Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Back to School by William C. Graham

William C. Graham
[published in The National Catholic Reporter]

William C. Graham, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth in Minnesota, is Professor and Chair of the Theology Department at Lewis University in suburban Chicago and an assistant editor of Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture. He wrote NCR’s Bookshelf column for 15 years.

I arranged to go on an expedition with one of my nephews one August day in preparation for his entry into first grade. We went off to the Target store near their home, and chose first a backpack, then a lunch box, pencils (no pens in first grade!), a large eraser, a notebook, folders, crayons, felt tipped markers, and then a shirt and pair of slacks. He arranged everything in the cart just so, and transferred everything carefully to the counter when we made our way to the check out.

He politely waited until it was our turn, and then announced good news of great joy to the young cashier, “These are my things! And I am going to be a first grader!” The cashier appeared to be a high school student, and on a busy summer afternoon might not have cared particularly about her small customer’s September destination. But this young woman was uncommonly filled with both grace and wisdom, and she replied enthusiastically, observing that he had all the supplies he needed, seemed very well prepared and was sure to be successful. He smiled broadly and nodded his agreement and his thanks.

I had just visited a friend before we went to shop, and he had prominently displayed an icon of Peter, having failed to walk on the water, taking the outstretched, helping and saving hand of Jesus. But here before me in the checkout lane of a suburban Target was a new icon, the same scene, but with new faces. Peter was a small boy stepping out on his excellent adventure, and Jesus was a blond behind a cash register in a red Target polo shirt. I had not gone to Target expecting to see the face of God, but such surprises are consistent with our tradition. Elijah the Prophet looked in all the wrong places, failing to find God in the strong and heavy wind, or in the fire, or in the earthquake, but unexpectedly in a tiny, whispering sound.

I remembered Matthew’s account of Jesus about to feed the vast crowd (14:13-21). The disciples wanted to send everyone away to find something for themselves to eat. “You give them something to eat,” said Jesus. Here is an important moment in the development of our eucharistic theology: It is not just what God does for us that brings about God’s reign; it is also what we do one for another.

If my young nephew is always surrounded and supported by family and friends who encourage him, assure him of his possibilities, buoy him up, challenging him and cheering him on, he is sure to be successful in all he attempts, and thus will God’s will be done, and the Kingdom come. All of our children and, indeed, all of us, deserve nothing less.

I could not help but contrast that grace-filled moment with an encounter I had the previous Sunday after one of the Masses in the parish where I assisted in the summer months. A man approached me and asked, “Do you know what you should do?” I understood immediately that by “you” he meant “youse,” not just me, but the pastor, and all American priests with whom we should shortly be in contact to share the mission on which we were about to be sent.

When someone whose name I do not know asks me, “Do you know what you should do?” my first impulse is to say, “Yes, I do know what I should do. I should not listen to what you are about to say.” I did not say that, but did listen, and he told me that we priests should tell the rest of Catholic people that whatever may ail the church, we should stick together, and not lose faith, and keep our eyes and minds on what is most important.

That exact idea had been the constant theme of my preaching all summer long. How had he missed that? No Good Listener Award for him! Further, just thirty minutes earlier, he had heard his pastor develop (and rather brilliantly, I thought) the idea that it is not just what God does for us, but what we do for each other that will bring about the progress and healing of peoples: “You give them something to eat.”

If our attitude is that the priests should hop to and get it done (whatever it is at the moment), or if we think a crisp George in the basket once a visit is the key, we have missed hearing the gospel, we have failed to extend the hand that is not just ours, but is the very hand of the healing, saving Christ.

The fellow who wanted to send me off to do what needed to be done was justifiably concerned in this season of the church’s purification. And he was certainly correct about the fact that in the boat, the church, the wind will die down, and we are where ought to be, and there we will be safe, and there we will meet the Lord.

But to get to the boat, to recognize it as the place where we belong, we often need the extended hand that belongs both to Jesus and to each of us. My model today, in fact shipmate of the week, is the young clerk at Target; may she live long and prosper; may all those she encourages flourish; may God’s kingdom come, and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Prayer Request

Please pray for my nephew Ben. Ben was born April 10th this year. He has been diagnosed with Group B Strep/Meningitis.

Prayer to St. Benedict:

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy towards those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance any one who had re-course to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention it), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

SOLID IN THE FAITH by Zach Bennett

Author Matthew Lickona is a man of faith who stands proudly with the Catholic Church. In selected essays from Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic, Lickona addresses the necessity of invitation to the gospel, and virtuous obedience to the authority of the magesterium.

The essay entitled “The Flesh, and the Devil” encourages the reader to evangelize by means of invitation. Lickona writes about a married friend who struggles with pornography. As a friend and brother in the faith, Lickona wrestles with the decision to address the issue. In a tactful method true to the gospel, Lickona invites his friend to spiritual transformation. The letter contains an authoritative presence found in quoted passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which Lickona brings to life with personal testimony. With the intimacy of male camaraderie, the letter is fashioned with spiritual direction in the hope of his friend’s release from the bondage of sexual immorality, and deeper communion with his wife (Lickona, 212).

Lickona uses the story of his friend as a transition to his own spiritual battles. He writes: “Right alongside my increase in spiritual exercise came an increase in Satan’s interest in me” (Lickona, 213). Satan is always looking for the opportunity to falter the believer, and to upset the celebration of faith. Lickona recognizes the importance of being steadfast in one’s faith. He mentions his partiality to the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel. The reality of spiritual warfare identified in Lickona’s favored prayer is echoed in the words of St. Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9a).

In “Sex and the Outrageous Principle” Lickona invites the reader into the bridal chamber of his wedding night…and the next three nights. Not wanting to conceive upon their first unification as husband and wife, the Lickonas abstain from the conjugal act until Mrs. Lickona’s fertile period has ended. Natural Family Planning is a foundational element in the Lickonas’ marriage. The sanctity of the marital embrace is not taken lightly in his household (Lickona, 117).

Acceptance of Church teaching on sexuality is not a daunting task for Lickona. With great pride in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church he gives a clear and concise apology of the integrity of the faith:

In both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, I profess to believe in the Catholic Church. If I deny her consistent teaching, can I really make that profession of faith? And on what authority do I make my judgment? If I believe that Christ founded the church, and that it operates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what does it mean for me to reject this or that teaching (Lickona, 118)?

Lickona’s defense coincides with article I.4 of Humanae Vitae:
No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men's eternal salvation.

In convincing prose Lickona continues the essay in defense of the Church’s stance on artificial birth control. He states: “…for a child to be born into a life of unremitted misery is a terrible thing, but for a man and woman to take part in a contraceptive act to prevent such a birth is worse….Conception is never intrinsically evil, but contraception always is so” (Lickona, 124).

The Christian life is one of accountability. Lickona reiterates the reality of final judgment. To live in this world contrary to the will of God is to risk eternal damnation—eternal separation from God. This reality is inescapable and the Christian must be willing to be martyred for the truth, for the denial of truth is the denial of God himself: “The Christian walks in the world, and may share many virtues with his non-Christian fellows. But eventually, and at crucial junctures, they will part company” (Lickona, 125).

The unwavering faith of Lickona is evident by his willingness to live the gospel message and heed the words of Deuteronomy: “…[Y]ou shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest” (6:4-7). Whether discussing the necessity of invitation to the gospel or virtuous obedience to the authority of the magesterium, Swimming with Scapulars is written verification of a young man firmly united with the Catholic Church.


Lickona, Matthew. Swimming with Scapulars: True Confessions of a Young Catholic. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2005.

New American Bible.

Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. July 25, 1968.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Within the Catholic Church there exists a tension between the Magisterium and theologians. This tension exists in the form of two metaphors: the Church as the household, and as the body of Christ. Luke Timothy Johnson explores this tension in his article “After the Big Chill: Intellectual Freedom and Catholic Theologians.”

According to Johnson there are two scriptural metaphors for the Church in the New Testament. The first is the household which “leads naturally to thinking of the church in terms of authority—moving from top to bottom, as in the patriarchal household of antiquity—and good order.” This metaphor is both positive and powerful. Its strengths lay in the preservation of tradition and securely passing it on to the next generation. Johnson explains the shortcomings of this model of the Church:

[T]his model is not good at facilitating the contributions of those who are not the head of the household. Nor does it welcome the possibility that the church may have something to learn from those outside the household. Small wonder that this image proved so attractive to an early Christianity that was trying to secure its place in the world. It maintained the boundaries of the “household of faith” against the rival claims of Jew and Gentile, and as early as the second century, against the confusions perpetrated by heretics.

Johnson considers another model offered by the letters of St. Paul. The second model is no less authoritative than the household model, but is “more directly responsive to the resurrection and incarnational character of Christian existence.” The metaphor is the well-known “body of Christ” motif. It recognizes the Church as a living organism “immediately and intimately joined to the risen Lord Jesus as its source of life, and as intimately and immediately directed by the Holy Spirit in its activities.”

As part of the body of Christ, no member can replace or do the work of another, and the work of each member should be for the well-being and growth of the body as a whole. Each member has its purpose and spiritual gifts. Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment. Johnson uses discernment and prophecy interchangeably when considering 1 Thessalonians 5:19: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecy. But test everything.” The discernment process, like that of prophesy, is a public ordeal. St. Paul commissions the testing of everything. Discernment serves to build up the community and must “be carried out by the entire community.” This is Johnson’s strongest argument to support the work of theologians. The work done by the academic community is to be valued as any gift by the body of Christ. Johnson writes that negating the academy’s work is to stifle the discernment process to a select few officials.

Both motifs are embraced by the Church, the household metaphor intrinsically cooperates with the body of Christ metaphor. When the metaphor of the body of Christ is embraced it is essential that the gifts of the household motif be encompassed too: governance, administration and teaching. The body of Christ metaphor provides the Church community the opportunity to share its gifts. Johnson and other theologians find the image of the household to offer little or no place for the diversity of gifts among the faithful. Johnson reaffirms the organic nature of the Church: “The church is not simply a place where precedents are handed down, but a place where God’s word for the world can find expression in new ways.”

Theologians would not be surprised by the affirmation of their academic inquiry found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Thanks to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of both the realities and the words of the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church: “through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts,” it is in particular “theological research [which] deepens knowledge of revealed truth.”

Johnson leaves the reader in tension: the Magisterium cannot claim to have a monopoly on theological exploration, and theologians cannot claim divine revelation outside the boundaries of orthodoxy without hierarchical scrutiny. The issue requires the cooperation of both parties, and echoes the words of the Catechism: “Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Sprit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” Like steel upon steel, the work of theologians and the guidance of the Magisterium hone the Church to transformation and a deeper level of faith.


Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. “After the Big Chill: Intellectual Freedom and Catholic Theologians.” Commonweal (January 27, 2006): 10-14.

Monday, May 01, 2006

"The Sexual Mess We are In and How We Got Here."

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 2 in Somers Lounge (College of St. Scholastica) and 6:30 p.m. St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, Duluth

Dr. Janet Smith, the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later, editor of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader and of many articles on ethical and bioethics issues.

Visit Here Comes Everybody for more information.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tradition Unites Church of All Times, Says Pope

Dignity of Women

I read John Paul II’s Encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem, which presents many arguments about the dignity and vocation of women. Women have equal personal resources as men.

John Paul II has made it clear that women have no less personal resources than men do. Therefore, a woman, as well as a man, must realize her dignity. The following text provides support to the Holy Father’s argument:

“The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a woman as well as a man, must understand her “fulfillment” as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation and which she inherits as an expression of the “image and likeness of God” that is specifically hers”(Mulieris Dignitatem, 10).

When the Holy Father says “personal resources” he is referring to human and spiritual resources. Human and spiritual resources refer to our ability to love and make rational choices. This also includes free will and intellect, which makes it capable for us to know and love God. Having been created in the image of God and having these resources allows husbands and wives to love their children, who are also created in God’s image and likeness. Pope John Paul II does not say women love children more or less than men do, or have more or less intellect than men do, rather it is in different ways that men and women carry out these two aspects, according to their vocations. A father may show his love for his children by carrying them on his shoulders all day at a carnival, while a mother may not have the strength to do such an act; she shows love for her children in other ways, such as physical affection and probably, more physical affection than the father. Women and men both have dignity that is derived of their creation in the image and likeness of God.

Educating Children

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states under article 2252: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children in the faith, prayer, and all the virtues. They have the duty to provide as far as possible for the physical and spiritual needs of their children.” Similarly, John Paul II writes in his Letter to Families, that the main task of parents, is preparation for future life. The following text provides support to the Holy Father’s argument:

“But it must not be forgotten that preparing for future life as a couple is above all the task of the family. To be sure, only spiritually mature families can adequately assume that responsibility. Hence we should point out the need for a special solidarity among families” (Letter to Families, 16).

When the Holy Father says, “preparing for future life” he is referring to the lives of their children. This includes preparing the children through education and moral formation. The preparation process is to be conducted by the parents; they are the primary teachers and the moral foundation for their children. JP II writes that there is a need for good schools, since many families do not have the means to provide their children with an adequate education. “Indeed, the family is a social reality which dos not have readily available all the means necessary to carry out its proper ends, also in matters regarding schooling and rearing of children. The state is thus called upon to play in accordance with the principle mentioned above” (Letter to Families, 17). The parents, however, are the primary teachers of their children and are obligated to be the foundation of their children’s educational, religious and moral formation, not the state! This brings forth the idea that families with similar principles should cooperate with each other in providing the means for the education for their children. For example, many home schooling families join together in order to provide for their children, teachers who are more qualified to teach in certain areas than others, and thus provide the students with knowledge that is vital to their education.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Pope & Me

Cardinal Ratzinger and me, Fall 2005, before his election as Pope Benedict XVI.

First Post!

Welcome to Dave's Dialectic! I hope through this site to invite friends and collaborators into a discussion about Catholic life in this new age, to present an accurate image of what the Catholic Studies program looks like at The College of St. Scholastica. I plan to invite comments that begin these important discussion. Comments on all posts are welcome. Blessings!