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Reasons and Habits of the Heart

I recently met a young man from an Evangelical Christian background who is in an RCIA program, preparing to be received into the Catholic Church. I asked him what attracted him to Catholicism and his response was twofold. First, he found that Catholicism set his relationship to Jesus in the deeper and fuller foundation of Trinitarian theology. Second, he found great sustenance in the sacramental life of the Church, especially, of course, the Eucharist.I was reminded of my conversation with him when I read a review (subscribers only) in the current "Commonweal." The author of the review, Nathaniel Peters, is a doctoral student in theology at Boston College. The book under review is a sympathetic study by a psychologist of the evangelical movement known as the Vineyard churches. This part of the review I thought especially worthy of note. Peters comments:

For Christians who grew up thinking that God was distant and irrelevant to their lives, a Vineyard church may offer a kind of intimacy theyve never experienced. For some Catholics who feel burdened by church doctrines or bored by stale liturgies, this may seem an attractive option. But Vineyard churches also show the danger of do-it-yourself religion, of private religious experience undisciplined by a largerand deepertheological tradition. You cant simply name it and claim it if you take your cues from St. Francis. Yes, both Ignatius of Loyola and the Vineyard stress an affective spirituality that engages the imagination, and both value intimacy with God and a sense of his presence in the little things of life. But Ignatius also believed firmly in sacraments whose efficacy did not depend on emotional response. Faith was not reducible to feeling, and the way to intimacy with God was not by diminishing the role of doctrine, but by rediscovering its source. For Ignatius, it was a mistake to try to tether God to ones own desires; discipleship required radical availability to Gods will.

"Rediscovering its source" -- or, as I've suggested before: a radical re-Sourcement. In this, we can all continue to learn from Dorothy Day (with many thanks to Patrick Jordan for his splendid remembrance). Jordan writes:

For her faith, she had given up friends and what she called a life of natural happiness with the man she loved, Forster Batterham, the father of her daughter. He had refused to marry Dorothy and derided her conversion to Catholicism. Still, years later Dorothy was able to say, It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child thirty-five years ago; and that joy is constantly renewed as I receive Our Lord at Mass. As a result of her wrenching personal sacrifice, she considered the loss of faith the greatest of disastersthe greatest unhappiness. She found daily Mass to be an antidote to apostasy, calling it the most important work of the day. If I can just remember to do that wellas well as I am ableeverything else will take care of itself, she said. 

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Father Imbelli:The words "began to believe" at the end of yesterday's Gospel struck me very strongly. They weren't taken up in the homily. Your thread opens with the young man who is preparing to enter the Catholic Church. I thought of him and the journey we are all embarked on, whether at twenty or seventy. It seems to me to be a lifelong process of "beginning to believe." But only THEN, "face to face."

"I think it is a very weak link to base affirmations about sex on grammatical gender. In many instances in many languages there is no correlation."JAK --True, there is no necessary correlation between real gender and grammatical gender, but at times the correlation does happen to be descriptive and helps to convey a meaning. Do you really think that the fact that so many languages have gender based declentions has no relationship at all to reality? Are there any languages in which, for instance, "woman" or "mother" is a masculine noun? I doubt it. Such primitive concepts/words tend to retain the fundamental facts/connotations that they were intended to describe.I don't say that "sophia" being feminine grammatically *proves* that the Holy Spirit is the feminine Person. But it certainly suggests that when the Greeks used the term "sophia" they were thinking of a feminine quality. And we must add to that the fact that sophia was identified with Athena, who was the goddess of wisdom and the chief god of Athens itself. Athens even shares its name with Athena, and we know the value those citizens placed on knowledge and the pursuit of truth. Given the word's meaning and grammatical gender plus the association with Athena, I think an ancient Greek would be very much inclined to think of wisdom as a feminine quality, at least when thinking about gods.So it seems reasonable to me to think that the Greek word "sophia" has retained Greek connotations in the Gospels in the very same way that the Greek word "logos" has retained Greek connotations when it is applied to the Second Person. Surely the Greek meaning of the word "logos" strongly influenced the theological understanding of the Second Person. I don't doubt that the Holy Spirit was at work when She had those who wrote the Gospels used the word "wisdom/sophia" to describe Herself. All I am saying is there is a strong current of identifying wisdom with the female in Greek thought and language, and it would be rash to ignore this undercurrent in reading and interpreting the Greek of the Gospels.

Anne --In Scholastic thinking gender is not a purely physical quality or set of qualities. It includes strong spiritual inclinations to specific virtues. For instance, femininity includes a strong inclination to gentleness. Whether or not the Scholastics were right about which quality mainly belonged to which gender is another question. However, as to gentleness, it does seem that contemporary psychologists have found that on average, anyway, males are more aggressive than females.I for one think it will be many moons before the scientists of either gender can be very objective in such studies. There's too much cultural baggage still operating.

JAK --I read most of the Tavard article. I find it particularly unconvincing because he jumps to conclusions on the basis of half-truths, and he himself says that his whole position hangs on the theory of proper proportionality -- but he totally misunderstands what that that theory is about. At least the way he sees is it not the way I learned it in school and the way have found it confirmed in my reading. A better hypothesis for explaining his conclusions is that the is after all a garden variety sexist in spite of his talk of Aquinas and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein (whom he also doesn't know too well).

Ann: What do you make of the fact that pneuma (spirit) in Greek is neuter in gender? Why would this not be as important as that sophia is feminine? And by the way, in the New Testament, associations with sophia are far closer and more frequent for Christ the logos than for the Spirit. For examples of several other languages and how they relate or don't relate grammatical gender and sexual differentiation, cf. Tavard's article.In German the word for "girl" is neuter. In Latin the word for "sailor" is feminine. Etc., etc.From Wikipedia:

In a few languages, the gender assignation of nouns is solely determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex, humanness, animacy. However, in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word "manliness" could be of feminine gender). In this case, the gender assignation can also be influenced by the morphology or phonology of the noun, or in some cases, can be completely arbitrary.

For manliness, that is, characteristics of men, see: Spanish (hombra, virilidad, masculinidad), German (Mnnlichkeit, Virilitt), Latin (virtus).

I would point out that Elizabeth Johnson discusses the issue of the feminine and the Spirit in the 3rd chapter of She Who Is, and it is a nuanced overview; she also points out where Congars and Boff discuss the femininity of the Spirit.She also makes the simple but necessary point that the trinity often veers toward a binary in Christian theology, with the Spirit just being too tough for people to keep on a level with the Son and Father.I would like to note that discussion of Greek ideas of wisdom and the feminine seems like a less fruitful path than that provided for the more explicit connection made in the Hebrew Bible, where the spirit is amply described as feminine, and where Wisdom is a woman.I would also note that, from a Pauline perspective, at least, spirit seems more a "stuff" than a "person," so the gender isn't the only lens available.

I think the idea that love should last forever and that God is love is part of why people don't like the idea that love is a feeling .... it's a distrust of human nature (the fear that a feeling can't be sustained) and a belief that God is impassible (and doesn't feel love as a emotion). But I do think love is a feeling, that people can sustain it for a lifetime and beyond, and that God loves us emotionally. You can re-define love as a duty or a choice to try to make it more do-able, but I think that's cheating :)

Abe writes apropos Elizabeth Johnson:"She also makes the simple but necessary point that the trinity often veers toward a binary in Christian theology, with the Spirit just being too tough for people to keep on a level with the Son and Father."I think a considerable part of the challenge is that we tend to think of the "persons" or "hypostases" of the Trinity in a univocal way. Both Rahner and von Balthasar suggest that "person" is precisely what is different in the Trinity. Thus the Spirit is not "person" in the same way that Father and Son are. The Spirit is "person" of "persons." For all the vaunted "superiority" of Orthodoxy in matters pneumatological, I think a robust theology of the Holy Spirit is very much a desideratum in both West and East. The "symbol" has still to give rise to systematic thought.

In French the gender of words is defined by three factors: meaning, spelling, and hearing.Of the 965 words ending in "-it ", only one (karit) is masculine and all others are feminine, for example "virilit" and "masculinit". In that case gender has nothing to do with meaning and everything to do with spelling. (http://french.chass.utoronto.ca/fre180/Genre.html )The Holy Spirit is masculine in French (LE Saint Esprit), but there is no neutral. Since there does not seem to be any reason for it to be masculine - the concrete images that first come to mind for it, dove, breeze, fire, are genderless -, I would naturally make it an "it" in English; but no one does that and I got rebuked for it once, so now I try to remember to say "she". I have a similar problem for Church (UNE glise). I don't have a sense that it has to be feminine - the definition, people of God, is genderless, and the images for it, body of Christ, flock, building of God, holy temple, our mother, bride of Christ, are quite mixed - so I would naturally make it an "it" in English; but no one does that and I got rebuked for it once, so now I try to remember to say "she".

oops. I got rebuked once for saying "it" instead of "she", but can't remember if it was for the Holy Spirit or for the Church!...

Ivan Illich distinguished between the Church as "It" (Bad) and the Church as "She" (Good).

"Ann: What do you make of the fact that pneuma (spirit) in Greek is neuter in gender?"JAK --In this context I'll just point out that "pneuma" is neither is female nor male, so that makes it irrelevant for this discussion.As for sophia being associated with Christ, it seems to me that all the Persons, sharing the Godhead, must be themselves be like as well as different from each other in some way. And that, to me is the great problem of the Trinty: how are the Persons both alike and different? But surely since Scripture speaks of Father and son, it means that there are both likenesses and differences between at least those two, which suggests that there are likenesses and differences amongst all of them, and we might find them if we went looking for them with open minds.I just find it extraordinary that, given the church';s later teaching of the equality of male and female, the theologians don't look for the ways the female aspects of God are revealed in Scripture. The resistance to looking for such likeness is, I don't doubt, part of the ancient prejudice against women, prejudice operating in the culture of Jesus' day too, and, perhaps in the Evangelists and Paul to some extent.Yes, the first part of Tavard's article is quite interesting, but it goes downhill.

Fr K: and you distinguish between the Church as "They" (Bad) and the Church as "We" (Good)! Right?

JAK ==As to the Wikipedia snip, it is no doubt true that very abstract terms like "manliness" are sometimes female. But those are later additions to languages. My point was that of the most primitive, early words in languag, e.g., "woman", "mother", "father", "man", you rarely if ever find them classified as the opposite sex in grammatical structures. Note: even to speak of, say, the 16 grammatical "genders" in an African language is to switch the meaning of "gender" entirely. In reality there are only two gender poles -- male and female with combinations of both and differences of degree -- there isn't male, female, some gender entirely different from those two, and some gender entirely different from those three genders, and . . . . (That's another thing I have against Tavard -- he doesn't seem to see that.)

Ann: Talk about your apodictic statements: "In reality there are only two gender poles male and female with combinations of both and differences of degree there isnt male, female, some gender entirely different from those two." In fact, in Latin and Greek, to name only two of many, there are three genders--you've left out neuter. You appear above to be committing the classic error of petitio principii, taking it for granted that there must be some close link between grammatical gender and sexual differentiation. If you are going to make so much depend on Sophia's being feminine, why do you dismiss the fact that Pneuma is neuter? Why doesn't it count for as much, if the argument is from grammatical gender?And, not so by the way, lots of theologians have looked for and found feminine images of God in the Bible. I guess you're just not familiar with the literature.

"Ann: What do you make of the fact that pneuma (spirit) in Greek is neuter in gender?"JAK --In this context I'll just point out that "pneuma" is neither is female nor male, so that makes it irrelevant for this discussion.As for sophia being associated with Christ, it seems to me that all the Persons, sharing the Godhead, must be themselves be like as well as different from each other in some way. And that, to me is the great problem of the Trinty: how are the Persons both alike and different? But surely since Scripture speaks of Father and son, it means that there are both likenesses and differences between at least those two, which suggests that there are likenesses and differences amongst all of them, and we might find them if we went looking for them with open minds.I just find it extraordinary that, given the church';s later teaching of the equality of male and female, the theologians don't look for the ways the female aspects of God are revealed in Scripture. The resistance to looking for such likeness is, I don't doubt, part of the ancient prejudice against women, prejudice operating in the culture of Jesus' day too, and, perhaps in the Evangelists and Paul to some extent.Yes, the first part of Tavard's article is quite interesting, but it goes downhill.Now: what do you make of Gen. 26-27"2y Then God said, Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.27 So God created humankind[e] in his image, in the image of God he created them;[f] male and female he created them"How com "we", God, made humankind *like* God, i.e. "male and female"? (I'm astonished at this. I never noticed it before myself.)"

JAK --There are as many as 16 "genders" in one of the African languages, but they most have nothing to do with sexual differences. So to speak of "grammatical genders" in linguistics is to use the word equivocally from its use in everyday English classrooms.

I love it when Father K gets catty. Genuinely, I do.

JAK --There are as many as 16 "genders" in one of the African languages (Bantu if I'm not mistaken), but they most have nothing to do with sexual differences. So to speak of "grammatical genders" in linguistics is to use the word equivocally from its use in everyday English classrooms.As to sophia, I am actually NOT arguing simply from grammatical gender: I am arguing from the nature of primitive language as expressing ontological facts, not grammatical ones. As I said, it is highly likely that the grammatical gender of mother and father reflect actual, ontological differences, not contingent classifications based on something other than sexual differences.True, I'm not acquainted with most of the literature. One reason is because so much of what I've tried to read *on both sides of the sexism-in-Catholic-theology issue* is that both, the theologians and the Catholic feminists tend to be so bad a philosophy. Or should I say their prejudices are such that they don't write much worth reading. Take Mary Daly whom Tavard refers to. I did read some of her years ago. I think she was an ideologue, saw what she hoped to see. And others I've tried were not much different. But the sexism is just as strong or stronger on the other side. In fact, the subject of feminism was never a big revelation to me. My mother and my aunt attended a college (as did I) where feminism was new in the early 20th century, and it was very much emphasized there. In fact, the college (Newcomb) was founded in part to teach women how to have professions which would make them self-supporting.. So the feminism of the '60s to me was sort of been there, done that. As I said to Crystal, I think it will be a long time before both sides can be objective about the subject.Sorry to be going on in such length, folks, but I am a feminist of a rather old fashioned sort, and some challenges shouldn't go unanswered.

" Im not sure how the Eucharist can give a person experience of Jesus in the same way interactive prayer does."Crystal,All Jesus is is in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the celebration of the life, death, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The Eucharist is the quintessential of our faith; the life of being a Christian which the imitation, inasmuch as we can, of the life of Jesus. As far as the Trinity is concerned the literature is not just mildly confused but seriously confused so that the most fair thing to do would be to concentrate on the Eucharist. There were meanderings before Augustine but Augustine just got out of control with his speculation. Which the western world followed. Most likely since Augustine wrote so much. The essence of Christianity is the life, crucifixion, and resurrection. This is why the Sunday celebration is so meaningful. It is where we meet as church and where we live in the life of the Spirit.

Bill, I question how one can concentrate on the eucharist, which is the chief means by which people participate in Christ, while ignoring christological and trinitarian problems, except by willfully embracing the pure acceptance of received doctrine. It's true enough that the theological argumentation concerning these topics is confusing--perhaps hopelessly so--but unless you approach everything through mystification, the problem of how the eucharist actually functions can't really be separated from the problem of how the human relates to the divine in Christ, and how Christ relates to the Trinity. Like I said, the literature covering the topic is a slaughterhouse, but I'm not sure what one is supposed to do should they want to go beyond accepting that "the eucharist is X" and ask, "HOW is the eucharist X?" As convoluted and prone to abuse as such theological inquiries can be, I can also see how there's also room in them for an enriched understanding of the sacrament.

Bill and Abe,The idea of Jesus in a wafer seems reductive to me. I understand that the Eucharist symbolizes Jesus' life, death, resurrection, but it seems to leave out the living Jesus himself ... even given transubstantiation, there's no real-time interaction, it's instead a ritual in which he's there physically but not intentionally. Sorry - don't mean to be disrespectful. I guess that's one part of RCIA that I never really understood.

We do not have to elaborate. We go on faith. The focus is on how Jesus reconciles us with the Father/Mother. This is why Jesus said to become infants. We relive these events in each Eucharist and we recommit ourselves our great and forgiving God. To deviate into how Jesus is present and how is to miss it. This is a celebration of OUR redemption. God forgives and pours out love to us which we return united with each other.

What do you folks on this thread mean by "heart"? (I think that there are enormous semantic problems with the word. Sooo many meanings.)

Crystal, I was looking for information on that question recently and my favorite "explanation" (that does not really explain, but is evocative anyway) was in a short homily by St Augustine. http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.ht... he imagines the people are thinking is very close to what you wrote. What he answers is very close to what Bill wrote, but perhaps more eloquent (no offense meant, Bill!). As you read it you can hear the passion in his voice, from so many centuries ago. I find it powerfully uplifting. He is so eager that you irresistibly follow his train of thoughts along with him, so straightforward that you are never blocked by an obstacle in understanding. He does not hesitate to write that he does not understand something, when he doesn't, but shows how that does not stop his faith, and one is invited to join him in faith. He is so attractive that he makes me wish I could have known him in person. I bet he turned all the people around him into saints.

I guess that makes me a member of the Augustine fan club!

Crystal writes:"The idea of Jesus in a wafer seems reductive to me. I understand that the Eucharist symbolizes Jesus life, death, resurrection, but it seems to leave out the living Jesus himself even given transubstantiation, theres no real-time interaction, its instead a ritual in which hes there physically but not intentionally."Jesus is present sacramentally in the Eucharist. His is a true sacramental presence. He is present sacramentally as the living One with whom we have intense and intentional relations in real time.He is present in this Eucharist and in every Eucharist throughout the world sacramentally and temporally. And he is present non-sacramentally and eternally to the saints in the Kingdom of the Father.So Abe is quite correct that faith seeks understanding, always limited and partial, of the Mystery we celebrate.And with Claire we can turn once again to Augustine, who at the conclusion of his profound, yet humble meditations on the Trinity, writes:"When the wise man spoke of You in his book, which is now called by the special name of Ecclesiasticus, he said: "We speak much, and yet come short; and in sum of words, He is all." When, therefore, we shall have come to You, these very many things that we speak, and yet come short, will cease; and You, as One, will remain "all in all." And we shall say one thing without end, in praising You the One God, ourselves also made one in You. "O Lord the one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books that is of Yours, may they acknowledge who are Yours; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned me both by You and by those who are Yours. Amen."P.S. Abe, any reflection on my comment at 1/21 -- 3:56 p.m.?

In the Episcopal BCP the post-eucharistic prayer has always made sense to me:Eternal God, heavenly Father,you have graciously accepted us as living membersof your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,and you have fed us with spiritual foodin the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.Send us now into the world in peace,and grant us strength and courageto love and serve youwith gladness and singleness of heart;through Christ our Lord. Amen.I have always looked at the sacrament like that: As Jesus feeding you with himself in some real way that brings you into the fold, strengthening you, so you can better go about a life of Christian service and charity. I agree with Crystal that in some RCIA classes, there may be so much talk about how other denominations have got the eucharist wrong--either as a commemoration or because they fall short of whole-hearted endorsement of transubstantiation--that they forget to talk about what it's good for.

Jean,it is a lovely prayer -- and formative of habits of the heart.

Thanks, all of you - I'll check out the Augustine link.

Crystal --Intentionality isn't just a matter of knowing, it's sometimes a matter of turning towards a good and being helped in moving towards that good. It seems to me that this latter sort of intentionality is what reception of the Eucharist is largely about. One comes to me moved in a certain direction (a grace) in a way and with more strength (another grace) that one doesn't have without "going to Communion". This isn't a physical thing, it's spiritual but none the less real. And it's personal, since it is obviously tailored to the needs of the individual recipient. At least that is what usually happens for me.Other people, the holy ones, actually seem to be aware of the presence of the Lord within themselves, spirit to Spirit, or heart to Heart if you prefer that terminology. I can't imagine anything more personal.

Somehow this poem seems appropriate here --Little White Churchby Marilyn Nelson Eaton, NH, 1879Us Free Will Baptists walked a thin tightwire,a springing path out over the abyss.We knew how a sudden April desire to dancecan topple you head over heels into the fire.We knew how warmth exuded by a youthsinging at prayer meeting in a nearby seatand inhaled deeply can inebriateyou to the point of renouncing the truth.We lived repent-now-before-it's-too-late.We didn't believe God forgives you, once and for all.We knew how you can just turn around and fall,of your own free will, how easy it is to doubt.But there's no Free Willers left around this placesince the Phelps boy come back from Harvard talking about Grace.

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About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.