Monthly Archives: July 2018

A Mother’s Plans for James and John

On today’s feast of St. James, the apostle,  Matthew’s gospel describes the mother of James and John asking Jesus to give her sons privileged places in his kingdom. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

I’m not sure she would have fallen at Jesus’ feet as she’s pictured in the illustration above. They were related, after all, and her approach was probably more indirect. She probably reminded Jesus that James and John were his cousins, and she was one of his relations too. Family ties have always helped people get ahead.

Jesus doesn’t dismiss her altogether, but he reminds her that his followers are to serve and not be served. It’s a service that will cost them, even their lives. Following him doesn’t mean that they and their family would gain. Like the Son of Man James and John will  have to give their lives “for many.”

They’re called by God to reach out, and reaching out can be hard, sometimes painful. It means going beyond those we call our own, our families and friends. It means reaching out to those we don’t know, even to those we don’t like. It means going beyond what we’re used to.

Later stories say that James and John went to places far beyond the Sea of Galilee where they fished with their father Zebedee and were cared for by a mother who had their interests at heart. Our church is a missionary church. It reaches out to the whole world. That’s what  Jesus last words in Matthew’s gospel says to do:  “Go out to the whole world, baptizing and teaching.”

That’s still his word today. Go out to the whole world, even if the world is changing and the future is uncertain. “I am with you all days,” Jesus says.

Today is the feast of St. James, brother of John, also known as  James the Greater, to distinguish him from James the Less, the other disciple mentioned in the New Testament. James was the first of the apostles to die for Christ; he was beheaded in Jerusalem by King Herod Agrippa in 42 AD.

Later Traditions About James

Some 4th century Christian writers say that one of the apostles went to Spain. A 6th century source identifies James as the apostle, who preached briefly in Spain and converted only a few before returning to Jerusalem and his death.

Modern scholars are divided about the truth of the tradition. Relics said to be of St. James were discovered in Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain in the 9th century, a major event in Spanish history. His shrine at Compostella became a major pilgrimage center for the people of Spain and Europe, rivaling even Rome and Jerusalem in its popularity.

From the 9th century onward, James was patron of the Spanish peoples and a rallying cry in their fight to free their land from the Moors. At four battles – Clavijo (9th c.), Simancas (10th c.), Coimbra (11th c.) and Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) – legends say he appeared as a warrior astride a great white horse with a sword in his hand. Throughout the Middle Ages, soldiers and knights  came as pilgrims to Compostela to seek the saint’s protection.

In 1492, when Spain was finally free of Moorish domination, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella came to Compostela to give thanks to St.James in the name of the Spanish people.

How old are the relics of St.James? Pilgrims from Galicia were frequent visitors to the Holy Land as early as the 4th century and may have brought the relics back to their native land. Colorful legends from medieval times, however, brought the story back further to the time of the apostle himself, saying that disciples of James fled with his body after he was beheaded and, escaping by boat, drifted to the coast of Spain where, after many adventures they buried him. These legends about James appear frequently in medieval art and in numerous churches built in his honor in France, England, and later in the Spanish colonies of the New World. Cities such as Santiago, Chile, Santiago, Cuba,San Diego, California, are named after him. The feast of St.James is July 25.

The Martyrs of Daimiel



Civil wars are hard to understand. That’s true especially of the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936-1939 between forces of the left and the right. Great numbers of innocent people lost their lives. Outsiders from Germany, Russia and Italy made the war a testing ground for their own war machines. The scars are still there.

Many Catholic clergy were killed, especially in the early months of the war, including 13 bishops, 4,172 diocesan priests and seminarians, 2,364 men religious and 283 nuns in a period referred to as Spain’s “Red Terror.” Today the Passionists remember their Martyrs of Daimiel, Spain.

Between July 22nd and October 24th, 1936, twenty-six religious from the Passionist house of studies, Christ, the Light, outside the city of Daimiel, about eighty miles south of Madrid, died at the hands of anti-religious militiamen at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War

They were: Niceforo Diez Tejerina, 43, provincial superior, who previously served as a missionary in Mexico and Cuba after being ordained in Chicago, Illinois.; Ildefonso García Nozal, 38; Pedro Largo Redondo, 29; Justiniano Cuestra Redondo, 26; Eufrasio de Celis Santos, 21; Maurilio Macho Rodríguez, 21; Jose EstalayoGarcia, 21; Julio Mediavilla Concejero, 21; Fulgencio Calv Sánchez, 19; Honorino Carraced Ramos, 19; Laurino Proáno Cuestra, 20; Epifanio Sierra Conde, 20; Abilio Ramos Ramos, 19; Anacario Benito Nozal, 30; Felipe Ruiz Fraile, 21; Jose Osés Sainz, 21; Felix Ugalde Irurzun, 21; Jose Maria Ruiz Martinez, 20; Zacarias Fernández Crespo, 19; Pablo Maria Lopez Portillo, 54; Benito Solano Ruiz, 38; Tomas Cuartero Gascón, 21; Jose Maria Cuartero Gascón, 18; German Perez Jiménez, 38; Juan Pedro Bengoa Aranguren, 46; Felipe Valcobado Granado, 62.

Most of those killed were young religious studying for ordination and destined for missionary work in Mexico and Cuba. Others were priests who taught them and brothers who served in the community. Father Niceforo, the provincial, was visiting the community at the time.

Militiamen entered the Passionist house on the night of July 21st and ordered the thirty-one religious to leave in one hour. Father Niceforo gathered them in the chapel, gave them absolution, opened the tabernacle and said:

“We face our Gethsemane. . . all of us are weak and frightened, , ,but Jesus is with us; he is the strength of the weak. In Gethsemane an angel comforted Jesus; now he himself comforts and strengthens us. . .Very soon we will be with him. . .To die for him is really to live. . . Have courage and help me by your example.”

He then distributed the sacramental hosts to them.

The militiamen ordered the group to the cemetery and told them to flee. At the same time, they alerted companions in the surrounding areas to shoot the religious on sight.

The Passionists split into five groups. The first group of nine was captured and shot outside the train station of Carabanchel in Madrid on July 22, 1936 at 11pm.

The second group of twelve, Father Niceforo among them, was taken at the station at Manzanares and shot by a firing squad. Father Niceforo and four others died immediately. Seven were taken to a hospital where one later died. Six of them recovered, only to be shot to death later on October 23, 1936

Three other religious, traveling together, were executed at the train station of Urda (Toledo) on July 25th. Two gave their lives at Carrion de Calatrave on September 25th. Only five of the thirty-one religious were spared.

Numerous eye-witnesses testified afterwards to the brave faith and courage shown by the Daimiel Community in their final moments, especially the signs of forgiveness they gave their executioners.

They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1989, who said of them: “None of the religious of the community of Daimiel was involved in political matters. Nonetheless, within the climate of the historical period in which they lived, they were arrested because of the tempest of religious persecution, generously shedding their blood, faithful to their religious way of life, and emulating, in the twentieth century, the heroism of the Church’s first martyrs.” (Homily: October 1, 1989)

Today their bodies are interred in the Passionist house at Daimiel.

Their feastday is July  24th.

St. Bridget of Sweden ( 1303-1373)

We usually think of St. Bridget of Sweden, whose feast is today, as a mystic whose writings and prayers have influenced Christian spirituality since the 14th century. But Bridget was also a reformer who challenged the court of Sweden and later the papal court to be faithful to the role God wished them to play in the world. She wasn’t afraid to speak to power, whether secular or religious. Her fearlessness came from her strong spirituality.

As a child of 10 Bridget had religious experiences of the Passion of Jesus and that mystery inspired her prayer and prompted her to act bravely ever afterwards. Her pilgrimages to holy places, culminating in her visit to the Holy Land, were not times to get away from it all, but events that gave her graces to continue her work for reform.

Bridget was born into an influential Swedish family with ties to the royal court. At 14 she married Ulf Gudmarrson and they had 8 children, one of whom is also honored as a saint, Catherine of Sweden. She protested against the wanton living and uncaring policies of the Swedish royalty towards the poor. After her husband’s death in 1334 she founded a religious community and fearlessly spoke out against the lifestyle and privileges of the ruling class.

In 1350 she went to Rome to gain approval for her Order of the Most Holy Savior, the Brigittines. There she became a strong voice urging the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon in France, where he sought refuge from the turmoil of the papal states. The pope was a shepherd who should be with his sheep, she said, especially when his flock is in turmoil.

Bridget’s prayers and revelations, widely circulated in her time, were reminders of what Jesus said and did, especially the example of his Passion, a mystery calling those who come after him to follow in his steps.

In 1371, Bridget and some of her family went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and her accounts from there further stimulated the religious imagination of her contemporaries. On July 23, 1373 she died in Rome. She Is the patroness of Sweden and of Europe.

The church today needs strong women like Bridget, firm in faith and unafraid to speak out for the good of the church, the Body of Christ. Society too needs women like her in politics and business to steer its course into the future.

Artists were inspired by Bridget’s revelations. For example, at the end of her life she described a vision of Mary and Joseph in adoration of the Child lying on the ground, a symbol of his incarnation, becoming one with the world he had made.

Jesus birth

Adoration of the Child, Giorgione, 1507, National Gallery, Washington

Prayer of St. Bridget

Jesus, true and fruitful Vine! Remember the abundant outpouring of blood shed from your sacred body as juice from grapes in a wine press.    From your side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, blood and water poured out until there was not left in your body a single drop.

Through your bitter Passion and the outpouring of your precious blood, receive my soul when I come to die. Amen.

O good Jesus! Pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love will be my bread day and night; may I be converted entirely to you, may my heart be a home to you, may my conversation be pleasing to you, and may I merit heaven at the end of my life and be with you and your saints, to praise you forever. Amen

Readings for the 16th Week

Jer 23:1-6/Eph 2:13-18/Mk 6:30-34 (107)

23 Monday
[Saint Bridget, Religious]
Mi 6:1-4, 6-8/Mt 12:38-42 (395)

24 Tuesday
Passionist Martyrs of Damiel
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20/Mt 12:46-50 (396)

25 Wednesday Saint James, Apostle
2 Cor 4:7-15/Mt 20:20-28 (605)

26 Thursday Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary Memorial
Jer 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13/Mt 13:10-17 (398)

27 Friday
Jer 3:14-17/Mt 13:18-23 (399)

28 Saturday
Jer 7:1-11/Mt 13:24-30 (400)

Creation and the Cross

Elizabeth Johnson




Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018. xvii +238 pp. ISBN: 9781608337323.

Reviewed by Robin Ryan, cp
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

In this work, Elizabeth Johnson, a distinguished Catholic theologian who recently retired from Fordham University, offers another valuable contribution to the work of faith seeking understanding. Her topic is soteriology – the exploration and articulation of the saving work of God in Jesus Christ. This book builds on her earlier books on the mystery of God (She Who Is) and the theology of creation (Ask the Beasts).

In Creation and the Cross, Johnson engages in a sustained, critical dialogue with Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4–1109). Though the Church has never defined as official doctrine any particular theory of the saving work of Christ, Anselm’s theory of satisfaction has sometimes been treated in theology and preaching as if it were official doctrine. Johnson has two principal aims in this book: to illumine the deficiencies in Anselm’s theory, particularly its view of Jesus’ death as required by God to make recompense for sin; and to broaden the Christian theology of salvation in a way that will embrace other creatures and the entire cosmos. In pursuing both of these aims, she endeavors to construct a theology of accompaniment. Emulating Anselm’s dialogue with the monk Boso in Cur Deus Homo, Johnson converses with an imaginary interlocutor (“Clara”) in Creation and the Cross.

Briefly stated, in Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Human), Anselm developed his theory of satisfaction against the backdrop of a feudal culture. In feudal societies, the interpersonal bond between the lord and the vassal guaranteed the order of society. If the honor of a superior was impugned in some way, there was the threat of social chaos. The restoration of honor occurred through the punishment of the guilty or by the guilty party making satisfaction to the one offended. The degree of injustice and thus the requisite level of satisfaction was measured according the social status of the injured party. This restoration needed to exceed what had been taken away.

Anselm draws on this socio-cultural framework to construct a theory of salvation from God in and through Christ. He engages in what we would call a work of contextual theology. His argument is based upon two key premises: without the incarnation the salvation of the human race would be impossible; salvation is God’s intention. So the redemptive work of Christ is grounded in the divine intention to effect salvation for humanity. Anselm argues that by sinning human beings failed to render to God what is God’s due; we offended the honor of God. In so doing, we disturbed the order and beauty of the universe. If humanity is to avoid God’s punishment, satisfaction to God must be made. Since in this case the One who is offended is infinite, the offense is infinite. Humanity must offer to God something that is greater than everything that is not God. Humanity is in no position to make this satisfaction because: (1) we are finite beings; and (2) we already owe God perfect obedience anyway. Thus, humanity has fallen into a pit from which it cannot extricate itself.

If God were simply to remit sin without either punishment or the requisite satisfaction, it would mean that there would be no difference between the guilty and the nonguilty. Satisfaction must be made, then, to restore the order of creation. The debt must be paid from “our side” since we were those who offended God, yet it is a debt that can only be paid by someone who is divine. Thus the necessity of the “God-Man” – the incarnate Son/Word of God. Anselm followed the tradition of his day which held that death is a consequence of sin. As one who was truly human Jesus owed perfect obedience to God; but as one who was sinless, he was not obliged to die. Nonetheless, in order to make satisfaction to God on behalf of the human race, Jesus freely underwent death. Anselm stresses that Christ died not by any compulsion from God (the Father) but by his own free choice. At the same time Anselm admits that it can be said that the Father willed the death of his Son “because the Father was unwilling for the restoration of the human race to be brought about by other means than that a man should perform an action of the magnitude of his death” (I, 9).

For such a great deed, Christ deserves a reward. But as the Son of God, who shares everything with the Father, he is in need of nothing. So Christ assigns the reward to humanity. The self-gift of Jesus in his death is of infinite value; it outweighs the evil of all sins past, present and future.
Humanity receives the gift of salvation from God.

While Anselm’s theory did not make an immediate impact in the 12th century, it did influence 13th century theologians and many thinkers thereafter. This soteriology also influenced Christian preaching on the redemptive death of Christ, though it was sometimes distorted in such a way as to depict Christ as a sacrificial victim whose death appeased an angry God. Writing not long after Anselm, Peter Abelard accused Anselm of depicting a bloodthirsty God. A century later, Thomas Aquinas incorporated the notion of satisfaction as one among several soteriological metaphors, though he did not accept the idea that either the incarnation or the death of Jesus was absolutely “necessary” in order for God to save humanity. God could have saved us in other ways.

Johnson identifies some positive elements in Anselm’s theology of salvation – aspects of enduring value. Anselm exemplifies the effort to engage in the work of theology in dialogue with culture. His goal was to demonstrate the mercy of God, which Anselm claims is “found to be so great, and so consonant with justice, that a greater and juster mercy cannot be imagined” (II, 20). Johnson also commends Anselm for never losing sight of “the heavy reality of sin” (14).

Overall, however, Johnson concludes that the theory of satisfaction is deficient, even erroneous. It does not reflect the biblical portrait of God and of God’s saving work in Christ. For one thing, it says nothing about the salvific significance of Jesus’ public ministry or his resurrection. Moreover, Anselm’s soteriology presents “a disastrous image of God” (15). Portraying a Creator who would require someone to die in order to make recompense for sin “makes God morally repulsive” (16).

Johnson endeavors to construct an alternative depiction of God. She begins this work by turning to Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55 of Isaiah). Writing at a time when exiles from Israel were languishing in Babylon, an anonymous prophet proclaimed a new saving work of God – a new exodus. The people would be brought back home. In this proclamation the prophet emphasizes that the Creator is also the Redeemer. The One who had created them and formed them into a people was the very same One who would redeem them. Deutero-Isaiah shows the very character of God to be “extravagant with love” (46). This portrait of the merciful and gracious God, grounded in the experience of the exodus, serves as a counterweight to Anselm’s thesis that an offended God is in need of satisfaction in order to redeem.

How, then, to interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus? Johnson argues that Jesus was put to death for reasons that had nothing to do with making satisfaction for sin. Jesus died as a result of the mission to which he stayed faithful – the mission of proclaiming and making present the Reign of God. Crucified under the title “the King of the Jews,” he met the fate of an enemy of the empire (93). But this does not mean that God either needed or wanted the cross in order to save the world from sin. “He suffered for the way he loved God and neighbor, not because he needed to pay a debt to divine honor” (19). It is the resurrection of Jesus that reveals God at work to save. The resurrection affirms the new life of the whole enfleshed person of Jesus; it is God’s endorsement of Jesus.

What, then, is saving about all of this? Johnson moves to the model of accompaniment, which is linked with the idea of solidarity. God’s presence to and solidarity with others, especially those who are suffering, is a powerful force. Johnson asserts that rather than a necessary gift to placate divine honor, “Jesus’ brutal death enacts the solidarity of the gracious and merciful God with all who die, especially victims of injustice, opening hope for resurrection amid the horror” (50). A theology of accompaniment envisions salvation as “the divine gift of ‘I am with you,’ even in the throes of suffering and death” (106). This theology affirms a double solidarity: God was with Jesus in his suffering, and the crucified and risen Jesus is with us, especially in our suffering.

Johnson’s next step is to deepen and broaden this notion of accompaniment by exploring the Christian belief in the incarnation. In Jesus, God joined earthly life as a participant; this entailed a divine relationship to the world that had not previously existed. As she puts it, “the tribe of those who loved Jesus came to see him as the embodied presence of God” (162). And when the Prologue to the Gospel of John affirms that “the Word became flesh” (sarx in Greek), this links the divine not only with human existence but evokes a connection with all creatures, with all that is vulnerable, perishable and transitory. Building on the work of Danish theologian Niels Gregersen, Johnson speaks of “deep incarnation.” In Christ, God enters into the “biological tissue of creation in order to share the fate of biological existence” (185; Johnson, quoting Gregersen). This means that in Christ God accompanies not only human beings but every creature. “Theologically speaking, the cross signals that God is present in the midst of anguish, bearing every creature and all creation forward with an unimaginable promise” (189). Thus, the Christian notion of salvation is not salvation from the world, but the salvation of the world. The evolving world of life will be transfigured in a way that transcends our imagination, and every creature will share in an unending plenitude. Such a theology envisions the human person as part of the community of creation, and it summons us to care for our common home, as Pope Francis has expressed it in his encyclical Laudato Si’ (quoted often by Johnson).

In Creation and the Cross, Elizabeth Johnson has given us another informative, creative and timely work of theology. Her prose is poetic in places, and the arguments she makes are cogent. Occasionally, the literary technique of dialogue with “Clara” seems a bit forced and gets in the way, but for the most part her explanations are limpidly clear and expressed in a way that engages the reader. Johnson theologizes as someone who is steeped in the Catholic Christian tradition but who also takes the risk of placing that tradition in dialogue with contemporary questions and challenges. In doing so, she is emulating the creative work of classical theologians like Thomas Aquinas.

In my work on soteriology, Jesus and Salvation (2015), I tried to sketch the outlines of a soteriology of communion. It bears some resemblance to Johnson’s theology of accompaniment. It is interesting to note that for both approaches the death of Jesus is integral to his saving work, even if it is not a death required as recompense for sin or a death directly willed by God. But as the culmination of his life of self-disposal before God (as Karl Rahner saw it), it is essential that Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, shared in the experience that terminates the earthly life of every human being, indeed of every creature. The incarnation means that Jesus lived our life and he died our death. Even if most of us do not have to endure the unjust, violent death that Jesus suffered, his walking into the valley of the shadow of death means that our death can be a dying with Christ (accompaniment), a dying in communion with Christ.