News and Updates

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dean Anderson writes, "St. Bonaventure on the Purpose of Scripture: A Reflection for National Bible Week"

The purpose of Scripture, according to St. Bonaventure, is to return to humanity its original ability to read the book of nature and to restore in humanity its own significance to the praise, worship, and love of God.  After the fall, the book of the world became dead and deleted to us.  So it was necessary that we be given another book through which the meaning of book of the world would be revealed.  Our formerly natural capacity to see the hidden meaning of things is restored by seeing the spiritual senses in a book.  Scripture, by reducing all things back to God, restores creatures to their original state in the minds of the reader or hearer.

Bonaventure maintained that the study of Scripture is essentially the study of God’s voice.  Since God’s voice must be expressed in a manner that is most sublime, he concluded it must have many meanings.  The study of Scripture is special because both the language and the things themselves have significance.  Other sciences use language in ways that restrict its meaning, so that words are proportioned and delimited.  Once a noun has been given a specific sense in astronomy, for example, it is not to be used in another way.  Bonaventure argued that this cannot be the case with the study of Scripture because God is the cause of the soul, of the language that is formed in the soul, and of the things indicated by language.  This way of understanding Scripture was related to the development of the four senses of Scripture.

The four senses that had been approved for use by the medieval Church were the literal, the allegorical, the anagogical, and tropological.  According to Bonaventure, these senses reflect the Trinity.  The three spiritual meanings or senses under the single literal sense reflect the three persons within a single essence.  Because the way to God is itself threefold in terms of faith, hope and love, all creatures suggest what we should believe (allegory), hope for (anagogy), and do (tropology).

Such an approach to interpreting Scripture may seem fanciful, but the tradition of the four senses is grounded in the way that the New Testament authors interpreted the Old Testament.  This approach to reading is also embedded in the liturgy.  Dei verbum, recognizing the importance of the spiritual senses in tradition, encourages Catholics to continue to study how the Eastern and Western Fathers interpreted Scripture as well as how Scripture is related to liturgy (#23). 

The Patristic way of reading Scripture was to see it as a place of encounter with the living Word.  It was seen as a form of prayer where the Holy Spirit moves through the text to bring its meaning to light for the reader.  The literal sense provides objective elements that construct the intellectual space for the subjective or personal appropriation of the faith.  The Spirit actualizes the text, allowing the reader to see the biblical narrative as his or her own story, through the gifts of faith, hope, and love.  As we think about Holy Scripture next week, we should remember this tradition.  After all, Dei verbum provides us with this exhortation:  “Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that it becomes a dialogue between God and the reader (25).”

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Where GRE Led Me: "An Additional Ministry: Spiritual Direction" by Joe Walters

I left institutional church as a college freshman in 1968. Thirty or so years later, a young couple asked me to be their daughter’s godparent. I went to a class for godparents, and learned that I had to be a practicing Catholic to be a godparent. I returned to my local parish. Later, I became a member of the RCIA team. I felt inadequate as a facilitator. In 2008, I saw an ad in America magazine for on-line learning opportunities at the GSRRE.  Initially, I enrolled in the Certificate in Faith Formation program. With Dr. Cataldos encouragement. I switched to the MA in Pastoral Care after taking her Psychology and Religion class. Fordham awarded me the MA in 2012. I concurrently completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education, which Dr. Cataldo also introduced to me. I became a certified Catholic chaplain in 2013, and work part time at the University of Oklahoma medical center in the Pastoral Care department. I am now living near the Fordham campus and finishing class work towards a DMin. in Christian Spirituality. I have the blessed opportunity to participate in a Practicum in Spiritual Direction this year. This ministry is a natural outgrowth of my experience and training as a chaplain: to explore deeply with another person the way that God loves them and is working in their lives. It is very gratifying and rewarding to apply the substantive knowledge of scripture, ecclesiology, history of Christian spirituality and reflective methodologies and techniques that I learned in my courses at Fordham in my chaplain work and in my new ministry as a spiritual director. I have the capacity to work with a few new directees and welcome inquiries from members of our community.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Divinely Inspired by Diocesan Pilgrimage: GRE Student Joyce Mennona Reflects

Last Month, I was among a group of pilgrims attending the Passion Play in Sordevolo, Italy, with the Diocese of Brooklyn. We were blessed to have as our spiritual leaders: Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, Msgr. Steven Aguggia, pastor of St. Margaret Church, Middle Village, and Father Gerard Sauer, diocesan pilgrimage director.
There were 24 of us from various parts of the diocese who came together as a small community, yet part of a larger, universal Church. It was uplifting to travel through Italy and be reminded of the history, saints and traditions of the Catholic Church. Churches were filled with tourists, there were murals of the Blessed Mother randomly displayed through the streets and during lunch, waiters would ask our priests for blessings.
Upon arrival, we began our journey together with Mass at the Church of St. Peter’s in Chains, Rome, where Bishop Chappetto was the main celebrant. The Gospel reading was the parable of the old and new wineskins from St. Luke. Bishop Chappetto shared the importance of this passage, inviting us to be open to God’s will. He prompted us to consider in what way the pilgrimage would change us.
It was a gift to be in such a holy place, where the busyness of day-to-day life is suspended and time can be better spent in prayer.
In fact, it is important that time is suspended because once jet lag sets in, you’re exhausted. Exhausted as I was, I knelt at the Scala Sancta, or Holy Stairs, imagining Jesus’ exhaustion on His Way to the Cross. The steps, believed to be purchased by St. Helen and brought to Rome, are said to be the steps that led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate, the steps Jesus walked during His Passion. Needless to say, at the thought of Jesus standing there, exhausted from the agony, scourging and weight of our sins, I was overwhelmed by what He has done, and continues to do for me – for us.
Another stop on the pilgrimage was Assisi, where the physical terrain of hills and valleys reminded me so much of life and Sacred Scripture – how sometimes we are in a valley, but many times we are on top of the mountain. This pilgrimage was certainly time spent on top of the mountain.
Deeply moved before the tomb of St. Francis, my mind was flooded with faces of people who have helped me in my life. How many of them were people from church! Yes, this was a personal experience; nevertheless it happened because I was able to take part in this event and was reminded at the onset to be open to conversion.
At the culmination of our 11 days together, we were each given a San Damiano pendant. We also received a book about the San Damiano Cross. Divinely inspired, it is actions such as these that remind me how much love our Heavenly Father has for us and that what we experience here on earth is just a glimpse of what is to come.
Although we don’t always have the opportunity to physically visit a place, we do have the opportunity to spend time in prayer, to actively seek out people who will nourish us spiritually and to be open to God’s will.

The author, Joyce Mennona is a current GRE student and is the religious education director at Resurrection-Ascension parish, Rego Park. 
This article was originally published by The Tablet on October 8, 2015. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Classroom Conversation: Fr. Obiezu visits GRE class "Evangelization: Faith and Culture"

In late September, our “Evangelization: Faith and Culture” class was honored to host Rev. Dr. Emeka Obiezu, OSA, as guest speaker. Fr. Obiezu, an Augustinian priest, is the author of Towards a Politics of Compassion: Socio-Political Dimensions of Christian Responses to Suffering, and the vice-chair of the NGO Committee on Migration at the United Nations. An experienced theologian and advocate for the wellbeing of migrants globally, he led the class in discussion of Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, and in particular his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Fr. Obiezu suggested that Pope Francis’ approach to his pontificate was well-exemplified at the UN as the long-awaited enactment of the promise of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church’s engagement with contemporary society, and as grounded theologically in Pope Francis’ “cosmic theological anthropology,” his understanding of humans as part of a network of life far beyond human and even planetary existence. From this vantage, the Christian sensitivity to incarnation, Fr. Obiezu emphasized, gains a profoundly relational, environmentally-aware, and cosmologically-aware feeling for reality and how to live in it. This discussion was a natural bridge to a class conversation about Fr. Obiezu’s book, which students had read in preparation for his visit. In Towards a Politics of Compassion, Fr. Obiezu argues from his Nigerian cultural perspective that compassion can be an effective vehicle for Christians to make the necessary changes in everyday life and social structures that are needed in Nigeria today. Compassion is grounded in human experience of sharing suffering with the other in a way that is also always caught up in a “politics” of response--such that real-world choices must be made about the effectiveness of expressing that compassion. Resources from the Catholic teaching tradition and from Nigerian religion and culture point to wise ways of being compassionate in a way that are true to human experience and effective for the social changes Nigeria needs. We were grateful for Fr. Obiezu so generously sharing his experience and work with us.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dean Anderson Reflects: Who Am I to Judge? Pope Francis and the New Evangelization

Pope Francis showed he truly understands evangelization when he famously asked, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord and is of good will, who am I to judge?”  While this has alarmed some Catholics, his question reflects a deep understanding of Catholic doctrine.  Evangelization does not tell people what they ought to regret, instead it offers the promise that what they actually regret can be forgiven.
More importantly, you cannot charge someone with sin, because sin is a subjective reality.  It is radically subjective because it is about the relationship between God, who is not an object, and a person, who is not an object.  Whereas Catholic doctrine identifies certain actions as objectively immoral, it does not equate what is immoral with sin.  A person has to believe that an action is sinful for it to be so.  If a person willfully did something that he or she believed was sinful, even if it was morally good, then it would be sinful for that person.  So it is not our task or our place to charge people with sin, especially if the goal is evangelization.  We should keep in mind the fact that contrition over sin is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is not the result of browbeating. 
St. Catherine of Siena perceived that the desire to punish is simply inconsistent with the Christian mission to save souls.  When a person believes that he or she has the standing to act as the judge of another, St. Catherine said that the person had forgotten the infinite nature of his or her sins.  Catherine wrote: “In this way [leaving judgment to Christ] you will come to me [God] in truth, and you will show that you have remembered and observed the teaching given you by my Truth, that is, to discern my will rather than to judge other people’s intentions.” (Dialogue #103)  Since judgmental people can no longer look at the sins of others with sympathy, they also lose their ability to discern the will of Christ.  They forget that Christ gave humanity the Church for the mission of salvation. 

The question of whether or not a living person is justified – which is the question of whether or not he or she is part of the Church – cannot be answered by us.  The Council of Trent taught that the formal cause of our justification is the justness of God.  This justness is real; and, it is a gift given to us through the action of the Holy Spirit.  So no one is justified for following the rules, for being right, for helping the poor, for personal virtue, or for meritorious conduct.  The Holy Spirit apportions justification to each individual as the Holy Spirit wills in view of each person’s disposition and cooperation. 
To judge, we would need to know a person’s disposition, which is a way of speaking about everything that we can attribute to genetics as well as environmental factors.  Of course, none of us knows this perfectly about ourselves.  Moreover, we would need to know is how much grace the Holy Spirit has given.  Finally, we would need to know how much people actually cooperated with the grace that was given to judge them.  Is the person who had a bad start in life, who received less grace, but who cooperated fully with the grace received, better or worse, than the person who had every advantage, who was showered with grace, but who only cooperated minimally? 

Pope Francis pointed the way to becoming a more evangelical Church with his simple and humble question: “Who am I to judge?”  He has not denied that there is sin, or that there is a judge, or that people need to embrace a life of ongoing conversion.  All he has denied is that it is our role to judge people, which liberates us to discern the will of Christ and to love one another. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Claudio M. Burgaleta, SJ discusses the hope for a more welcoming Catholic Church in Pope's NYC visit

Pope Francis visits the United States and Cuba this week after having helped the two re-establish diplomatic relations after a rupture of more than five decades.
As a brother Jesuit and Cuban-born fellow Latino, I await his arrival in New York with great excitement and anticipation.
I look forward to hearing his Argentinian Spanish and his uncanny ability to surprise with tender gestures and imaginative turns of phrase.
And then I wonder if he will drop in to one of our New York Jesuit communities, as he has done on some of his other international trips.
He is the first pope to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi, the first Latin American and the first member of the Jesuit order in history to serve as pope.
Since his election, his simplicity of life, humility, fluid rhetoric and gestures of joy and compassion have infused the papacy with incredible popularity and affection.
This has generated what some have called the “Francis effect,” or a sense of interest and hope in a more welcoming Catholic Church.
What can we expect from him as he comes to New York City?
His roots as an Argentinian Jesuit offer us some important insights.
Greater Buenos Aires, Francis’ beloved birthplace and site of most of his life’s ministry, is a cosmopolitan, world-class metropolis.
It is home to sizable Jewish and Muslim communities. Two porteños, as those from Buenos Aires are called, Rabbi Avraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, are great friends of the pope and accompanied him to the Holy Land last May.
And similar to New York, Buenos Aires is a city of immigrants, hundreds of thousands from Europe and more recently from poorer parts of Latin America. The Holy Father himself is the son of an Italian-immigrant family from near Turin in northwestern Italy.
It is understandable, then, that Francis is visiting an East Harlem Catholic elementary school, Our Lady Queen of Angels, that serves the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants.
As a Latin American Jesuit, Francis has been influenced by what’s called “the preferential option for the poor.”
As the pope himself wrote last year, urging us not to ignore or forget the less fortunate among us:
“Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
“The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
In 1968, Latin American bishops at Medellín, Colombia, placed themselves at the side of those seeking social justice. They saw the fight against social and economic structures of sin as an essential part of the prophetic ministry of Jesus, who came to bring the fullness of life, not only in the afterlife but in the here and now.
Buenos Aires is a city that experienced state-sponsored terrorism during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s, and the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in 1994, where 85 perished.
Sensibly then, his schedule includes an address at the General Assembly of the United Nations about world peace, economic justice and the migration crisis, and an interreligious prayer service at Ground Zero for an end to violence — in the name of God.
The Rev. Claudio M. Burgaleta, SJ is a native of Cuba and a professor at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Teaching Children How to Pray: May 2015 GRE PhD graduate Mary Ellen Durante

Mary Ellen Durante, Ph.D. is a May 2015 graduate who wrote her dissertation on: “Teaching Children How to Pray: An Essential Dimension of Religious Education in a Postmodern Age,” Mary Ellen plans to develop religious educational programs to offer as a consultant for religious educators, parents, and children. This ministry will also include a community outreach platform for interreligious dialogue.

            Born in Rochester, New York, Mary Ellen chose a career in music performance that included her husband and children.  In 2009 Mary Ellen began her studies at Fordham University with a concentration in family, church and community.

With an extensive background in curriculum development, music, and the arts Mary Ellen excels in integrating faith with creative educational programs that focus on performance, artistic production and assisting children and young people to realize their own creativity and potential. The underlining theme of her work is to show how quality religious educational programs and activities can provoke thoughtfulness, reflection, and spiritual awareness in serving others.