In the Divine Milieu, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin talked about the “passive diminishments” that accompany the passage of time. But often time's passing also brings a growing desire to look back, to reflect, and to try to see things whole. Recently I have found myself reflecting on U.S. Catholicism, Catholic theology in the United States, and myself as an historical theologian at the University of Dayton. My reflections assess the past, address the present, and look to the future.
I begin with U.S. Catholicism. The story I want to tell about it has a threefold lesson and I will state it very generally. First, as embodied mortals with immortal longings, we are rooted in particular times and places in the world. German philosophers sometimes call this our “historicity.” Second, whether we are aware of it or not, our historical sites or locations provide the forms and terms of our coming to know God. It was in Tenafly, New Jersey, for example, that my mother taught me to pray. Third, if we remain unmindful of the second lesson, we risk mistaking historical forms and terms for God. In biblical language, this would be idolatry. And finally, if my Catholic story is not your own, I ask you to allow it to stand as a figure or a type of the particular sited story you have to tell.