Interview on Sacramental Theology

Chapel of the Corporal, Orvieto

Last month I had an interesting discussion with Jesuit scholastic David Inczauskis about the sacraments–what they are, why we have them, how they and the theology surrounding them developed through time, what are the challenges for sacramental theology today. David produces an in-depth podcast on liberation theology, so my general introduction to sacramental theology was the lead-in to some of his reflections on liberation theology and the sacraments, which are also included in the podcast. Here’s the Apple version of the episode:

Episode 22: Liturgy and Sacraments, the Liberation Theology Podcast. I’m told it can be found on other podcast venues as well.

Pentecost Homily

The feast of Pentecost holds a special place in my heart because I presided at my first Mass on Pentecost Sunday. This year is the fifth anniversary of my ordination, so, for kicks, I dug up my homily from that Mass and thought I’d repost it here. A lot has happened since that day, yet in some ways it still feels like yesterday…

Pentecost Sunday 2017, Marquette University chapel

I’ll begin with homework.  Today’s first reading from Acts 2 tells the story of Pentecost, but it’s just the beginning of the story of Pentecost.  So on your i-Phones on the drive home, pull up Acts of the Apostles and read all of chapter 2.  (Unless you’re driving.)  

Now, since in my 22 years of formal education I have noted that occasionally students don’t do their homework, I will go ahead and tell you what happens in Acts 2.  The part we heard this morning takes place after Jesus had risen from the dead, appeared to his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven.  One thing I don’t think we realize when we talk about Easter is how disoriented the disciples were even after Jesus rose from the dead.  The Resurrection doesn’t immediately bring understanding to the disciples.  If you read all of John 20, the chapter from which today’s Gospel is taken (extra credit), you’ll note that even after the Resurrection there’s still disbelief, confusion, and fear.  Mary Magdalene meets Jesus but mistakes him for a gardener.  Then, when she realizes who it is, she won’t let go of him—to the point that Jesus has to tell her, “Stop holding on to me.”  After the horror of the crucifixion, we can understand why the disciples would be fearful and why Mary Magdalene wouldn’t want to let Jesus go.  But Jesus says he has to go to do something necessary for the disciples.  He promises that when he has ascended to the Father, he, with the Father, will send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  

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Leo the Great on the Ascension

Raphael, The Ascension, Vatican Museums

The conviction on which sacramental theology rests is nowhere better expressed than by St. Leo the Great in his sermon on the Ascension: after Jesus ascended into heaven, what was visible in his earthly life has passed over into the sacraments.

At Easter, beloved brethren, it was the Lord’s resurrection which was the cause of our joy; our present rejoicing is on account of his ascension into heaven. With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father…

And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments…

The truth is that the Son of Man was revealed as Son of God in a more perfect and transcendent way once he had entered into his Father’s glory; he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity…

Leo the Great, Sermo 2 de Ascensione, Office of Readings, Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Bernini’s beads

Can you spot the rosary?

When I reached the end of the station pilgrimage the last time around, I was struck by the details.

For the sacramental theologian such as myself, there’s a deep lesson in the details of the journey. The Son of God’s Incarnation meant entering fully into the reality of human life, with all its diverse moments of suffering and disappointment, of hope and joy, of sometimes just getting by. The Passion narrative is the most vividly detailed part of the Gospels, and the Resurrection stories too, though reflecting the discombobulation of that utterly unprecedented event, also retain the sort of vivid details that stick out in one’s mind even when the world has just gone outside-in. Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener. Jesus eats a bit of fish. The sacraments depend on the details of the Lord’s life, too, on what he ate at his last meal.

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