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Quote of the Day

Visible union with the Catholic Church does not mean absorption into a monolith, with the absorbed body being lost to the greater whole, the way a teaspoon of sugar would be lost if dissolved in a gallon of coffee. Rather, visible union with the Catholic Church can be compared to an orchestral ensemble. Some instruments can play all the notes, like a piano. There is no note that a piano has that a violin or a harp or a flute or a tuba does not have. But when all these instruments play the notes that the piano has, the notes are enriched and enhanced. The result is symphonic, full communion. One can perhaps say that the ecumenical movement wishes to move from cacophony to symphony, with all playing the same notes of doctrinal clarity, the same euphonic chords of sanctifying activity, observing the rhythm of Christian conduct in charity, and filling the world with the beautiful and inviting sound of the Word of God. While the other instruments may tune themselves according to the piano, when playing in concert there is no mistaking them for the piano. It is God’s will that those to whom the Word of God is addressed, the world, that is, should hear one pleasing melody made splendid by the contributions of many different instruments.

William Cardinal Levada
Five Hundred Years After St. John Fisher: Benedict’s Ecumenical Initiatives to Anglicans
Delivered at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
March 6, 2010


Mar Bawai Soro

One of my intensive courses this semester is “The History of Aramaic Christianity”, taught by Mar Bawai Soro, a bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Church whose name is probably familiar to anyone who has been involved in ecumenism the last few years. He was also our guest for dinner at the Lay Centre this evening. (And though he did not share this, he was the person who, during the Jubilee Year 2000, recieved from Pope John Paul II the cross carried at the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum. The pope carried it to the first two stations, handed off to Bishop Bawai for the second two, who then handed it off again.)

History of Aramaic Christianity, Angelicum, 2010

In most church history classes I have taken or taught, the focus is usually on the history of the Church within the Roman empire, and subsequently the nations were in direct succession from that Empire. Sometimes it gets even more eclipsed if the focus is purely on the Latin Church, the churches directly associated with the ritual and patriarchal patrimony of the church of Rome itself (ie, the Roman Catholic Church). It is sometimes news enough for people to realize there were four other apostolic sees within the Roman empire besides Rome! But we have often forgotten entirely the church in Asia, beyond the borders of the ancient Roman Empire.

The focus of our studies for this course have been on that Church of the East – not the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches, but further east, in Mesopotamia and what was part of the Persian Empire at the time of Constantine. This church never enjoyed the status of being an official religion of the empire, as did the church in the empire of Rome and Constantinople. In fact, persecution only increased after Christianity became associated with the enemy to the west. To this day, being Christian in this area makes you suspect of collaboration with the “West” – whether that is Emperor Constantine or President Bush, and whether the dominant religion is Persian Zoroastrianism or Shi’a Islam.

This was the church of refuge for the Nestorians and the theological School of Antioch, driven across the border in the aftermath of the Council of Ephesus in 431, and a place where the theological battle between Monophysites and Nestorians was waged for centuries. The first stopping point for the missionary activity of the Apostle Thomas, the Mesopotamian church was the mother church of the earliest Christians in India, still known as Mar Thoma (St. Thomas) Christians. Missionaries of this church had reached Mongolia and China by the sixth century, and some scholars have suggested communities as far as Japan.

The current heirs to this tradition include:

  • The Assyrian Church of the East, with about 250,000 members, traditionally centered in Iraq
  • The Chaldean Catholic Church, with about 750,000 members, centered in Iraq
  • The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, with about 4 million members centered in the state of Kerala, India

Mar Bawai Soro

Much of the Church of the East’s history has been marked by political and ecclesial isolation – first by being the Christians outside the Roman empire, then ecclesially, and throughout by being more or less constantly a persecuted minority in Zoroastrian Persia, or Muslim Arab and Mongol rule. Several times in the last six centuries dioceses and other groups of the faithful would resume full communion with Rome. The first, in 1445 was the archbishop of Cyprus and his diocese, who after a couple generations were unfortunately Latinized and assimilated into the Latin (Roman) Catholic Church. A couple others only lasted for a century or so, eventually leaving communion again. Finally, the Patriarch (one of two rivals, anyway) and his cohort came in to full communion in 1830, giving us the current Chaldean Catholic Church. The rival patriarchal line and those in communion with it remain today as the Assyrian Church of the East, though they were the line which had been in Catholic communion for a century or so during the 16th and 17th centuries.

For 20 years, Bishop Bawai served this church as a bishop and as their top theologian and ecumenical officer (a sort of Ratzinger-Kasper combo, if you will), and participated in the Assyrian-Catholic dialogue from its inception, through the Common Christological Declaration of 1994 and the preparation of the Common Sacramental Declaration that was to follow.

For those who wonder about the products of ecumenism, it only took 8 years of dialogue to resolve the Christological issue that split the church 1500 years ago, and confess together that : 

Our Lord Jesus Christ is true God and true man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity, consubstantial with the Father and consubstantial with us in all things but sin. His divinity and his humanity are united in one person, without confusion or change, without division or separation. In him has been preserved the difference of the natures of divinity and humanity, with all their properties, faculties and operations. But far from constituting “one and another”, the divinity and humanity are united in the person of the same and unique Son of God and Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of a single adoration.

This is why there is always hope!

Of course, that hope is always needed. The reality of the impending full communion with the Catholic Church provoked some nervousness. Understandably, I suppose: Comparatively, we are beyond huge (4400 Catholics for every one Assyrian Christian), and the prospect of the Patriarch becoming a mere cardinal, as some bloggers have put it, was uninviting. Their decision was to suspend the dialogue, and to suspend the bishop.

After finding no appeal, Mar Bawai and about 5000 faithful, including 30 deacons and a half dozen priests, came into full communion with the Chaldean Catholic Church in 2008.

Quote of the Day

It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople
Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 21 Feb 2010

(and for your viewing edification, 60 Minutes interview with the Patriarch a couple months ago)

New Semester in Rome

It is hard to believe my first semester is already finished! That is ¼ of the way through for the two years of my Fellowship and the S.T.L. – and a good time for a general progress report!

I had hoped to return to grad school and maintain a perfect GPA, since my undergraduate and first round of grad school grades were moderately good, but not great.

(That’s the problem with being so involved in extracurricular activities, you tend to forget important details like deadlines! I calculated, near the end of my time at ND, that my cumulative GPA would have been .5 higher if I had just turned everything in on time!)

The Roman academic system grades on a 10-point scale, rather than a 4-point scale. According to our Order of Studies, they look like this:

  • 10-9.75 Summa Cum Laude (Highest Honors) = 3.9-4.0
  • 9.74-8.51 Magna Cum Laude (High Honors) = 3.4-3.89
  • 8.50-7.51 Cum Laude (Honors) = 3.0-3.39
  • 7.50-6.51 Bene (Good/Acceptable) = 2.6- 2.99
  • 6.50-6.00 Probatus (Probation) = 2.4-2.6
  • 6.00-0.00 Fail

Another difference between the Roman system and the American version that I am more used to, is that while the Roman system (at least at the Angelicum) tends to have less required reading and papers, your entire grade for a semester can depend on one 15-minute oral exam, or a single written in-class final.

There is a two-week break between classes when all the exams are supposed to take place, but with our Jerusalem seminar in the middle of that period, most of mine were done when the exam period started.

The second semester is already shaping up to include a bit more reading and more balanced variety of assignments. Here is the list of my courses for the rest of the year:

  • Acting Acts: Survey on the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement
  • Catholic Understanding of Interreligious Dialogue
  • Christ Beyond the Church
  • History of Aramaic Christianity
  • Methodology of Biblical Interpretation and its Significance for Jewish-Catholic Understanding
  • Ministry of the Ecumenical Officer
  • Philosophical Elements in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue
  • Reformation Theology in Context
  • Sacramental Character

So the perfect 10 I was aiming for? Missed it, with just one class – and I do not know what I got wrong on the final! Ah well, at least it leaves room for improvement! Other good news, is that when i met with the dean to register for the second semester, he pointed out that with the credit i have been given from my previous academic work and experience, i could finish the License early – i only have a couple seminars left, the thesis and comprehensive oral exam.

Quote of the Day

The advice of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) to Augustine of Canterbury, as a model of communion for the contemporary (postmodern?) ecclesial scene:

Agustine’s Second Question: Even though the faith is one, are there varying customs in the churches? And is there one form of Mass in the Holy Roman Church and another in Gaulish churches?

Pope Gregory answered: My brother, you know the customs of the Roman Church in which, of course, you were brought up. But it is my wish that if you have found any customs in the Roman or the Gaulish church or any other church which may be more pleasing to Almighty God, you should make a careful selection of them and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which is still new in the faith, what you have been able to gather from other churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things. Therefore choose from every individual Church whatever things are devout, religious, and right. And when you have collected these as it were into one bundle, see that the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.

From The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, as quoted in Frederick M. Bliss, Catholic and Ecumenical: History and Hope – Why the Catholic Church is Ecumenical and What She is Doing About It, p9.

[emphasis mine]

Quote of the Day

Orientale Lumen 20, Pope John Paul II, 1995

[T]he Church of Rome has always felt was an integral part of the mandate entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Apostle Peter: to confirm his brothers in faith and unity (cf. Lk 22:32). Attempts in the past had their limits, deriving from the mentality of the times and the very understanding of the truths about the Church. But here I would like to reassert that this commitment is rooted in the conviction that Peter (cf. Mt 19:17 – 19) intends to place himself at the service of a Church united in charity. “Peter’s task is to search constantly for ways that will help preserve unity. Therefore he must not create obstacles but must open up paths. Nor is this in any way at odds with the duty entrusted to him by Christ: ‘strengthen your brothers in the faith’ (cf. Lk 22:32). It is significant that Christ said these words precisely at the moment when Peter was about to deny him. It was as if the Master himself wanted to tell Peter: ‘Remember that you are weak, that you, too, need endless conversion. You are able to strengthen others only insofar as you are aware of your own weakness. I entrust to you as your responsibility the truth, the great truth of God, meant for man’s salvation, but this truth cannot be preached or put into practice except by loving.’

(Emphasis mine)

Witness through Hospitality: WPCU Day #8

From the official material prepared by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity


Genesis 18:1-8, Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves.
Psalm 146, He who gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
Romans 14:17-19, Pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification.
Luke 24:41-48, Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.


Today, electronic communication has made us neighbors in one small and overloaded planet. As in the time of Luke, many peoples and communities have had to leave their homes, wandering and journeying to strange lands. People of the world’s great faiths have arrived bringing new beliefs and cultures to our communities.

In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we recognize in our shared journey towards unity the hospitality and companionship of Christians of all churches. Christ also calls us to both offer and to receive the hospitality of the stranger who has become our neighbor. Surely, if we cannot see Christ in the other, then we cannot see Christ at all.

The story in Genesis describes how Abraham receives God in opening his house and offering hospitality to strangers. The God of all creation also stands with the prisoner, the blind, the stranger. Our psalm is an offering of praise for God’s everlasting faithfulness and all that God has done for us.

The text from Romans reminds us that the kingdom of God comes about through justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The resurrected Christ brings his disciples together, eats with them and they recognize him again. He reminds them of what the scriptures said about him and explains what they did not understand before. Thus, he frees them from their doubts and fears and sends them out to become witnesses of these things. In creating this space for encounter with him he enables them to receive his peace, that implies justice for the oppressed, care for the hungry and the mutual up-building as the gifts of the new world of the resurrection. Christians throughout history have found the risen Lord as they have served others and been served by others in faith, so we too can encounter Christ when we share our lives and our gifts.


God of love, You have shown us your hospitality in Christ. We acknowledge that through sharing our gifts with all, we meet you. Give us the grace that we may become one on our journey together and recognize you in one another. In welcoming the stranger in your name may we become witnesses to your hospitality and your justice. Amen.

Reflection Questions

To what extent is the country in which you live hospitable to the stranger?
How in your own neighborhood can the stranger find hospitality and a space to live?
How might you show gratitude for those who have shown you hospitality by being available?
How does the cross show us that God’s hospitality is a hospitality lived out in total self-giving?

Witness through Hope and Trust: WPCU Day #7

From the official material prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches:


Job 19:23-27, God whom I shall see on my side.
Psalm 63, My soul thirsts for You.
Acts 3:1-10, What I have, I give you.
Luke 24:36-40, The disciples were startled and terrified.


During their journey in life and faith, all Christians experience moments of doubt. The challenge faced by Christians is to continue to believe that even when they do not see or feel God, God remains with them. The virtues of faith, hope and trust allow them to give witness that their faith goes beyond their own possibilities.

The character Job gives us an example of someone who faced difficult trials and tribulations and even argued with God. In faith and hope however, he believed that God would remain on his side. This reliance and conviction is also shown by the actions of Peter and John in the account with the lame man as told in Acts. Their belief in the Name of Jesus allows them to witness powerfully to all who were present. Today’s psalm is a prayer reflecting our deep desire for God’s steadfast love.

Our meeting during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity allows our communities to grow in shared faith, hope and love. We bear witness to God’s steadfast love to all people, and God’s faithfulness to the one church we are called to be. The more we witness together, the stronger our message will be.


God of hope, share Your vision of the one church with us, and overcome our doubts. Increase our faith in your presence, that all who profess belief in you may worship together in spirit and in truth. We especially pray for all who are in doubt right now, or whose lives are spent in the shadow of danger and fear. Be with them and give them your consoling presence. Amen.

Reflection Questions

How do you deal with your own fears and doubts?
How might you be a cause of fear and anxiety for others by your behaviour?
When have you faced up to your own fears and doubts and so given witness to your faith in Christ by overcoming these difficulties?
How may Christian communities encourage one another in faith and hope?

Witness through Faithfulness to the Scriptures: WPCU Day #6

From the official material prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches:


Isaiah 55:10-11, The word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty.
Psalm 119:17-40, Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your Law.
2 Timothy 3:14-17, All scripture is inspired by God.
Luke 24:28-35, Jesus opens the Scriptures to His disciples.


Christians encounter God’s Word in a privileged way through reading the Sacred
Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments. In faithfully listening to the proclamation of Holy Scripture, and by prayerfully reading the various books of the Bible, they open their hearts and minds to receive the very Word of God. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to make them understand the Word of God, and to guide them in all truth.

Historically, Christians have been divided in reading and understanding the Word of God. Fortunately, in recent times, in their search for unity, Sacred Scripture has brought Christians closer to one another. Shared Bible study has become a major means of growing together among them. The Christian journey that we celebrate during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one that is firmly rooted in our shared listening to God’s Word, trying together to understand and to live it.The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s Word powerfully proclaimed is indeed effective and operative. It does not return to God empty but succeeds in the purpose for which He sent it.

This message is repeated in the words addressed to Timothy, as he is directed to believe in the efficacy of the Scriptures by which the faithful are equipped for every good work. Our psalm gives praise for God’s words and statutes and implores God to give understanding, that we may keep the Holy Law with our whole heart.

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we pray that all Christians may enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s wonderful revelation as it comes to us in Holy Scripture. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us better comprehend the Word of God and to direct us on our common journey of faith until we will all be gathered again around the one table of the Lord.


God, we praise and thank you for your saving Word as it reaches out to us through the Sacred Scriptures. We thank you too for the brothers and sisters with whom we share your Word and discover together the abundance of Your love. We pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, so that Your Word may lead and direct us in our quest for greater unity. Amen.

Reflection Questions

What are the passages of Scripture that mean most to you?
Who or what in your life makes your heart burn with a passion for the gospel and a desire to give witness to Christ?
Which passages from the Scriptures have helped you to better understand the witness of other Christians?
How may our churches use the Scripture more effectively in their daily life and prayer?

Theologian of the Papal Household

His study has a view of a small courtyard where the papal guillotine once stood, and where a pillar likely used for the flogging of heretics and criminals can still be seen. The corridor leading from his office is lined with Roman tombstones, and the Swiss Guard are omnipresent with full regalia and halberds. Once known as the Master of the Sacred Palace, the Theologian of the Papal Household has four large paintings in his room each depicting miniature portraits of his nearly 100 predecessors (all Dominicans), starting with St. Dominic himself.

Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP, Theologian of the Papal Household

Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP was appointed in December of 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI, and is just beginning his fifth of a five-year term of office. A Polish Dominican born and raised in London, he describes himself as a true “prisoner of the Vatican”, albeit in a gilded cage. Outspoken, jovial, and unafraid to tell it how it is, Fr. Giertych shared with the lay centre residents his thoughts on Thomas, on theology and philosophy, the vocation of the laity, the challenge of contemporary religious life, contemporary challenges arising from the “crisis of 1968” (not Vatican II, note) including relativism, and the practical life of a Vatican officer.

One might be inclined to ask, “Why does the pope need a theologian?” especially a pope like Benedict, the first theologian to be elected pope in a couple centuries. Traditionally, there were three duties ascribed to the office: Offering theological instruction to the papal court (back when most of the court were not monsignori with doctorates in theology, philosophy, or canon law), reviewing any theological books published in Rome, and vetting the papal addresses (especially important at a time when most popes were politicians, warriors, or, worse, nobility).

Now, this means reviewing the drafts of papal allocutions drafted by the staff of Vatican speech writers, though he is neither the first nor the last word on the matter. And, Fr. Wojtech points out, his role is to examine theological content and look for phrases that could be misunderstood, especially by mass media – not to judge the prudence of an address (questions around Regensburg were raised). The most interesting papal addresses are the ones he does not see – those that the pope prepares personally: in Benedict’s case, his encyclicals, major homilies, and annual advent address to the Roman Curia. Given how much is written for the pope, it is like having a graduate seminar with Professor Ratzinger almost every day – even if the personal meetings are less often.

Occasionally the various dicasteries in the curia ask him for theological input on a document, and he serves as consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In one of the oldest continuously operating bureaucracies on the planet, he’s one man serving in an office consisting of only himself. It can be hard to tell what effect his work is having without the constant interaction of peers. This touches on one of the challenges for a friar used to life in community, used to working and living in constant contact and consultation with other people, now working in a more solitary position.

He did get invited to lunch with the pope, once. It is fairly common knowledge that Pope Benedict normally prefers to eat alone or with the sisters who prepare his meals – understandable for an introvert in an intensely public office! However, when a film crew came in to film a “day in the life of the pope”  for international TV consumption, it happened that the Holy Father would be seen having a ‘working lunch’ with three members of the papal family, including, as it happens, Fr. Giertych. (“A great, open conversation. We three had wine, while the pope had juice”) As it was viewed around the world, some cardinals expressed how lucky our Friar Preacher was – even they had never had lunch with the pope!

“Never mix theology and philosophy, because philosophy always wins.” Despite the irony of such a statement from a Thomist, or perhaps because of it, this comment alone sparked a conversation that continued with some of us well after Fr. Wojciech left for the evening. While philosophy – in the broad sense of all the ‘sciences’ and other disciplines – can serve the church and our study of theology, they should never be confused as if they are theology, or as if the revelation of the Word should be judged according to the criterion of philosophy, politics, or social sciences. When this happens you end up getting the problems that, for him, have stemmed especially from 1968, and include the identification of the faith with one political party (‘as a good Catholic you must vote for candidate X or party Y’), the revision of the life of faith to fit in with what people expect from other fields, and end up with relativism (‘there may be a Truth, but we can’t know the Truth, so you have your truth and I have my truth’).

The conversation got really interesting as we delved into the vocation, identity, and relationships of the laity, clergy, and religious. Religious should be visible in the world, and laity should be “discreet” (leaven in the world, to use another phrase) – and we have had trouble with religious being more like laity and laity being more like religious. Specifcally, he noted some religious orders without habits of any kind (“it doesn’t matter what kind: a modern habit or a medieval habit or a 19th century habit”) living in apartments where you can hardly find them, or some of the lay movements whose first order of business seems to be deciding what kind of habit to design – and the more medieval the better!

When I asked about lay people serving in ministry positions, his response was about people wanting to be the lector all the time, or spend all their time helping at the church because something is amiss in their real life or they do not understand that the primary lay ministry is in the world, not collecting money at mass or something, “don’t spend your life holding on to the sacristy door”. But what about lay people serving the church in a paid, full time manner? Even the Roman curia has lay ministers in its employ?

“Well, of course the church will always need administrative personnel, computer technicians, finance experts, people to manage the facilities – especially in places where the church is burdened with such institutions as schools and hospitals”. Pastors should not be “running the plant”, but should be engaged in sacramental and pastoral ministry. But even this was more about ‘secular’ jobs that one could do for the church or for another entity, not so much ecclesial vocations; we tried a different track: We are here in Rome, studying at pontifical universities, to get ecclesiastical degrees – what would he expect for us to do with them?

“We have a saying in Poland: man cannot live on theology alone!” As a lay person you should be thinking of making a living, to support a family, you cannot do this with a theology degree. You cannot come from a degree and demand a job from the bishop – he may not have the money. [Can you imagine anyone demanding a job from a bishop???] We need the people (mentioned above) to be theologically trained, but it should be a secondary to your primary education. He shared his experience fromPoland, where a degree is a civil, legal contract – maybe in that system there is a “demand” to be employed in the field. But he wondered most people studying in Poland for theology degrees should have instead been studying harder subjects like medicine or law, but admitted that each country is different: “We have 100 friars living at the monastery in Krakow, 14 masses a day, confessions with two-hour waiting lines” and no experience of a non-ordained person devoting their life to the church outside of a religious community.

 “I’d rather see thirty ‘normal’ people give one hour a week, than to pay one person for thirty hours a week, if that person does not have the best formation…” But, he admits he may be wrong as he quoted the Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar, who wrote after being dragged to Rome to be questioned in the 1950’s, wrote in his journals “I may be getting the answers wrong, but these are real questions – and that’s what enervates these people here in Rome!” He was asking questions about the laity and ministry and looking to scripture and the patristic sources for answers. We have to keep asking these real questions, even if it takes time to get the right answers; that is better than ignoring the problems!

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