"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Friday, September 19, 2008

On Scripture and Theology

This summer for the New Wine, New Wineskins conference, I got to read Fr. Robert Barron's Priority of Christ. Barron claims the epistemic priority of Christ for all theological work, and he suggests that this requires looking at Scripture. Barron's own method of doing this is choosing what he calls "icons" of God, that is particular images from the gospel stories.This approach raised several questions for me as I think about how to relate theology to Scripture. Certainly there is a primordial unity here between the two, but in academia there is more often a great divorce, made all the worse because the separation seems rarely felt. Given my husband's obsession with this topic as well as my own experiences, it's no wonder that I've been thinking about this lately.
My concern about Barron's use of Scripture is that these are the images that he chose to highlight, and, of course, they contribute to the rest of his argument. In the end, I think I can grant Barron his chosen "icons," but I'm not sure I would be as comfortable with other theologians and the "icons" they chose. And then I wonder, so is that the way this should work-- we should all just choose our own icons? To every theologian, his or her own images of Christ that support his or her argument?

It struck me that perhaps Barron has an unfair advantage here... Although he chose particular images of God from the gospel, Barron is also a priest who preaches regularly and works with seminarians. His vocation forces him to sit with the daily and Sunday Mass readings. I think this affected how he chose his icons.

Most theologians today have very little time to reflect on Scripture in a theological manner inasmuch as Scripture generally plays a small role in one's academic theology program and publishing career. It is no wonder that we are more drawn to proof-texting, choosing examples here and there to suit our purposes. Doing so provides such odd claims as Jesus' being "anti-family." We tend to start with issues - marriage, for example, or war - and then scour Scripture for soundbytes to include.

For two years now, I've been writing Scripture reflections on the Monday and Thursday daily Mass readings for my parish's website. I can't deny that at times it has felt like a burden. Especially in the midst of taking three classes, studying for an exam, and being a full-time mother of an infant, I've thought to myself, "I don't have time for this," or "This isn't what I'm supposed to be doing now!" Imagine that, a theologian saying she doesn't have time for reflecting on Scripture...Thomas Aquinas would be apalled!

Yes, because these reflections don't get graded or give me credit toward my Ph.D., I've often discounted their importance. But, at the same time, I've often thought, as I'm writing one of these reflections, "Now I'm actually DOING theology!" or even "This is how moral theology SHOULD be done!" The readings for the day are provided to me by the Church, so I do not "choose" passages that suit my purpose or support my arguments. Sometimes it is challenging to find a way to reflect on the readings in a way that is meaningful for a popular audience. Not to mention the passages are often personally challenging (the ones I struggle most with usually seem to involve materialism). Sometimes, a theme for the readings just seems to stand out, and the writing comes easily.
Regardless, when I look back over this discipline of thinking and praying about daily Mass readings and then having to write about them, it seems clear to me that this has contributed just as much or even more to my theological education as my coursework has. At the very least, I will say that the two activities are certainly complementary. Like Barron (though not to the same extent, I'm sure), my theology is being shaped by my active engagement with the liturgical reading of Scripture.
Every once in awhile, someone will find me at Sunday Mass to tell me how much they have been appreciating my Scripture reflections. Although I never cease to be shocked that people actually read them, this helps to remind me of my work as a theologian in service to the Church. Whereas a class paper has a few readers who look to it with a primarily critical eye, the Scripture reflections average about 40 hits each.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scripture Readings for September 11th

In my 4th of July post (Happy St. Elizabeth of Portugal!), I mentioned how the daily Mass readings often seem to fit the occasion. Living the liturgical year immerses one in these insights. It's kind of like the Catholic version of just picking up a Bible and reading whatever page it turns to...except that the Church actually plans out these readings, and when one reads the daily Scripture reading, one joins the larger Catholic community who shares these readings for the day.

When I was writing my Scripture reflection for the Immaculate Conception Ite Missa Est website this Thursday, I had a chance to reflect on the passages for Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time. It's just "coincidence" that these particular readings fall on September 11th, the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and D.C. But again, it's not exactly coincidence. These things just work out somehow, even though the Church did not plan these readings specifically FOR September 11th.

Today's gospel passage comes from Luke 6:27-38 (NAB liturgy translation):

Jesus said to his disciples:“To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measurewill in return be measured out to you.”

These words should surely challenge us today, especially when we recall the events of seven years ago. How ought Christians to respond to our "enemies"?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bowing Out of Politics

I imagine that the title of this post seems a little odd. How is Theologian Mom bowing out of politics? Especially since the one post I wrote on politics I never even published! Well, I admit that my more flexible schedule this year has given me some time to keep on the news as I just haven't been able to in the past two years. I'm sure this would make my dad happy. He could never understand how someone so "educated and smart" could know so little about current events and care so little about politics. Here's to hoping Dad sleeps through this blog post (chances are pretty good since his "retirement" keeps him too busy to read his kids' blogs).

Could there be anything more divisive for the Church in the United States than American electoral politics?

My brief foray into actually thinking about politics has led me to think the answer is no. It seems that only a presidential election can make Catholics so angry at each other. All of the sudden, whether in the news, on blogs, or in my academic department, there seem to be only two kinds of U.S. Catholics: Republicans and Democrats. And the adjectives "liberal" and "conservative" are pretty misleading. Being theologically conservative doesn't make one politically conservative. nor does being theologically liberal make one politically liberal. But most Catholics seem to equate one with the other.

I find this whole deal very distressing since both political parties are constructions, neither of which began with Catholic ideals nor represent well Catholic positions today. But if it were just a matter of preference, like a sports team, it wouldn't be such a big deal. Of course, the choice of a political party is more decisive than that of a sports team. But what's distressing to me is, first of all, the way that these political party convictions seem to outweigh Catholic convictions to some extent. What I mean is that it seems Catholics are sometimes more swayed by their political convictions than their religious convictions. They are more convinced of the Republican (or Democratic) platform than they are of the CCC. They spend more time arguing about politics and law than repenting and worshiping. Not only that, but-also distressing-(at least on the basis of my recent exposure to in-person discussions and Internet discussions) Catholics don't seem to do this arguing in a very Christian manner. Of course the issues being debated are important. But name-calling and non-thoughtful judging don't really help the debate.

It was only four years ago (Kerry vs. Bush) that I found myself in the middle of a petition war at daily Mass in the U.D. chapel. When the priest opened up the floor for "other prayers that we might like to offer" a young undergrad with a "life is not only one issue" t-shirt prayed for all Catholics to have a greater commitment to all issues of life. An older gentleman countered with his much more explicit prayer for "All Catholics to realize that there is only ONE candidate they can vote for in this election." When the third person burst in with a prayer for an ailing grandfather, I'd never been more relieved to pray for a sick relative. This year I've switched to a daily Mass that avoids "prayers of the faithful" altogether. And I can't say I'm really regretting that decision (although it is tough to be out of the house by 6:45 every morning).

On the other hand, the verbal battles I've come into contact with this time around seem just as bad, and pretty removed from the context of worship and holy confrontation. I get the sense that this whole presidential election is making people less charitable to others, and, in general, is making people less holy, as it distracts them from that ultimate goal-the final end of beatitude. I know that following these issues (especially the Pelosi controversy and Obama's pick of a Catholic pro-choice candidate) has made me grumpy and impatient with my fellow Catholics, regardless of their political preferences.

It is for this reason that I am bowing out of politics. Don't take it personally, Clara and Dr. N, that I won't be reading your blogs for a few months. And I will miss keeping up on the Church politics provided by Rocco Palmo's blog. But I'm going to concentrate on becoming a more Catholic Catholic for now and maybe re-enter politics when I'm more spiritually mature.