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Theology: faith seeking connection

How do you picture God? Pray to God? Understand God? Throughout the centuries, theologians have tried to help us grasp the idea of God. As our knowledge of the world around us changes, so, then, does our way of thinking about God, the Creator.

As part of a series of stories from the fall 2009 issue of HOPE, the Sisters of Providence will offer two reflections on the topic and list of resources.

The stories as presented in HOPE were:

Comments for this article are now closed. Thank you to all who submitted comments. They are posted below.

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The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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  1. Judy Barad on August 27, 2009 at 10:31 am

    I love this issue. On page 5, Sr. Knoerle writes about the importance of seeing created things as infused with God’s presence. I couldn’t agree more. Often I have discussed with other people about how we should not make any part of creation suffer (only sentient beings can suffer) for selfish reasons–like food preferences. People have responded to me that God put animals in the world for human beings, so we can do whatever we want with them. Sr. Knoerle’s article gives me a way to reply to this humsn-centered perspective that is both true and enriching to the quality of our lives and the lives of others. Thank you, Sr. Knoerle!

  2. Lynn Reese on August 30, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I find my personal beliefs being reflected in “An evolving universeEach time we take the body and blood of Christ we take within us a living connection to all the creations of God.

  3. Sister Jeanne Knoerle on August 30, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Thanks, Judy, for fixing on this point because it’s a fundamental one. If we truly understood that at the moment of creation God’s love exploded into the universe and continues to evolve and be present in each thing that exists in that universe, what concern we would show for all of creation.

  4. Ramona Sievers Redmond on August 31, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    This whole “cosmology perspective” is just the same old lie by Satan that he told Adam and Eve in the garden. This is New Age, neo-pagan thought that has suffused many Catholic religious orders, many to their demise. The Providence Sisters of St. Mary of the Woods are decaying because of their pagan and gnostic views. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner have both wrenched Catholicism off the tracks of Truth as taught by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and become heresiarchs. Joan Chittister has openly defied our Holy Father and has scandalously sewn confusion in the Church. If the Providence nuns do not want to uphold the Deposit of Faith of the Catholic Church, then they should cease to call themselves Catholics. St. Mother Theodore Guerin must be greatly grieved.

  5. Robert Jaeger on August 31, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I do not agree with this article and I could not BELIEVE what I was reading! Sr. Jan quotes in question #2, “We all need to become aware of the beliefs we hold, AND TO CHANGE and develop them as life experience and reflection lead us. All of us, in a sense are theologians”… My first reaction to this is “We dont CHANGE our beliefs ever. Jesus is the same today, tomorrow and always! He does NOT change w/ the times nor do we when it comes to our Catholic Faith. This is false teaching! Also, we are not IN ANY SENSE are own theologians. We must look to the teachings of the Catholic Church for our direction or discernment in spiritual matters. If this were the case, we could all just start our own religions and go by our own feelings on matters. So superficial is this thinking! Sr. Jan needs to reexamine where she is going for this information. It is surely not of the Holy Spirit.

  6. Jack Spatafora on August 31, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Tielhard has had his ideological troubles with the Vatican, and yet he has always remained one of my heroes. For he has tried to build viable links between the two wings John Paul spoke of (Faith & Reason). In this case, between our understanding of a purposeful divine creator, and some scientists’ understanding of a blind evolutionary force. Tielhard challenges today’s evolutionary biologists by saying in effect: No, evolution does not exist simply because and for its own sake. I see his “saddling” of the bronco of evolution as extremely helpful. Before today’s biology convinces itself that evolution means we are simply highly evolved planetary dust. Without Tielhard’s ideas, that hubris to modern biology could easily begin eroding the Judaic-Christian ethos. To all our loss!

  7. Wanda Strange on September 1, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    For many years, I’ve received and zoomed through this publication. Today, I read thofoughly the piece by S. Jeanne Kneorle, S. Jan and S. Alexa. Thanks so much for this thought provoking piece.

  8. Sister Marie Esther Sivertsen on September 2, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Shouldn’t the question rather be “How does the new cosmology fit the truth of Christ?

  9. S. Jan Craven, SP on September 2, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Thank you Ramona, for your response, which is quite a condemnation of our community. I do not know whether you are aware, however, of the five-day conference held in March 2009 by the Pontifical University in Rome, marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, whereby they generally confirmed the lack of conflict between evolutionary theory and Catholic theology.

  10. S. Jan Craven, SP on September 2, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you Robert, for your response, though I think it is clear that we disagree about change. We all agree that Jesus Christ is the same today, tomorrow and always, but our understanding of Christ surely changes. Because theology is the “study of (or science of) God,” it draws on all the resources of reason, especially history and philosophy. Christian faith is a mystery–the mystery of the meaning of God and Jesus Christ–theology is always “seeking” and never reaches final answers and definitive insights; this is why we invite conversation about such mystery–as the Church has done for thousands of years.

  11. Wanda Strange on September 2, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    As we learn more about creation, we learn more about our Creator. I don’t understand how anyone can think that any part of creation is outside of its Creator.

  12. Sandy Scroggins on September 3, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I see no conflict between science and theology. As I see it, God could have created the universe and everything in it via the ‘Creationist’ view, or by causing the spark and gasses that got the whole ball rolling, re the scientific approach. Either way,God is still at the center of it all and source of it all. So, the more science discovers about our universe, the more amazed and awed I am of God’s mystery and wonder. The journey justs gets more and more exciting!

  13. Will Kern SFO PA on September 3, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    A good example of how rationalism drowned out the message of Jesus. Let’s worship God as Jesus taught us.

  14. S. Alexa Suelzer on September 4, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Thanks, Marie Esther, for suggesting that our question should be “How does the new cosmology fit the truth of Christ?” Before any discussion I need to know if you presume that the formulation of “the truth of Christ” can never be changed or developed. If so, we can’t have a dialogue.

  15. S. Susan Paweski on September 5, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    How wonderous is our God! With each discovery and understanding of yet another aspect of Creation, I am drawn closer to the meaning of life within our Provident God. For those who are sure of the Teilhard de Chardin’s “misguided thinking,” allow me to share with you that Pope Benedict XVI cited Chardin’s “great vision” and used Teilhard’s phrase that “we consecrate the world, so it may become a living host.” The entire article, “Teilard at Vespers,” can be found in “America Magagine,” August 17, 2009. The article also reminds us that Saints Thomas Acquinas, Joan of Arc and Ignatius Loyola were also under suspicion by the church until their writings and actions were better understood. I suggest reading the “America” article or, better yet, reading Teilhard de Chardin.

  16. Joyce Gadoua, CSJ on September 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I’ve not gotten to pondering much on the question just yet, but here’s a start. If Christ is the firstborn of all creation, and if Christ is the body, the matrix of the cosmos, the Light that penetrates all, the Hub around which everything revolves and evolves, I need to rethink the time worn exclusivist static view of “Christ and Christianity alone.” Christ becomes for me, the Relational One, the Great Uniter calling and holding all cultures, all faiths, all species together in a loving embrace. Such a belief calls me to abandon any narrow proclivities I might have, and embrace instead a new comsic theology that decenters the human(ouch!) as the starting point in talking about God, and experiencing the Presence for that matter, and accepting what some might think is the unthinkable—namely a paradigm shift that starts with the universe, or perhaps smaller, with the earth initially and working from there. If I can do that, my spiritual development and my understanding of the Trinitarian relationship will includes the whole of the planet, all peoples of all races on it and all species thriving and working togethe to create a sustainable home, the activities of co-creating, re-creating, new creating in Christ Jesus. Collectively, in our choice to abide relationships with all living things and in which the human is supposedly the intelligent voice called to listen as well as to speak, I do believe our human sensibilities, attitudes and viewpoints will change and deepen, and our collective (as distinct from our solitary) mission in Christ in the world will broaden significantly. I believe we will see a great world wide collaboration with ongoing conversations among religious communities of women and men, among various religious faiths, East and West, and multiple organizations aimed at bringing about justice and peace in ways that go beyond surface and short term responses. It’s already started in some miniscule way here. Your inviting an all inclusive, global public into that conversation in a technological way, dear Sisters of Providence, is a masterful stroke, and it supports my own humble view that going it alone is no longer an answer, if it ever was. Thank you for inviting us!

  17. Clara McKenna on September 6, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    It has always seemed to me that since God is infinitely intelligent, he cannot be a micromanager and he works smart, not hard. So the idea of a First Cause that set things going, then sits back and watches as they evolve, makes perfect sense. Christ fits in simply because “God so loved the world…” A course correction, if you will. And Providence has always played a major role in my life, so I know there is always a reason. For me, there is no new cosmology but rather, a different level of human understanding, graced by tools such as a comprehension of evolution or the Hubbell telescope’s insights into the unfolding universe. It all comes together quite seamlessly, another indication of God’s working.

  18. Nathan Joseph on September 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    I believe the Sisters of Providence are conflating the Continuation of Revelation within the Church (e.g., the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) with unorthodox speculative theology (e.g., Karl Rahner’s “Transignification”). Regardless, this is largely moot, as most of this groundwork has already been laid by church thinkers such as Meister Eckhart and even St. Augustine in his “City of God”. I would begin building CAREFULLY on this foundation — with intensive spiritual direction from Magisterial sources — instead of convenient heterodoxy.

  19. Marion Honors on September 7, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Sister Alexa Suelzer, as a Christian you say “the cosmos is centered in Christ and he is the goal toward which evolution is directed.” What meaning would this have for people of other (non-Christian) faith traditions?

  20. Alexa Suelzer on September 9, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Marion, in asking about the relation of Christ to non-Christians you raise a key question in contemporary Christology. In particular, Karl Rahner and Raimon Pannikar are helpful in regard to this issue.

  21. Carl Williams on September 9, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    The so-called “new cosmology” or “big bang” as it is more commonly referred to, is rife with problems and as a scientific model has been a poor predictor of astrophysical findings. For instance, the newest planetary discoveries both within and outside of our solar system run counter to big bang cosmology with gas giant planets many times larger than Jupiter found circling stars in much tighter orbits than even our own Mercury (See “Nature” Aug 27, 2009 issue on the planet WASP 18b) pointing to a very recent age for this planet though its star was determined to be very old. Consider Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, that is still volcanically active which should be impossible given an age of hundreds of millions or several billions of years. (Creation 19(3):26–29 June 1997) The Earth itself has many evidences of being young such as the rapid decay of the Earth’s magnetic field indicating a maximum age of the Earth to be less than 10,000 years. (Creation 20(2):15-19 March-May 1998) Sister Knoerke would do well to remember that evolutionary ideas have changed frequently while the Bible is still in its first edition. Plus with all the study of the universe there has yet to be a witnessing of the birth of a new star (which should be possible if the universe is billions of years old) let alone the finding of evidence of any organism which has “evolved” new genetic information. Also Sister Suelzer felt 4000 years was too short of a time since Creation. By Archbishop James Ussher’s calculations, it would be more like 6000 years. That would make the flood of Noah to be about 4500 years ago which leaves plenty of time for humanity to achieve the current world population of 6 billion + people. Perhaps you should refer to Exodus 20:11 or Exodus 31:17 God states that He created everything in 6 literal days plus He recorded this fact on the stone tablets with His own finger. Jesus Himself quotes directly from Genesis chapter 2 in Matthew 19:4. Compromising on what is written in Genesis by accepting evolutionary ideas (even if you believe God is directing them) compromises the entire Bible. For if the first 11 chapters of Genesis are allegory or myth, then when does the Bible become literal and true? Using evolutionary time frames and ideas, when would you say sin entered the world? Was there a literal Adam who committed the first sin? If so, what about all the death and disease which must have occurred prior to that sin? Doesn’t Paul tell us that “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12) Your theistic evolutionary ideas directly oppose Saint Paul’s writings. Surveys indicate that about 80% of “churched” children leave the church in their 20’s Recent studies of that group show they left in large part because they felt the Bible is not true often because “science [allegedly] disproves the Bible” or worse, their instructors from Sunday School taught that the Earth was old. (“Already Gone” Ken Ham, Britt Beamer, Todd Hillard 2009) Does a Christian have to believe in a literal 6 day creation to be saved? No. But does teaching theistic evolution compromise the Gospel by subverting the authority of scriptures? You bet it does!

  22. Bill Butts on September 11, 2009 at 12:40 am

    I read with much interest the article in Hope Magazine “The New Cosmology: An Evolving Universe.” I became acquainted with de Chardin in a class in philosophy on Existentialism in the early 70’s. Dissatisfied with that philosophy, I read the works of de Chardin and Paul Tillich and their views on how existentialism and Christianity are reconciled through Christ. What I wasn’t expecting was de Chardin’s views on an evolving universe and universal consciousness. I was intrigued. I find it very interesting that the physicists at Fermi-lab and CERN are trying to find the “God-particle” and it seems that no matter how hard they try to find that one particle which allows matter to coalesce they keep finding that a vacuum exists between particles, call it spiritual or extra-dimensional or whatever. The point is it has been demonstrated that a state vector collapse only occurs (that is matter or reality forms only) when there is a conscious observer to observe it. This is a basic core problem of quantum measurement. It makes total sense to me that reality or matter only exist when there is a conscious observer. Putting together what I have read in your article, with de Chardin, and a book I just read on the Physics of Consciousness by Evan Harris Walker, it is becoming clear to me that the God-particle may be consciousness itself, universal consciousness that is present in every animate and inanimate object. I believe it is true that the heavens and the earth and all there is in all (not things) give glory to God in all the consciousness they have. It may be true that there are no things. Radical Amazement, indeed!. That the universal consciousness is really all that exists….I am what I am.. and this Universal Consciousness is God. Only a perfectly totally conscious being can create consciousness. The God-particle is in us and all reality through the magnificence of the creator. Unfortunately, de Chardin’s view that our consciousness is ever expanding and evolving to reach the level of the Universal Consciousness allows us human beings the opportunity to become victims of what physicists call “Entropy” through our technology, i.e. that instead of moving forward to a higher level of consciousness based on love we cause greater disorder. Bill Butts, Galesburg, Il

  23. Christine Boyle on September 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    The day before reading the above mentioned articles, I was having a discussion with my 14-year old grandson about religion, God, science and evolution. Although he attended Catholic Schools and received First Communion he has not been fully able to accept the teachings as I so readily did at his age. For one thing, he believes in evolution. Thankfully we are able to discuss how we think science and God might fit together. In this way, his thoughts are open to God consciousness as well as evolution. Although we admit much is a mystery to us, we can talk of beautiful integrity of design, and about the spirit of Love that is so powerfully evidenced in creation. I’ve also been sharing with him ideas of just how radical Jesus was in his time (my grandson can really relate to that), breaking through the status quo to bring something so revolutionary that we are still incorporating His spirit in our lives 2,000 years later. Regarding the New Cosmology, it is not entirely comfortable to stretch out of my safe set of beliefs, but I am growing as well as my grandson. Thank you for the articles and for the book resources. It is good to see things in a new Light.

  24. Daniel H Harris, pH.D. on September 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    It is so sad to see people that love God so decieved about who He is. If God used evolution, then He become the author of death and not the Holy Loving God I know. If Adam stood on the bones of thousands of generations of creatures that sufffered and died to bring forth man, then God would not only be evil but incompetent. Heaven forbid we should blaspheme the name of Jesus, attributing such to Him.

  25. Mary Coeli Meyer, pH.D. on September 12, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    It is interesting to see the vitality with which each of us seeks God/Christ and put this knowledge to work in our lives. Like so many of you, I have been taken up with the study of God and religions most of my life. Back in the day – before the Ecumenical Council, I read Chardin, Tillich, Buber… and any book I could on the subject of God. I’ve had hundreds of conversations, some digressing into arguements and still what is it that I am looking for? I know God. God knows me. And still I look. How is it possible to know the Unknowable? Twenty years ago, I came across Gary Zukov’s book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, which is an exploration of quantum mechanics. This book adds another dimension to the thoughts of Sisters Alexa and Jan. Zukov looks at mystic interpretations of quantum physics while the Sisters look through a theological lens. Alexa and Jan have opened the door for us and scratched the changing surface of not just Christianity but of people’s faith in God. They offer us an opportunity to pursue additional study and prayerful thought – to expand our understanding of God. It seems that we humans have been seaching for God since the beginning of time and I seriously doubt that we will every be able to put our finger on exactly what we search for. Religious Jews never speak the name of God for to do so would place limits on who God is. I think they are on the right track. The God-Creator who came up with a universe capable of evolving, renewing and completely interdependent isn’t going to have a “definition” which, by its very nature, would have boundaries. For all we know there are other planes of existance which we have yet to see. Who knows what is in the Mind of God? The best we can hope for is a personal relationship with the God that is in everything past, present and to come and to try and live in a Christ-like manner every minute not just when it is convenient.

  26. Neil McCormack on September 13, 2009 at 12:32 am

    The Divine Mystery of all of God’s Creation goes far beyond the limits and boundaries of any Theology or even its disciplines like Cosmology and Christology. It is a Mystery and so shall always remain a Mystery in the Loving Nature of our mysterious God. And this, no matter how expansive and seemingly revealing the thoughts of any theologian or theological school of thought may be at any given time in human history. In the end, may I suggest that perhaps our greatest understanding of this Mystery comes down to a need to explore our most basic relationship. I believe that it is nothing more nor less than a simple friendship—a simple friendship with God expressed in the Sonship of Jesus and that is Awesome and that is Spirit. I am a Roman Catholic yet I found an understanding of this Mystery so well written in a quote by Mary Baker Eddy. In reflecting on the words of the Apostle John, she writes: “God is Love. More than this, we cannot ask. Higher, we cannot look. Farther, we cannot go.” In my limited capacity to understand this Mystery, there is nothing I can or would choose to add or subtract from these words.

  27. Wes Coas on September 15, 2009 at 7:45 am

    ahh . . . New Age nuns. I love them, but I also love my child even when she persists in dashing into traffic when there are crosswalks.

  28. Alexa Suelzer on September 15, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Carl,you obviously accept the authority of the Bible. So do I. We difffer, however, in our understanding of what that authority means. I believe a dialogue on the subject would be helpful to both of us

  29. Alexa Suelzer on September 16, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks, Wes, for your opinion of the authors. Now how about the content of the articles?

  30. Sharon Schenk Owens on September 17, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you Ramona Sievers Redman (on 8/31/2009) and Robert Jaeger (on 8/31/2009). Ramona, you are truly in touch with what is going on in the world today. Too bad the good Sisters have allowed themselves to be seduced by Satan. And yes Robert, you ARE so right. They would do well to take a good look at where they ARE getting their information. The influence of Eastern Religions, a.k.a. New Age, has obviously spread it’s ugly tentacles into the Catholic Church.

  31. Jennifer Nowalk on September 19, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    Wes, These new age nuns have taught me that when Jesus talks about visiting persons in prison, he wasn’t just talking about Paul or others wrongfully imprisoned. He was talking about humans and the ability they have to change into new creations, against all odds. Yes, and then guess what, they teach us. This is not an intellectual response, but this is my experience of listening to people who as my sister in law says “have their ear to the earth.” I was once blind, but now I see. Honestly, I never got it. By visiting the imprisoned, those walking with Christ, bring Christ to the prisoners. 56 years of church going didn’t really teach me this. The example of the new age nuns taught me this. As for theology, it’s not for all of us. As for a living, breathing God who changes and evolves as creation does, I can live with that…..and I cannot and have no desire to live without that. For me there is no turning back, God moves and therefor, so must I, if I am to be in genuine relationship with God.

  32. Scott Lane on September 22, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    As President of an association of scientists and technical experts in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, biology, medicine, dentistry, engineering and others I must tell you that the supposed dichotomy of these articles and reflections are not necessary. Our specialists have from the examination of the scientific evidence concluded that evolution is not true and the literal biblical account can be perfectly congruent with current scientific findings. I invite all who read this to have faith in the creator and His word.

  33. Janice Kazmier on September 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I greatly appreciate the Sisters of Providence having the courage to address the change in thinking that is required to truly examine human relations and our relations with God in an evolving universe. I value the spirited discusion as well! Intellectual inquiry will not destroy faith!

  34. Mary Stephens Placencio on October 1, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    In response to Ramona: To put the Sisters of Providence in the same sentence with Satan and paganism is ludicrous! While a student at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College I had the honor and pleasure of being taught by Sister Jeanne Knoerle and guided by Sister Alexa Suelzer, two devoted Christians with whom I am grateful to have shared my time on earth. They are not Satan’s handmaidens; they are not pagans; they are not agnostics. They have tried to broaden their perceptions of God so that they can more fully come to a realization of who He is. It seems to me that stagnant thinking only keeps one in an infantile state.