Papers 2023

Karl Rahner Consultation 2023: “Tilling the Earth”

Lennan published “Tilling the Earth” in 2022.

The 2023 Karl Rahner Consultation featured a panel discussion of Tilling the Earth: Theology for an Unfinished Project by Richard Lennan (Boston College School of Theology and Ministry).  Lennan joined a panel consisting of Mary Beth Yount (Neumann University) and Michael Canaris (Loyola University Chicago).  The discussion took place on June 19, 2023, within the 77th Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel in Milwaukee.

In his book, Lennan argued that the church is quite unlike a precision-crafted, uniform product of an assembly line. Especially considering its rich internal diversity, its messy scandals and setbacks, and its potential for new growth and emerging life, the church is more analogous to an agricultural setting in which God graciously “tills.” Panelists considered the role that human freedom plays in God’s “tilling the earth” and how human freedom occasonally resists it.  They considered how Rahner helps us to better understand this church.

Mary Beth Yount admired Lennan’s analysis, but asked about “the work of reconciliation and conversation” that the church needs.  She would have liked to see Lennan “interrupt the narratives” of the church’s self-understanding and “make space for the rupture” that is needed today.

There is a “less than hopeful” part of the church, Yount said. Catholics do not want to be complicit in unhelpful structures. She applied Kate Mann’s analyses of privilege and misogyny to the church.  Lennan had called attention to the bureaucratic aspects of church that discourage questioning.  Yount connected this to Mann’s point about social structures that resist change.  She spoke of an “abiding need to hold things in balance.” 

Michael Canaris analyzed “Tilling the Church” with an eye towards the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The exercises ask us, Canaris said, to be open to the whole of life.  In the present moment, the church’s capacity to function as the sacrament of salvation has been diminished.  We human beings have the potential to purify the church, said Canaris, and this potential needs to be actualized.

In his analysis, Canaris used a provocative expression: “The gifts of God can displace God.”  The goal of our lives is to live with God, said Canaris, the giver of all gifts.  The human effort to “till” the church extends over aeons. This shows the intrinsic connection between our own human efforts and God’s providence.  The difficult thing, Canaris said, is to discern God’s providence and put our gifts at its service.  

Brandon Peterson (University of Utah) convened the panel discussion and Michael Rubbelke (St. John’s School of Theology, Collegeville) moderated it.

  • Categories

    • No categories
  • Archives

  • Meta