I wrote a chapter in a book


I was very grateful and humbled when Liguori Publications asked me last Fall to contribute an introductory “theology of the family” chapter in a book on family life. The book to be published soon is wonderfully entitled, The Family, the Church and the Real World, and includes well-known contributing authors like Dr. Sean Reynolds, Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Lisa Hendey, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, Don Paglia, Christopher West, Fr. Andrew Wisdom, and Greg and Jennifer Willits. I can’t wait to get a copy myself to feast on its riches!

When they first asked me, I confessed to them that I’m not a theological specialist in that area. But when they told me they were not looking for a specialized theological treatise, but rather an accessible Catholic theological meditation on the nature of family written in a familiar style by someone who is theologically literate, I felt more at home. Though I am a theologian, I’m not a scholar’s scholar. Rather, I consider myself more a public intellectual whose primary vocation and mission is to reveal intelligently and faithfully the Word made fresh. That’s my guiding ideal, at least.

To help me keep the tone of my chapter a bit more intimate, I decided to write it as a personal letter addressed to dear friends of mine who were married this last June (whom I mentioned in an earlier post): Mr. & Mrs. Jordan and Shannon Haddad. Just thinking of them makes my heart leap for joy — watch here and see why:

My chapter offers a brief look of the Church’s theological vision for family life.  It draws from Scripture and Tradition, and was influenced by my own experience of being married to Patti Ann Neal, and of being the father of Michael Anthony (19), Nicholas Patrick (17), Maria Thérèse (15) and Catherine Elizabeth (13), as well as of our six miscarried babies. As I wrote, in my mind’s eye also were countless witnesses to marriage and family life from my own family, my wife’s family, and among our friends and many acquaintances over the years, as well the bishops, priests, deacons and religious we have been privileged to know. These have convicted, rebuked, exhorted and encouraged us to live out a faithful marriage and family life, and to not despair in the face of weakness and failure. In that last category, I’d like single out the Brotherhood of Hope, whose love and devotion to marriage and family life has had an unparalleled influence in our lives. These extraordinary Brothers embody the complementarity of vocations in an exemplary way.

Okay! As I don’t want this to be longer than the chapter itself, let me end by sharing with you here a few of the energetic opening lines and then some of the more sober closing lines from this chapter:

Dear Jordan and Shannon,

What a privilege it will be for the Neal family to be part of your upcoming wedding day! I thought, as a gift to honor your marriage, I would offer you some of my own theological and personal reflections on the Church’s magnificent teaching on marriage and family life.

I remember vividly our wedding day back in 1995, on October 14th. It was also the feast of Pope St. Callistus I, who was martyred in 222 A.D. during a time of fierce hostility toward Christians in the Roman Empire. To be openly Christian in those days was a risky choice to make! But imagine – without those many men and women who did take the risk and choose to publicly proclaim the Gospel, where would we be? We need more daring witnesses! In fact, I’d say the Church is always in need of new martyrs, and your choice to give yourselves to each other in holy wedlock – freely, exclusively, totally, faithfully, irrevocably and fruitfully – is itself an heroic act in this day and age! Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, will consecrate your free act of self-gift by joining it to His own martyrdom as a Sacrament, i.e. a living and effective sign to the world of His saving death and glorious resurrection! The two of you, with hands joined, will become fountains of Christ lavishing graces, everything you will need to remain faithful to your exalted vocation.

Educating your children is a tall order! But the beauty is that we never have to do it alone. We are part of a Church that is a Family of families, a living Body of Christ in which all are concerned for the well-being of all. At least that’s our mission. Rely on the support of others, and pass on to those less fortunate than you the good things you have received. We are made in weakness that we might supply for one another. Be sure to consult often with your wiser elders, and teach your children to do the same. Remember your Baptismal anniversaries and use plenty of holy water to keep grace fresh. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation – together, and one day as a family – and stay close to the Holy Eucharist, which is the source and summit of your lives. See yourselves as architects of wonder who encourage the love of learning, and strive to build a home transparent, like a sacrament, to the presence of God. Read the Scriptures daily, pray together as often as possible and often intercede before God for your children, offering up for them many secret sacrifices. Give alms to the poor and teach your children to do the same. Keep close to the Mother of God and your patron saints, and talk often about saints on earth and in heaven. Practice hospitality, cultivate domestic stability, nurture a strong work ethic by giving out chores, practice frugality and generosity as stewards of God’s manifold gifts. Practice discipline of the tongue, bless your adversaries, speak well of others and criticize only when required by justice or charity…

The Gospel of Math

Repost 2014 in honor of today’s feast

I used to have a t-shirt back in college that had this on the back:

I wish I had it again.

A physics professor I had in college once said, “If there is a God, his native language is math.” Adam Drozdek, in his Beyond Infinity: Augustine and Cantor, gave me my first deeper initiation into the frightening idea. He says:

To summarize, there are three important aspects of Augustine’s discussion of the problem of infinity. First, infinity is an inborn concept which enables any knowledge. Second, infinity can be found in the purest form in mathematics, and thus mathematics is the best tool of acquiring knowledge about God. Third, God is neither finite nor infinite and his greatness surpasses even the infinite. Augustine is original in combining these three aspects in his philosophy; some of them can be found in other philosophers and theologians, but also in mathematicians.

God’s infinity is of a higher magnitude, an infinity of different kind. God is able to comprehend [the sequence of all] infinities, as he is above infinity, he is the Absolute. His infinity is above all possible temporal (and spatial) infinity; it is an infinity of infinities, whose magnitude can be dimly imagined by means of mathematical infinity. It is an infinity of infinities also in that, as St. Augustine said in City of God, “all infinity is in some ineffable way made finite to God,” since no infinity is incomprehensible to God — he can count numbers without succession of thought. God is even able to count without numbers, which assumes that there is no number equal to the quantity of all numbers, that is, no number, to use modern parlance, expressing cardinality of integers (which is aleph zero). This is no hindrance to God who is able to see the entire sequence of numbers without looking at these numbers one by one. Infinity of these numbers can be grasped in one act of comprehension.

…The concept of infinity directs our eyes toward God, and in a sense the presence of infinity in us can be considered a proof of God’s existence: we, the finite and mutable beings, could not engender that concept ; who else could do it if not God? Also, infinity in us can be appreciated and known best through mathematics, through analysis of numbers. In that sense the existence of numbers can be considered a more fundamental proof of God than cosmological argument – since the world would not exist without numbers – and teleological argument – since the design and order in the world can be recognized only through numbers, since order and design are due only to numbers. Therefore, although ontological proof, announced already in Psalm 19:1 that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” has always been considered most important, Augustine could consider mathematical proof as the most fundamental: God exists since the number and infinity exist in our mind.

As a friend of mine aptly phrases it, reading Drozdek makes me feel like a dog watching TV: engrossed but uncomprehending.

With an eye to inciting some additional wonder, let me share two videos about math related to theological thinking. The first, about 4 minutes long, posits that the mind of God is mathematically, and so musically, inclined. The second, which my oldest son sent me, is about 9 minutes long and offers a persuasive approach to “falling in love with math.” I could never imagine such a thing. After watching it, I was convinced also that the speaker held a golden key to an effective catechesis seeking to awaken love in a people grown bored with (what they think is) Christianity. In St. Augustine’s Catholicism, faith-thinking is also good thinking that helps us navigate a world rife with fallacious reasonings. Faith opens to us an intelligible world in which faith and reason beat their wings in harmony, allowing our minds to soar in contemplating a world stamped by the mind of God, the divine Logos.

In the beginning was the Word [ho Logos],
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God;
all things were made through him,
and without him was not anything made that was made. — John 1:1-3

My son commented on this last video, “This is totally how the Church should approach its messaging.” Yes.



Laity on Fire, Part II

A epiclesis

…a total aside on that Eucharist thought. Think about the bread and wine in the Eucharist that serve as sacramental symbols of what we offer for Consecration. Remember, the laity are out in the world consecrating it to God by their holy lives, but their consecration isn’t perfect until it comes to the Eucharist and suffers the consecratory epiclesis [calling down of the Spirit]. Given over to the Spirit, it’s joined to Christ’s bodily Sacrifice and presented in thanksgiving to the Father. In a sense, those 2 symbols of bread-wine contain all that we’ve come to offer in the Mass — our highly compressed prayers, works, joys, sufferings, possessions, losses, health, illness, etc. that we give over to God. Bread and wine aren’t themselves really “natural” elements, right? They’re human-fashioned cultural artifacts, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands,” so aren’t they totally perfect symbols of what we’ve made of creation with God? Super cool. The Offertory at Mass thus becomes the crucial “lay moment” in the Liturgy’s mystical transaction — and the Epiclesis-Consecration seals this transaction by re-making the perishable material of this world we present to “pass over” into the “celestial realm,” the imperishable Kingdom. Wow! Lay life becomes a constant liturgical Pass-over if we do it right, the God-way. Nothing good in this life, that is given over and offered up, is ever lost. And nothing bad that happens, that’s given over and offered up, is ever left unhealed. That’s my favorite insight of all. Hopeful!

…also, imagine that transubstantiation does not mean that the bread/wine’s substance is somehow invisibly hollowed out and replaced with Christ (so maybe you could see him with a microscope!). What an insult to this creation that would be if Christ simply replaced this world’s substance and set it aside! Rather, trans- means that the very substance/being (ontos) of the bread/wine, as existing realities of this world, has “passed over,” been “taken up into” a utterly new order of being: the New Creation built on Christ’s dead-buried-risen and not-left-behind-or-set-aside Body. The consecrated bread and wine no longer belong to this order of existence, but to the Age to Come, even though their material characteristics as bread and wine remain within this old creation (kinda like Christ after the Resurrection appearing and passing through doors). So when you consume these transformed materials at Communion, guess what you are participating in, being transformed into and metabolized by? The new order of being, the New Creation, built on Christ…and that change shows itself in you by your living as a new man through the charity in your life…because this New Creation is “made of love,” is structured by the order of divine-human charity…or, as the Preface for Christ the King says:

 Father…with the oil of gladness hast anointed Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as eternal high priest and universal King; that offering Himself on the altar of the Cross as an immaculate victim and peace offering, He might complete the mysteries of human redemption; and all creation being made subject to His dominion, He might deliver us into the hands of Thine infinite Majesty, a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing: Holy, holy, holy…

So do you see why getting eschatology right is so incredibly important, as it makes clear precisely why this life in the world is so crucial, why everything we do without exception for good or ill matters (think here: Hell is the loss of the New Creation’s fulfillment born of our catastrophic failure to cultivate this world aright), and why Jesus is not God’s Plan B, but rather is the crown of God’s plan from the beginning to make us His co-workers/co-creators/co-redeemers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9; Gal. 2:20). What extraordinary dignity it is to know that God established humanity in this vast creation so that we could participate in its laboring and gestating in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” I think here of the Our Father, where Jesus asks us to unite earth and heaven by our lives of obedience to His coming Kingdom of holiness. You might say that inasmuch as we bring “heaven to earth” by our Christlike lives, we claim earth for heaven. Earth was made for heaven, and heaven is made of earth lifted by the totus Christus to the Father in the Spirit of love. Isn’t that was Belinda Carlisle was getting at?

Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh heaven is a place on earth

Maybe not.

Okay, I have to stop here. I am so sorry this is so long. But to me, catching this vision would make for a laity on fire with a secular mysticism uniquely theirs. Let me leave you with St. Isaac the Syrian’s beautiful comments on the dignity of this creation, and how every aspect of creation, when met with the righteous love of saints who already belong to the New Creation (cf 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), is consecrated by saints who notice — like God — even when a tiny sparrow falls to earth.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

God bless you for your patience with my disquisition! Let me know if you have other questions. Say hey to Fr. John and Bill for me.

…and let me leave you with a fun vid that playfully sums up my point:

Laity on Fire, Part I

Grinding wheat. images.travelpod.com

…Conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4). It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings. By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. — Laudato Si

That paragraph sent me into a lengthy lectio reflection on a subject dear to my theological heart: the earthly character of the lay vocation. Why? Because it reminds us that the Christian vision of salvation is not simply “of souls,” but of bodies that inextricably link us to a vast universe that “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19).

The below text was excerpted from an email I sent last year to a student who asked me about how the world-focused character of the lay vocation can truly be considered “spiritual.” The email was written in haste, is informal and untidy, but most of what I write — and my life! — is like that anyway.

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…You say, “it seems to me that the spiritual world is our real destiny, so a vocation that makes worldly stuff the focus just makes an obstacle to getting where we’re supposed to be putting our hearts’ focus — right? We’re aiming for heaven and not earth, aren’t we?”

…heaven, or “the new creation” as it’s called be St. Paul, isn’t simply a new and improved product God fashioned to supersede the old, obsolete version we screwed up. Rather, from the very beginning this “old” creation was destined to be fulfilled, perfected, transfigured, re-created in the Age to Come through us, priestly humanity created in Christ who came to make all things new (cf Ephesians 2:10; Revelation 21:5). And note, we say, “Behold, I make all things new,” and not, “Behold, I make all new things.” This is Jesus saying this, right? And those of us who are “in Christ” as His Body, and so what He does, we do with Him. If He makes all things new by His life, death and resurrection, we co-do. Our vocation as lay men and women — bound up tightly in temporal-worldly reality by God (Lumen Gentium 31) — is to consecrate this world to God by immersing ourselves in it like leaven kneaded into dough, by cultivating Eden according to the will of God, and by so doing to lift up the old creation into the new creation. Or as Gaudium et Spes 38 memorably says it, secular laity “make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs” (see also Gaudium et Spes 14). To so-love-the-world like God was really humanity’s orginal call in the beginning, but sin corrupted the process and made us not upward-offering priests but inward-turned idolaters. But God’s redeeming work in Jesus the Gardener (cf John 20:15), who reveals to us with His cross-plow the Way of cultivating creation aright, has restored to us our original vocation to co-create and co-redeem the garden of this world to ready it for the New Eden of Paradise (which btw in Greek, paradeisos,  means “garden”).

…The Catechism (1120) says, “The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood.” Why? Well, in part we can say that lay “baptismal priests,” whose vocation is to “make ready the material of the celestial realm” by their world-leavening lives, rely on the ministry of Ordained priests who gather up our sacrificial “materials” we hand them in the Eucharistic Offertory (as bread, wine and alms). Acting in the Person of Christ, the Ordained minister calls down the Sprit to consecrate our offerings and translate them into the immortal Kingdom (a Kingdom built on Christ’s risen Body). All earthly treasures gained for God’s glory and placed in service to man’s salvation are thus “stored up as treasure in heaven” where they will endure for all ages to give joy to all the saints and reveal the glory of God. This should transform our view of the world from a mere “testing ground” where we prove ourselves worthy or unworthy of an unworldly heaven into a theater of redemption where we “glorify God in our bodies” (Corinthians 6:20), “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) and so, by extension, bring salvation to the whole material creation as material creation is caught up in the human body’s redemption. All creation is depending on us “priests of nature” (as St. Maximus the Confessor calls us) for its salvation (read the whole Romans 8:18-23 this way). We humans were made to give all creation its liturgical voice, verbalizing its inscribed longing to praise the Creator and Redeemer for unending ages (cf. Daniel 3:57-88!). This freaking ridiculous! And it’s why I love so much Eucharistic Prayer IV’s preface:

Father…you are the one God living and true, existing before all ages and abiding for all eternity, dwelling in unapproachable light; yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light. And so, in your presence are countless hosts of Angels, who serve you day and night and, gazing upon the glory of your face, glorify you without ceasing. With them we, too, confess your name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven as we acclaim: Holy, holy, holy…

Giving voice to every creature by lives that accord with God’s will for creation, and so praising and glorifying God on the stringed harp of natural and theological virtue. Every creature! Look outside, all around you. Our world is a Garden that God has entrusted to us and called us to cultivate and (like Abel) make an offering, growing righteous fruits that endure to eternal life (cf. John 6:27). Or maybe creation is a whole lot of “talents” God has entrusted to us to invest and gain interest on by lives of faithful stewardship (cf. Matthew 6:20). You see, the new creation is a collaborative project, a work of synergy between God and men together — all in Christ the God-Man — building up here and now together a Kingdom that is here and is to come at the end of the ages. Think of it through the lens of this popular medieval story:

Two men were hauling stones through a muddy medieval street. One was cursing and the other was singing. A traveler asked them what they were doing. The curser replied, “I’m trying to get this damned rock to roll through this damned mud!” The singer replied, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Christ’s lay faithful aren’t just stuck in the secular world pushing damn rocks, but are joyful celebrants of the secular liturgy building a Cathedral out of the raw materials of a sin-hardened earth which we plough, breaking up the hard clods, cultivating, planting, watering, tending, guarding, loving, caring for the innumerably precious goods of this world. Even allowing our own blood to be shed on the soil in self-sacrificing service to men to the praise and glory of God. This is the bread-baking, wine-pressing, poor-loving Eucharistic vocation of a laity, readying gifts for the Offertory of the Mass so the Ordained have something substantial to offer up for consecration. Gifts composed of lives well lived in holy and sacrificial service to God and neighbor and all creation. How differently we would see the Offertory if we believed this, and how we would fight over the privilege to “bring up the gifts” for Consecration. Lumen Gentium 34 says it perfectly:

For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives [the laity] a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.

When I discovered this in the 1990s, it revolutionized my view of worldly, secular, mundane, temporal realities…it all was suddenly shot through with eternal value. Gaudium et Spes 43:

They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation … Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.

And the salvation of the whole of creation…

Too good to be true?



Here’s an excerpt from a talk I gave last Lent on God’s mercy.

Yesterday we looked a bit at the God revealed to us in the Scriptures, in Jesus. What beauty! It’s the beauty that converted the Roman Empire – and now over 2 billion people — to the faith of a tiny band of Galileans who claimed the supreme and only Creator of the whole cosmos was born of a lowly virgin; grew up as a simple carpenter in a town with a population of roughly 300 people; became an itinerant preacher at the age of 30; preached a Kingdom of love and reconciliation and mercy; gathered around him a band of followers made up of ex-fishermen, former tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers, the blind, deaf, mute, deformed and possessed – referred to as the “refuse of the Empire” – and then, after only three years of preaching and working miracles, he was executed for treason under Pontius Pilate. Hanging naked and bloodied on a cross, he forgave his enemies and granted a thief first dibs on Paradise. He died and was buried in a borrowed grave. And who would have thought any more of him? But the lifeless corpse of this dead Jew, Jesus of Nazareth — these seemingly intoxicated evangelizing Christians proclaimed! — had been exalted to the highest heavens and had reconciled all of creation to the eternal God. This man had been made, they said, King of an eternal Empire of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love, and peace; and all creation would one day bow at the mere mention of his Name.


But in a world largely devoid of hope, this crazed News seemed better than good. It seemed impossible. But impossible is exactly what Jews believe God specializes in, and we, the spiritual Semites who still bear this same beautiful and hope-filled Gospel today, should – Ite, missa est! — offer our own increasingly despairing world a reason to sigh with relief: “Behind this world of death, beneath this world of pain, within this world of violence, beyond this world of sin beats the Heart of a God-made-flesh who invites us all to Pass-over with him from death to life, from pain to joy, from violence to peace and from sin to eternal redemption.

Come, let us be on our way to go out to all the world and tell the Good News!

Lovely Orientation


Repost from 2012

When I read Chris Warner’s article on Eastern Christianity, I was captivated by this line…

The East complements the Western need to act upon the world with missionary zeal by being more singularly focused on the liturgical and interior spiritual life of Christianity than its Roman counterpart.

Immodest Thinking

The proclivity of the West to intellectually master, dissect, analyze and dominate everything often spills over into theology as a temptation to siphon God’s mystery of secrets that can only be had by the posture of humble receptivity we call faith. Theology, which is faith’s intelligent exploration of divine revelation, begins as an act of patient waiting wrapped in a reverent awe of the God who speaks only to those who listen in silent love. This posture of faith toward God’s mystery we call prayer. The desert Father Evagrius said as much when he said:

The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.

Within academic theological circles there is a tendency, in my experience, to view prayer a mere act of sentimental piety ultimately peripheral to the work of rigorous and critical thinking. To see a scholar thumbing her rosary beads before offering an erudite lecture entitled, say, “Theology in a post-Christian world,” would appear in the academy as a curiosity at best.

But for a Catholic theologian it must not be so. Theology is not a disinterested dissection of a corpse, but a *dangerous* encounter with the living and risen Christ. Dangerous because God’s Truth is not assimilated by us, but we by It. Prayer, therefore, is not only an act of emotive piety but, as Deacon Keating says so eloquently, is the suffering of the coming of Truth Himself into the mind.

In this sense, theology is fundamentally a liturgical act inasmuch as liturgy thrusts us into the thickets of God-made-flesh only to find ourselves caught up in a dialogue that eternally erupts in the fathomless heart of the Trinity. Theology is thinking in prayer.

Imagine what “thinking in prayer” must be like if we are talking about the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Imagine if this God were, as St. Catherine of Siena once boldly worded it, pazzo d’amore, “mad with love” for humanity. To speak worthily of such a God we must balance careful thinking and careless loving, detached reflection and total immersion. Here we can affirm that the sober architecture of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologica must be complemented by the inebriated gush of Dominican tertiary St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue with God the Father.

Such a praying “liturgical theology” functions in much the same way the late Benedictine theologian, Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh, described the liturgy:

The liturgy, like the feast, exists not to educate but to seduce people into participating in common activity of the highest order, where one is freed to learn things which cannot be taught.


A professor from my graduate theology study years once shared a first-hand account of a lecture presented by the famous Dominican spiritual theologian Fr. Réginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange during the early 1960s in Rome. He said that the agèd Lagrange, who was otherwise in good health, walked up to the podium and began the opening prayer with the Latin word, Deus, “God.”

‘Deus…Deus…De-…’ Lagrange was unable to proceed any further, and had to leave the auditorium. “But,” my professor said, “it was clear to all who knew him that this was no stroke; that Fr. Réginald was seized, as he often was in his latter years, by a love for the God whose Name he could not speak without being drawn out of himself.”

As a saintly DRE once said to me after a lecture I gave on theology, “Thinking about God at this point in my life leaves me with little to say, but much to love.”


Divine Revelation

St. Francis of Assisi vision of the Crucified

In a terrific homily I heard recently, the homilist talked about God as a “revealing” God. I often take notes during homilies for later use, and I did that day. Later I took those notes into my prayer time, blended them with my own meditation and then transcribed it all into my journal. Here’s an excerpt…

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At the heart of Judaism and Christianity is a God who reveals himself. In fact, the whole of Sacred Scripture can be said to be a witness to God’s very lavish and highly elaborate plan to make himself known to human beings. But why? What’s underneath this scheme of self-disclosure in which God spares no expense? First, what is it that God reveals? You might say, in short, that God reveals to us who he is, who we are, who we were created to become, how we get there, why things are such a mess and what God is doing about that mess to ensure we can become what he made us to be. As you can see, divine revelation is really about deep and substantive matters, and at heart it’s really a relational affair. Second, what does saying “God is a self-revealing God” imply? Think first about your own choice to reveal yourself to someone else. Not just revealing trivial information about yourself, but your deepest inner self, your inner secrets. What does that choice imply? It implies that you love and feel loved by the recipient of your revelation, that you desire an intimacy of friendship with them, that you trust them. It implies that you enjoy their company and companionship. It also implies that you possess a hope that they will receive what you reveal in love, with interest and with reverence. And a hope that they will be willing to reciprocate by revealing themselves in equal measure to you. In this sense, self-revelation bears a remarkable vulnerability on the part of the revealer as their is always a risk of rejection, disinterest, non-reciprocation, etc.

I once worked with a severely disabled resident in an assisted care facility who would never speak to me. One day while I was helping her with her food, she said, “Thank you. That tastes good. It’s the one pleasure I have left.” I said, “You’re welcome. I’m so glad you spoke to me.” She responded, “I learned not to talk because it hurts too much to talk to people who are just doing their job. But you really seem to care.” I suddenly felt really uncomfortable inside as we had moved from a cold distance to a stunning intimacy in only a few words. I was amazed a few words could make you feel so close to someone. I also realized how painful communication can be for one who feels what they have to say is not really worth much to anyone, and so feels rejected.

Now I think of Jesus, the Father’s eternal Word. He is the supreme expression of God’s desire and choice to fully reveal himself to the human race. I think more, the whole life, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s encounter with and response to humanity’s (and my) catastrophic rejection of his self-revelation. I ache. Every time I watch The Passion of the Christ, the scene where the nails are being brutally hammered into his hands always tears me apart — as the pain shoots through his body, he cries out like a child, “Abba! Abba!” I can hear in that moment an unfathomably tender and pained cry that emerges from the silent depths of the life-giving Trinity whose essence is utterly innocent and guileless love — a love mocked and spat on in that very moment. But even there as he suffers this rejection he thinks of us, as he continues: “Abba, forgive them; forgive them…” It’s devastatingly beautiful and terrifying to reflect on — the response of the Omnipotent God to this mortal rejection by his creatures is unremitting forgiveness, mercy and undefended vulnerability. His response is to pour out on us without measure the Holy Spirit. Qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur.

I think also of the words of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary in 1673 as he revealed his Sacred Heart to her in a series of visions:

Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for me in this Sacrament of Love.

Here I think now of the gift and invitation to prayer, which is fundamentally a response to God’s revelation. What an unspeakable privilege we have to each become a loving, reverent, reciprocating recipient of God’s vulnerable and selfless self-disclosure. When we read the Scripture and encounter this long and mind-blowing history of God’s attempts to converse with men “face to face” in friendship, to enter into intimate union, we can — in faith — experience this whole history as being for me (cf. Galatians 2:20). When I ask for a sign of love, the biblical narrative and the Sacraments all shout out to me: “It was all for you, it is all for you!” The whole long, meandering and painful history of God pursuing humanity ends with me, with my “yes” or my “no.” How will I respond?

I think I will try to follow Colleen Nixon’s Marian lead: