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

Signs of Easter

With winter now banished, one of my favorite signs of Roman spring is here — flowers sprouting from the tile rooftops. Above, my favorite, the corner of St. Ignatius Church seen from the terrace of our building, below a more modest view from my room. I’m not sure what this annual effusion of greenery means for the structural integrity of the tiles — and, I guess, I don’t really care. I find the flowers exuberant and surprising and, yes, just a tad reckless. In other words, a perfect sign of Easter.

I’ve always thought the flowers — life and beauty — breaking through the tiles a nice metaphor for the Resurrection, like the angels dressed in dazzling white among the scattered tombstones. This year they’ve also put me in mind of Peter. Peter is, after all, a slightly reckless figure, the desires of his heart a step ahead of his own moral capacities. His love for Jesus leads him to boast of his fidelity on Holy Thursday — “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” — and then to find that his steadfastness has fallen short of his aspirations. It is devastating to read of Peter’s betrayal; one can imagine how much more devastating it was to live it.

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Innsbruck revisited

I was thrilled to get the news this week that my essay “Angels in Innsbruck” was selected by Dappled Things as the winner of their 2021 Jacques Maritain Prize for Nonfiction. Dappled Things is a wonderful literary journal, the only one I know of with the explicit mission of publishing Catholic literature. They’re both online and in print; the print journal features some really beautiful artwork and is well worth the subscription.

To celebrate the occasion, I thought I’d post a few pictures from my summer in Innsbruck to go along along with the essay. First the angels in the Jesuit church…

And then a few pictures of beautiful Innsbruck.

Holy Saturday

The Harrowing of Hell, Andrea di Bonaiuto, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Today’s reading from the Office of Readings put me in mind of the fresco of Christ’s descent into the limbo of the patriarchs in the chapter room of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Note the demon crushed under the doors of hell at Christ’s feet and the other bewildered devils on the right. (Don’t feel sorry for them.) It’s what the Middle Ages had instead of superhero movies.

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