Bradford Hinze, professor of theology at Fordham University, speaking at the Catholic Theological Society of America June 12, whose 2010 convention theme is prophecy in the church, explored suffering and lamentations as ways to hear the Spirit.
He began by noting that the prophetic character and mission of the church has been of interest within the church, especially among religious congregations, since the Second Vatican Council.
He then turned his attention to a several dimensions of the prophetic character of Catholic ecclesiology.
“There is a need to complement the primary framework for construing prophecy and the prophetic character of the church (as Word or message received and witness given), with a transverse proposal that highlights the equally important work of the Spirit in the aspirations and laments of the people of God. “
The primary framework or schema for understanding prophecy, he said, has been in terms of individuals who receive a word from God about the present or the future and who deliver this message.
In a novel presentation that received wide acclaim from their colleagues, theologians Catherine Clifford of St. Paul University in Ottawa and Richard R. Gaillardetz of the University of Toledo co-authored and co-presented a paper at the Catholic Theological Society of America’s annual gathering entitled, “Beyond Presumption: Reimagining the Ecclesial-Prophetic Vocation of the Theologian.”
What follows is an edited outline of their talk. The authors spoke in tandem.
They began by noting the many positive signs of vitality they see in the theological community today, a more diverse and representative body of scholars.
So is the drawing up of a new Kairos document a possible course for North American theologians to take as a remedy to restore health in our church? This was a question begging for an answer following a talk today by Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Anne E. Patrick, during the second full day of the 2010 gathering of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Cleveland.
In a session that drew together three of the most respected “elders” in the church today – Patrick, Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, and former CTSA president, Father Gregory Baum, Patrick seemed to indicate the time might be right to consider the commitments made in the Kairos document a quarter century back.
While none made a big thing of it, word got out at this weekend’s gathering of the Catholic Theological Society of America that three women were celebrating their fiftieth year as vowed religious. Congregation of St. Joseph Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, Dominican Sister Jamie T. Phelps, and Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary Anne E. Patrick all are enjoying their golden anniversary.
Asked what has come out of 50 years of religious life, Johnson cited the excitement of the opening of the doors to lay ministries, Patrick, the surprises the Spirit keeps sending our way, and Phelps, the joys of working with so many good people.
These three women are living without regrets.
Despite the prophetic theme, “Theology’s Prophetic Commitments,” which runs through the talks at this year’s Catholic Theological Society of America, there has been relatively little overt criticism of Catholic patriarchal and, allow me, dysfunctional and unjust church structures.
In private conversations, especially in the wake of several more months of yet another round of episcopal sex abuse cover-ups in media coverage, this criticism is much more common. Vatican directed efforts to take our church back into pre-modern times when the world has moved into the post-modern era has made theology - evangelical work - more daunting, especially in the West.
Meanwhile, the chill that descended upon the Catholic theology dating back to the ouster of Father Charles Curran from the Catholic University of America in 1986, has stilted theological research, especially in areas such as moral theology and ecclesiology.
I’ve been in the Cajun area of southwestern Louisiana all week covering the Deepwater Horizon spill and its impact on humans and on the unique bioregion of the bayou country and the coast. In both the Lafayette and New Iberia areas where I’ve been staying, evidence of the oil and gas industry is everywhere.
A good part of the Lafayette airport is taken up by big yellow helicopters. It’s the main departure point for the crews that work on the distant offshore oil platforms. Along main highways are supply warehouses for drilling equipment, repair shops, the offices and kitchens of the catering companies that feed and water workers hundreds of miles offshore, and all manner of other support facilities.
As I munched on a shrimp po-boy sandwich in a New Iberia cafe, a crew wearing red Halliburton shirts sat across the aisle flirting with and making the young waitress laugh. Streets in Lafayette have French names in honor of the proud Acadian heritage. Two blocks from where my wife and I stayed was Petroleum Rd. and downtown there’s a large Oil Center.
So how is Catholic theology changing?
Let me offer an example by citing the first plenary session on the first full day of the gathering of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
First up was past CTSA president, Terrence W. Tilley, professor of Catholic Theology and chair of the department at Fordham University. He introduced the main speaker, Stephen J. Pope, professor of theology at Boston College, who gave an interesting talk about the importance of an emerging topic in theology, restorative justice. He was followed by Kristin E. Heyer, associate professor of theology at Santa Clara Universtiy, who gave an equally interesting response to Pope’s address, furthering the discussion and opening up and active discussion from the floor.
Dominican Sister Jamie T. Phelps is the 2010 recipient of the Ann O'Hara Graff Memorial Award from the Women's Seminar in Constructive Theology of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Phelps, has been a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters since 1959 and is currently professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies of Xavier University of Louisiana. She has been a member of the faculty of the Catholic Theological Union and Loyola University, both in Chicago, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Theology in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Dayton, Dayton Ohio.
Graff was one of the founders of the Women’s Seminar for Constructive Theology in the CTSA. The seminar now presents an annual award in her honor.
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