75th Annual Convention of the CTSA
Liturgy of the Word
Homily offered by Elsie Miranda, DMin.
On the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I extend an invitation to all of us who have gathered across time and space to reflect together on todays readings in light of the theme, “All You Who Labor: Theology, Work and Economy”-- nested within the celebration of the CTSA’s 75th Anniversary.
In Luke’s Gospel, we hear an unusual story about Jesus’ youth, when at the age of 12, he chose to stay behind in Jerusalem, where he sat in the temple, listening, and asking questions of the teachers for three days. In the Jewish tradition it wouldn’t have been uncommon for a boy of 12 to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah- his coming of age ritual. What is unusual however, is his apparent disobedience in choosing not to return with his family back to Nazareth, and to venture on his own to be with the teachers after the celebration of Passover (we don’t know what the teachers found astounding in Jesus, but that’s for another reflection). Filled with angst his parents searched for him for three days. When they finally found him, Mary asks, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” As a good Jew, Jesus responds to Mary’s question with two questions: “Why are you looking for me?” and “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Luke ends this story by saying that Mary kept all these things in her heart.” A heart that we know would be wounded many times, pierced by sorrows, grief, and sins that would test her endurance —yet Mary would remain faithful to the steadfast Love of God. On the Memorial of Mary’s Immaculate Heart, I encourage all of us, to reflect on the many times we have been grief stricken by the sins of our world and our Church--- together however, as a community, we have found the courage in our hearts to endure, to support one another and remain faithful.
As we continue to labor, in “our Father’s house,” I wonder how often our decisions over time might have been interpreted as disobedience, because we chose to listen to the people, to ask questions of our teachers, of our Church, and of each other-- to question the unexamined norms, to rely on our informed conscience, and reinterpret the meaning of stories we had long taken for granted. How often has our labor of Love for God, been judged or deemed unfit-- by authorities that did not understand our theological responses, or our questions of life’s ever-evolving, and liberating truths?
I wish to believe that in a similar fashion, during the last years of the second World War, when our founding fathers worked to establish the Catholic Theological Society of America, as a decisively American-- Catholic, Theological Society, they did so impelled by the Love of Christ-- as Paul reminds us in the first reading. At a time when Europe was in rubbles, global strife was ongoing, the atrocities of genocide could no longer be denied, rampant fear, propaganda, and the perpetuation of lies that legitimized the systematic oppression of the other-- shed light on the complicit silence of the Catholic Church in Europe. Perhaps these sins of humanity led our founding fathers to labor, and to give birth to something new. (Charlie’s book on the history of the CTSA can shed more light on these undergirding realities) but I find this history relevant because although 75 years have passed the seeds of division, fear, and distrust are being planted again within our own Church. Where are the opportunities for dialogue that may yield astonishment—if we cannot even listen to one another?
Recently I did a review of the 60 Catholic schools that are members of ATS (see appendices to review data). I found that 38% of the accredited Catholic schools are Diocesan seminaries whose primary mission is “to form” or “the formation” of men for ordination and service to the Church.” 100% of these students are enrolled in MDiv programs and they have their education completely subsidized by the Dioceses where they will eventually serve and have life-long job security. Of these 23 schools 1/3rd, are explicitly driven by The New Evangelization (a “return to Orthodoxy” form of Roman Catholicism and interestingly very well-funded). Meanwhile 43% of Catholic Schools accredited by ATS have a primary mission of “educating/preparing/ or forming women and men for scholarship/ leadership/ and ministry to the Church and world.” Almost all of these schools are run by Religious Orders, with mission statements that include words like leadership, justice, transformation, Catholic-Intellectual-Tradition, and whole person, (just to name a few) representing a parallel educational experience to the Diocesan Seminaries. Among these schools the completion rates of MA degrees by women has been consistently higher for the past 27 years, yet at a higher cost to the students both personally and financially, even though job security and a just wage cannot be guaranteed-- yet still they prevail.
In this parallel educational universe, we have to ask ourselves, what motivates us to do theology? What forms the foundations of our theological works? Who and for what are we doing this work for? What impact is our theological work having on our students, on the Church and on society?
It is fascinating that roughly 68% of the students enrolled in Catholic schools are lay women and men; 21% are seminarians and 11% are members of religious orders – but upon completion of their degrees, the power and authority granted to these students is phenomenally disproportionate.
Our founding fathers knew, like Paul says in 2 Cor. that the members of this society had to be “ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us” to be reconcilers in a world snarled in divisions. How might we mediate the Call of God to new laborers who seek certitude and belonging, alongside those who desire to breathe new life into a more inclusive Church? How do we reach out to the people in the pews and to young priests who five to six years after ordination find themselves ill prepared to deal with the complexities of a broken world and a sinful Church? How might we be reconcilers and mediators of Grace, like Mary, impelled by the love of Christ? As our friend Bob Schreiter wrote, the starting point of reconciliation is God’s Grace, which breaks in, unexpectedly to offer a new perspective, a new way forward (Ministry of Reconciliation). As ambassadors for Christ, how might we embody the courage of Mary to say yes, to being women and men consecrated to her Immaculate Heart? After all, in the context of the Catholic imagination, Mary is the great equalizer. Every culture engages Mother Mary in the transformation of sorrows, to forge a new path forward. Together, may we continue to work to transform sin through the Love of Christ—not only through reason, but through a theology of encounter, willing to be with and among the most vulnerable.
Looking back and moving forward, we know that God has called each of us to do the work of theology, to respond to God’s invitation in apparent disobedience to the will of man, in order to be faithful to the will of God. As ambassadors for Christ, our work together and in our own corners of the world, is impelled by the love of Christ—for 75 years our work has challenged and consoled. Over the course of those 75 years the Academy has changed in ways our founders could have never imagined. Yet despite our institutional limitations we come together every year as a Catholic Theological Society of America, as a community of friends, striving to keep our work faithful and relevant, even though many of us have been wounded for our obedience to God’s urgings, wherein we have found the courage to ask the critical questions, to think again, and speak the uncomfortable truths, to challenge unsubstantiated claims-- and despite the pierced hearts, we have stayed, we have banded together, and remained true. Moving forward, may we continue to embody the sacramental presence of Christ, in a world that hungers for justice and mercy and to do the theological work that reconciles the world through Christ-- In the Immaculate Heart of Mary—
To this may we all say, Amen!