Archive for religion

Universal Pastor: What a Pope Should Be

Posted in Pope Francis, The Papal Watcher, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

06212013p01phaIn a recent article by NCR’s John Allen, Jr., titled “Francis at 100 Days: ‘The World’s Parish Priest,’” the veteran Vatican reporter attempts to offer a summary account and initial analysis of the new pope’s first 100 days as Bishop of Rome. He highlights what appears to be the ostensible dissonance between what is (or is not) actually being done and what the perception of the pontiff’s “administration” has been. In other words, there are some who might suggest that not a whole lot is, in effect, changing or has changed because of the relatively few and minor substantive changes that have been inaugurated to date. Put another way, Allen suggests: “The usual models would thus say that so far, Francis has been all sizzle and no steak.”

“Yet,” as Allen notes, “at the grassroots, there’s a palpable sense something seismic is underway.”

This is not to be underestimated. There is a way in which cynics (including me at times…let’s face it, we’re all cynical now and then) follow Allen’s initial observation: on the one hand, some presume nothing new is happening until something dramatic unfolds and, on the other hand, some are simply waiting for “the shoe to drop.”

While it’s by and large true to say that “actions speak louder than words,” perhaps in the case of Pope Francis we might need to simply say that actions speak louder than actions. Or, as Allen puts it, “sometimes style really is substance.” Allen explains:

Perhaps the key to resolving the conflict boils down to this: Francis seems determined to function as a pastor, at least as much as a primate or politician, so the right model may not be the one used to assess chief executives. Rather, it’s how Catholics tend to think about a parish priest. Their basic question usually isn’t what his policy positions are, but whether he inspires.

What is interesting about Pope Francis’s style is that it really does seem to inspire. Whether or not there are empirical correlative effects — such as the alleged rise in confession and mass attendance — there is a near-universal sense of Pope Francis’s sincerity and intention. He points, not to himself — which could sometimes be the effect of the late John Paul II’s charismatic side — but to those for whom a singular voice, let alone a world stage, is unimaginable. Pope Francis’s words and actions point beyond himself to the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten. His words and actions point simultaneously to Christ and the meaning of authentic Christian living.

As I shared yesterday, Thomas Merton draws our attention to the fact that the Bible is about God’s promise to the poor and marginalized, just as liberation theologians have reminded us ever since. Likewise, Pope Francis is reminded the world of exactly the same thing, which is why even business newspapers and magazines are on the defensive in response. Allen highlights this:

As evidence that people are taking notice, the august business journal Forbes felt compelled in a mid-May editorial to admonish the pope. “Profit isn’t what drives poverty,” the editorial asserted; rather, “profit is what overcomes poverty.”

Of course, fervorinos on behalf of the poor have long been a staple of papal rhetoric. What seems to give Francis’ appeals punch is the perception they’re backed up by personal commitment.

In addition to Pope Francis’s simplicity, Allen highlights humility, accessibility, and staying out of politics as key themes of his first 100 days as pope. All together, these elements construct the foundation of the pope as universal pastor. He is for the church the spiritual leader it needs at this time, a person disinterested with the office and trappings, a person who seems to understand that he is first a bishop — a local leader — and not a ecclesiastical monarch, a person whose ability to walk the walk gives force to the talk of the magisterium in an age when all thought the church had lost all moral authority.

Indeed, Pope Francis strikes me as a universal pastor but, really, isn’t that exactly what a pope should be?

Photo: CNS

Papal Good Idea, Bad Idea

Posted in The Papal Watcher with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Pope Benedict XVIThe announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation (or retirement or abdication and so on) has been heralded as a promising move of epic proportions for the church. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly that this is likely to be, as the historical theologian Joseph Komonchak and others have asserted, what Benedict XVI is best known for in terms of the historical record of his papacy. There are, despite the “secular” media’s desire for scandal and political motivation, undertones of humility and courage that ground the pope’s decision. And this has been, I believe, a very good idea.

However, this is not to suggest that this decision and accompanying awkwardness of something not exercised in over six centuries is without its problematic actions. This week’s announcement that Benedict XVI, who will step down from his office as Bishop of Rome and Roman Pontiff tomorrow at 8:00pm Rome Time, has selected to be called “Roman Pontiff Emeritus” or “Pope Emeritus,” continue to wear his distinctive white cassock (distinctive, of course, unless you are a member of the Norbertine Order of the Canons Regular of  Prémontré), and bear the papal name “Benedict,” is really a “bad idea.”

This is a bad idea in large part because there cannot be two popes and, regardless of what Benedict XVI tomorrow wishes to be called, he and the rest of the world will know, at least intellectually, that he is not the pope. The term pope is problematic here because what the term pope really refers to is the Bishop of Rome who, by virtue of his primacy within the college of bishops, bears a number of other titles (Roman Pontiff, Servant of the Servants of God, [formerly] Patriarch of the West, etc.). The papacy is an office and not a person as my friend and theologian Brian Flanagan astutely reminded us a few weeks back.

If it walks like a pope, dresses like a pope, bears the same name as a pope, and has the term “pope” or “pontiff” in its title: it’s probably (going to be perceived to be) a POPE!  And hence the “bad idea.”

In principle this shouldn’t make a difference, but in our age of soundbites, constant media images, and minimal public attention span, what looks and sounds like a pope will be treated like a “second pope.” Benedict XVI, I think, should at least — in our visual age – look different from the pope in dress and appearance (and taking off your shoulder cape which, I should add from what I imagine my TOR and OFM Conv. friends can affirm, only gets in the way already. Try washing a dish or reaching for something in a cabinet with a shoulder-length cape always in your way. I think that is simply a pragmatic move, not all that symbolic).

It is quite likely that Benedict XVI in his decision to make the swearing of allegiance to the new pope by the College of Cardinals a more public event he has intended to make his participation in this action a definitive moment of acknowledgement about who the one and only Bishop of Rome or Pope really is. But I really don’t think it will be enough.

Time will tell and we shall see how this plays out. It is now just a little more than 24-hours until one of the most historic events of the second Christian millennia gets underway.

UPDATE: This is a short article on this topic well-worth reading from VaticanInsider.

Photo: File

The View From Gary Wills’s Theological Armchair

Posted in The Papal Watcher, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

WillsI have long appreciated the intelligence and wit of Gary Wills. As a historian of some prominence — he’s won the Pulitzer and holds a PhD in classics — and a literary critic whose work has regularly appeared in the New York Review of Books and other significant publications, I have admired his skilled assessment of texts and tradition. As an avowed Roman Catholic, Jesuit educated from youth and through college at St. Louis University, I’ve also appreciated Wills’s attempts to explore his own faith and its tradition through small books on the Gospels, the Letters of St. Paul, Augustine, and other subjects, including an older text that offers something of an apologia for his continued Catholic faith. His training in classics and his familiarity with the original Greek of the New Testament and Latin of Augustine offered the public intellectual insight into these materials that others might not have.

One wonders with someone whose interests are so polymathic just when does he reach the limits of his reasonably expected competence. When does he cross the boundary of well-researched personal inquiry and reflection into the territory of ignoratio?

I will make a bold claim that his recent New York Times op-ed contribution, “New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope,” marks just such a border crossing.

I should begin these comments by stating that his sentiment, namely the frustration he exhibits about seemingly archaic systems of power and structure in church leadership, is actually quite reasonable and I suppose very sincere in his case. Critical though he may be, at other times Wills (like E. J. Dionne and other public commentators who maintain their Roman Catholic identity in a public way) has time and again reflected his disappointment with what he understands to be the church, while struggling to be a faithful Christian. Such public witness, especially as an academic and intellectual figure in whose circles such proclivities might be easily dismissed, is truly admirable.

Nevertheless, if what Wills was saying had more to do with explicit theological discourse, he’d be committing what is classically understood as heresy. Heresy, of course, doesn’t mean the opposite of orthodox doctrine or even some ideological position along the continuum of heterodox thought. Heresy is holding part of the truth as the whole truth. The easiest examples to recall have to do with Christological heresies: believing that Jesus Christ is human is not heretical. The Council of Chalcedon affirms as much. But, believe that Jesus Christ is only human is a heresy.

Analogously, much of what wills says in his op-ed piece is true. However, his lack of appreciation for the complexities and nuances about which he speaks borders on the incomprehensible or irrelevant. Again, not because his motives are false (he has, I believe, good intentions), but because he doesn’t actually understand — it would seem from his writing — that about which he is speaking.

To due justice to the subjects Wills names in passing and with a sense of flip cynicism would take more space and time than I have here in this post (you’re welcome, I promise not to write 4,000+ words here and keep it short). Perhaps a few examples will highlight the deeply problematic assertions that Wills advocates by way of partial truth interpreted according to Wills’s armchair-theological perspective.

Take the theme of papal monarchical status and the question of infallibility. Yes, even to this day the pope is a sovereign head of state. The Holy See — geographically constituted by “Vatican City” —  is its own internationally recognized sovereign state with diplomatic rights, centuries of international treaties known as Concordats, and so on. While the Christendom model of monarchical papacy Wills readily admits no longer exists, historians might argue that the model he caricatures never, in fact, existed. Yes, the pope at various times over the course of nearly two millennia has exercised a certain temporal influence that is perhaps less visible in modern history. However, to refer to the pope as a monarch simply because that is how, as a single person with such metanymnic significance for a church that is made up of over a billion persons, he appears to someone on the street does not account for a great deal of theological and canonical factors left untouched by Wills’s rant.

For example, the very condition for the possibility of Benedict XVI’s resignation from his office is the fact that his is not a monarch in the same sense that Wills suggests. What it means to talk about “the pope” is simply another way to talk about one bishop who happens to be the Ordinary of the Diocese of Rome, and therefore is granted primacy as first among equals (much to the reasonable chagrin of the Orthodox Churches who understandably resent the dismissal of their primates by the Latin Church). Such is the case canonically too. The only difference between the Bishop of Rome resigning and the Bishop of New York is that, technically, there is no one to whom the first among equals tenders one’s resignation. Instead, as we saw on Monday, the Bishop of Rome does so in sound mind in the presence of his colleagues — the other bishops represented by the College of Cardinals in consistory.

Wills’s simplistic understanding of the doctrine of papal infallibility is likewise misleading. He’s better than most to acknowledge, somewhat too briefly, that not everything a pope says is infallible. However, that’s a huge detail: it has only been invoked twice in history and done so within the very particular confines of a very limited exercise of magisterial office. Wills would do well to read some of Francis Sullivan, SJ’s classic work on the theology of magisterial authority or Richard Gaillardetz’s primer, By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, The Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful (Liturgical Press, 2003). The complex factors that converge to describe what this charism of infallibility actually means are too detailed to present here in this already lengthy post. However, the point to note is that Wills ties this highly technical (and widely misunderstood!) theological and canonical teaching to the monarchical authority of the papacy. It’s not that simple.

His clear lack of the moral teaching of the church and the, again to overuse the word, “complexities” of what something like Paul VI’s Humane Vitae present and rely upon, seriously shades his vision and confuses — at least as he expresses it — some sort of unilateral authority with the teaching office of the church, which varies in degree, something unacknowledged by Wills.

This is not to suggest that Wills is incorrect with his stats from the United States. I have no reason to doubt the overwhelming numbers of those who have not “received” the teaching of Humane Vitae in practice, but I do doubt whether or not the church (which is the Body of Christ = all the baptized) has “received” the point of the teaching. It is for moral theologians and bishops to hash out the role of medication, prophylactics, and the like vis-a-vis the teaching about authentic exercise of human sexuality in its (1) openness to life and (2) unitive dimension. These distinctions about what is actually being taught in the encyclical, whether one agrees or disagrees with the practical proscription, remain absent from this sort of critique.

If you want to challenge these teachings, and they are not without reasonable and grounded critique, then go through the trouble of doing your homework.

On a final note of highlight, the line near the end of his piece, “The claim of priests and popes to be the sole conduits of grace is a remnant of the era of papal monarchy,” is simply and utterly incorrect. Any priest (or any pope for that matter) who would make such a claim is doing so apart from the church. There is no ground to suggest that the church teaches that priests, or any particular person or group of persons, are the “sole conduits of grace.” In almost every instance, from St. Paul through Augustine to Martin Luther and to Karl Rahner and beyond, grace is always and everywhere understood in the first case as referring to the Holy Spirit.

It is perhaps this single line in all of Wills’s op-ed reflecting that betrays his truly inadequate sense of theology. It is an understandable conjecture, the kind to be expected of a pre-Second Vatican Council popular piety. For someone who pontificates (pun intended) about the ills of the church, the lack of theological nuance or broader appreciation for the history of the tradition is unsettling. While I haven’t yet read his new book on the priesthood, I have a sense that I will be disappointed given the shallowness of this op-ed’s theological reflection.

If it makes Gary Wills feel any better, I too would have lost hope in the pope and church that he describes. But as a baptized Catholic, a religious, a priest, and someone with more formal theological training than anyone knows what to do with, I don’t recognize the church about which Wills speaks. I do recognize a deeply flawed community of the baptized with a mixed history reflecting our human finitude. But I still have hope.

Photo: New York Review of Books

The ‘March for Life’ and My Enduring Incredulity

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

march for lifeLast year on the day of the annual “March for Life” in Washington, DC, I wrote a blog post titled, “Why I do not support the (so-called) March for Life.” It received a lot of attention, including an article in the National Catholic Reporter that same day, “On this March for Life day, a reasoned discussion on abortion,” which generously praised my essay for its “reasonable and calmly articulated approach to an issue which has sometimes led to divisive intra-church arguments.”

On this website alone (, the post elicited 139 comments that express a variety of opinions. This week I have been asked by a number of people whether I would write another post today on the same theme, but have decided not to do so. There are several reasons for this decision; the first of which is that I do not have much more to say on the subject, at least at this point. I still struggle to make sense of the resources, time, and energy that go into this particular event each year, while other equally pressing issues go unaddressed, unacknowledged, or unfunded. As I say in the introduction to this essay, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with taking a public stance against abortion as women and men of faith, but I do continue to have questions about the manner and means by which this effort is currently executed. Here’s what I say in the essay, now published in the book, Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays:

To begin, I have no problem with people of faith taking a public stance against abortion. You will never find me supporting abortion legislation nor encouraging those with and for whom I minister as a Roman Catholic cleric to support abortion. I believe it is a legitimate issue against which, as a Christian and Roman Catholic, I feel should be a thematic feature of social transformation. However, it is not, at all, the most important issue, nor is it the single issue upon which Catholics – or anyone – should focus their attention s in an exclusive manner.

Abortion belongs to a series of social sins of a systemic degree that include capital punishment, war and violence, limitation of social services for the least among us, economic inequality, abject poverty, and other threats to the dignity of human persons in our culture and globalized world (72-73).

As you can tell, I recognize very overtly the ostensible impetus for the “March for Life” and affirm the place it has among those social and individual sins that are in need of address. However, I’m not at all willing to subordinate the rest of the seamless garment of the consistent ethic of life in order to elevate one issue. It can be misleading, which is why I suggest in this essay that there are many reasons why one can be sympathetic to the cause but withhold support for the event.

Among the various reasons one might chose to omit him or herself from participation, I wish to highlight three: (a) the event’s moniker is incomplete at best and disingenuous at worst; (b) the mode of protest has proven ineffective; and, following the second point, (c) the ‘march’ and its related events are a self-serving exercise in self-righteousness, self-congratulatory grandstanding (72).

Today, while many gather in the United States capital for Masses and marching, perhaps it is worth considering what it is we’re really doing, what purposes and people are served by what we’re doing, and whether or not we should consider other ways to do something more constructively, more open to a consistent ethic of life, and more humbly.

The full text of “Why I do not Support the (so-called) March for Life” is available in the book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essayswhich can also be found for the Kindle and at Barnes and Noble.

Photo: File

The Contribution of Women Theologians

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

January2013coverIn the current issue of U.S. Catholic Magazine (January 2013) there is a cover story titled, “What Women Theologians Have Done for the Church,” by Heather Grennan Gray. It’s an excellent piece that leads an issue focused on women and the church. In light of the recent ecclesiastical critiques of the work of certain women theologians — one thinks most recently of two distinguished professors and women religious, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Margaret Farley, RSM — Gray’s article succinctly highlights the shifts from before through after the era of the Second Vatican Council that have created the conditions for greater theological education and participation of the laity in general and women more specifically. There are a number of excellent theologians, liturgists, and pastoral staff members interviewed in this essay. One of the main commentators quoted in the piece is a professor of mine at Boston College, Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, a religious sister and theologian. There are also a few quotes from another familiar person who is a current doctoral student at Boston College, let’s just say that if you’re reading this blog, you already know who he is. Here’s the opening of the article, click the link to read the rest of it online.

Kathy Barkdull started her career in parish ministry the same way many others have: The director of religious education at her parish tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would teach a class. With a willing spirit and not much more, she agreed. Twenty-five years later, Barkdull is pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello, Idaho, and oversees evangelization and discipleship programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and other ministries at the 1,200-household parish.

Over the years Barkdull received training through the diocesan certification program, workshops, and seminars, and eventually graduated from the Ministry Extension program at Loyola University in New Orleans. But Barkdull began to understand her work in a new light after she attended a conference of the National Association of Lay Ministers (NALM) in 2004 and heard Zeni Fox, a professor of pastoral theology at Seton Hall University, talk about the theology of lay ministry. Something clicked.

“Finding ways to call lay ministers forth, to support one another, to feel connected—that has really become my passion,” says Barkdull, who left the conference with the idea to start a lay ministry council in the Diocese of Boise, a territory of 84,000 square miles that is home to just 40 priests. At their first gathering in 2004 more than 300 came to listen to Fox give the keynote speech. “This focus has really energized and encouraged me,” Barkdull says.

In a very real way Barkdull’s work as a professional parish minister and lay ministry advocate has been shaped not just by Fox but by a host of Catholic women who have studied, taught, and contributed to theology. The fact that women have only been admitted to graduate-level theology programs at Catholic institutions for the past 70 years means the addition of women to the ranks of church scholars is a relatively recent change.

In the intervening decades, however, Catholic women theologians have helped form both lay and ordained church leaders’ understanding of liturgy, scripture, ethics, pastoral ministry, spirituality, faith formation, theology, and the church itself. This means that regular Catholics, too, have been influenced by women theologians—whether they know it or not.

To Continue reading the article: Click Here

Photo: Stock

O Come Emmanuel: Savior of All People?

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

christmas-mass-timesO Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

In recent years there has been a hot theological topic, made public and popular by discussions surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, that centers on what the meaning of salvation is and for whom it applies. Today’s O Antiphon, the last of the seven, directs our attention to the coming of Christ as God-with-us, Emmanuel. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the last of the antiphons focuses on the uniqueness and significance of the Incarnation and ties that reality — the truth of God-with-us — to Christ’s role as “savior of all people.” The technical term for what it means to talk about salvation for all is Apokatastasis, which is a fancy word for the belief that God desires and is capable of universal salvation. As one might imagine, as many saw with the melee that broke out around Bell’s reflection on this question, there is a natural tension present in such a claim. What about sin? What if I don’t want to be “saved?” What, then, is salvation all about?

Without getting into the complications of these questions, which have been the source of reflection dating back to St. Paul’s time (read his letters to the Thessalonians, for example, this is a persistent concern throughout) and seen considered from the Patristic area onward, I want to offer this consideration for us to ponder as the celebration of Christmas draws near: What does it mean to profess that Christ, emmanuel, is the “savior of all people?”

Take, for example, this passage from Gaudium et Spes, which seems to help us to understand better what this antiphon might mean in affirming that Christ is “savior of all people.”

While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ simultaneously manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love. For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10). [no. 45]

Do we celebrate this sense of what God has done for us by entering our world as one like us? Or are we more prone to treat salvation as the reward for lifelong membership in an organization? Do we see the working of God’s Spirit in the world, bringing all people and all of creation (see Romans 8) back to God’s self in Christ? Or is Christ only the savior of those for whom it is easy, palatable, and comfortable for me to imagine or for whom I desire this telos?

This Christmas, may we come to see the world and the human family the way that God does: without borders, without discrimination, and with the hope of peace shared among all people, a peace that the world cannot give, but a peace that has been given to us by the coming of Christ, by Emmanuel.

Photo: Stock

Vatican II, Inculturation and What the Church Learns from the World

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Among the many important insights that arose from the Second Vatican Council, one of the more timely is the recognition that the church has not simply been a self-contained and distinct civilization or institution from the “rest of the world,” but has always been a part of the world. Additionally, the church has benefited and, even more strikingly, has needed the culture, philosophy, and traditions of the world in which it exists. This is a wonderfully insightful development given the state of the so-called church-world relationship prior to the ecumenical council. Whether theologically, or otherwise in theory, the church understood itself as apart from the world, it pragmatically acted as such. Here I mean the church in the literal sense as the Body of Christ, which is — as Vatican II put it, among other ways — the People of God. The baptized acted as if the church, its ministers, and so forth, were quite different from the quotidian experience of their lives and work. This was perpetuated by the attitudes and dispositions of the church’s leadership in those years.

And what is troubling, in my view, is that there is an undercurrent of similar attitudes percolating in our own day. There are women and men, especially within the ranks of the church’s leadership in certain sectors of our society, that feel as though the church should be “purer,” more isolated, and set apart from “the world.” As the great theologian Edward Schillebeeckx once said, the idea of a “pure church” is a heresy. Those who maintain such a view need to realize that the teaching of the church’s magisterium, here in the documents of Vatican II, especially Gaudium et Spes, confirm Schillebeeckx’s observation. The church and the world are inseparable and, further, the church needs the world, as we read here:

Just as it is important for the world to recognize the church as a social reality and agent in history, so the church also is aware of how much it has received from the history and development of the human race.

The experience of past centuries, the advances in the sciences and the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, which disclose human nature more completely and indicate new ways to the truth, are of benefit also to the church. From the beginning of its history it has leaned to express Christ’s message in the concepts and languages of various peoples, and it has also tried to throw light on it through the wisdom of the philosophers, aiming so far as was proper to suit the gospel to the grasp of everyone as well as to expectations of the wise. This adaptation in preaching the revealed word should remain the law of all evangelization. In this way, in every nation, the capacity to express Christ’s message in its own fashion is stimulated and at the same time a fruitful interchange is encouraged between the church and various cultures.

To develop such an exchange, especially in a time characterized by rapid change and a growing variety in ways of thought, the church has particular need of those who live in the world, whether they are believers or not, and who are familiar with its various institutions and disciplines and understand them intimately. It is for God’s people as a whole, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and especially for pastors and theologians, to listen to the various voices of our day, discerning them and interpreting them, and to evaluate them in the light of the divine word, so that the revealed truth can be increasingly appropriated, better understood and more suitably expressed (Gaudium et Spes no. 44).

Hopefully, in returning to the documents of the Second Vatican Council as we mark the half-century that has passed since this great moment in the history of the church and world we can renew our vision of what it means to live the Gospel in our own day.

There is a clear call here for the validation of various cultures, philosophies, and ways of thinking. There is value in the thought and practices of people throughout the world, no matter how different those ways of being-in-the-world might appear alongside the Euro-normative traditions we generally associate with Catholicism since the middle ages. What can we do to live this truth out in our own lives, communities, and universal church?

Photo: Stock

The Ministry of Relationship According to St. Francis

Posted in Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith, Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Francis’s way of being-in-the-world centered on following the example of Jesus Christ. Franciscan scholar Michael Blastic insightfully connects the humility of God that Francis recognized in the Incarnation and sought to emulate with God’s outward movement toward humanity. Once rooted in humility, God Incarnate – Jesus Christ – entered into relationships with the people around him.  All four Gospels recount the multitude of encounters Jesus had with many: the marginalized, outcast, wealthy, powerful, average, violent, peaceful, and so on.  Because he lived in such a perfect state of humble existence among his sisters and brothers, Jesus was able to meet those he encountered as they were and treat them with the inherent dignity rightly deserved by virtue of their humanity.  For Francis, this became a major component of his way of life and remains a characteristic of Franciscan ministry today.

While most of the preserved writings of Francis are letters, prayers, admonitions or ways of life addressed to large audiences, we have one letter that was written to a particular minister.  The identity of this brother remains anonymous, which at first causes frustration in an age full of people impatient for instant gratification; however, the anonymity of the recipient allows us to stand in his place as the receiver of wisdom from Francis concerning ministry.  The letter provides a touching look into the heart of Francis.  Francis is concerned about the attitude and disposition of his brother friar and instructs him:

I wish to know in this way if you love the Lord and me, His servant and yours: that there is not any brother in the world who has sinned – however much he could have sinned – who, after he has looked into your eyes, would ever depart without your mercy, if he is looking for mercy.

Mercy trumps retributive justice.  Relationship remains the primary hermeneutic for interpreting every encounter with another.  While in retrospect this sort of observation may at first appear obvious, it is only because our familiarity – if only subtly and indirectly – with Franciscan ministry informs our way of seeing.  However, this had not always been the case.  Franciscan historian Joseph Chinnici describes the early Franciscan movement as a radically new form of “penitential humanism.” Chinnici understands this term as the unifying tendency of the Franciscan movement to connect people amid “social discord and violence.”  This approach to ministry is one that places relationship and community above one’s personal faith journey and conversion.  In fact, one’s own conversion, if indicative of a Franciscan hue, should lead toward humanity and away from only one’s self. It is for precisely this reason that Francis insisted that the friars were to remain mendicants and not monks, to live as if the whole world were a cloister and not be limited to the four walls of private religious life.

A Franciscan approach to ministry is not simply a praxis of good method and skillful implementation of model practices; rather it is an ethical project that seeks to unite those who are separated by the violence of social, political, and ecclesial dissent. To further stress the importance of relationship as the operative approach to ministry, Francis often used familial terms in his writing.  In his Earlier Rule, Francis says, “Let each one love and care for his brother as a mother loves and cares for her son.” The familial understanding of relationship in the spirituality of Francis even extended beyond human relationships to include all of God’s creation as found in his most famous work, The Canticle of the Creatures, where he addresses all elements as brother or sister.  In an age of heightened ecological awareness the notion of relationship with the earth and the rest of creation can positively influence our approach to ministry.   We are called to minister to all with a deepened sense of our interdependence and relatedness as children of God and brothers and sisters of all God’s creation.

This is an excerpt from the chapter titled, “A Franciscan Way of Ministry,” in my new book Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World (Tau Publishing, 2012). To read more, check out the book in Paperback and for the Amazon Kindle. 

Photo: Stock

Academic Papers, Public Lecture: Busy Weekend in the NYC Metro Area

Posted in Dating God Book, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

For those who happen to be in the greater New York City metro area and Northern New Jersey, consider coming to some of the exciting things happening this weekend! On Saturday the Fordham University Theology Graduate Student Association is hosting a conference titled: “Sacred Topographies; or, Parks and Revelation” (full schedule below) at which I and two of my Boston College colleagues will present papers. The conference is being held at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham (details here) and is open to the public, so if you’re interested in theology and happen to be in or around Manhattan, consider stopping in for all or part of it.

Also, on Sunday, I will be at St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, NJ, as part of their ongoing month-long celebration of Francis of Assisi. I will be celebrating and preaching at the 12 noon mass after which there is a public talk about my book Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. FrancisThere will also be books for sale (at a price cheaper than Amazon!), both Dating God and my latest book, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World. I will be signing copies for those who are interested.

While this weekend is sure to be a busy I hope to see many of you around!  And, as always, you can see my full schedule of speaking events at:

Schedule of Fordham Conference


9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
2012 Fordham Graduate Theology Conference
Fordham University, Lincoln Center campus

PANEL 1: Identity, Topography, and Local Particularity (9:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.)

1.”The Paradigm of Ghurbah – Shifting Topographies within the Turkish Muslim Immigrant Community in Germany”
Zeyneb Sayilgan, Georgetown University

2.”Ephesus as Contested Space: Mapping Religious, Economic, and Spatial Movement in Acts 19″
Christy Cobb, Drew University

3.”Sacred Rusticity: An Overture in Theology and Rural Topography”
Scott McDaniel, Dayton University

PANEL 2: Liturgical Space and the Topographies of Worship (11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.)

1.”Constructing the Kingdom: The Aesthetic Dimensions of Locating the Liturgy”
Brendan McInerny, Fordham University

2.”Filiation and Nostalgia at the Mosque of Cordoba”
Basit Iqbal, University of Toronto

3.”‘I am not leaving’: Our Lady, Sacred Space, and Catholic Visionary Culture”
Jill Krebs, Drew University

LUNCH BREAK 12:30 P.M. – 2:00 P.M

PANEL 3: Ruptured and Shifting Topographies (2:10 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.)

1.”Terror, Territorialism and the Cries of the Canaanite Victims: Towards a Postidealist Understanding of the Exodus Paradigm”
Eduardo Gonzalez, Boston College

2.”Throwing off the Cloak of Urban Fabric: A Spatial Analysis of Genesis 4:1-17″
Amy Beth W. Jones, Drew University

PANEL 4: Transgressed/Transgressive Topographies (3:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.)

1.”No Place for Damaged Bodies: Imagining the Kingdom of Heaven in the 4th and 5th Centuries”
Lindsey Mercer, Fordham University

2.”Be-ing on the Boundary: Re(Dis)-covering the Boundary Metaphor in Mary Daly’s Early Feminist Theological Anthropology”
Jessica Coblentz, Boston College

3.”Planetarity, Kinship and Ktiseology: Toward a Constructive and Postcolonial Franciscan Theology of Creation”
Daniel P. Horan OFM, Boston College

KEYNOTE ADDRESS (5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.)

Elizabeth Castelli, Professor and Chair of Religion at Barnard College

Photo: File

St. Francis and the Spirit of Humility

Posted in Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

When Francis started to work in God’s name, having renounced his worldly possessions and aspirations, he began to do penance and followed the Gospel as he felt led to by God. It was not long after Francis began living this new way of life that others came seeking to imitate his efforts and follow his manner of life in what Franciscan scholar Thaddée Matura calls the “Franciscan project.” This project, while initially devoid of an articulated course of development and not the intentional goal of Francis himself, quickly grew within Francis’s lifetime to include thousands of friars and hundreds of sisters. What attracted such a number to follow in the footsteps of this medieval man through the renunciation of property, the adherence to a life of obedience, and the voluntary adoption of chastity?

One element of the Franciscan project that emerged from the work of those who were with Francis was the radical adherence to subordinate positions in society. Those early followers of Francis saw the humility of a man who left behind the life of a wealthy merchant to live among lepers and outcasts. In his Earlier Rule, Francis instructed those who were to come after him where within the social strata they should strive to live. He says, “Let no one be called ‘prior,’ but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother. Let one wash the feet of the other.” Francis continued by enjoining his brothers to be “lesser ones” who should always “be subject to all.”

This spirit of humility acts as the foundation for all subsequent characteristics that compose a Franciscan approach to ministry. Francis was less concerned about what someone did in the world than about how someone did it. Here we see the saint’s admiration for the humility of Christ emerge as part of the centerpiece of his spirituality; to be a Franciscan is to live the Gospel by following in the footprints of Jesus Christ. Michael Blastic summarized this well when he wrote, “As Jesus turned toward those around him, so Francis and Clare in contemplation and compassion incarnate the praxis of Jesus as they follow him in their world by turning to those around them.” From the Incarnation and birth to death on the Cross, Jesus’ life served as Francis’s model for humble service.

Perhaps the most succinct articulation of Francis’s image of humble service is found in Admonition XIX. Here Francis says,

Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more. Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by others and [who] does not want to come down by his own will. Blessed is that servant who is not placed in a high position by his own will and always desired to be under the feet of others.

Humility is a virtue of ministry, being of service to and among people, that Francis often reiterated in his writings. In addition to being a reoccurring theme in his Admonitions, humility becomes concretized as a constitutive characteristic of the Franciscan way of life when it appears three times in his Later Rule. In chapter III, we read, “I counsel, admonish and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ not to quarrel or argue or judge others when they go about in the world; but let them be meek, peaceful, modest, gentle and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming.” Two chapters later in the same document, Francis exhorts his followers to, at all times, work humbly as a servant of God and a disciple of poverty. Toward the end of the Rule, Francis again reminds his followers that even amid persecution, hardship and infirmity, they are to have humility and patience while loving those who persecute them. Francis echoed the theme of humility at every opportunity because it was in this way that Christ served his brothers and sisters, and it was in this way that Francis desired to serve.

Matura makes a keen observation about the importance humility held for Francis’s way of life and the subsequent movement that emerged from his example. Matura believes that Francis was well aware of the temptation, perhaps within himself, for pastoral ministers to consider themselves better or above those whom they served. It is possible that his concern about friars judging others and seeking special privileges was rooted in his own experience as the son of a wealthy merchant, a well-off young man who was disgusted by lepers and people of lower social status. Regardless of Francis’s initial motivation, we are the inheritors of a vision that inspires ministers to always put others before themselves. In a world that is fraught with the promotion of self-centeredness and material accumulation, where even good-minded ministers are tempted to seek personal reward, a Franciscan approach to ministry rooted in humility remains a prophetic stance.

This is an excerpt from the chapter titled, “A Franciscan Way of Ministry,” in my new book Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World (Tau Publishing, 2012). To read more, check out the book in Paperback and for the Amazon Kindle.

Photo: Stock

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 685 other followers

%d bloggers like this: