Arts and Culture

Dynamic Theology

This past summer on my vacation, I read two terrific theology books. One was Walter Cardinal Kasper’s “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life” (New York: Paulist Press, 2014, pp. 264, $29.95); the other was Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J.’s “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014, pp. 323).

I found the books scholarly and insightful but also exciting and inspiring. Reading them was an experience of what some people call spiritual reading.

Reflecting on the new theological insights that I received from reading these two books, I tried to pinpoint the most significant change in my own theology since I last formally studied theology 50 years ago. Probably the most radical and fundamental change in my own theology is the way that I now think about Christian revelation and faith.

When I was a student in the seminary and in graduate theology courses at Marquette University in Milwaukee, I thought of revelation primarily as a knowledge affair. My idea of revelation was of a message that God sent from heaven containing all that we need to know to be saved.

When I was a seminarian, I had the impression that the theology I was studying hadn’t changed significantly in centuries. The main point was that revelation was directed to our intellects. It was a set of ideas that God communicated to us. It appealed primarily to our minds.

Consequently, I thought of faith as a gift from God that enabled us to believe in the message, the propositions and ideas that God sent us. Now I think that revelation and faith are much more wonderful than I previously thought.

The description of revelation that I have adopted is from Father Edmond J. Dunn’s book, “What Is Theology?” (Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty Third Publications, 1998). Father Dunn has written the following:

“God’s gracious self-disclosure reaching out to humans as an invitation (as well as promise) to participate in God’s own life of unfathomable love, mediated to us through persons, nature, history, everyday experience, and in an ultimate way, in and through God’s very Word, Jesus Christ.” (p. 42)

So revelation is God inviting us into a love relationship. Who gets invited? Only Catholics? No. Everyone gets invited: Catholics, members of other Christian denominations, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics and atheists. Why God would want an intimate love relationship with those whom God has created is a great mystery. Perhaps the best answer we can give is that Love wants to share.

If revelation is an invitation, what is faith? Father Dunne writes the following about faith:

“Faith is our freely given, graced response to God’s invitation to a loving relationship that begins in preconceptual form but takes its cognitive form in creeds, preaching, prayer, doctrines, and dogmas of the faith community, and calls us to a discipleship of worship, personal transformation and action behalf of justice.”

So faith is saying yes to God’s invitation to us to enter a love relationship. When is this invitation offered? It is constant. God never withdraws the invitation. And when can it be accepted? At any time. I think of the Eucharist as an obvious illustration of God inviting us and we having the opportunity to accept God’s self-gift.

The Eucharist is a sacramental illustration of God’s offer and our acceptance. And it is important to note that neither God’s offer nor our acceptance is limited to the time that the Eucharist is being celebrated.

I agree with Father Dunne that the invitation is mediated in an ultimate way in and through Jesus Christ, but I also agree with Father Dunne that the invitation can be mediated through nature, history, everyday human experience and especially through other persons. My guess is that for married people the invitation is often mediated through a spouse. I believe that in my life, I have often received God’s invitation mediated to me through the wonderful friends I have had.

Our faith response – our acceptance of God’s self-gift – is possible because of God’s grace. When we accept God’s invitation, we should change. We should worship and be transformed. We should be concerned about those less fortunate.

Our saying yes to God should lead us to say yes by acting on behalf of justice. There are levels of depth in our relationship with God because of the depth of our commitment and our response to God’s invitation.

Father Robert Lauder, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, is the author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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