Sunday, May 20, 2012

Enunciate clearly when you say "eschatological"

(especially if you're saying "eschatological reversal").

I'm revising my chapter on the literary context of the Sermon of the Plain in Luke, and I'm working in some material from my paper on the Magnificat and the Song of Hannah. One of the characteristics of the sermon, both songs, and a poem of praise by David in 2 Sam. 22 is a series of eschatological reversals: the poor are lifted up while the rich are sent away, the strong are bereft while the poor batten on spoil. If you want to see just how much the new interprets the old, delve deeply into the Gospel of Luke. As Augustine said, the new is latent in the old, and the old is patent in the new.

I'm really beginning to pick up steam. I've found a few great resources that are helping me take the threads and weave them into something. Will it be a seamless garment or just another bad sweater? Too early to tell. However, it's at that exciting phase where stuff is coming out that actually makes sense!

The next chapter is a rhetorical and linguistic analysis of the sermon. That should be interesting, especially when it comes to the Greek (which is pretty much Greek to me).

Monday, May 14, 2012

The working graduate student

I'm being reminded lately of why my first thesis experience was so enjoyable. I had a directed research and did the majority of my reading well in advance—even reading through the primary source and most of the critical analyses up to three times. Then I had nothing but writing time, with only housework and childcare in addition.

This thesis is challenging for a completely different reason: work life. I just changed jobs in March, after nine years as a contractor. I know have a full-time salaried position for the first time in a long time. And while it is a blessing, it brings some challenges when it comes to finishing the thesis. Today was a case in point. We're preparing for an important event, and today we had a planning meeting that showed some areas where we need more preparation. So, any time I'd hoped to have for reading or writing tonight disappeared.

But it's not just the overtime that pops up now and again. This work requires me to analyze and troubleshoot pretty much all day long. By 5:00 PM, my brain is fried. I often just have to get away from anything analytical. And, of course, scripture is very analytical—far more so than contemporary literary criticism. I thought I was a fairly good critic back in my English major days, but I have to say that more writers of contemporary literary criticism in English simply can't hold a candle to most scripture scholars.

And that also brings me to a challenge for this thesis. I will need to do a rhetorical analysis of the pericope I'm studying, and after reading H.D. Betz, John Topel, and many of these other fantastic scholars slicing and dicing the two sermons, I have become less confident of my skills in this area. Not knowing koine Greek is a biggie, and not having a grasp of classical Hellenistic and Jewish literature is another. I was growing concerned that it was beyond me.

Then, just the other day I was in contemplation during prayer about this insecurity when I had a sudden epiphany: my job is as a content analyst. I look at and determine how content is structured and how various content units can be discretely classified. I help people develop taxonomies for sorting their data. I help them learn to structure their data so it can be pushed out to automated publishing tools.

For Pete's sake, I do rhetorical analysis all the time! What the heck am I afraid of? So I broke through a block this weekend. I added to my introduction, and I am going to start forging ahead.

I just hope my job doesn't kill me first.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Eschatological reversals in Luke

Back when I took my first scripture class at Holy Apostles (Torah and Old Testament Historical Books), I wrote a paper on the Song of Hannah and its affinities with the Magnificat. The similarities between the two pericopes have been noted by a some other scholars. I went a step further in my paper, noting that the reversals in each correspond to a degree with the eschatological reversals in the blessings and woes of the "Sermon on the Plain."

I was finishing up my reading of the body of Fr. L. John Topel's Children of a Compassionate God, and I have to say that his conclusion (p. 258) caused some synapses to fire off. (The odor of ozone lingers still.) What really set it off was Topel's allusion back to the "Nunc Dimittis," specifically 2:34 (RSV): "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against [a sign of contradiction]."

Contradiction. Eschatological reversal. Shut. My. Mouth.

When we talk of the Church being counter-cultural, this is what we should mean. The Sermon calls us to do everything that our culture advises us against for our own self interest. The Golden Rule is not the highest virtue but the bare minimum! We are called to go past so far self interest and do what seems absurd, because that is the only way to convert a fallen world! Why turn the other cheek? To lead the violent to repentance? Why return good for evil? To heap burning coals upon their heads to bring them to conversion.

The Sermon, as Topel argues, is transformative in that it asks us not to respond by our natural instincts in response, but to allow God to inform our response. We are to imitate Him to become His sons and daughters, and by that transformation, bring about the Reign of God on Earth,

I love it when the theology transforms me! Deo gratia!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Continuation of my story...

I posted the first part of my personal history several years ago (in My long, strange trip, part I). A few commenters had indicated that I needed to finish the story, and I've been dragging my feet, in part because it will expose part of me that very few people know about, and it would also highlight certain aspects of my past that I would rather forget and wish had never happened. I don't plan to go into great depth (nothing sordid), but I am still mustering the courage. At the same time, I think it will be beneficial for those who have followed a similar path and are trying to find a way back.

Dawn Eden has been making the rounds with her new book, My Peace I Give You. I can't give a précis on it other than to say it discusses sexual abuse and sexual wounding and how one comes back to faith from such an experience. The National Catholic Register interviewed her recently, and she said something that completely hit home for me:
I think that people who were sinned against sexually are much more conscious of lustful thoughts — by which I don’t mean simple feelings of attraction, which are not sinful in themselves, but lustful fantasies and the like — because they knew where those thoughts lead
I had a discussion about sexual morality on these pages a few years back with S.M. Stirling, and although I was certainly expressing certain moral arguments about sexual activity correctly, I didn't touch upon this point... and it's one that troubles me. I am particularly, acutely aware of lustful thoughts because I know where they can lead. I think St. Augustine also developed his reputation as a Puritan from his own experience.

Dawn also related something else that perfectly fit my experience:
When writing The Thrill of the Chaste, I consciously knew that I had had those experiences — they were not repressed memories — but I had not “written” them in my mind as abuse.
It’s a very common experience of abuse victims, particularly those who experienced childhood sexual abuse, to fail to mentally categorize what was done to them as “abuse.”
I can say personally that I felt conflicted about my experience and never knew what box to place it in. But for now, I'll leave it. I will be working on part II soon. Your prayers are always gratefully appreciated.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Mission, Indwelling, and Commission

This is the last paper I wrote for my Trinitarian theology class. Never got around to posting it.
The Gospel of John could rightly be called the Gospel of Divine Mystery. In it appears, perhaps, the most direct and well-known expression of the Incarnation in all of the New Testament: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (1:14). It is through the Son that we come to know the Father (1:18). By John’s gospel message, we come to know of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the indwelling of God in us. Fr. Kenneth Baker refers to three absolute mysteries in Catholic theology: the Trinity, the Incarnation, and divine grace.[1] In the Gospel of John, one comes to a deeper appreciation of all three. Yet the terminology we use to discuss these mysteries more deeply comes not out of the gospel account alone, but the works of the Fathers, Doctors, and theologians throughout our tradition.

Believers can only know the Trinity through Divine Revelation. Based on revelation, the early Church Fathers came to an understanding that the internal life of God was triune, and that within the Unity of the Divine Essence subsisted three relations, three Divine Persons. The Council Fathers at Nicaea identified the relations of paternity and filiation in their discussions on the generation of Christ (Denzinger 54), a position clearly enunciated in scripture. Fifty-six years later, the Council of Constantinople proclaimed the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father (Denzinger 86), a doctrine reiterated by the Decree of Damasus at the Council of Rome one year later (Denzinger 83). The Council of Toledo in 693 (Denzinger 296) would then later proclaim that procession of the Holy Spirit is from both Father and Son, a position that would later put the Eastern and Western Churches at odds.

How, then, does one come to understand the external actions of God in regards to humanity? As Fr. Baker puts it, “What does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with me and the very practical problems I must face every day?”[2] Perhaps another way to ask these questions is, just how does God reveal Himself to us? Once He does, how do we come to accept Who He is, and how does accepting Him help us to choose what is truly good? How does God come to us, and once here, dwell with us?

We refer to the sending of Divine Persons into the world as missions (from the Latin word missio).[3] Scripture attests repeatedly to the sending of both Son and Holy Spirit. In John 3:17, the evangelist relates that the Son was sent and notes the reason for His sending: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” At His last supper with the Apostles, Jesus tells of the sending of the Holy Spirit: “‘These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’” (14:25–26). So both Son and Holy Spirit have been sent, and each has a particular role to play unique to His sending. Each is sent, as well, according to the particular character of His own procession and origin. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
[E]ach divine person performs the common work according to his unique personal property. Thus the Church confesses, following the New Testament, “one God and Father from whom all things are, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit in whom all things are”. It is above all the divine missions of the Son’s Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that show forth the properties of the divine persons. (258)
The notion of mission, according to St. Thomas, includes both the relation of the one sent to the one who sends and the relation of the one sent to the term of the sending (I, 43, 1). The relation of sent to sender in divine Persons is one of origin,[4] as in no way can the relation suggest inferiority on the part of the One sent. But if God is present everywhere, how does the sending of a Divine Person affect or change the relation of the One sent to those to whom He is sent? The Divine Person does not change, does not cease to be present where He is, and does not become present where He was not. He who is sent becomes present to the term in a new, unique way.[5]

The missions correspond in some way to the personal relation of those Who are sent and the One Who sends. The Father sends the Son, and the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit, as mentioned previously. In this sense, being sent resembles procession from an origin. Yet, procession by way of generation and passive spiration are internal and eternal activities in God. Mission, in contrast, takes place in time. It is a temporal “being here” in the world, an external procession into the life of mankind (I, 43, 2). Ludwig Ott writes, “The temporal missions, therefore, reflect the ‘notions’ of the Divine Persons. The Father sends only, but is not sent; the Son is sent and sends; The Holy Ghost is sent only, and does not send.”[6]

Of missions, theologians speak of those that are invisible and those that are visible, depending on whether the mission is perceptible to the senses or not.[7] When one thinks of visible missions of Christ and the Holy Spirit, one thinks first of the Incarnation, the presence of God made flesh in our world, then of the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove at the baptism of Christ and later as tongues of flame during the Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the two visible missions differ in kind as well as origin. As St. Thomas notes, while the Son took on a human nature and assumed it into the unity of His Person, the Holy Spirit only appeared visibly as signs that passed once His purpose was accomplished. These visible missions, he posits, are necessary for humanity because human nature is such that mankind must be led to the invisible through the visible (I, 43, 7). So the mode of Christ’s visible mission was befitting to the author of our sanctification, while the mode of the Holy Spirit’s visible mission was befitting to signs of that sanctification.

These visible missions point to the invisible missions. Christ refers to these invisible missions in John 14:16–17: “‘And I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.’” Again, just verses later He adds, “‘[W]e will come to him and make our home with him’” (14:23). With these invisible missions, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to dwell in the soul of the believer. This indwelling of the Holy Trinity begins in the faithful a new life through sanctifying grace. Fr. Baker explains that “[t]he full meaning of sanctifying grace is that God Himself, that is the Holy Trinity… is personally present in me in a way that he is not present in the rest of the material universe.”[8] While only the Son and the Holy Spirit are sent, the missions are the activity of the entire Trinity, so that the whole Trinity comes to reside in the soul of the sanctified. God’s presence in the soul sanctifies the believer, enables the believer to be more open to receiving grace, more open to knowledge of Him, and by knowing, more open to loving Him.[9]

All things are created by God, and all things must return to Him. The Trinity is the source of all things and the final end or purpose. The fall of our original parents and the damage in human nature due to original sin necessitated humanity’s redemption. Only through sanctifying grace and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in the souls of the faithful can fallen human nature be set to that end again. Through sanctifying grace, the believer is divinized, made a temple of God, and an adopted son or daughter of God. [10] As images of God and heirs, mankind too has a share in the missions.

In the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus sends out the Twelve to heal and to cast out demons (10:1). He prepares the Apostles for their missions, saying, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me” (10:40), and in the Gospel According to Luke, in a parallel passage, Jesus sends out seventy disciples and says “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (10:16). Fittingly, as the Son was sent, so He sends us. God dwells in us to sanctify us to send us into the world. In Matthew 28, Jesus sends the remnant of the Twelve once again in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We celebrate this commission at the conclusion of every Eucharistic liturgy. He was sent to us, and He sends us into the world to complete His work of sanctification by announcing His good news.

Works Cited
Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica, Prima Pars.” New Advent. 2000. (accessed October 6, 2011).
Baker, Kenneth. Fundamentals of Catholicism. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1997.
Denzinger, Henry. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 1954.
Hardon, John. “Modern Catholic Dictionary.” Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Society. 2011. (accessed December 8, 2011).
Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974.

[1] Kenneth Baker, Fundamentals of Catholicism, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983) 79.
[2] Ibid., 112.
[3] Fr. John Hardon, “Modern Catholic Dictionary,” Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Society, 2011, (accessed December 8, 2011).
[4] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974), 73.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 74.
[8] Baker, 112.
[9] Ibid., 114.
[10] Ibid., 113–114.

The block in my own eye...

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:41–42)
I'm blocked, and it's not very convenient to have a writer's block when you're writing a thesis. I have been focusing on my readings but have wanted to get started on some of the preliminary chapters. Nothing has been coming. So, to get through this block, I have to write my way out of it.

My thesis is focusing on Luke's "Sermon on the Plain," the redheaded step-sibling to Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount." There's still quite a bit of speculation on which is prior, whether one borrows from the other, whether they come from the same source (Q), whether they come from two sources (QM and QL) but relay the same sermon, or whether they relate two sermons about similar teachings. Those questions don't really interest me. I'm more interested in the theology Luke is teaching rather than the historical-critical or rhetorical analysis of that pericope.

I referred to Luke's sermon as the red-headed step-sibling to Matthew's sermon. If you search for journal articles or books written on the subject, you'll find that almost all scholars are more interested in Matthew's sermon. I have a book of précis critiques by François Bovon on works written about the Gospel of Luke between 1950 and 1983. I read about two thirds, then began scanning for citations, because what I had noticed to that point was that almost none of the works even touched on Luke 6. They just skipped right over Jesus' entire Galilean ministry. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Hans Dieter Betz' massive work on both sermons, and then found Fr. Topel's theological exegesis on Luke's sermon, Children of a Compassionate God. To prove my point, even he notes in his preface
Most New Testament monographs begin with an apologia for yet another study of a shop-worn text [note to self: beware of a scripture scholar who refers to part of the New Testament as a shop-worn text]. I need not apologize, for, although the Lukan Sermon in the Plain is one of the most significant foundations for Christian ethics, there has been, in the entire history of New Testament exegesis, only one brief study of this important text! (ix).
I'm still awaiting Paul Hahn's unpublished dissertation, but that again is mostly rhetorical analysis and less a theological exegesis. However, that's the rub. I picked one of the few pericopes that people have ignored for nearly 2000 years. There's plenty I can learn from the studies of Matthew's sermon, but I will be forging a bit of new ground, with God's assistance.

Anyhoo, it just hasn't been coming to me, and I know that good theology and one's prayer life go hand in hand. If theology is fides querens intellectum (faith seeking understanding), then I had better try praying my way through this block, not just writing and blathering. So I took my bible, went down to my parish, and sat in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and I just put the question out there: "what do you want me to say?"

I have found it odd that the further I get into my studies, the less I have to write about my opinions or my thoughts concerning what I'm studying. I'm not sure that's a good thing for a fledgling academic (although it might be a very good thing for someone approaching diaconal ordination). But I do know that I don't want to teach what's wrong or write in error, not out of pride but out of concern. I don't want to lead anyone astray. I want to write what is true and useful.

So I was meditating on the Lukan sermon, and for some reason, I was drawn to 20:42b: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye."

Ouch. Hard words. But to whom is Jesus speaking here (me)? What does he mean by the word "hypocrite"? Seems to be pretty clear, if we take the common use of the word: someone who doesn't practice what he preaches (which is itself a debatable interpretation). However, scripture scholars don't just assume that the word means the same now as it did for its original audience. The word ὑποκριτά first referred to what Hellenistic actors did on the stage: they performed behind a mask; they took on a persona. However, by Jesus' time, it had come to mean someone who was a pretender, a sham.

If you've ever been a graduate student, you know the fear of being found out. You know what it's like to think, "That's it. They're all going to find out that I'm a fraud and don't belong here." And that's exactly what I have been thinking for the last few weeks—perhaps not explicitly, but subconsciously. I don't know this stuff. They'll know I'm a wannabee. My faith isn't strong enough, real enough, good enough. I'm not worthy enough. Hypocrite.

Wow, did I need to hear that message, because Jesus gives us the cure right there in the sermon: "A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher" (20:40). The text here actually means that the disciple has to be reformed, has to be divested of what the culture has taught him, and inculcated with the Master's teachings. Only when the disciple reflects the teacher can the disciple then go out and teach.

I need to go to adoration more often!

I will be posting more frequently to help grease the skids and get the train a movin'. I'll be starting back into formation in August after a year-long hiaitus, and I want to have this thesis out of the way when I do (to avoid the overlap in home work). Your prayers would be greatly appreciated, and your comments will also help me to form my thoughts.

Grace and peace to you all.