Fact is: The Lord does not want for us to go hungry. We read at Mass today how He fed a multitude for which two-hundred days’ wages could not have bought enough food. On Sunday we will read about how He appeared to the hungry Apostles by the Sea of Galilee and gave them a nice breakfast. And He promised that, in His kingdom, we will sit at table, and He will wait on us.
The hand of the Lord feeds us. I for one love tamales, spring rolls, penne alla vodka, pancakes, pork barbecue, shrimp scampi, cannolis, mac’n’cheese with little chunks of Virginia ham, crisp apples, raisin bran, kippered herring, Greek salads, veal cutlets, prosciutto e melone, pad thai…
But man does not live on bread alone. Man lives on bread and the truth. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life, the Chalice of Everlasting salvation.
But every day, no matter what day it is—Lent, Easter, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, even Saturday—baseball, basketball, football, or soccer season—every day, we need food for our souls. Christ. He feeds us.
At one point in The Quest for God, Johnson refers to the ‘obtuse prose’ of unnamed Enlightenment-era theologians. The joke is on her: She writes like a yoga instructor with one too many chai lattes in her.
Nonetheless, the Bishops’ intervention mystifies and discomfits me.
Why issue this statement? Johnson never sought the approval of any bishop. She published a book, thereby inviting argument. But does everyone who writes a book about God have to seek the approval of the bishop? No.
Now, certainly the business of a bishop, a pastor, any shepherd of souls, any teacher of the faith, involves teaching those entrusted to him using educational instruments that will genuinely enlighten the students.
Would any such teacher in his right mind ever use The Quest for God, or any other book by Elizabeth Johnson, as a means for achieving this goal? Certainly not.
But the Bishops’ statement makes Johnson the straw man that she never asked to be.
The statement highlights one very important theme, namely:
God transcends our human understanding. Yet it is possible to say things about God that are true.
Contemplating this thesis will save you the trouble of wading through the full twenty-page statement.
The Bishops’ statement argues its not-altogether-clear points in a way that I do not admire. Over and over again, the Bishops refer to the “Catholic theological tradition.” What, pray, is this?
It is: a shibboleth. Elizabeth Johnson can and should be reduced to smithereens–but not by swinging shibboleths over her head.
Johnson’s doctrine of God is simply untrue—to the extent that she even has a doctrine of God. (For the most part, actually, she poses as a reporter of the zeitgeist. Anderson Cooper is a better reporter of the zeitgeist, and St. Thomas Aquinas is a better theologian.)
That said, teachers of the faith ought not to rely on references to “the Catholic theological tradition” any more than they should rely on references to “most contemporary theologians.” Logical arguments convince more effectively.
Can God suffer in His divine nature? No. God cannot suffer in His divine nature. If He could suffer in His divine nature, He would not be God; He would be a different kind of being, a being subject to another’s power. God is not so subject.
On the other hand: Has God suffered and died in His human nature, which He assumed in the womb of the Virgin two millennia ago? Yes.
Do creatures add anything whatsoever to God’s divine being? No. God is infinitely perfect in Himself. If God lacked for anything, then His act of creation would not be sovereign and free; it would rather proceed from a need, a need that creation would fulfill. But God’s free will chooses what is good because it is good, not because He needs it.
If God does not act with free will, but rather out of need, then where could our free will have come from? We have not endowed ourselves with freedom; we have not generated ourselves. If God is not free, then neither are we. The thesis that we are slaves disgusts us. Therefore, we hold that God acts from free choice in creating, not because He lacks anything.
In the to-us-inconceivable scenario in which God never bothered to create the heavens and the earth, would God lack anything? No. On the other hand: Does the omnipotent and eternally blessed Creator rejoice in His creatures like a father rejoices in his children? Yes. We know this because the Church teaches us this with infallible authority.
I could—and I would like to—go on. But I would bore you, I fear.
I guess what I am saying is: Elizabeth Johnson’s sandbox is one that no sensible individual would ever climb into. The cool kids ignore Elizabeth Johnson’s sandbox, because it is a silly and shallow sandbox, and we prefer to play at the beach.
If, however, you choose to play in Elizabeth Johnson’s sandbox, slip in with a stiletto and cut her heart out. Don’t tromp in uninvited, carrying a Nerf bat, and beat her around the shoulders.
But alas! Your servant will be in church through the entirety of the game tomorrow! Could I wear an earpiece like a Secret-Service agent and listen to Robby Robinson during our parish council meeting? Probably couldn’t get away with that.
If you were like me back in August of 2002, your beach vacation was disturbed by the strange publication of “Reflections on Covenant and Mission.” This was a “study document” prepared by theologians of dubious probity. The media reported that the Catholic Church had given up evangelizing Jews.
Some of the people I know and love the most are Jews. I have two Jewish nephews. My best high-school buddies are Jews.
I try to be mannerly about it, but of course they all know that if they said the word, I would baptize them immediately. Then I would get some champagne.
So if you too were nonplussed back in August ’02, then you will rejoice with me: The Catholic Bishops of the United States have issued an official clarification of Church teaching on the matter of preaching the Gospel to Jews. It is not prohibited.
Praise God! Praise Christ! May God save us all by gathering us all into His holy Church!
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
…Imagine a man walking past the parking lot of a Catholic parish. He sees a family standing next to their new car, and the priest is praying and sprinkling the car with holy water.
After the blessing is over, the man approaches the owner of the new car and asks, “Why do you imagine that having a priest bless your car will do you any good? Do you think that this will cause God to act in your favor?”
(Someone could ask a similar question of anyone who has a Mass said for someone, or confesses his sins to a priest, or has his baby baptized, or goes to the church and approaches the priest for any reason. “Why do you think this will do you any good?”)
Good question. The car owner could reply, “This is what I was taught to do. We Catholics seek the good things of God by asking priests to bless us and our things. This is what I was raised to do.”
Good answer! But then the stranger asks, “Are you saying, then, that this has nothing to do with me, since I was not raised Catholic? And, after all, how did this whole business of priests blessing people and things get started anyhow?”
Excellent question! The answer is: It all started when God Himself became man and founded the holy Catholic Church by sending out the Twelve Apostles. The reason we believe that the Church dispenses the good things of God is: God Himself set things up this way!
Christ the Lord, Son of the living God, came that He might save His people from their sins and that all men might be sanctified. Just as He Himself was sent by the Father, so He also sent His Apostles. Therefore, He sanctified them, conferring on them the Holy Spirit, so that they also might glorify the Father upon earth and save men, “to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), which is the Church.
In this Church of Christ the Roman pontiff, as the successor of Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the feeding of His sheep and lambs, enjoys supreme, full, immediate, and universal authority over the care of souls…
The bishops…, having been appointed by the Holy Spirit, are successors of the Apostles as pastors of souls. Together with the supreme pontiff and under his authority they are sent to continue throughout the ages the work of Christ, the eternal pastor. Christ gave the Apostles and their successors the command and the power to teach all nations, to hallow men in the truth, and to feed them.
Bishops, therefore, have been made true and authentic teachers of the faith, pontiffs, and pastors through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to them…
Bishops…have been taken from among men and appointed their representative before God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Bishops enjoy the fullness of the sacrament of orders…Therefore bishops are the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, as well as being the governors, promoters, and guardians of the entire liturgical life in the church committed to them —Christus Dominus
May the good Lord prosper the endeavors of our father and shepherd, Archbishop Wuerl.
…Want to learn more about the Bible? Are you within striking distance of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, U.S.A.? Come to Scripture Study this evening at St. Mary of the Assumption School, starting at 7:30 p.m.!
Here are the points which Archbishop Wuerl asked all of us priests to make in our homilies at Holy Mass today.
1. The Pope together with the bishops speak for the faith of the Catholic Church. “For a Catholic, there are sure answers to life’s great questions. Jesus offers them. His Church proclaims them. The bishops in their teaching office explain them.” A well-formed conscience is our sure guide in making decisions. A “well-formed conscience” is explained here: http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt3sect1chpt1art6.shtml
In the controversy about the morality of abortion, not all opinions have equal weight. “Christ established in His Church the office of bishop charged with teaching and guarding the authentic faith.”
2. Abortion is a great moral evil. The Church has always taught that abortion is gravely immoral.
3. Empirical evidence obtained by scientific investigation clearly indicates that human life begins at conception. From the moment the sperm meets the egg, a member of the human race lives. This is why not only abortion, but also embryonic stem-cell research (which involves killing the embryo), are gravely evil: They involve the destruction of an innocent human life.