Monthly Archives: July 2012

Waiting for Next Year’s Words

Years ago, I took a theology class taught by Bernard Lonergan, SJ., and recently I’ve started reading a book by him called “The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology,”  Philadelphia, 1964. The book’s an English translation of a course he taught in Latin on the Trinity.

Theologians, like the physicists who gave us the Higgs-Boson particle some weeks ago, like to explore. What makes up matter, physicists ask? Speculative theologians, like Lonergan, ask questions about God and, like physicists, they’re not always easy to follow.

How did we get from the fulsomeness of the scriptures, writings that “penetrate the sensibility, fire the imagination, engage the affections, touch the heart, open the eyes, attract and impel the will of the readers,” to the spare words of the Nicene Creed that seem “to bypass the senses, the feelings and the will, to appeal only to the mind?” That’s a question Lonergan asks and he’s not asking simply an historical question. He quotes from Wilfred Cantwell Smith in his preface: “ All religions are new religions, every morning. For religions do not exist in the sky, somewhat elaborated, finished and static. They exist in men’s hearts.”

Our thinking about God develops; Lonergan uses the development of early Trinitarian Theology to understand how. We hold to the faith of Nicea, but we’re people of today and our religion is new every morning, so we need to express it ourselves and in our time. “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. (T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding)

I hope the Year of Faith, which we’re beginning in October, is not just about last year’s words. We need words for today and tomorrow. Besides poets, mystics and artists, we need speculative theologians like Bernard Lonergan.

Galileo Galilei


The brilliant Italian scientist Galileo Galilei was one of the great figures of the 17th century. Born in Pisa, in Tuscany, Galileo studied, taught and lectured in Pisa and Padua as well as in Florence, where he and his family made their home. The father of experimental science, his work in astronomy drew criticism from the church of his time and made him a symbol of the conflict between faith and science.


He was a deeply religious man; Catholic to the core. Two of his daughters entered the convent outside Florence and one of them, Sister Maria Celeste, carried on a long, tender correspondence with her brilliant father.

Galileo believed that nature was a teacher along with the bible, and he wanted the church to accept the evidence that science provides, otherwise it could be called an enemy of truth and human progress. Like others then and now, he believed that the bible taught you how to go to heaven and not how the heavens go.

His story is beautifully and carefully told today in a recent book I’m reading now:

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love, Dava Sobel,  New York 1999

There’s a television version:  Galileo: Battle for the Heavens, that you can find on Nova’s site on the internet.

I admire the author’s even-handed description of the relations between the scientist and the churchmen who condemned him for what they saw as his heretical ideas. “A tragic mutual incomprehension has been interpreted as the reflection of a fundamental opposition between science and faith, “ Pope John Paul said regretfully  in 1992.

I’m going in October on a pilgrimage through some of the Tuscan cities and Venice,  where Galileo achieved so much.  He was a believer and a scientist. May others follow him and may our church welcome the knowledge they bring to the human family.

There’s a Harvest Nearby

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” We think immediately about praying for priests and religious when we hear these words, and we certainly need priests and religious in today’s church.

But what about laborers for places where priests and religious will never be? They’re certainly not the only laborers for God’s great harvest. And what about the harvest itself, where does that happen?

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day across from a table of people and couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. “What do you think of the pope?” “Do you think there’s life after death?” “Do you think Jesus is really God?” Their questions ended mostly in doubts or went unanswered, as far as I could tell. They sounded like sheep without a shepherd.

I wished there were one of those laborers Jesus asked for at that table, a sower to throw some seeds of truth into that field, someone with a shepherd’s voice. But it seemed there wasn’t.  Yet, a harvest was there waiting to happen.

Jesus spoke about the laborers for the harvest as he moved from town to town in Galilee and saw  “troubled and abandoned” crowds, Matthew’s gospel says. Maybe we need to ask for laborers to walk among crowds like that today. Maybe we need to recognize there’s a harvest not far from where we are, “troubled and abandoned,” at a table nearby.

The Higgs-Boson Particle

Scientists all over the world are celebrating the discovery last week at a research center in Switzerland of a mysterious particle called the Higgs Boson particle. It’s a particle that’s found in all matter and its existence contributes to a new understanding of the nature of our universe.

After fifty years of searching for it, physicists seem to have found it.

I certainly can’t explain what they found, but I admire the scientists for their curiosity, their imagination and their patient searching for this mysterious piece in the puzzle of our universe. They want to know and I admire their drive to know.

I also admire their humility. The scientists say they’re only beginning to see how this world of ours began and how it works. To use a religious analogy, like Moses on the mountain, they’re approaching this mysterious universe with shoes off.

Our search for God is similar to theirs. We know God step by step, little by little. We can’t look straight at the sun; neither can our minds know God completely and at once. We search, not for particles, but for signs and experiences of life that reveal God little by little.

The truth of it is that God does not hide from us. In fact, we believe God revealed himself in the extraordinary sign of Jesus Christ, God’s  Son, who came humbly into our world as God’s Word.

Today’s gospel for the 14th Sunday of the year (Mark 6,1-6 ) recalls the rejection  of Jesus by his own people in Nazareth, a town in Galilee where he was brought up. He suffered the rejection that prophets often receive; later he would suffer a cruel death on a cross, but he did not turn away. In his life, death and resurrection, we see God’s love, God’s desire that we know him.   In him, we have God’s invitation to share his life more deeply, face to face.

We have to fix our eyes on him, patiently and steadily. If we do, we will find him.

The Apostles

Jesus Christ told his apostles to bring the Good News revealed by God in him to all people. They handed on through “their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received–whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the promptings of the Holy Spirit.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Faith 76)

The apostles and others associated with them, “under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.” (Catechism 76)

We acknowledge the apostles’ role in bringing the Good News when we read the gospels and recite the Apostles’ Creed. We remember them in our liturgy, and each month we celebrate one of the apostles in our calendar of feasts.  July 3rd, we honor the Apostle Thomas.

Thomas reminds us that the witnesses chosen by Jesus were both weak and strong. Everyone in the Upper Room the night of Jesus’ resurrection believed that he had risen. The absent Thomas doesn’t.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Only when Jesus patiently appears to him a week later and has him touch the wounds in his hands and his side, does he believe. “My Lord and my God.”

Is Thomas unique in his weakness of faith? Were the others chosen by Jesus as foundations of his church unlike him? From the slight information the gospels provide, all the other apostles are both weak and strong–Peter, their leader, is a prime example.

Did the Holy Spirit change the apostles completely at Pentecost? We may think they were, but I don’t think they were so completely transformed as we like to believe. The story in St. Luke’s gospel of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus may better describe the post-resurrection church and its leaders.

Hardly a triumphalist church and hardly perfect leaders. Their strength and their guide was the patient Jesus. The Risen Jesus was with them then and he is with us now.

Going Home

Today’s the end of the retreat for sisters at St. Francis Center for Renewal.

My first observation: thank God for these good religious women. Strong believers, they are the best of our church.

During this week we read from the gospel narratives of the Passion, mostly from St. Matthew; it’s evident as you read how involved women were in the Lord’s Passion then. They still are now. Surely, most of what happened there we know from them.

The last few days we read the Resurrection stories from the various gospels, each offering its own perspective. Women figure prominently in that story too. They’re the first at the tomb and they, not angels, carry the message to those shut up in the Upper Room.  “The Lord is risen!” they say. They’re the first believers.

We need to read and reflect on these great stories of our faith and be refreshed by them, for they hold what we believe and mirror our present experience. They probe the great mysteries of life.

We read from an article by Fr.Don Senior from Origins on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, which he wrote in response to a TV presentation claiming Jesus’ family tomb had been found with an ossuary containing his bones.

With his usual wide ranging wisdom, Don looks at the implications of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Rising bodily from the tomb, Jesus embraces both our humanity and all creation. He gives new life to all.  His bodily resurrection has implications in the way we care for the world, our view of social justice, our understanding of the sacraments and our own relationship to others and to our own bodies.

Most of my homilies for the retreat are summarized in previous blogs.