Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Becoming Dr. Dawn: A grateful remembrance of my defense

The post-defense victory photo! Behind me, from left, are Rev. Emery de Gaál, Third Reader; Dr. Matthew Levering, Director; Very Rev. Thomas Baima, Vice Rector for Academic Affairs and Doctoral Board Convener; and Dr. Reinhard Hütter, Second Reader.
It is with great gratitude to God and to you, the readers who have been praying for me and helping support me throughout my journey, that I can now share the wonderful news that on Thursday, March 31, 2016, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. The Doctoral Board—Director and First Reader Dr. Matthew Levering, Second Reader Rev. Emery de Gaál, and Third Reader Dr. Reinhard Hütter—gave me an A on both my dissertation and my presentation. Now I am set to graduate with my sacred-theology doctorate from the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary) on May 7, magna cum laude summa cum laud[updated 5/7/16]. It will be the first time in the university's history that a canonical (i.e. pontifically licensed) doctorate will be awarded to a woman.

I would have reported this wonderful news here sooner, but I have been busy making the final corrections recommended by my Doctoral Board. Among the corrections was that I rewrite my dissertation's title to make it better reflect the types of primary sources it cites. Yesterday, the new title received official approval: "The Mystical Body and Its Loving Wounds: Redemptive Suffering in Magisterial Teaching, Pre-Papal Writings, and Popes' Teachings as Private Theologians, 1939-2015."

I smile as Dr. Levering addresses me. The priest with the white hair at right (seen in profile) is Fr. Don Dietz, O.M.I.

When planning what to wear to my defense, my initial thought was to avoid looking too feminine, for fear of appearing out of place. But when my friend Therese took me shopping for a dress a couple of days beforehand, my eyes alighted on a purple one and it reminded me of how my late (Great-)Aunt Alma Denny loved that color. That in turn made me think of Alma's classic New York Times op-ed on the importance of maintaining femininity in a de-genderized world: "An Ashley by Another Name." And I knew I had to wear purple in tribute to her and wear my womanly identity with pride.

As the big day approached, and as I took my place in the Doctoral Room, I was nervous. But once I gave my twenty-minute prepared presentation and the board began to question me, my nerves subsided and I actually enjoyed it. It was a tremendous blessing to be questioned about my work by such an outstanding group of scholars.

One example will give an idea of the sort of questions I was asked and how I responded. Dr. Hütter asked me why, in discussing the Second Vatican Council's use of Sacred Scripture in formulating its doctrine on redemptive suffering, I did not mention the Council's use of Colossians 1:24. I answered that, by the time I discussed Vatican II in my dissertation, I had already explored Pius XII's use of Colossians 1:24, and that the only citation of that verse in Vatican II's constitutions is in direct continuity with Pius. The citation, I explained, occurs in Lumen gentium, no. 49, which is in chapter VII of that document; the chapter's drafter, Paul Molinari, S.J., drew the reference to Colossians 1:24 from Pius's encyclical Mystici corporis, which he cited in a footnote. (It was a joy, albeit a sad one, for me to have occasion to mention Fr. Molinari on such an important occasion in my life, as I was blessed to know him; he died in 2014.)

After the board questioned me, and I took questions from the assembled members of the faculty, including Mundelein Seminary adjunct spiritual director Fr. Don Dietz, O.M.I.—a dear friend who was a peritus at Vatican II—the field was opened up for questions from the perimeter. Here is a brief clip in which you can see me straining to hear an audience member's question coming to me from across the room.

The board then left to deliberate and I chatted with friends while awaiting their verdict. About thirty people had come to witness the event, among them several first-year and second-year pre-theologians (new seminarians who are completing the required credits of philosophy). My favorite comment was from a first-year pre-theologian who said that, whereas he was not able to understand all of the questions, he was always able to understand the answers. That was a great encouragement to me, as my plan is to teach in a seminary. (I am currently awaiting confirmation of a job offer—prayers, please!)

After nearly half an hour, the board finally returned. Fr. Baima announced the joyful news: "Habemus doctorem"!

This single-second video shows how happy I was as the applause arose.

When I upon graduation officially become Dr. Dawn, I will, for the first time since high school, return to using my full birth name, Dawn Eden Goldstein, in honor of my father and of all my family (on both sides), whose encouragement has been an invaluable support to me. Moreover, being that my ancestral Jewish faith has so enriched my faith as a Catholic, it seems fitting to honor the Jewish people by using the name that identifies me with them.

Here is the prepared text that I presented at my defense:

The title of my dissertation is "The Mystical Body and Its Loving Wounds: Redemptive Suffering in Recent Magisterial Teaching." [N.B. As noted above, it is now "The Mystical Body and Its Loving Wounds: Redemptive Suffering in Magisterial Teaching, Pre-Papal Writings, and Popes' Teachings as Private Theologians, 1939-2015."]

I chose to research this topic because my experience as an author and speaker on spiritual healing has convinced me that the Church’s teaching on redemptive suffering is vital to its evangelical witness. My hope is that this study will help our teachers, pastors, and caregivers help the suffering locate their wounds within what Pope Francis calls the “loving wounds” of Christ crucified and risen.

For the purpose of this study, the term “redemptive suffering” refers to the Catholic teaching that God enables the faithful to participate through their sufferings in the redemption won by Jesus Christ.

In my introduction, I review the recent literature concerning redemptive suffering. Recent discussion on the topic has taken place within a larger discussion concerning the atonement. Those who dispute the Church’s teachings concerning Christ’s suffering likewise dispute its teachings concerning the faithful’s participation in Christ’s suffering.

After giving a brief outline of Catholic teaching on the atonement, I examine the theologies of suffering put forth by two influential critics of that teaching: Edward Schillebeeckx and Jürgen Moltmann. I find that, although Schillebeeckx and Moltmann approach the theology of suffering with different presuppositions, what they and the schools of thought that they represent agree upon is that any theology of suffering must have a telos that is grounded in this world—not in heaven. The only real meaning that they are willing to assign to suffering is that it inspires the sufferer, or those who witness suffering, to work for justice.

Where does that attitude leave the person who is suffering? As I see it, if suffering has no meaning unless it is “productive,” then the sufferer is at best a useful idiot. Left with no hope to see personal good accrue from his suffering, he or she is simply an instrument at the service of some future common good, a means to an end. Such an attitude is hardly compatible with the social teachings of the Second Vatican Council—teachings that tell us “a man is more precious for what he is than for what he has” (GS 35) and that “the disposition of affairs is to be subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise” (GS 26).

So, the aim of my study is to closely examine the teachings of popes from Pius XII through Francis, as well as those of Vatican II, in order to determine whether Catholic doctrine, rightly understood, can offer more compelling answers to the problem of suffering than those that have been offered by its critics. My particular interest is to explore how the recent Magisterium can help us put forth a theology of suffering that neither objectifies sufferers nor idealizes them but rather meets them in the concrete reality of their experiences, enabling them to find joy and hope.

Chapter 1 concerns Pope Venerable Pius XII’s doctrine of redemptive suffering. I chose Pius’s Magisterium as the starting point because of the considerable influence that his theology had at Vatican II. Apart from Sacred Scripture, Pius is the most-cited authority in the Council’s writings.

Pius’s most significant teachings on redemptive suffering are in his encyclicals Mystici corporis, Mediator Dei, and Haurietis aquas. I first examine what each of those enyclicals says on suffering and redemption and then analyze how Pius draws upon certain sources that have particular importance for his considerations. Those sources are Sacred Scripture and St. Thomas Aquinas.

The most important thing Pius brings to the Church’s understanding of redemptive suffering is his insistence that the suffering of the individual always has an ecclesial dimension and cannot be rightly understood apart from such a dimension (see MC 15). Pius holds that the Christian’s union with Christ and the Church is lived out in a particularly vital manner through suffering. The Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is missioned to cooperate with Christ in extending the fruits of the Incarnation through time. In this light, Colossians 1:24 comprises a mandate for the Church: filling up in our flesh those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ for his Church is a divine duty enjoined upon all the faithful.

When Pius speaks of the suffering Christian’s participation in Christ’s redemption, he emphasizes the Christian’s union with Christ’s Passion. Left unsaid is how Christ’s Resurrection affects the Christian’s experience of suffering.

However, Pius does make reference to divinization. He emphatically affirms Christ’s kenosis as the effective cause of our theosis. On his account, to suffer in union with Christ is to experience a certain continuity between the life of grace and the life of beatitude, for it is a sharing in Christ’s own knowledge and love, which he expressed to humanity through his suffering.

Pius maintains that the faithful’s sharing in Christ’s own knowledge and love, which they accomplish through co-suffering with Christ, comprises an offering of love that they make to God through Christ. This offering is enabled by their baptismal union, which makes them Christ’s associates in redemption. It deepens and grows through their continued sacramental participation.

Chapter 2 concerns the Second Vatican Council’s doctrine of redemptive suffering. It begins with a brief summary of Pope St. John XXIII’s doctrine on the topic. I then examine the Vatican II documents that are most important for the Council’s teachings on redemptive suffering: Sacrosanctum concilium, Lumen gentium, and Gaudium et spes. After that, I consider two major sources for the Council’s doctrine: Sacred Scripture and the writings of Pius XII. I then briefly examine Paul VI’s teachings before offering conclusions.

What I find is that the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on redemptive suffering builds upon the received teaching in significant ways.

Whereas Pius wrote of redemptive suffering only in terms of union with Christ’s Passion, the Council places it within the framework of the Paschal Mystery, which the Council identifies as Christ’s Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Council’s inclusion of the Resurrection in its definition of the Paschal Mystery enables a shift in pastoral emphasis. It shows that when the Church speaks of the redemptive action of the Passion, it does not consider such action in isolation from that of the risen Christ.

To explain the importance of this shift, I show how the Council’s teachings, read as a whole, trace out a dynamic through which the faithful’s sufferings gain redemptive meaning and value. This dynamic runs as follows:

1) The liturgy enables the Christian to “lay hold upon” the mysteries of redemption and thereby “become filled with saving grace” (SC 102).

2) Redemptive grace, received through encountering Christ in the liturgy, enables the Christian to interiorize the Paschal Mystery and carry forth its remembrance into his or her every action or suffering (SC 106, see also SC 12).

3) Conformed to Christ through this gift of grace, the Christian makes a gift of self to God and neighbor, a gift perfected by suffering (GS 37, cf. GS 22, GS 24).

4) This gift of self constitutes a return of divine love that is poured out in cooperation with Christ’s own gift of self and is thereby communicated through Christ to God and neighbor (LG 41, cf. SC 12, LG 8, LG 34).

The fourth point is central to understanding the Council’s most important contribution to Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering. Against contemporary philosophies that hold suffering to be meaningless (GS 10, 12, and 21), the Council responded by elucidating intrinsic links between the Cross and the Resurrection, and between the faithful’s suffering and their glorification (SC 104). In this way, it opened a path to understanding suffering not merely as a meaningful experience but rather as a meaning-making experience, for suffering enables the sufferer to communicate divine love in an irreducibly personal manner. Far from being dehumanizing, as philosophers of despair would have it, suffering is therefore an expression of human identity on its most fundamental level—identity in Christ.

Chapter 3 concerns Pope St. John Paul II’s doctrine of redemptive suffering. I begin by briefly examining the teachings of John Paul’s second encyclical, Dives in misercordia, inasmuch as they concern topics to which he will return in his apostolic letter Salvifici doloris. Next, I analyze Salvifici doloris in depth. It is of special importance for this study as it is the only magisterial document devoted entirely to redemptive suffering. I then consider the two sources that, apart from Sacred Scripture, are most important for understanding Salvifici doloris: Aquinas and the Second Vatican Council.
John Paul’s doctrine on redemptive suffering brings key points of Catholic tradition together with the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on what it means to be made in the image of God, justified through Christ, and perfected by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Two concepts articulated at Vatican II provide touchstones for John Paul’s doctrine. They are the Council’s understanding of the Paschal Mystery and the imago Dei.

In John Paul’s synthesis, the suffering Christian, through the qualities that constitute him or her as imago Dei, is dynamically united to Christ through the graces that flow from the Paschal Mystery. Such a union is dynamic because the Paschal Mystery is itself dynamic, having its telos in Christ’s Resurrection, which is the cause of our resurrection (SD 15).

The Christian’s suffering therefore becomes a means through which the sufferer, open to the interior action of grace, makes a self-offering to God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, in union with the prayers and Eucharistic sacrifice offered by the whole Church (see SD 24). As the sufferer becomes joined more deeply to the Church’s sacrifice, his or her suffering, although evil in itself, is no longer cause for isolation or misery. Rather, it comprises a return of divine love and an ever-deepening participation in the ecclesial communion that is effected by Christ’s own self-offering. In this way, suffering enables an actualization of the communal dimension of the imago Dei, bringing the sufferer closer to the perfect conformity to Christ that he or she will enjoy in its fullness in the kingdom of God.

Chapter 4 concerns Pope Francis’s doctrine of redemptive suffering. I begin by briefly analyzing Pope Benedict XVI’s thought on the topic before moving on to explore Francis’s teachings. I also draw upon Francis’s pre-papal writings to illuminate teachings he has presented during his papacy. I then discuss two theological thinkers who have had an especially profound influence upon Francis’s teachings on suffering and redemption: St. Ignatius Loyola and John Navone, S.J.

Although Francis’s reflections on redemptive suffering testify to his formation in Ignatian spirituality, his synthesis is highly original. He wishes to bring the faithful to understand their sufferings in light of God’s providential love, so that memory might become for them the field of action in which they encounter Christ.

Francis’s theology of suffering is deeply ecclesial and Eucharistic. If he seeks to bring the faithful to encounter Christ through the medium of memory, it is so that they might bring their own personal memories into union with the Church’s memory, which is constituted in the Eucharistic liturgy.

The aspects of Francis’s theology of suffering that are most distinctive are those he has developed from John Navone, S.J.’s theology of failure. In particular, by presenting the Cross as that through which the sinless Jesus suffers and transcends the negative effects of our human finitude—both our culpable and non-culpable failures—Francis highlights the gratuity of grace and the depth of divine mercy.

In my conclusion, I acknowledge that, before Vatican II, Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering was often presented to the general public in a distorted fashion, and the culprits were not critics of the faith but Catholics themselves. The historian Robert Orsi, recalling the “victim soul” ethos of his Catholic childhood, says that “by making pain a challenge, or test, of spiritual capacity, devotional culture added a layer of guilt and recrimination to the experience of bodily disease, as it proclaimed that most humans would fail this test. The ethos denied the social, communal, and psychological consequences of illness.”

Orsi’s critique of redemptive suffering is compelling in a manner that cannot be said of those presented by the thinkers mentioned in the introduction, because he has no theological agenda. He simply shows that inasmuch as Catholic efforts to address the problem of suffering bypass the sufferer’s concrete situation, they are doomed to failure. In that respect, Orsi’s analysis also reveals the deficiencies of contemporary theologies that treat sufferers as instruments at the service of some future common good.

My study shows that during the ’40s and ’50s, despite the distortions that Orsi witnessed, Pius XII was articulating how suffering facilitates union with Christ for its own sake and not merely for the sake of expiating sin or filling up the Church’s treasury of grace. Subsequent popes and the Council built upon this understanding in profound and creative ways. Although the Magisterium has viewed and continues to view suffering as an opportunity for spiritual growth, it does so within a hermeneutic based not upon passivity and victimhood but rather upon personal agency in partnership with Christ.

I sum up my findings by examining two areas of doctrine in which the teachings of the recent Magisterium offer ways of understanding the redemptive value of suffering that honor the sufferer’s dignity, guard against ideologies that would use the sufferer as a means to an end, and provide the sufferer with a hope grounded in God’s self-revelation in Christ. Those areas concern Christian suffering as a participation in the Paschal Mystery and as an occasion for the restoration of the divine image in the sufferer.

Finally, I describe how the recent Magisterium offers sound principles to guide theologians in developing a biblically and doctrinally grounded theology of hope. Such a theology would provide a needed corrective to the theologies promoted by those who deny that the Christian’s experience of suffering can, in and of itself, bring the Christian closer to the Kingdom of God. [Note: At this point of the presentation, my twenty minutes were up, so I stopped here.]

It must be acknowledged that there are valuable intentions behind the efforts of those seeking to correct what they fear is an unhealthy attitude among Catholics that valorizes suffering at the expense of taking action to stop it. Certainly we should do good. But doing good is not enough. Christ calls us to be good—sharing in God’s very life. And we share in God’s very life through sharing in the Cross—a sharing, that as John Paul says, comes about through the risen Christ, therefore through a special sharing in the Resurrection (SD 21).

Surely that experience of sharing in the Cross through sharing in the Resurrection is what the Catechism has in mind when it says “our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies” (CCC 1000). For the Catholic, heaven is not an alien and faraway place. Heaven is a living reality, and we enter into it more deeply through suffering with Christ.

Thank you.

As I exited the building after my defense, my friend Therese, who took this photo,
surprised me with a congratulatory sidewalk message.

* * *

Postscript #1: If the observations I made in my defense presentation about Pope Francis are of interest, you can read them in a popularized form in my new book Remembering God's Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories.

Postscript #2: I recently purchased academic regalia—a gown, hood, and a doctoral biretta (which is the appropriate headgear for my degree)—so that I might have it not only for my graduation but also for future convocations at the seminary where I will be teaching. Although a gift from a friend covered the biretta, I paid for the gown and hood from my own funds.  If you would like to contribute to help defray the cost, I will remember you with thanksgiving at graduation and whenever I wear the regalia in future. Click here to contribute.