Joseph A. Komonchak

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

By this author

Seven score and ten years ago...

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In his anti-biography of St. Augustine, James O’Donnell has these two evocative paragraphs:

The Lincoln Memorial is a good place to go to think about Augustine. Nothing we know suggests that Abraham Lincoln was a particularly happy or well-adjusted man. His life was full of failures, personal and professional. His side won a war that it had seized almost every opportunity to lose.

But if you go up those steps and enter that space, you find yourself between two panels of words. One contains the Gettysburg Address, the other his second inaugural address. Those short texts have a fiery power that leaps across a century and a half. Go there of a Sunday afternoon and there will always be a half-dozen people standing or sitting quietly in alcoves, just reading those texts, slowly, carefully, from beginning to end, and going off thoughtfully afterwards.

Not a stone upon a stone

Just some notes as background for tomorrow’s Gospel. It begins with the admiration being expressed by some people at the Temple in Jerusalem, with its “costly stones and votive offerings.” To which Jesus replies: “All that you see here–the days will come when there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Lk 21:5-6).

Memory or History?

A day or so ago, while watching Norah O’Donnell interview Bob Schieffer about the assassination of President Kennedy fifty years ago, it dawned on me that she isn’t old enough to remember the event herself. (I checked: she was born in 1974.)  And that got me thinking about how for everyone under, say, 55 years of age, that moment is a matter of history and not of personal experience. People older than that will be able to say where they were when they heard the news, and how they learned of it, and what it was like to live through it and the events that followed immediately. 

Camus and Sartre

Albert Camus was born one hundred years ago tomorrow, and the occasion is being marked in various ways. The TLS Recently had a review of his writings on Algeria, his homeland.

Aaron and Hur

During Ordinary Time, the first reading at Mass, usually taken from the Old Testament, is chosen in function of the Gospel. Today’s Gospel gives the little paragraph about the wicked judge and pestering widow that Jesus told, Luke says, to illustrate “the need to pray always without becoming weary.” The first reading was chosen to provide an example of perseverance in prayer in the story of Moses standing on a hill holding up a staff and watching a battle between Israelite and Amalek forces the outcome of which depended on whether Moses could hold the staff up high.


Commenting on the same interview with Justice Scalia to which Molly draws our attention below, David Carr in today's NY Times discusses how people today tend to self-select the information and commentary to which they wish to subject themselves. Some quotes:

Knowing your limits

 Diane Ravitch has just published a controversial book on the state of education in this country. As revealed in this blog on Huffington Post, she is unhappy about some of the criticisms and has referred her critics to a very funny video about how women should keep their proper place in polite society. 

Holy Church

Pope Francis devoted his catechesis today to the holiness of the Church. His insistence that the primary meaning of the Creed’s statement that the Church is holy is that she is the creature and the recipient of God’s holy grace and gifts is well founded in the New Testament. This is a holiness that may and even must be acknowledged by those who constitute the Church on earth, not one of whom is not a sinner. As Augustine said somewhere, it is holy Church that prays every day: “Forgive us our trespasses.”

I note that the Pope did not make use of the view that has recently threatened to become canonical: that the Church is without sin but not without sinners. This formulation came from the Swiss theologian Charles Journet, but he, along with his close friend Jacques Maritain, defended the view that the Church has a “subsistence” of its own that is not reducible to the subsistences of its members, that it is itself a “person” not reducible to the persons of its members. It is that supra-personal Church of which holiness is predicated. Journet did not, of course, deny that the Church was composed of sinners nor that among the worst of them were high ecclesiastical personages, but he did not think that their sins could be attributed to the Church which he identified instead with the gifts of God and their holy effects in the Church’s members. Yves Congar thought that this reified the formal element of the Church.

Augustine and Aquinas thought differently. Identifying the Church on earth with its members, all of whom are sinners and must plead everyday for the Lord to forgive them their trespasses, they said that the Church would be “without stain or wrinkle” only in the Kingdom.  Here is the neat short explanation in St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the article of the Creed:

What gives?

Complaints were registered on another thread that The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism, 672 pp., costs $199.95. Two books are reviewed in the last issue of Commonweal.  Gary Dorrien’s Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, 605 pp. long, is published by Oxford University Press, and costs $174.95. Halik Kochanski’s The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, 784 pp. long, is published by Harvard University Press and costs $35.00.

Mother Church

 In his Wednesday audiences, Pope Francis has been engaged in a catechesis on the Church. Yesterday he turned to the image of the Church as “Mother”: much used in the early Church, it still has its usefulness, the Pope suggests. As usual Francis had three points to make.

The Church is a mother, first, because she gives birth to us in faith and in baptism. In faith because it is from the Church that we receive the knowledge of God and of Christ, a point that he made personal in his letter yesterday to Scalfari: “Believe me, without the Church I would not have been able to encounter Christ.” Taking up the ancient symbol of the baptismal font as the womb of the Church, he speaks of baptism as “the moment in which we are given the life of God.” As usual, the Pope adds a challenge: