Devotions
Part 9 Conclusions

Chapter v93 Five Questions

1.  Intellect and Will

2.  The "Cost" of Devotional Prayer

3. Defective Christology?

4. Jesus as Sacrament of God

5. God and Gender

To Think About

1. Intellect and Will

We human beings are complex creatures, and the various sciences (philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc.) continually try to understand who we are and how we operate. The philosophers and the scholastic theologians describe us as creatures of intellect and will. We think and act (and feel). Contemporary philosophers such as Myers and Briggs find that each of us are both thinkers and feelers, yet each of us is unique in how we balance of these faculties.

There is a certain truth in the statement: "Love is blind." Sometimes the intensity of our feelings can cause us to make decisions in which our intellect plays a minimal role. But things seem to go best when our decisions are reasonable.

We must always be careful when we are offering an intellectual critique of someone or something that another person has a particular love/affection for.  For example, we may not want to tell a mother that her baby is the ugliest baby we have ever seen, even if that is our "intellectual, objective, evaluation" of the facts!

And we usually give a person a certain "liberty" to "stretch the truth" when describing objects of love/devotion.  E.g. when my friend George tells me that his wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, I do not feel the need to correct his false judgment. 

I only mentioned these basic experiences because religion [Christianity / Catholicism] also has rational, volitional, and emotional components.

Just as our relationships with other human beings involved both intellectual/rational and volitional/emotional considerations, so it would seem reasonable to believe that the same dimensions are operative in our relationship with God and our prayer and devotions. But this is not always been the case.

When the "official" prayer of Christians began to be celebrated in a language that was not understood by the majority of Christians, they naturally turned to other forms of prayer which they could understand. (It is hard to love something that you don 't understand.) As the liturgy became the prayer of the clerics, the laity turned to devotions as a way to express their love for God. Even the clergy turned to devotions for spiritual nourishment -- at least those for whom Latin was a foreign language which impeded type of emotional involvement in liturgical prayer. (For example, the Roman Missal gives prayers for the priest to say before and after Mass, presuming that during the Eucharist he will be too busy following the rubrics and avoiding the numerous possible mortal sins that one could commit by not following the rubrics precisely.)

It seems that it is difficult to believe in a God who is love itself and not have an emotional, loving, relationship that God. What could be more normal than our devotional prayer to have an emotional dimension. Yet at the same time there seems to be little concern for the "intellectual" content of devotional prayer. It does not seem to matter if devotions are based on actual historical fact or if they express a Christian view of merit and grace, etc.  Devotions are often more "heart" than "head".

History seems to reveal that there is a relation between devotional prayer and liturgical prayer.  When the liturgy is celebrated well, devotions decline; when the liturgy is removed from the piety of the laity, devotions flourish.    But when we say "devotions decline" we do not mean that "prayer declines" but that as the liturgy becomes more devotional, non-liturgical prayer is replaced by liturgical prayer which -- as the Constitution on the Liturgy states -- is better prayer.

My question: Is our attraction to devotional prayer the result of the liturgy being "non-devotional" (i.e. all head and no heart)? (And are we concerned that devotional prayer can be all "heart" and no "head"?)

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2. The "Cost" of Devotional Prayer

Devotions "feel good."  They have been described as the "milk and cookies" part of Catholicism. [In reading your homework postings this emotional content was evident. Frequently you expressed an emotional attachment to saint and the devotion in question.]  When a devotion no longer makes us feel good, we simply stop practicing it.

In themselves, there is nothing wrong with milk and cookies. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with feeling good about praying. I do not find any place in Scripture where Jesus says that we are not supposed to feel good about loving God.

But I do find many places where Jesus places the emphasis on the practical actions which flow from loving God. The Gospels challenge us to continue the life of compassion modeled by Jesus himself. I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink. Hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the peacemakers. Love God with your whole heart and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself. Sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me. These commands involve a very different level of commitment than, for example, making the Five First Saturdays. Devotional prayer does not challenge us in the same way that the liturgy does.

I like milk and cookies. They make me feel good. But it is a different kind of "feel good" than the good feeling I have after a strenuous workout at the gym with the senior citizens.

My question is: Am I attracted to devotions simply because they do not have the same "cost" as the liturgy.

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3. Defective Christology?

The role the saints, and especially Mary, play in my life is related to how I understand the Christian life in general. And central to that understanding is my image of Jesus Christ. At the very heart of that big mass of our Christian iceberg that lies invisible, hidden below the surface of our consciousness is our understanding of Jesus Christ. My understanding of Christianity is necessarily related to the question "who is Jesus Christ?"

As I was thinking about this issue, I re-read the excellent article "Jesus Christ" by William P. Loewe, in The New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Komonchak, Collins and Lane, (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1989) pp 533-543. [The quotations from Loewe cited below are from this article.]

Who is Jesus Christ? This is a complex question and the answer is continually evolving! "What distinguished early Christians from their fellow Jews was their recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, or Christ." (Loewe, p 533) "In order to grasp for themselves and communicate to others at this experience of God 's salvation in Jesus, they needed to articulate who it was whom they followed. This was a task for the religious imagination." (Loewe, p 533)

An early stage in this "articulation" is found in the Christian Scriptures. "The New Testament provides evidence that in their liturgical practice and its symbolic narrative Christians were broadening their notion of God to include not only the one to whom Jesus had prayed but also Jesus himself." (Loewe, p 535)

In the years and centuries that followed, bishops, catechists, philosophers and theologians continued to articulate "Who is Jesus?" How to express that "Jesus is God. Jesus ' Father is God. Yet God is one." These ideas stretch our language -- and indeed -- our thought. Gradually we came to understand that Jesus was homoousios, one in being, consubstantial, with the Father. And the Council of Chalcedon "balancing Nicaea 's homoousios with the Father, affirms that the Son is likewise homoousios with us, like us in all things except sin. (Loewe, p 537)

Fully God. Fully Human. But, alas! It is difficult to keep that balance. Jesus is the only "instance" we have of such a person and our language doesn't deal well with the "unique."

The scholastics discussed the issue of Jesus and their discussions become "a body of knowledge" handed on through the years. New questions arise with the Enlightenment and the new understandings of Scripture. The Catholic Church 's response results in an "impoverishment as theology became dogmatic, shifting in form from the question of Thomas' Summa to the thesis of the manuals and in goal from understanding what the tradition proposed for belief to demonstrating the truth of those beliefs with a certitude gleaned largely from an appeal to authority."

When I was studying theology in the seminary (1961-1966) our textbook (a classic manual by Adolphe Tanquerey) presented the hypostatic union; the special (divine) gifts Jesus experienced in his humanity (e.g. he knew all things); and how his death was "special" in that it atoned for Adam 's sin in a way that no human death could.

The result of this study was a Jesus who was definitely divine, but hardly human. And if this divine/human balance is not preserved, Jesus can no longer be the "mediator between God and humans." (Jesus has moved to the "divine" side of the line.) Consequently, who is to take on the role of "mediator"? Mary and the saints move into this role.

My Question: Is [part of] my devotion to Mary and the saints the result of a defective Christology?

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4. Jesus as Sacrament of God

The understanding of Jesus as the revelation of God 's very being (e.g. Hebrews 1:1ff) was not part of my early study of Christology. Jesus, as sacrament, reveals a God who is Love, a Trinity of Love -- a loving parent.

The Manuals presented the God of Aristotle; supreme being, eternal, unchanging, all powerful and omnipotent. A God whom my imagination presented as judge, banker, policeman, accountant, etc. This was not a God I could love, but only fear. But the saints.... these were people I could love and have devotion for.

My Question: Is my devotion to Mary and the saints the result of a defective understanding of God as Trinitarian Love?

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5. God and Gender

In this same context it was presumed that God was "masculine" -- judge, banker, policeman, accountant -- even "father" is masculine. Where do I find the "divine feminine"?   See my notes at Chapter m63 Marian Devotions  

My Question: Is my devotion to Mary the result of a defective (i.e. masculine-ized) image of God?

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To Think About

I am very interested in your thoughts on these (and similar) issues. We Catholics take our devotion to the saints as "a given". How much of this devotion is based on solid theology? Do we have the ability and/or the courage to "look under the iceberg"?

Your thoughts....

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter. All Rights Reserved. This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.   Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own. Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 02/20/12. Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org