by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What are your responsibilities as University of Notre Dame Course Facilitator STEP (Satellite Theology Education Program)?
James: STEP is a distance-learning program available through Notre Dame's McGrath Institute for Church Life offering courses varying from four to eight weeks and covering Catholic doctrine, Christian life, Church history, liturgy, and Scripture. I have been associated with STEP for seven years and it has been my privilege to facilitate courses ranging from Catholic Social Teaching to Theology of the Mass to Old Testament. My responsibilities include fostering a positive learning environment and community, hosting chat sessions, and responding to student input and questions; generally keeping things on track.
Gordon: Who initially interested you in Mariology?
James: It was Fr. Richard Wersing, C.S.Sp. It was my good fortune to meet Fr. Dick, a Holy Ghost priest (Spiritans) in 2002. He died in 2006 at age 96 but we became good friends the last four years of his life. One of his favorite prayers was the Litany of Loreto, which we prayed together often; indeed, we were praying it the very moment Pope John Paul II died, though we did not know that at the time. I learned from him that “our Mother is never out of reach.”
In 2016 the Mariological Society hosted a conference with the theme “Theological Foundations of Devotion to the Heart of Mary.” My friend Mike Aquilina, a Catholic author well known in Patristics, suggested I propose a paper on the “Patristic Pre-history of Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Gratefully, my proposal was accepted. I researched and presented the paper which has recently been published in Marian Studies. I am grateful to Mike for the suggestion and for leading me to a treasure of resources.
Gordon: What are some of the benefits of being a member of the Mariological Society of America?
James: Let us begin with the purpose of the Society which is “dedicated to studying and making known the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of Christ and in the Church and in the history of salvation.” So, the great benefit to membership is owning a share in promoting and fostering original research in Marian doctrine and devotion. The resulting benefits can be enjoyed regularly in the annual conference and the academic journal that follows each conference.
Gordon: What are some of the major challenges to faith in young adults and what can we do to address them?
James: Today may be unique: I think the major challenges to faith in young adults are the same challenges for older adults. The challenges facing the Body of Christ, and there are many, seemed to have coalesced during the COVID lockdown and its fallout
What can we do to address them? Yes, we have dealt courageously throughout the darkness of the pandemic but recall this wisdom from the Old Testament: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Here in the inspired Word, we are reminded, “Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages that preceded us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:10).
The point here is that young and old, as a people, we have faced trials throughout history, and while we continue to deal valiantly with the consequences of the pandemic, more challenges lie ahead; among them: how to re-engage with our faith, our worship, our fellow parishioners, and strengthen our identity as a parish and as Catholics, regardless of age.
If there is “nothing new under the sun” where can we find encouragement for the tasks at hand? Let us look again to the Holy Writ and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, where we find the Hebrews coming out of exile where the task of the faithful was to reassemble, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, reestablish their Temple, their way of life, and their identity as a People of God. This is known as the period of the Restoration.
Today we are coming out of exile, COVID-exile, and entering our own period of restoration: returning to in-person worship in the Mass with our fellow parishioners, once again sharing our talents through parish ministries, and together fostering our identity as a Catholic community. This should be an exciting time in parish communities!
So let us come out of our dark exile, reassemble, build up the Church, joyfully embrace the return to all that makes us the Mystical Body of Christ, and invite others – young and old - to join us, for the future is bright!
Gordon: What was your most memorable experience when you served as Pastoral Associate at Saint Paul of the Cross Parish?
James: Very often, following funeral Masses, as a lay ecclesial minister, I would lead the Rite of Committal at the cemetery. The Committal with Final Commendation concludes the ritual, but not the liturgy – as we continue to pray for the deceased long after. What makes each Committal memorable is this reality: the Committal prayers may be the family’s farewell to their loved one – but it is farewell from their loving arms into the loving arms of the Communion of Saints. Indeed, I found in every Committal the awareness of the Communion of Saints remarkable!
Gordon: What major league baseball team do you follow and why?
James: The Pittsburgh Pirates. I recall attending games with family and friends at Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, and now PNC Park; players such as Roberto Clemente, opponents such as Willie McCovey, big games like the 1979 World Series, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield vs. Mark McGuire during his record home run chase, and many other memories…always hopeful for a return to the glory days!
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.