News and Updates

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Message from Dean Anderson, "10 Difficult Teachings from St. John of the Cross"

Here is a list of sayings from one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church that contemporary culture seems to reject.  Each statement was meant for deep reflection.  If one of these bothers you, take some time to meditate on it and let us know if you come to accept it or reject it and why.  How can we present these ideas in a way that makes sense to contemporary Christians?  Should we even try?  My hope is that we can generate some reflection and respectful dialogue.  This list does not begin to exhaust this saint’s difficult teachings, but it does cover one page of his writings pretty well.

1. Whoever knows how to die in all will have life in all.
2. Anyone who complains or grumbles is not perfect, nor even a good Christian.
3. The humble are those who hide in their own nothingness and know how to abandon themselves to God.
4. The meek are those who know how to suffer their neighbor and themselves.
5. If you desire to be perfect, sell your will, give it to the poor in spirit, come to Christ in meekness and humility, and follow him to Calvary and the sepulcher.
6. Those who trust in themselves are worse than the Devil.
7. Those who do not love their neighbor abhor God.
8. Suffering for God is better than working miracles.
9. Do not be suspicious of your brother or sister, for you will lose purity of heart.
10. As for trials, the more the better.

These are drawn from The Sayings of Light and Love 160-174 from The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Institute for Carmelite Studies: Washington, 1991).

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Message From the Dean, "Who is to Blameful? St. Augustine on God's Justice and Judgement

The first Sunday of Advent calls to mind God’s justice and judgment.  The second reading (I Thessalonians 3:12-4:2) exhorts us to be blameless in holiness before God at the Second Coming of the Lord.  What does it mean to be blameless in holiness?  For that matter, what does culpability or being liable to judgment look like?  Though we will not exhaust the subject, St. Augustine offers a way to answer these questions in his sermon on the Lord’s Prayer.
Augustine preached that there is a group of people who we can feel confident will not be forgiven, namely, those who do not practice mercy by forgiving others.  He wrote:
For by reason of the fact that this mortal and frail life, which is passed amid so many earthly temptations and which prays that it may not be overwhelmed by them, cannot be lived even by a just person without some sins, we have a remedy by which we can live because our Teacher, God, taught us to say in His prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.”  We have done what was stipulated and what was pleasing in the eyes of God, and we have signed the agreement for cancelling our debt.  If we ourselves forgive, we seek to be forgiven with the utmost confidence; but if we do not forgive, let us not think that our sins are forgiven.  Let us not deceive ourselves.  Let no one fall into self-deception.  God deceives no one.
Augustine distinguishes between being angry and succumbing to hatred, which is characterized by unwillingness to forgive.  It is human, he said, to become angry.  While anger is natural, it needs to be tempered by love so that it does not become destructive.
By itself, anger is problem.  Angry people believe that they are doing something good, when in fact they are doing evil.  Domestic abuse provides many examples of this perverted thinking, but it plays out whenever we seek vengeance.  If anger is a problem, Augustine said it is a mere twig compared to hatred; but if you cultivate the twig, it will grow into the tree of hatred.  Augustine warned those who are unwilling to forgive, those who hate, to pay attention to I John 2:9-11:
Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.  But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.
The author of I John goes on to explain the consequences: “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them (I John 3:15).”  Even forgiveness is not enough, I John 3:16-17 says we must be willing to lay down our lives for those who trespass against us.
Augustine warns that each time we say the Lord’s Prayer and fail to reconcile with those that have sinned against us, we speak falsely.  If we fail to extend mercy to those that we find offensive, we become liars by our participation in the Mass.  By doing so we fail to discern the true meaning of the Eucharist and eat unworthily, which is why Augustine provides this pointed warning:
Do you hate your brother or sister and walk about free from care?  Are you unwilling to be reconciled, although God is giving you an opportunity for that purpose?  Behold, you are a murderer and yet you live.  If you had an angry Master, you would be taken off suddenly in the midst of your hatred (see Matthew 18:23-35).  God is sparing you; spare yourself!  Make peace!
While there is a great deal of mystery as to who stands liable in the Final Judgment, it is clear that those who fail to forgive others for their faults will not be forgiven.  James says so explicitly, “No mercy will be shown to those who show no mercy to others (James 2:13).  Explaining the significance of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus Christ plainly said: “But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:15).”  Since we have all sinned and fallen short, we all must be merciful to receive mercy, which is the nature of God’s justice.  Being blameless in holiness is achieved by holding others blameless for their offences against us.

The source for this reflection is Augustine’s Sermon 211 for Lent.  The entire sermon is contained in my book, Christian Eloquence (Hillenbrand Press, 2005), but it is from the translation by Mary Sarah Muldowney, RSM in St. Augustine’s Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons (Catholic University of America Press, 1959).  Hillenbrand Press is a subsidiary of Liturgical Training Publications.

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.