Vatican II, decisively influencing many of its major documents. It is altogether correct to say that this champion of the reforming Second Vatican Council was no friend of pre-conciliar Catholic conservatism.
However, in the years immediately following the Council, Henri de Lubac became impatient with the Catholic liberalism, led by such figures as Hans Küng, Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx, which was pushing past the texts of Vatican II, accommodating itself far too readily with the environing culture and losing its mooring in classical Christianity. And so, along with his colleagues Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger, he founded the theological journal Communio, which was meant as a counterweight to the journal Concilium, which published the works of the leading liberals. It was this Communioschool, this middle path between both a conservative and liberal rejection of Vatican II, that John Paul II enthusiastically embraced. If you seek clear evidence that the Polish Pope favored this approach, look no further than the Catechism of 1992, which is filled with the spirit of the nouvelle theologie and to the fact that John Paul specially honored the three founders of Communio, making Joseph Ratzinger head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and naming both de Lubac and Balthasar Cardinals.
Are both left-wing and right-wing rejections of Vatican II on display today? Just go on the Catholic new media space and you’ll find the question readily answered. What is still very much the needful thing is the de Lubac attitude: deep commitment to the texts of Vatican II, openness to ecumenical conversation, a willingness to dialogue with the culture (without caving in to it), reverence for the tradition without a stifling traditionalism. Perhaps I might invite you to muse on that gesture and those words of Cardinal Etchegaray that I took in many years ago: “Once more, in the name of the Pope, I bow my head before Father de Lubac.”

(This article first appeared at WordOnFire.org. Bishop Robert Barron is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.)

Lesson in aging

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
We live in a culture that idealizes youth and marginalizes the old. And, as James Hillman says, the old don’t let go easily either of the throne or the drive that took them there. I know; I’m aging.
For most of my life, I’ve been able to think of myself as young. Because I was born late in the year, October, I was always younger than most of my classmates, graduated from high school at age seventeen, entered the seminary at that tender age, was ordained to the priesthood at age twenty-five, did an advanced degree within the next year and was teaching graduate theology at age twenty-six, the youngest member on the faculty. I was proud of that, achieving those things so early. And so I always thought of myself as young, even as the years piled up and my body began to betray my conception of myself as young.
Moreover, for most of those years, I tried to stay young too in soul, staying on top of what was shaping youth culture, its movies, its popular songs, its lingo. During my years in seminary and for a good number of years after ordination, I was involved in youth ministry, helping give youth retreats in various high schools and colleges. At that time, I could name all the popular songs, movies, and trends, speak youth’s language and I prided myself in being young.
But nature offers no exemptions. Nobody stays young forever. Moreover, aging doesn’t normally announce its arrival. You’re mostly blind to it until one day you see yourself in a mirror, see a recent photo of yourself or get a diagnosis from your doctor and suddenly you’re hit on the head with the unwelcome realization that you’re no longer a young person. That usually comes as a surprise. Aging generally makes itself known in ways that have you denying it, fighting it, accepting it only piecemeal and with some bitterness.
But that day comes round for everyone when you’re surprised, stunned, that what you are seeing in the mirror is so different from how you have been imagining yourself and you ask yourself: “Is this really me? Am I this old person? Is this what I look like?” Moreover you begin to notice that young people are forming their circles away from you, that they’re more interested in their own kind, which doesn’t include you and you look silly and out of place when you try to dress, act and speak like they do. There comes a day when you have accept that you’re no longer young in in the world’s eyes – nor in your own.
Moreover gravity doesn’t just affect your body, pulling things downward, so too for the soul. It’s pulled downward along with the body, though aging means something very different here. The soul doesn’t age, it matures. You can stay young in soul long after the body betrays you. Indeed we’re meant to be always young in spirit.
Souls carry life differently than do bodies because bodies are built to eventually die. Inside of every living body the life-principle has an exit strategy. It has no such strategy inside a soul, only a strategy to deepen, grow richer and more textured. Aging forces us, mostly against our will, to listen to our soul more deeply and more honestly so as to draw from its deeper wells and begin to make peace with its complexity, its shadow and its deepest proclivities – and the aging of the body plays the key role in this. To employ a metaphor from James Hillman: The best wines have to be aged in cracked old barrels. So too for the soul: The aging process is designed by God and nature to force the soul, whether it wants to or not, to delve ever deeper into the mystery of life, of community, of God and of itself. Our souls don’t age, like a wine, they mature and so we can always be young in spirit. Our zest, our fire, our eagerness, our wit, our brightness and our humor are not meant to dim with age. Indeed, they’re meant to be the very color of a mature soul.
So, in the end, aging is a gift, even if unwanted. Aging takes us to a deeper place, whether we want to go or not.
Like most everyone else, I still haven’t made my full peace with this and would still like to think of myself as young. However I was particularly happy to celebrate my 70th birthday two years ago, not because I was happy to be that age, but because, after two serious bouts with cancer in recent years, I was very happy just to be alive and wise enough now to be a little grateful for what aging and a cancer diagnosis has taught me.
There are certain secrets hidden from health, writes John Updike. True. And aging uncovers a lot of them because, as Swedish proverb puts it, “afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.)

The language of love and service

Sister Constance Veit

By Sister Constance Veit, LSP
During a recent Catholic conference, I saw a Scripture quote on a poster that read: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence…” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
A series of talks by Catholic theologians and public figures drove home for me just how applicable these words are today.
From the recent scandals in the Church to the continued legal threats to religious liberty, traditional marriage and family and the dignity of human life, the times in which we are living seem catastrophic for Christians. Is there any hope for the future of the Church in western societies like ours? What are we ordinary Catholics to do?
As I pondered these questions, the words of St. Peter provided me with two take-aways. First, we should not be afraid to speak up for Christ and the Gospel in the public square. And second, we will be able to make a difference only if we do so with kindness and humility.
St. Peter advised the early Christians to always be prepared, which presupposes we have done our homework. A Dominican speaker at the conference emphasized the need for serious study because standing up for our Catholic faith today requires intelligent answers. But he added that effective evangelization is not purely a matter of intellectual effort; it involves both knowing and authentically living our faith. Actions speak louder than words – and when we do speak, our personal witness of grace can touch hearts more effectively than theological treatises.
I think this is what St. Peter meant when he spoke about “the hope that is in you.” This hope is not something remote or academic – it is the living presence of Christ in our hearts.
We all share in the pledge of an imperishable inheritance by virtue of our Baptism, but this living hope is not bestowed on the church as a corporate body. It is a promise given to each of us individually as a beloved son or daughter of God. “Christ in you – and in me – for each of us, our hope of glory!” (cf. Colossians 1:27).
If we are tempted to become discouraged in the face of so many threats to our Catholic faith, perhaps it is because we have not yet taken full ownership of the hope that is in us.
Saint Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, took hold of this living hope and exercised it as confidence in Providence and sure faith in what awaited her in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Jeanne Jugan often reminded the young Little Sisters about the presence of Christ in the tabernacle, in the poor and in their own hearts. She advised them to look to Jesus for strength in all their trials and difficulties. Faced with challenges she would say, “That seems impossible, but if God is with us it will be accomplished.”
As strong as her faith and hope were, Jeanne Jugan was fully aware of the limited power of words to win over hearts and souls. She counseled the Little Sisters not to prolong chapel devotions, lest the Residents become bored and walk away.
She also advised the Sisters not to rush their begging rounds, impetuously blurting out their needs as if they were their due.
Finally, she taught the Little Sisters to pray discreetly when out in public so that they would neither draw undue attention to themselves nor offend nonbelievers.
In a word, Saint Jeanne Jugan taught the Little Sisters to let their humble acts of charity do the talking in drawing others to Christ. The annals of our Congregation are filled with stories of elderly individuals who were converted or led back to the practice of their Catholic faith through the quiet but heroic charity of generations of Little Sisters.
Many of the speakers at the conference I attended talked about missionary discipleship. Even the most well-known and intellectually intense spoke about service and solidarity with the poor as essential means of evangelization in today’s polarized world.
“Nothing is more exhilarating than bringing others to Christ,” George Weigel exclaimed with an enthusiasm that made me want to go out and announce the Good News – knowing that the only convincing way to do this today is through the language of closeness, generous love and humble service.

(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)

Then there is the music

Sister alies therese

From the hermitage
By Sister alies therese
People “go to Mass” for a variety of reasons. Some go because they are compelled by some notion of obligation or see the community value in it. Others are afraid of committing a mortal sin by not attending. Some understand and respect the transubstantiation process. And others, indeed, who like the preaching or music.
Perhaps you have a few additional thoughts on what you consider “go to Mass” means, or as it has been said “hear Mass.” We know about the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. Excellent preaching is rarely found and music can vary from one place to another, full-blown Cathedral choirs to small mission church pianists, all trying their best to assist us in our worship.
In my almost 50 years, I have been many places in one form of ministry or another and there’s not much I haven’t seen or heard. I suppose we have our favorite niggle … one of mine is singing all the verses (most of the time).
Music and art are very important to the reverential and special way that liturgy might be celebrated. In particular, music knits the Mass parts together, gives a flow to the delicacy of the Eucharist and gives us, the worshippers, the opportunity to sing out our praise to God and to be reminded of an important part of the story.
If you consider some of the hymns you might favor you might leave out verses three and four, for example. This seriously diminishes the fullness of the text that the author was so inspired to write.
Here are two examples …
The highlights of the verses of “Softly & Tenderly,” published by Will Thompson in 1880, are rooted in Matthew 11:28. For me the whole point of the hymn is in verse four, “Oh, for the wonderful love.”
(1) Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling/ … see on the portals He’s waiting and watching
(2) Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading/ …Why should we linger and heed not His mercies?
(3) Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing/ … shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming …
(4) Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised/ …Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon …
Another example is “Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise,” by Edward Caswall (1841-1878).
(1) Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the holy anthem rise …
(2) … Like the sun from out the wave …
(3) … Christ has burst our prison bars …
(4) … Blessed Jesus, make us rise …
As in any well-written piece, the author of the text wants us to travel somewhere with our musical storytelling so that the lessons we need to learn about the truths of faith might be presented in a robust and satisfying way. In this case, the author wants us to go from our attempt at understanding that Jesus was raised from the dead, how powerful that was and what it might look like, in order to get us to the final verse where we now ask … “make us rise.” From what God has done to what we need. From what God has done to what God now promises us. When we cut off the latter two verses, we almost miss the point Caswall was making.
You might think this is a bit petty. I’ve heard others complain it makes the “Mass too long” to sing all the verses. OK. But it is really only once a week (minimum). For me, if we are going to include music in the liturgical celebrations then we need to have great respect for both text and music.
There is a lot of energy used in singing and there are so many hymns and parts to choose from. We have seen over the years the changes in style, some coming back, some fading out. What we might need to be reminded of is that in the very act of singing, or with other forms of musical accompaniment, are at least two things: 1) that the community is inspired to cooperate with the Spirit to praise God and 2) that our worship of God is serious enough to be careful about our art and music so that as we leave our celebration, we are indeed prepared to welcome the stranger, the neighbor, the other because the message of a hymn sings sweetly in our hearts.
It is not necessary to sing every verse all the time, as it is not necessary to sing all the Mass parts (especially if the presider feels a bit challenged). However, when the liturgy team chooses for us what best expresses the liturgy and prayer of the day, we might consider more carefully how we participate with abandon and joy so that our God might be joyously worshipped and praised.

(Sister alies therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

Intelligence versus wisdom

Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
There’s a huge difference between being bright and being wise, between brilliance and wisdom. We can be highly intelligent, but not very wise. Ideally, of course, we should strive to be both, but that isn’t always the case, particularly today.
We’re living in a culture that rewards brilliance above wisdom and within which we pride ourselves first of all in being brighter than each other. Who has the highest degree? Who went to the most elite university? Who’s the most entrepreneurial? Who’s the most popular? Who’s the cleverest scientist, researcher, writer, journalist, television personality, or wit at the office or family table? Who’s the most brilliant? We never ask: Who’s the wisest? Today intelligence is valued far above wisdom and that’s not always good. We’re a highly informed and intelligent people, but our compassion is not nearly on par with our brilliance. We’re bright, but not wise.
What’s the difference between intelligence and wisdom? Wisdom is intelligence that’s colored by understanding (which, parsed to its root, means infused with empathy). In end, what makes for wisdom is intelligence informed by empathy, intelligence that’s grasps with sympathy the complexity of others and the world, and this has implications.
Learning, to be truly helpful, must be matched by an equal growth in empathy. When this isn’t happening, then growth in intelligence is invariably be one-sided and, while perhaps providing something for the community, will always lack the kind of understanding that can help bind the community together and help us better understand ourselves and our world. When intelligence is not informed by empathy, what it produces will generally not contribute to the common good. Without a concomitant empathy, intelligence invariably becomes arrogant and condescending. True learning, on the other hand, is humble, self-effacing and empathic. When we develop ourselves intellectually, without sufficient empathy, our talents invariably become causes for envy rather than gifts for community.
Ironically, at the end of the day, intelligence not sufficiently informed by empathy will not be very bright, but instead will be an arrested intelligence wherein its fault will not be in what it has learned (for learning itself is good) but in where its learning stopped. It will suffer from a hazard aptly named by Alexander Pope, where “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” where we have read one book too many but one book too few!
One might object here and make a plea for science and scientific objectivity. Isn’t empirical science the product of a pure intellectual pursuit which refuses to be colored by anything outside itself? Isn’t the ideal of all learning to be purely objective, to not have a bias of any sort? Where does empathy play a role in pure research? Doesn’t an eye turned towards empathy fudge pure objectivity?
Pure objectivity doesn’t exist, in science or anywhere else. Science today accepts that it can never be purely objective. All measurement has its own agenda, its own angle, and cannot help but interfere (however infinitesimally perhaps) with what it measures. Everyone and everything, including science, has a bias (euphemistically, a pre-ontology). Thus, since all learning necessarily begins with an angle, a bias, pre-ontology, the question is not: How can I be purely objective?” But rather: What serves us best as an angle from which to learn? The answer is empathy. Empathy turns intelligence into wisdom and wisdom turns learning into something that more properly serves community.
However empathy is not to be confused with sentimentality or naiveté, as is sometimes the case. Sentimentality and naiveté see a fault within intellectuality itself, seeing learning itself as the problem. But learning is never the problem. One-sided learning is the problem, namely, learning that isn’t sufficiently informed by empathy, which seeks knowledge without understanding.
I teach graduate students who are mainly preparing for ministry within their churches and so, for them, graduate learning is, by definition, meant to be more than just scoring high marks, graduating with honor, being informed and educated, or even just satisfying their own intellectual curiosities and questions. By their very vocation, they are striving for wisdom more than for mere intelligence. But even they, like most everyone else in our culture, struggle to not be one-sided in their learning, to have their studies bring them as much compassion as knowledge. We all struggle with this. It’s hard to resist a temptation that’s as endemic in our culture as certain bacteria are in our waters, that is, the temptation to be clever and bright, more informed than everyone else, no matter if we aren’t very compassionate persons afterwards.
And so this column is a plea, not a criticism: To all of us, whether we’re doing formal studies; whether we’re trying to learn the newest information technology; whether we’re trying to keep ourselves informed socially and politically; whether we’re writing articles, books, or blogs; whether we’re taking training for a job; or whether we’re just mustering material for an argument at our family table or workplace, remember: It’s not good merely to be smart, we must also be compassionate.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)