Rev. Michael Himes Gives Lecture On Sacraments
Popular Lecturer Brings Crowds To Gasson 100
Published: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
"Why does the universe exist? In short, because God loves it," said Rev. Michael Himes on Thursday, Feb. 15 in Gasson 100. The Irish Room was standing room only, as students, faculty, and many guests were drawn in to hear Himes speak about why Catholics are sacramental people.
Ordained in Brooklyn in 1972, Himes is a professor of theology in the College of Arts and Sciences. A recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Outstanding Teaching, Himes is known especially for his engaging teaching style and his Introduction to Christian Theology class. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Himes served as the Dean of Studies at the seminary in Macklin, N.Y., and as a professor of theology at Notre Dame before coming to Boston College.
Sponsored by the Church in the 21st Century (C21), this lecture was the first in the center's spring series. Founded in 2002, the center strives to stimulate the renewal of the Catholic Church in the United States in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. It addresses four main issues: the role of different people in the U.S. Catholic Church, Catholic teaching on sexuality, passing on the faith to the next generation, and the Catholic intellectual tradition. This lecture introduced the theme of the sacraments that this semester's program seeks to explore in the coming months.
An easy answer to the question of why Catholics are sacramental people is that the whole universe is sacramental, but Himes was not about to leave the subject at that. He described everything in the universe as possibly sacramental, with some key things being explicitly so and the rest being so only implicitly. Stressing the question of the universe's existence, he dismissed some possible answers such as an exhibit of God's glory, power, or justice, because they implied that God gets something from the universe.
"It's not that the universe gives something to God, but that God gives something to the universe," Himes said. "God doesn't need the universe—He is complete, whole, and absolute. Everything exists because God loves it. God calls everything into existence so that God can give God's self to it."
Describing grace as a sort of "theological shorthand for God's gift of God's self outside of the Trinity," Himes gave a philosophical twist to the common Christian conception of the soul's immortality. He posited that the reason a soul does not die is not because of its inherent nature, but because God loves it so much that it is held in existence.
Explaining the sacramental principle, Himes said, "What is always and everywhere true must be noticed and celebrated somewhere at sometime." He compared this to a heartbeat—it is only noticed when something, such as exercise, calls attention to it. The absolute self-gift of God can be just as easily overlooked and so he held that sacraments are simply occasions that can get people to notice and celebrate it.
"Augustine, as quoted by Aquinas, said ‘Sacraments effect what they signify,'" Himes said. "[They] bring us to recognize the presence of grace by pointing. It is we who need to change, not the world. We are called to notice the world. The point of spiritual discipline is that you stop looking in the world long enough to see the world outside."
After the lecture, Himes was drawn off the topic of sacraments by an audience question inquiring about gay marriage. "If it is true that there are people who are irretrievably homosexual, then it is vicious to tell them they can't get married," Himes said in response. "To tell someone they have to be celibate is absolutely mad."