Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Passion and Cross in Art

Last evening I gave a presentation on the history of the Passion and Cross of the Lord in Western Liturgical Art.  It's a topic I've been studying for many years.  Here's a copy of the narrated slides.     

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hushing the Storm to Silence

Well, we’ve certainly had enough snow.  There are higher snow banks outside Saint John’s Seminary than any First Sunday of Lent in recorded history, with promises from mother nature of at least a few more storms before we sing the Easter Exultet!

The Church talks a lot about storms in her Sacred Liturgy and in her Sacred Scriptures. There’s even a Mass “For an End to Storms,” buried way in the back of the “Masses and Prayers for Various Needs and Occasions” of the Roman Missal.  

O God, 
to whose commands all the elements give obedience, 
we humbly entreat you,
that the stilling of fearsome storms 
may turn a powerful menace into an occasion for us to praise you. 
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Maybe if it were located more prominently we would have used it more during February and God might have spared us all that shoveling!

The prayer begins with a description of God, whose commands are obeyed by all the elements.  One need only think of creation, when God said “let there be light,” and there was light.  Or when God commanded that the whole world be drowned with the exception of Noah and his little ark.  Or Jesus in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  This disciples were panic stricken, especially poor Saint Peter, but the Lord calmed the sea by his command.

God created all creatures and elements in this world and beyond and they obey his commands.  All of them except you and me, who exercising the free will he gave us sometimes turn away from him, seeking not his will but our own.

The prayer continues, humbly entreating God “that the stilling of fearsome storms may turn a powerful menace into an occasion for us to praise you.”  In other words, the Church is not asking that the nor’easter turn East and dissipate just so we won’t get clobbered with another snowstorm, but that in being saved from all that shoveling we might have an occasion to thank God for his great mercy!

Since the days of Genesis, we have been praying God for delivering us from disasters, especially the beautiful Psalm 107.  It describes a pretty miserable scene with people suffering from every imaginable disaster.  Some are hungry and thirsty and lost in the desert, some are stuck in a dark and dank prison “imprisoned in misery and chains,” and some are in the midst of a terrible storm, their hearts trembling from the danger, crying to the Lord.

But the Lord heard their plea and “hushed the storm to silence.” (Psalm 107:29)  So they thanked the Lord for his mercy and praised him the in the assembly of the faithful.

That’s what the prayer “For an end to Storms” is all about.  It’s not just getting rid of the storm, but getting closer to God.  And if it takes being delivered from a storm to get us closer to God, well then we were lucky to have the storm around in the first place.

There are a lot of storms in life, some of them even bigger than the record snowstorms of the past few weeks.  You may be experiencing those storms as Lent begins.  Maybe its your health or a broken heart or fear of what comes next.  Pray to the Lord of Creation, to Christ through whom all things were made, and beg him to “hushed the storm to silence” this Lent, so that having participated in his Passion and Cross in Lent we might praise his Risen Glory at Easter.

Storm to Silence.  Cross to Glory.  Death to life.  It’s all about Lent.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Newest Issue of the SJS Magazine

Some Reflections on Fasting and Lent

Here is a great homily on fasting and Lent by Father Romanus Cessario, O.P., preached at this morning's Mass and offered here for the benefit of our readers.

Doing penance requires explanation for twenty-first century Catholics. What is accomplished by the traditional Lenten practices, they may inquire. Of course, socially-minded Catholics might find almsgiving an intelligible practice. After all, many of our people think of the Church mainly as an eleemosynary institution. A place for donations. Prayer also may be familiar to contemporary churchgoers. Still, most would find it difficult to identify what is penitential about praying. Many Catholics in fact consider prayer something useful for themselves. Prayer calms and consoles and comforts... Then comes fasting. Why should the Catholic fast? Few of our co-religionists would be able to come up with a good answer.

This widespread nescience did not exist among devout or even not so devout Catholics fifty years ago. Pre-conciliar Catholic culture embraced the Church’s fasting discipline. Even secular magazines and newspapers advertised Lenten menus and recipes. Truth to tell, today’s popular items such as Lobster Mac owe their existence to that once favorite of Catholic Friday-night suppers, the pre-gentrified macaroni and cheese. For about a century of their history in the United States, Catholics were commonly and derisively called “Mackerel-Snappers.” Protestants distrusted the Friday abstinence, though fresh fish stores prospered–at least along the coastlines– in Catholic neighborhoods. Catholics themselves were schooled in the mechanics of fasting. How much one could eat at the “light meal” caused concern to both young and old alike. Each adult Catholic was required to seek a dispensation from his or her confessor before modifying the Lenten regulations. Fasting was part of being Catholic. Moreover, the rationale for this practice was imbedded into the minds of Catholics by teaching sisters, mission preachers, and the parish clergy who were responsible for both advertising the Lenten rules and dispensing, when the cause was legitimate, from them. Casusitic fasting may have passed away, but virtuous fasting remains one of the principal penances that Catholics undertake during Lent.

Because practices without reasons behind them are wont to disappear, we need to retrieve the spiritual benefits of fasting. The standard reasons given for fasting enjoy a long pedigree in the Western Christian tradition. Aquinas summarizes the common wisdom of the Church: fasting, he says, promotes “the prevention of spiritual ills and the pursuit of spiritual blessings.”[1] How?

Fasting, as every Catholic schoolchild in 1950 knew, makes us better Christians. Three considerations emerge. Fasting first of all bridles the lusts of the flesh. Aquinas takes the connection between abstinence and chastity as a matter of common sense. Even the comic Latin poet, Terence, has observed that “Venus freezes when Ceres and Bacchus are away.” Ceres and Bacchus of course are the gods of grain and grape.[2] Secondly, fasting aids contemplation and study. In a word, when a person fasts, the mind works better. The mind studies better. The mind prays better. Common experience suffices to make the point. Who would suppose that one passes seamlessly from indulging in sensual excess, for instance, lechery or drunkenness, to practicing contemplative prayer? One of the biggest errors advanced by marginal theologians of the 1960s and 70s concerns God and the human body. Many argued that sensual experiences foster union with God. Not a little unhappiness resulted from this experiment.

Thirdly, fasting effects satisfaction for sin. Little today is said about satisfaction for sin. We all tend to presume on God’s mercy. The truth is that sin erodes something of the human good in the sinner. Forgiveness is one thing; restoring lost virtue entails another. In a word, activities that involve suffering can be either chosen or accepted as satisfactory for sin. The privations that suffering brings restores our character softened by sin. The man who has been generous with courtesans now gives alms to the poor. The proud man may renounce even legitimate honors. Christian satisfaction suffuses the Lenten season. If there were not an explanation for the things that Christ suffered, then he could appear as a bumbler or a man out-of-luck. Were Christ’s sufferings to remain a complete mystery, why urge people to imitate them? Priests especially need to know why Christ’s sufferings are salvific. There are two ways to find out. One is study. That can take time. The other is imitation. The easiest way to begin is by fasting during Lent. Then the priest will discover the satisfactory character of almsgiving and prayer. He will also be able to explain to his people why “whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] will save it” (Lk 9: 24).


[1] Summa theologiae IIa-IIae q. 147, art. 1, ad 2.

[2] Summa theologiae IIa-IIae q. 147, art. 1. Citing Saint Jerome Adversus Jovinianum II (PL 23, 310).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Father Cessario in America Magazine

There's a great new interview with our own Father Romanus Cessario, O.P. in America magazine this week.  It reminds us how blessed we are to have him as a member of this holy house.


Thomism in the 21st Century: Q&A with Father Romanus Cessario, O.P.

Father Romanus Cessario, O.P., is a Dominican priest who serves as professor of theology at Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, and as a fellow of the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He holds an S.T.D. from the Université de Fribourg (1980) as well as an S.T.L. (1972) and S.T.B. (1970) from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He previously earned a B.A. (1967) and M.A. (1969) from Saint Stephen’s College.
A specialist in Thomist theology, Father Cessario is an author or editor of dozens of scholarly articles and books. His most recent book, “Theology and Sanctity” (Sapientia Press), was published in October 2014. A collection of integrated essays, it attempts to present the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on the relationship of theology and sanctity in a way relevant to the 21st century concerns.
On Feb. 10, I interviewed Father Cessario by email about his work and the future of Thomism in the 21st century.

In your view, what is the current status of Thomism in Catholic theology and how has it changed in recent centuries?
The best indication of the status of Thomism today may be found by looking at the Index of Citations in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After Saint Augustine, Aquinas is the most frequently cited ecclesiastical writer. One may also point to the use made of Aquinas in the Magisterium of Saint John Paul II. Fides et Ratio (nos. 43-45) explicitly recommends Aquinas’s way of doing theology. For the modern papacy, Aquinas remains “an apostle of the truth.” Popes Benedict XVI and Francis both have confirmed the special place that Aquinas holds in Catholic theology. For more information on the current status of Thomism, one may usefully consult the Fall 2014 issue of Nova et Vetera.
In my A Short History of Thomism (Washington, 2005), I advance the thesis that continuity marks the history of Thomism. One can identify themes both theological and philosophical that have united Thomists over the past 750 years or so. The most recent renewal of Thomism usually is signaled by the publication of Pope Leo XIII’s 1879 Encyclical, Aeterni Patris. The Catholic world thrived for nearly a century under the impulse of this papal endorsement that urged the study of Aquinas. After 1879, almost everyone was a Thomist! A good account of this period written by various figures of twentieth-century Thomism may be found in Victor B. Brezik, C.S.B., ed., One Hundred Years of Thomism (Houston, 1981). For his part, Gerald A. McCool, S.J., wrote a two-volume account of Leonine Thomism; see his Nineteenth-Century Scholasticism and From Unity to Pluralism (New York, 1989).
By and large, one may safely observe that, after the French Revolution, political uncertainties in Europe interrupted the very robust Thomist tradition of commentators that begins with John Capreolus (d. 1444) and ends with Charles René Billuart (d. 1757)—to cite representative figures. Leonard A. Kennedy, C.S.B., A Catalogue of Thomists, 1270-1900 (Houston, 1987) provides an impressive list of those authors—including, after the sixteenth-century, many Jesuits—who populated this Commentatorial Tradition.

In what sense do you identify yourself as a Thomist or Neo-Scholastic theologian?
When I asked my Doktorvater, Coleman O’Neill, O.P., that question, he replied, “Well, I’d say that I am just a Thomist.” That was about 1976. Father O’Neill went on to say that a Thomist is one who reads Aquinas. Neo-Scholasticism coincides with the period of Leonine Thomism. The “neo” distinguishes the period of 1879-c. 1965 from the centuries-long practice of Scholasticism that effectively came to an end with the French Revolution. Scholasticism, in short, refers to the achievement of the medieval schoolmen. By the time of the sixteenth century, the term had come in many quarters to carry a note of opprobrium. The modern period introduced, as is well known, other methods for giving instruction in theology. Before Scholasticism, one finds the patristic authors. Debate continues as to where one period ends and the other begins. Some favor Boethius (d. 524), whereas others consider Saint Anselm (d. 1109) as the first Schoolman. In any event, I think of myself as a plain old Thomist. The editors of a festschrift offered to me on my sixty-fifth birthday used the title, Ressourcement Thomism: Sacred Doctrine, the Sacraments, and the Moral Life (Washington, 2010). I consider myself a “Ressourcement” Thomist insofar as I privilege the Thomist Commentatorial Tradition that has kept Thomism alive since the fifteenth century.

Your most recent book discusses the Thomist teaching that theology and sanctity have a common origin and goal. How is this topic relevant to 21st century Catholics?
Twenty-first century Catholics still seek to follow the advice of Saint Ignatius: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” This foundational principle for Catholic living applies to Catholics of every age. The question arises: how will the study of theology help men and women of our period to observe the Ignatian principle and foundation of the spiritual life? If theological studies do not sustain the Catholic’s quest for holiness of life, then theology becomes an academic discipline that does not require self-commitment. Theology is the science of God’s truth; salvation is the gift of God’s goodness. Both originate in God. Theology is also a science of faith, a “word” about God (as the term suggests); salvation, as Saint Paul says, comes by faith (see Gal 2:20). Both aim at the same goal. Saint Ignatius got it right. Truth transforms the one who embraces it.

What does St. Thomas Aquinas have to say to ordinary people today?
A lot! However, as an author of another period, Aquinas needs a cicerone, at least for the non-expert. Fortunately, Peter Kreeft has recently published a handbook of what Aquinas has to say for ordinary people, Practical Theology (San Francisco, 2014). One could read Aquinas as a commentary on Saint Ignatius’s principle and foundation of a Christian life. The Summa theologiae persuades people to practice reverence for God and to seek the salvation of souls. Aquinas of course was a Dominican, and he coined our motto, “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation.” Contemplata aliis tradere (see Summa Theologiae, IIa-IIae, q. 188, a. 6).

In today’s postmodern context, where a plurality of theological models now prevails, Thomism sometimes appears to have lost its pride of place. Is Neo-Scholasticism dead?
Well, as I have said above, Neo-Scholasticism may be judged to occupy a place in the history of Thomism (say, 1879-c. 1965). It would be difficult to affirm that after the Second Vatican Council Catholic thinkers uniformly continued the style of Leonine Thomism. This does not mean that Thomism has lost its “pride of place.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had this to say in his General Audience of 2 June 2010: “Today I wish to speak of the one whom the Church calls the Doctor communis namely, St Thomas Aquinas. in his Encyclical Fides et Ratio my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, recalled that ‘the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology’ (n. 43). It is not surprising that, after St Augustine, among the ecclesiastical writers mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church St Thomas is cited more than any other, at least 61 times!” It is true that “a plurality of theological methods,” as you say, prevails among Catholic thinkers. I don’t know of any theologian, however, who can lay claim to the title “Doctor communis II.”

For Catholic philosophers and theologians studying St. Thomas today, what are the extremes to avoid in claiming the mantle of Thomism?
One extreme would be superficiality. To reach up to the mind of Aquinas, as Father Lonergan used to say, requires that one commit to a long period of focused and assiduous study. One cannot learn only the conclusions of Aquinas. The other extreme would be what I call “spiffiness.” Spiffy Thomists assume that Aquinas can only survive when he is put into dialogue with contemporary thought-forms. Aquinas, it is true, was not hesitant to engage other points of view; he took argument seriously. However, he engaged in this dialectic within a pre-modern culture where the Catholic faith, at least for theology, set the parameters for his discussion. Today’s spiffy Thomists enjoy no such context with the result that, by over-engaging, they run the risk of relativizing the importance of Aquinas’s contribution for contemporary theology. The safeguard against both extremes is devotion. To approach Aquinas, one must first revere him. The testimony of the Magisterium supplies antecedent warrant for our giving Aquinas this reverence. Admittedly, one may cite well-known instances where, in his Summa, Aquinas held a view, e.g., Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which is not sustainable today. Reverence will ensure that the student of Aquinas seeks to understand why Saint Thomas argued in the way that he did. When he or she does, the reverent student will still learn something from the Common Doctor.

As a theologian, who are your role models either living or dead?
Well, obviously I place Aquinas at the head of the list. After him, I would like to emulate the boldness of his first commentator, John Capreolus (d. 1444), who stood up to the massive Nominalist Establishment of the fourteenth century. I take inspiration from the clarity and precision of Cardinal Cajetan (d. 1534), a Thomist who has been unfairly criticized by many contemporary theologians who have not always grasped the subtlety of his thought. I pay close attention to Dominic Bañez (d. 1604), the great herald of Aquinas’s teaching on the absolute priority of the divine initiative in human affairs. I admire John (Poinsot) of Saint-Thomas (d. 1644) who developed Aquinas’s teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit—a text favored by the Maritains. I revere Jean Baptiste Gonet (d. 1681), the valiant defender of Aquinas against the unwarranted charges of his supplying an amicus curiae brief for Jansenism. Gonet’s Clypeus theologiae thomisticae contra novos ejus impugnatores (16 vols., Bordeaux, 1659-69) remains a monument of seventeenth-century Thomism and illustrates the author’s willingness to meet opponents irenically, even on the then hotly debated (between Jesuits and Dominicans) questions dealing with divine grace and human freedom. I would like to emulate Charles-René Billuart (d. 1757), a prayerful Dominican, who kept Aquinas alive during the period of Louis XV and in the face of Enlightenment pretenses. I salute the Jesuit, Matteo Liberatore (d. 1892), the founder of the Civiltà Cattolica, one of whose original purposes was to make known the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas! I keep close at hand the works of Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (d. 1967), whose volumes continue to assist present-day students of Aquinas. I also think of those who introduced me to Aquinas, especially Father Dominic Rover, O.P., who taught rhetoric and ethics at our philosophy house, Saint Stephen’s College.

How has your study of St. Thomas influenced your faith over the years?
I remember as a seminarian reading Aquinas on the Trinity. It was the late 1960s in Washington, D.C. The Summa text deeply moved me. From that moment on, I realized that faith and theology, as I have said above, go together. More precisely, I discovered that contemplation and theology both spring from the same pondering that faith generates. Now, more than four decades later, I still find Aquinas a source of inspiration and elevation. It grieves me when people dismiss Aquinas as outdated or consider his teachings as without practical significance. Aquinas is very practical, as I have tried to show, for example, in my “The Trinitarian Imprint on the Moral Life” published in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (Oxford, 2011).

As a Dominican theologian, how do you pray?
I follow the same rhythm of life that Aquinas followed. In a word, it’s the monastic rhythm taken up into the conventual life of a Dominican priory. In the book that Father Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., edited, Theology and Sanctity, Chapter One explains the “spirituality” of the Dominicans. Although I reside in an archdiocesan seminary, I try to observe the Dominican rhythms.

What is the goal of your theology?
Oh, that’s easy. I want to enter more fully into the life and contemplation of the divine mysteries and to draw people close to God. Like Saint Ignatius, I want people “to praise, reverence, and serve God,” so that they will become saints.

Beginning with Joseph Marechal, and continuing through his fellow Jesuits Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan, Transcendental Thomism helped opened the door to a broadening of theological categories in the 20th century. Does your brand of neo-Thomism represent an attempt to backtrack from this post-conciliar development?
Like Neo-Scholastic, Neo-Thomist usually refers to the period of Leonine Thomism. One wag has coined the term “Neo-Neo-Thomist” (Modern Theology 26:1 January 2010) to describe me and my colleagues. However, we must politely refuse the appellation. When I came to Boston, I met many devout followers of Father Lonergan. Several, such as Father Matthew Lamb and Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, remain among my closest acquaintances. One can only appreciate what Lonergan and his students have accomplished. My Lonerganian friends, if memory serves, prefer not to speak about their mentor as a “Transcendental Thomist.” In any case, I do not want to backtrack from anything that serves the good of the Church. That said, what is sometimes called River Forest Thomism, from the suburb of Chicago where the Dominicans once ran a philosophy house, does advance an alternative approach to metaphysics from what transcendental philosophy proposes. The best representative of River Forest Thomism is the late Father Benedict Ashley, O.P. His The Way toward Wisdom: An Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Introduction to Metaphysics (South Bend, 2006) explains how this alternative approach works. I think Father Ashley is right when he insists that natural philosophy must prove that immaterial being exists before one does metaphysics.

Some theologians, seeking to move the Catholic Church forward more quickly, have experienced tension with the magisterium since Vatican II. As a Thomist, in what sense do you believe Catholic theology needs to adapt itself to contemporary times?
I think theology can only be contemporary. Veritas Eternaliter Juvenis—the truth is eternally young. Like a good Thomist, I will distinguish. Catholic theology in order to survive has to adapt to the period in which it serves Catholic and divine truth. The history of Thomism, in my view, demonstrates this adaptability. If contemporary Thomists spent all their time examining what Capreolus said in the fifteenth century, no one, except those committed to historical studies, would pay attention to such soi-disant “Thomists.” I consider it a strength of Thomism that it displays the capacity to speak to each of the centuries that follows the death of Aquinas in 1274. The fact that you have asked for this interview, in a way, supports my contention. America would not want to waste its pages on the obscure and archaic. At the same time, it would be odd were one to assert flat out that Catholic theology should “adapt itself to contemporary times.” Such a project would canonize relativism. What I am saying applies, it seems to me, also to The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. I have seen books that explain and, in a certain sense, adapt the Exercises for contemporary times. However no one would dare to alter radically the Exercises, even though few of our contemporaries accept Saint Ignatius’s principal and foundation for human existence. Likewise, I don’t see much about saving one’s soul in contemporary culture. And of course, Saint Ignatius urges us to think with the Church. The question should not be posed in terms of adaptation but in terms of mediation. How can theology today best mediate divine and Catholic truth? In this sense, my Thomism is very Ignatian and contemporary.

How do you navigate any tensions between your theology and colleagues or superiors?
Well, I am happy to report that I have not suffered many tensions with my superiors. The Dominicans recently conferred on me an honorary academic distinction that recognizes the usefulness of my work. The Archbishops of Boston, where I teach, have demonstrated their satisfaction with my work at Saint John’s Seminary. Obviously, there are Dominicans who do not agree with everything I write. The Dominicans, it has been said, are a group of men divided by a common ideal. However, for the most part, my Dominican colleagues acknowledge what I have tried to accomplish. Colleagues in the theological world, as you have suggested, hold diverse views on just about everything. Still, I have maintained my membership in the Catholic Theological Society of America since the 1980s, although other obligations recently have kept me from attending the annual convention. I also actively participate in the Academy of Catholic Theology. Again, I find these colleagues overall respectful of Thomism, though my views give even certain ACT members moment for pause. I also attend the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics and I participate in the proceedings. This ecumenical association exhibits a diversity of outlooks, and I learn a lot from listening to the various discussions among Catholics and other professional ethicists. It goes without saying that colleagues have rendered some critical reviews of my book publications. However, I consider this exchange useful for the clarification of thought, as Dorothy Day used to say. Of course, I also have rendered critical observations about other theologians. It is pleasant to recall those scholars of high personal quality who do not let differences of opinion provoke incivility. For example, I maintain a warm acquaintance with Father Charles Curran. Younger colleagues sometimes are surprised to discover this affability between two Catholic priests who exhibit different outlooks in moral theology.

What is your favorite scripture passage and why?
Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The text summarizes the message of Paray-le-Monial, the small Burgundian town from where Saint Claude de la Colombière spread devotion to the Heart of Christ. I think that the message of the Sacred Heart meets the urgent needs of the New Evangelization. One of my students, Father Will Prospero, S.J., whom God called home early in his priesthood, devoted considerable energy to re-tooling this traditional devotion to meet the needs of his generation. I also like this New Testament text because it summarizes a basic doctrine of Thomist theology. When Jesus invites us to come to him, he already draws us toward his Heart. So we are not left with the burden of making our own response to his invitation as though this response occurred outside his love already strongly and sweetly drawing us to himself. I think that the Thomist view of pre-motion corresponds to the overall spirit of Paray-le-Monial: "Behold this Heart which has so loved men!”

What do you hope people take away from your work?
Christ. As the experience that Aquinas underwent at the end of his life suggests, those who follow Aquinas should want for themselves and for others the same thing: “Non nisi Te, Domine!” Only you, Lord. I refer to that moment in Naples when Aquinas heard Christ speak to him from a crucifix. The Lord asked Aquinas what he wanted as a reward because, as Christ said, “You have written well of me, Thomas.” Most theologians and their readers fall short of Aquinas’s devotion and accomplishments, but each can aspire to the same reward that Aquinas received. Saint Ignatius expresses this aspiration well: “Good Jesus, hear me / Within the wounds, shelter me / from turning away, keep me / From the evil one, protect me / At the hour of my death, call me / Into your presence lead me / to praise you with all your saints / Forever and ever.”

Do you have any hopes for the future?
At my age, the beatific vision: “Into your presence lead me.” At the same time, one cannot but take encouragement from the renewal of interest in Aquinas among young scholars. Reginald Lynch, O.P., and Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., are good examples of this renewal among clerics. Matthew Levering stands out among the many young lay theologians who take their cue from Aquinas. Then there are scholars closer to my generation, such as Steven A. Long and Reinhard Hütter, who work within the Thomist tradition. So, in my view, God has provided well for the accomplishment of sound theology in the Church.

Any final thoughts?
I express my gratitude to America and to my interviewer, a young Jesuit, for this opportunity to explain why I believe that Aquinas merits the title Common Doctor, still. Final thought? Lege Thomam. Read Aquinas.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ash Wednesday Homily

The whole world seems shaken these days with a sense of foreboding…with the blood of martyrs flowing through the sand and dying ocean waters red, with hordes of refugees fleeing the the Ukraine, with whole villages slaughtered in Nigeria and Ghana, and on and on and on.

It’s as if the whole of humanity is on the edge, drowning in a pool of anxiety and trembling in fear before a crisis of unknown proportions.  I have to fly to Rome at the end of next week, and the words of that black-hooded man holding his bloody knife aloft on a Libyan beach scares the living daylights out of me. “On to Rome.”

So what do I do in the face of such fear?  The Church, mater et magístra, answers by giving me Ash Wednesday, with three simple antidotes to my fear: Repentence, Prayer and Love.

Antidote #1: You think the evil you fear is out there?  Look within your own heart, where ‘your sin is always before you.’  The prayer, fasting, and almsgiving of the next forty days is a recognition that the seeds of hatred and war now growing so rapidly on the international scene have their roots in our own hearts.  For, to paraphrase Pogo: “I have met the enemy, and he is me.”  So, the last thing I will do before I get on the plane is go to confession.

Antidote #2:  Pray.  Look on the face of Christ with the same innocence and trust that you knew when first you met him as a child.  Seek the quiet stillness of his presence for hours at a time.  Pour out your every fear and insecurity.  Seek him while he may be found and call to him while he is still near.  Pray.

Antidote #3: The third antidote is not a thing at all, but a person.  The one who from the Cross looked down on our childishness, our sinfulness and self-destructive violence and said “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The ISIL jihadist on the beach is not a monstor, but some mother’s son.  He once giggled as a baby and he has people who worry about him when he doesn’t call and he had a best friend in grammar school.  Somehow he got so hurt or made so many bad choices that he lost his way and fell into a pit of hellish rage and rotting sin.  He’s in the devil’s grasp, and we are called to love him like the lost sheep and pray…and not just pray that he won’t cut my head off, but pray that God might give him the grace of repentence, that he might turn away from sin and know the merciful face of Christ and be saved.

Three antidotes to all that sin and all that fear: Repentence, Prayer and Love.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Baptism of Pierre David Francois

Haec est fides nostra.
Haec est fides Ecclesiae,
quam profitéri gloriamur,
in Christo Iesu Domino nostro.

This morning, Father Briody and I were privileged to celebrate the Baptism of Paul and Clare Metilly's latest child, Pierre David Francois at Saint John, the Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton. The Baptism was accompanied by magnificent polyphonic chant sung by the whole family.  Here is the homily I preached.

Peter, you are so very little, especially as compared to all your brothers and sisters, who have grown so big and tall and old, by the grace of God.
Soon they will teach you how to make the sign of the cross, how to kneel down and pray and how to love and be loved by Jesus. Some day you will receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion and be sealed with his Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation. And some day God may call you to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders.

So much grace, so many blessings lie before you who seem so little to us right now.

Like the poverello.  Little like King David when he stood before Goliath. Like Saint Peter when he felt so small after he had betrayed the Lord three times. Little, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, on whose littleness God looked and made her most blessed. Little like the Baby Jesus in the manger through whom God saved us and promised us eternal life.

So here we are at the Baptismal Font, Peter David, the beginning and the end of life. And in just a few minutes, once your parents and Godparents have renounced Satan and professed belief in Christ and his Church on your behalf, you will be joined with Christ in his dying and rising and become our brother in his Church and we will walk with you for as long as God wills, and witness the wonderful things he will do as you grow this big and this big and bigger still.

Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you to us, Peter David, as a sign of his infinite love and the beauty of his creation.

Sunday, February 15, 2015



14" of snow last night.  40-50 mile an hour winds today.  Tonight's temperature -5 degrees F. (actual),  -20 degrees wind chill.  Six more inches predicted for Tuesday.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Another foot or two of Snow tonight...

That's what they're saying, anyways. We have now officially exceeded maximum snow totals for ANY MONTH in any year in recorded meteorological history. Thankfully there is nothing to cancel, as most of the seminarians are off for a long weekend. The few noble souls that are here are, typically, more than generous in helping the aging faculty move their cars and shovel them out.

So, here's one of my old favorites, a poem from the turn of the last century by Miguel de Unamuno, entitled "The Snowfall is So Silent."

The snowfall is so silent,
so slow, bit by bit, 

with delicacy it settles down on the earth 
and covers over the fields. 

The silent snow comes down white and weightless; 
snowfall makes no noise, 
falls as forgetting falls, 
 flake after flake. 

It covers the fields gently 
while frost attacks them 
with its sudden flashes of white; 
covers everything with its pure and silent covering; 
not one thing on the ground anywhere escapes it. 

And wherever it falls it stays, 
content and gay, 
for snow does not slip off as rain does, 
but it stays and sinks in. 

The flakes are skyflowers, 
pale lilies from the clouds, 
that wither on earth. 

They come down blossoming 
but then so quickly they are gone; 
they bloom only on the peak, 
above the mountains, 
and make the earth feel heavier when they die inside. 

Snow, delicate snow, 
that falls with such lightness on the head, 
on the feelings, 
come and cover over the sadness that lies always in my reason.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jazz amidst the snows...


This evening we were treated to a thirty minute set of Brubeck, David and Hubbard. The jazz reflections were courtesy of Larry Valliere on guitar, Matt Gill on bass, Pat Fiorillo on drums, Josh Wilbur on clarinet and John Monaco on trumpet.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ask not for whom the bell will toll...

Mike Kokoszka, our resident Master of Clocks, has been studying the courtyard clock, which appears to have been out of use for a long time (we found this work order next to the clock, dated 1950!).

Mike's preliminary diagnosis is that the mechanism seems to be intact and he is presently consulting with specialists to see if we can get it going. While we were up there Armand Dilando was able to ring the bell (which used to toll the hours) while Father O'Connor and I just looked on in amazement. By the way, the first picture is taken from behind the bell we ring with the rope, which is on the same level as the mechanical clock.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Visit to Lourdes

I have always wanted to visit Lourdes, and hope to do so next year with the Knights of Malta.  Our own Father Ed Riley visited last year and kindly shared with me some of his memories, including these great pictures!

Here is Pope Francis' Angelus Address of just a few days ago, commemorating World Day of the Sick:

Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus Who, after having preached on the Sabbath in the synagogue, heals many sick people. To preach and to heal: this is the principle activity of Jesus in His public life. With the preaching He announces the Kingdom of God, and with the healing He shows that it is near, that the Kingdom of God is in the midst of us.

Entering into the house of Simon Peter, Jesus sees that his mother-in-law is in bed with the fever; immediately He takes her by the hand, He heals her, and raises her up. After the sun sets, when, since the Sabbath is over, the people can go and bring the sick to Him, He heals a multitude of people afflicted by maladies of every kind: physical, psychological, and spiritual. Having come to earth to announce and to realize the salvation of the whole man and of all people, Jesus shows a particular predilection for those who are wounded in body and in spirit: the poor, the sinners, the possessed, the sick, the marginalized. So He is revealed as the doctor both of souls and of bodies, the Good Samaritan of man. He is the true Saviour: Jesus saves, Jesus cures, Jesus heals.

That reality of the healing of the sick by Christ invites us to reflect on the sense and meaning of illness. This reminds us also of the World Day of the Sick, which we celebrate next Wednesday, 11 February, the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes. I bless the initiatives prepared for this Day, in particular the Vigil that will take place in Rome on the evening of 10 February. And here I pause in order to remember the President of the Pontifical Council for the sick, for health, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, who is very sick in Poland. A prayer for him, for his health, because it was he who prepared this Day, and he accompanies us in his suffering on this Day. A prayer for Archbishop Zimowski.

The salvific work of Christ is not exhausted with His Person and in the arc of His earthly life; it continues through the Church, the sacrament of the love and of the tenderness of God for humans. Sending His disciples in mission, Jesus confers on them a double mandate: to announce the Gospel of salvation and to heal the sick (cf. Mt 10:7-8). Faithful to this charge, the Church has always considered helping the sick an integral part of her mission.
“The poor and the suffering you will always have with you,” Jesus warns (cf. Mt 26:11), and the Church continuously finds them along her path, considering those who are sick as a privileged way to encounter Christ, to welcome Him and to serve Him. To cure the sick, to welcome them, to serve them, is to serve Christ: the sick person is the flesh of Christ.

This occurs also in our own time, when, notwithstanding the many acquisitions of science, the interior and physical suffering of persons raises serious questions about the meaning of illness and of sorrow, and about the reason for death. It deals with existential questions, to which the pastoral action of the Church must respond with the light of faith, having before her eyes the Crucifixion, in which appears the whole of the salvific mystery of God the Father, Who for love of human beings did not spare His own Son (cf. Rm 8:32). Therefore, each one of us is called to bear the light of the Word of God and the power of grace to those who suffer, and to those who assist them – family, doctors, nurses – so that the service to the sick might always be better accomplished with more humanity, with generous dedication, with evangelical love, with tenderness. Mother Church, through our hands, caresses our sufferings and cures our wounds, and does so with the tenderness of a mother.

Let us pray to Mary, Health of the sick, that every person who is sick might experience, thanks to the care of those who are close to them, the power of the love of God and the comfort of His paternal tenderness.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Our Lady of Lourdes

Here is my homily for Our Lady of Lourdes on Catholic TV this morning.

The 14 year old peasant girl named Bernadette was with her sisters Toinette and Jeanne collecting firewood to sell in order to buy bread, when suddenly she heard the sound of two gusts of wind, blowing in the direction of a niche in the rock, where a single rose was growing.

So she walked closer and heard a third gust of wind, and in the place where the rose was growing, she saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, and from the niche there streamed a dazzling bright light.

Thus was the first vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Lourdes to Saint Bernadette 157 years ago.

Notice the apparition began with a driving wind, three winds, which blew from heaven to the stone niche where the lady dressed in white would reveal the mystery of her coming.

Wind is a curious thing.  We can’t trace where it has comes from and we can’t see exactly where it ends up.  It’s most like a flame or a breath exhaled.  Indeed, that’s why there is only one word in Hebrew for breath or fire or driving wind.  The word is ruah, and we hear it in the reading from Genesis today.

God picks up a handful of dirt (the Hebrew word for dirt is adamah), and into it he breathes the ruah…the spirit, breath, fire, driving wind.  And the adamah is changed by the breath of God into Adam, man.

It’s like the Christ, who is born of the Virgin.  You see it in a lot of late medieval Italian paintings of the Annunciation, as the Angel appears to Mary and just behind her is a long drape covering an open window, blowing in the wind.  It’s as if the spirit, the breath of God, the ruah is overpowering her, incarnating life in her virginal womb, bringing forth Emmanual, the Christ to set us free.

So on this feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, let us ask God to renew the life he first breathed into our flesh.  

And let us ask Our Lady to beg him to heal us.  To heal whatever is broken, diseased or tired.  Our faith.  Our love.  Our hope.  Our hearts.  Our minds.  Our bodies.  Let us beg the Lady dressed in white, to pray to her son, through whom she and we were made, to send forth his Spirit once again, to renew the face of the earth.

Here is the prayer they pray in Lourdes this day:

Mary, you showed yourself to Bernadette in the crevice of the rock. In the cold and grey of winter, you brought the warmth, light and beauty of your presence.  In the often obscure depths of our lives, in the depth of the world where evil is so powerful, bring hope, return our confidence!  Give us the humility to have a change of heart, the courage to do penance. Teach us to pray for all people.
Guide us to the source of true life. Make us pilgrims going forward with your Church, whet our appetite for the bread for the journey, the bread of life. The Spirit brought about wonders in you, O Mary : by his power, he has placed you near the Father, in the glory of your eternal Son. Look with kindness on our miserable bodies and hearts. Shine forth for us, like a gentle light, at the hour of our death.
 Glory to you, Virgin Mary, blessed servant of the Lord, Mother of God, dwelling place of the Holy SpiritAmen.

Monday, February 9, 2015

SJS is Closed on Tuesday...

After another day of heavy snows, Mayor Walsh has asked that all cars stay off the streets of Boston tomorrow. In addition, the MBTA has taken the extraordinary move of closing down until at least Tuesday night.

As a result, I regret to announce that Saint John's Seminary and the Theological Institute will be closed on Tuesday.

For resident seminarians, Liturgy of the Hours, Examen and the Holy Hour are on your own. Masses will be celebrated at 7:30am in the Oratory and at 11:15am in the Main Chapel. All classes and offices will resume work on Wednesday morning.

Because they are predicting that this weather pattern could take weeks to resolve, I have already begun intensive consultations on how we might use various video conferencing alternatives to address future weather-related challenges. I will keep you posted in this regard.

God keep you safe!

Pope Francis visits Tiburtina

"Theoretical poverty is of no use to us. Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ, in the humble, the poor, the sick, in children."  - Pope Francis 

The Falling Quiet...

All Heaven and Earth
Flowered white obliterate...
Snow...unceasing snow.

I’ve always loved this Japanese Haiku, which so describes the day here at Saint John’s Seminary.  The day is wrapped in a thick, quiet blanket of white powder which seems to have no end.  Yet there is a quality of snow that seems to bring heaven down to rest upon creation, as something which belongs invisibly in the sky visibly coats the earth.

It’s a good day for praying, for taking some time apart from the normal pace of life, and just sitting with God and watching, in the beautiful words of Truman Capote “the falling quiet [where] there is no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.”

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Will it ever end??? SJS Closed Tomorrow

As you have probably seen this morning, the Monday snow totals have been getting worse with the prediction of the development of a coastal front tonight.  Channel 7 says “ 8-14 inches of MORE snow will be common around Boston” on Monday.

Therefore, Saint John’s Seminary and the Theological Institute will be closed on Monday.  For resident seminarians, Morning prayer, examen and Holy Hour are on your own and Mass will be at 10:30am. I encourage all resident Seminarians to, at a minimum, remember to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and make a good long Holy Hour during the day.  A quiet snow day like this can make a great spiritual day of reflection.

The Faculty Advisory Council will still meet starting at 1:15pm in the Cardinal law Conference Room for a Formation Session.

Please stay safe!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Rochester in the Snow

Father O'Connor and I are visiting the Diocese of Rochester today.  We started out by visiting the the Genesee Bakery owned by the Fiorito Family, where our own David Fiorito's skills in helping prepare the wonderful delicacies of Rochester's best bakery are dearly missed!  Here I am in the family bakery with Mr. and Mrs. Fiorito!   By the way, the turtle brownies are the best!

At lunchtime we visited with Father Paul Tomasso, Vocation Direction for Rochester.  He was very excited to share the news that several new men will be joining us from Rochester next fall.

Finally, enjoying the kind hospitality of Bishop Matano, we were delighted to have dinner with him and with another old friend of Saint John's, Father Dan White.  Bishop Matano is a member of our Board of Trustees and a great supporter of our beloved Saint John's Seminary.

A cold, snowy but all around delightful trip to Rochester.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

January Rector's Conference: Real Numbers

Here's my January 2015 Rector's Conference on Priests and People in New England and Beyond.  It tries to answer two questions: Is there a Priest Shortage?  and Is there a People shortage?  This is part of a four part series on evangelization and parish structures in the northeastern part of the United States.