Saturday, September 29, 2012

Opening Mass of the Theological Institute

On Sunday, September 30, 2012, Monsignor Moroney preached the following homily to the students of the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization at their opening Mass.

I want to begin by saying thank you to all those who serve you so well as models of theologically grounded, Catholic pastoral ministry.  I have, over the past few months, come to love and admire those who are the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization at Saint John’s Seminary.

Folks like Aldona, who has done this work longer and with greater dedication than any of us, and David and Angela, whose love of the the Theological Disciplines inspire us all.  Our beloved leader and the most indispensible person in my life as Rector, Father O’Connor and Sister Jean the newest member of our team and an infinite pool of ideas and energy.  Father Riley and Father Raymond, two members of my core staff and men of exceptional talent and dedication.

And there’s Ellen, whose quiet commitment and pastoral sense gently shepherd us, and Mary Ellen, an always joyful example of perseverance and hard work.  Kristelle with insight and unbounded energy, Miriam, whose diligence and creativity keep us moving in the right direction.  Ken, whose knowledge and love of the Liturgy makes this Mass possible, and Victor whose good nature and good spirit we all treasure.  There is no better way to begin than to say thank you!


What a month for theologians, in the Church’s Liturgical Year!  We celebrated St. Gregory the Great, Peter Claver, John Chysosthom, Robert Bellarmine, and, of course, Saint Jerome!   And tomorrow we celebrate Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church.

They all provide wonderful models for budding theologians, but perhaps none so much as the Little Flower.  An unlikely Doctor at first glance, she held no advanced degrees, never stood before a class, or published a learned dissertation.

And yet, Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter, Divini Amoris Scientia,  offers her “as a teacher of prayer and the theological virtue of hope, and a model of communion with the Church, calling the attention of teachers, educators, pastors and theologians themselves to the study of her doctrine.”

What does the doctrine of this Doctor of the Church, have to teach theologians?  Simply put, how to live.  A simple cloistered nun, who taught us to do little things with great love, she taught her theological method by the way she lived her life.  She kept her eyes on the prize, on Christ, and she lived her entire life declaring with Saint John the Baptist: that he must increase and she must decrease.

By contrast, I wonder whether we twenty-first century theologians are more obsessed with Christ and his Church or by power, rank, prestige or tenure. About whether we're perceived as liberal or conservative, pastor or theologian, Balthazarian or Rahnerian.  While this Doctor of the Church taught with her Savior that power had no place for those who would follow him, and that reflecting him means seeking the Truth in humility and in love.  

And as a result she was unconcerned with all these false distinctions, seeing them as power plays by the prince of darkness.  False distinctions like those between the pastoral and the doctrinal, fed to us so often today from every side.

For to those who would suggest that pastoral theology must by its nature become a watered-down version of the truth, ever giving preference to the desires of the listeners over the preaching of authentic doctrine, Theresa would say phooey!

Likewise, to those who would suggest that the higher calling is to pure academic reasoning, divorced from the messiness of the shepherd and the sheep on the  front steps of the church, Theresa would just laugh.

For the pastor who seeks to proclaim the kingdom of God exclusively from an understanding of his own experience without a deep and humble obedience doctrine of the church, ends up preaching himself and not Christ Jesus. While the theologian who seeks to systematically articulate the intellectual tradition of the church apart from the day to today experience of the local parish, too often ends up worshiping not Christ among us but his own infallible intellect.

Our Holy Father, in recalling St Bonaventure’s two forms of theology, reflects on this tension. 

"There is a theology,” he writes, “that comes from the arrogance of reason, that wants to dominate everything, God passes from being the subject to the object of our study, while he should be the subject who speaks and guides us". There is really this abuse of theology, which is the arrogance of reason and does not nurture faith but overshadows God's presence in the world. 

Then, there is a theology that wants to know more out of love for the beloved, it is stirred by love and guided by love. It wants to know the beloved more. And this is the true theology that comes from love of God, of Christ, and it wants to enter more deeply into communion with Christ. 

Such a theology, my brothers and sisters, is the theology of of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, and such is the theology of this Institute, which does not seek reason or pastoral practice or even orthodoxy as ends in themselves, but as the means by which we seek the face of Jesus, gaze upon him in worship, endeavor to lead others to him, and receive the grace to reflect the glory of the one through whom all things were made, as we were made to do.

For it is the face of Jesus which we seek, and every book, every theologian, every idea, every doctrine and ever theological method is but a means to that end.
As theologians we embark on the great good work of fides quarens intellectum, of hungering for the Truth because we have met the truth and desire nothing so much as to serve him, to die with him and to dwell in his presence forever.

That is why the heart of the theologian and the heart of the shepherd share the same desire: to make all one in Christ, in service and in love.

It is a holy work and a holy call, the call to shepherd and to teach, my friends.  So Holy, that the devil does his damndest to distract us from it. 

As when Moses anointed the wise men for prophesy, by calling down on them a little of his spirit, the devil enters in with temptations of jealousy and bickering.  That one over there wasn’t in the camp when the spirit was called down upon us by Moses! He has no right to speak!

Even among the Apostles we heard the whining of fifth graders bickering at recess: They’re all driving out demons, but they’re not one of us!  Make them stop!

Nor are we immune from such pettiness, my brothers and sisters, even we budding and budded theologians!  Wait, he doesn’t have a degree, how can he possibly....?  She’s just an usher at the ten o'clock Mass, what business does she have...?  He’s not even a deacon yet and he has the audacity to...?  Who does she think she is?

But Jesus whispers to us: calm down, it's only me.   If they’re not against us they’re on our side. Its not about you, its about me.  Would that all people would  preach the gospel. Would that all people would drive out demons. Would that all would proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God!

For ministry in the church is not about power or position or who’s in first place. Ministry in the church is about following the one who led us to the Cross by washing our feet. It’s the last place we should covet, sitting right there on the street with his friends, seeking to be little and kind and gentle, counting on nothing in this world but the one who was born a little baby in a manger in poverty and died before a jeering crowd, nailed to a cross.

Let me end with a story from 35 years ago, which is, to the best of my recollection, true.  I was a theology student at the Gregorian University at the time and it was Christmas vacation, so a bunch of us piled into a train and headed off for what we called the beer run, stopping at youth hostels in Munch, Salzburg, and Innsbruck.  At out last stop, we stayed with the Jesuits, in hopes of meeting the great Karl Rahner, arguably the most renowned theologian of the age.   

The Rector kindly invited us to sit at his table, and as the elderly waiter brought the soup, our eyes scanned the room for the great man.  Maybe we'll get a picture with him, maybe an autographed book we could use to brag to our friends, or maybe he'd say something profound I could quote three decades later in order to impress my an audience of theologians on how well connected I was, even at the age of 27!

But, alas, God disappointed me yet again.  No Rahner in sight.  So, at the end of the dinner we discreetly inquired of the Rector how Father Rahner was doing.  Was he, perhaps, ill, or away for some prestigious lecture, or back in his office composing a brilliant thesis.  No, he replied, that was him serving the soup.

Years after you get your degree from this prestigious Institute and have labored in the Lord's vineyard for many decades, and have finally gone home to meet Theresa and her Jesus, may they say of you, She was the one serving the soup!