Priest, Jesuit, Scholar, Editor | An Interview with Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J., Editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review | February 8, 2011 | Ignatius Insight
Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J., is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University, where he teaches courses on Trinitarian theology, Christology and soteriology in the early Church, the history of Christian deification, and St. Augustine of Hippo. He recently marked his first year as editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Fr. Meconi recently spoke with Carl E. Olson, editor of Ignatius Insight, about being a Jesuit, a patristic scholar, and editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
Ignatius Insight: I read that the first Jesuit you met was a professor teaching a course on atheism. What's the story? How did you come to be a Jesuit?
Fr. Meconi: From as long as I can remember I prayed about being a priest: growing up, I was surrounded by great men who had given their lives to Christ in that special way and their example made quite an impact on me. Deep down, however, I never thought I would be happy as a priest in a parish (truth be told, I don't have the patience!).
However, when I arrived at Marquette University and learned about the Jesuits and their mission of teaching and writing and prayer, I started to think that here was my calling. Fr. Donald Keefe, S.J. (now out at Fordham) was a great influence on me during those days, as was, of happy memory, Fr. Leo Sweeney, S.J.—both, giants in their fields and great men of the Church.
The way Jesuits lived and studied and prayed (and laughed) resonated with my own personality and desires and I respected them as real "men's men"—you know, regular guys—dedicated to their students and who were not afraid to fight for the Truth.
Ignatius Insight: Can you share a bit about your studies in the Church Fathers and patristic theology? What are some reasons that Catholics should read and study the early Christian authors?
Fr. Meconi: Again, these Jesuits were my guides here. Fr. Keefe and the great Augustine scholar, Fr. Joe Lienhard, S.J., had us read the Fathers as the beginning of all good Christian theology, men who knew how to read sacred scripture because they were seeking to live it!
C.S. Lewis once quipped that you cannot intelligently join a conversation late at night that began mid-day and the same goes for theology. We are in such dire disagreements these days because everyone shows up with his or her opinion and rarely do they stop to think of how Jesus' followers thought of this or that before them, how the first theologians of the Church thought, worshipped, and lived. So many today forget that theology is an organic science developing by unfolding from what Christ planted in the apostles and in the apostolic Church.
Theology is not a matter of novelty and accretion but one of discovery and of blossoming of a seed that was long ago taking root. If you want to think and live like a Catholic, like a Christian, you must center all your thoughts and actions around the Eucharist. All of theology is ultimately Eucharistic: it is ecclesial (not just my opinion) and it is an act of worship, meantto glorify God (not just to extend my own status or publication record) and I think the Fathers knew this best.
Ignatius Insight: This past December you wrote a piece for Homiletic & Pastoral Review titled, "O Admirabile Commercium: The true Christmas exchange", which reflects your interest in deification, or theosis. Is this a topic that is, in a sense, being "rediscovered" in the West? Can you talk a bit about your studies of deification in the writings of St. Augustine?
Fr. Meconi: It's everything, simply everything. To be a Christian is not simply to avoid sin or even to do the right thing: in short, it is to become Christ!
It's all over Scripture in its own way, it is certainly evident throughout all the Fathers and Medieval Doctors and it, thank God, has become a central part of the new Catechism. Just look at paragraph 460 to see what I mean—daunting! We become like those with whom we spend time and in Christ God has become like us, so by spending time with Christ in Adoration, prayer, and inworks of mercy unto our neighbors, we can become literally like God: joyful, immortal, and loving.
That to me is the Good News!
Ignatius Insight: You've now been the editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review (HPR) for a year. What is unique about HPR? What are the primary goals or focal points of HPR?
Fr. Meconi: Print media is under siege these days. I am a big "online" reader but there is something special about a monthly journal.
So, my biggest challenge is to keep essays enough up to date to make them timely but substantive enough that subscribers have enough to chew on for four weeks. I have loved this job and remain grateful to Fr. Ken Baker for his care and guidance.
We live in a very different age than when HPR began in 1900 and I hope our new sets of authors, our new columns on Sacred Heart Spirituality as well as on the formation of seminarians today, enable the Church'ssons and daughtersto grow in both holiness and in number.
Ignatius Insight: How do lay people benefit from reading HPR?
Fr. Meconi: Lay people have always been the crucial group of HPR subscribers. What priests can do is limited; there are only so many of us. The real agents of conversion are the men and women in the workplaces, in the neighborhoods, out in the world living the Gospel. Today they have to be more and more ready to answer theological questions bravely and wisely.
I hope HPR gives them the tools to think deeply about issues related to God and to his Church. So, I always try to run a piece each month on scripture, on prayer, and on some moral question. Of course, Fr. Brian Mullady, OP, does the Church an inestimable service each month by answering readers' questions by giving them the tools and the direction to understand things more clearly.
I also hear from many people how they read our homilies each Sunday during Mass because the preaching in their parish is so bad. O tempora, o mores...
Ignatius Insight: HPR recently underwent a bit of redesign. What other changes does the future hold for HPR?
Fr. Meconi: Let's see what the Holy Spirit has in mind! Just this morning a friend called and told me that we should run the "great" essays of the past: perhaps once a month to recover and reprint one of the great articles by Fr. Schall, Fr. Baker, and some of the great men and women who have written in our pages.
Finally, let me just ask your readers to keep us in their prayers. When I was asked to help Fr. Baker as he neared retirement, I had a real sense that the only way this journal would continue and flourish was with the unmatchable aid of the Holy Spirit. I pray we are living up to such a call. Thank you.
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