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Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

Image: Zenit. Article here. 

 

Today, four women and one man were canonized as new saints – we all know about the man (more about him at the end of this post) – how about the women?

 

Dulce Lopes Pontes

Not long after joining the missionary sisters, Dulce became determined to shelter the many ill people she encountered on the streets of Salvador. She would house them in abandoned buildings and bring them food and medical care.

Eventually she and her more than 70 patients were kicked out of the building. Left with nowhere to take them, she asked her mother superior for help, and was given the convent’s chicken yard to turn into an improvised hotel.

As part of the agreement, Sr. Dulce was asked to care for the chickens, which she did by butchering them and feeding them to her patients.

This eventually became the site of the Santo Antonio Hospital, which continues to serve Brazil’s poor and disabled.

Bl. Dulce founded the Sao Francisco’s Worker’s Union, the first Christian worker’s movement in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which she later transformed into the Worker’s Center of Bahia.

She also founded the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce (Obras Sociais Irma Dulce) in 1959, which continues to be one of the most well-known and well-respected charitable organizations in Brazil.

In 1988, Sr. Dulce was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the President of Brazil, Jose Sarney.

She died in 1992, at the age of 77, after battling lung problems for 30 years. 

From the homily at her 2011 beatification Mass, by Cardinal Geraldo Majella:

Thus today we contemplate the holy life of Sister Dulce, with all the fruits in favor not only those lacking everything, especially health, but also as witness of her union with God, across the hearing and contemplation of his Word and of daily communion of his Body and his Blood in the celebration of the Eucharist that is the offering of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ the celestial Father.

But dear brothers and sisters, living holiness as I have already said not is the privilege for some person, but it is the duty of all baptized Christians. In the first Letter of Peter 1:15-16, the apostle tells us: “As he is holy that calls you, making you saints, also you in your conduct. For it is written: ‘Be holy because I am holy’ (Lv 11:44ss; 19:2)”. The Word of God does not say some, but all that hear the Word of God, converted themselves in following Jesus.

Some stand out more clearly by a special gift to become an example and challenge to society that lives without caring about the disadvantaged and needy. Sister Dulce was privileged in thisrespect, not to put limits on the Love of God and neighbor.

Marguerite Bays:

In 1853, when she was 35, Marguerite was operated on for intestinal cancer. The treatments were very invasive, and she prayed to Our Lady for healing and for a different understanding of suffering.

When Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December 1854, both of her prayers were answered. From then on, Marguerite was forever bound to the figure of the suffering Christ on the cross.

She developed the stigmata, the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, on her hands, feet and chest. At first she kept it secret, but the news soon leaked out. On Fridays and during Holy Week, she would fall ill or experience moments of ecstasy. Gradually the pain became more and more intense, and on 27 June 1879, Marguerite died.

John Paul II’s homily at her 1995 beatification:

Some of her contemporaries found that her long moments in prayer were a waste of time. But, more her prayer was intense, more she approached God and more she was devoted to serving her brethren. For, only he who prays really knows God and, by listening to the heart of God, he is also close to the heart of the world.

Thus we discover the important place of prayer in secular life. It does not drive one away from the world. On the contrary, it enlarges the internal being, it opens one to forgiveness and fraternal life.

The mission lived by Marguerite Bays is the mission which behoves to each Christian.

In catechism, she endeavoured to present to the children of her village the message of the Gospel, using words that the young could understand. She devoted herself generously to the poor and the sick.

Without leaving her country, she had nevertheless an open heart towards the dimensions of the universal Church and the world. With the missionary spirit which characterised her, she implanted in her parish the Propagation of the faith and of the Holy Childhood.

In Marguerite Bays, we discover what Our Lord did to make her achieve saintliness: she walked humbly with God, in accomplishing each action in her daily life with love.

Giuseppina Vannini

Giuseppina Vannini is a 19th century religious sister from Rome known for founding the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus dedicated to serving the sick and suffering. She is the first Roman woman to be canonized in more than 400 years, according to ACI Stampa.

Vannini spent much of her childhood in an orphanage near St. Peter’s Square after losing her father when she was four, and her mother when she was seven. She grew up among the Daughters of Charity sisters, who ran the orphanage. On the day of her first communion, young Giuseppina felt that she was called to a religious vocation.
This desire was not realized until 1892 when she was 33 because she was rejected by the Daughters of Charity after her novitiate due to her poor health.

Despite her own health problems, Vannini went on to found the Daughters of St. Camillus, whose charism is to serve the sick, even at the risk of their own lives. However she did not live to see the congregation fully recognized by the Vatican. She died at the age of 51 in 1911.]

Here’s the Italian text of John Paul II’s homily at her (and others’) beatification. Can’t find an English text. 

Mother Mariam Thresia

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926) was an Indian mystic and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. Her prayer life was characterized by frequent ecstasies in which she would sometimes levitate above the ground. In 1909, Thresia received the stigmata, after which she also suffered from demonic attacks.

Mother Thresia cared for the poor, sick, and dying in Kerala, visiting those with leprosy and measles. She also preached to the poor and the rich alike the importance of happy, healthy families to uplift all of society.  In 1914 Thresia founded the Congregation of the Holy Family, which has grown to have 176 houses around the world with 1,500 professed sisters.

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

Here is a website dedicated to Mother Mariam Thresia

John Paul II’s homily at her 2000 beatification. 

“Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12: 24). From childhood, Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan knew instinctively that God’s love for her demanded a deep personal purification. Committing herself to a life of prayer and penance, Sr Mariam Thresia’s willingness to embrace the Cross of Christ enabled her to remain steadfast in the face of frequent misunderstandings and severe spiritual trials. The patient discernment of her vocation eventually led to the foundation of the Congregation of the Holy Family, which continues to draw inspiration from her contemplative spirit and love of the poor.

Convinced that “God will give eternal life to those who convert sinners and bring them to the right path” (Letter 4 to her Spiritual Father), Sr Mariam devoted herself to this task by her visits and advice, as well as by her prayers and penitential practice. Through Bl. Mariam Thresia’s intercession, may all consecrated men and women be strengthened in their vocation to pray for sinners and draw others to Christ by their words and example.

7. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31: 33). God is our only Lord and we are his people. This indissoluble covenant of love between God and humanity was brought to its fulfilment in Christ’s paschal sacrifice. It is in him that, despite belonging to different lands and cultures, we become one people, one Church, one and the same spiritual building whose bright and solid stones are the saints.

 

Pope Francis’ homily from today:

To cry out. To walk. To give thanks. Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession. Three of them were religious women; they show us that the consecrated life is a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world. Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving. That is how the Lord made the splendour of Easter radiate in her life. Such is the holiness of daily life, which Saint John Henry Newman described in these words: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not… The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence… with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, 5).

Let us ask to be like that, “kindly lights” amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, “stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine, VII, 3). Amen.

As I’ve mentioned before, Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

amy welborn

amy_welbornamy welborn

There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

amy welborn

 Benedict XVI’s homily at the beatification Mass for Newman:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

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…..IX

The nephew of his two immediate predecessors, Benedict IX was a man of very different character to either of them. He was a disgrace to the Chair of Peter. Regarding it as a sort of heirloom, his father Alberic placed him upon it when a mere youth, not, however, apparently of only twelve years of age (according to Raoul Glaber, Hist., IV, 5, n. 17. Cf. V, 5, n. 26), but of about twenty (October, 1032).

Of his pontifical acts little is known, except that he held two or three synods in Rome and granted a number of privileges to various churches and monasteries. He insisted that Bretislav, Duke of Bohemia, should found a monastery, for having carried off the body of St. Adalbert from Poland. In 1037 he went north to meet the Emperor Conrad and excommunicated Heribert, Archbishop of Milan, who was at emnity with him (Ann. Hildesheimenses, 1038).

Taking advantage of the dissolute life he was leading, one of the factions in the city drove him from it (1044) amid the greatest disorder, and elected an antipope (Sylvester III) in the person of John, Bishop of Sabina (1045 -Ann. Romani, init. Victor, Dialogi, III, init.).

Benedict, however, succeeded in expelling Sylvester the same year; but, as some say, that he might marry, he resigned his office into the hands of the Archpriest John Gratian for a large sum. John was then elected pope and became Gregory VI (May, 1045). Repenting of his bargain, Benedict endeavoured to depose Gregory. This resulted in the intervention of King Henry III. Benedict, Sylvester, and Gregory were deposed at the Council of Sutri (1046) and a German bishop (Suidger) became Pope Clement II.

After his speedy demise, Benedict again seized Rome (November, 1047), but was driven from it to make way for a second German pope, Damasus II (November, 1048).

Of the end of Benedict it is impossible to speak with certainty. Some authors suppose him to have been still alive when St. Leo IX died, and never to have ceased endeavouring to seize the papacy. But it is more probable that the truth lies with the tradition of the Abbey of Grottaferrata, first set down by Abbot Luke, who died about 1085, and corroborated by sepulchral and other monuments within its walls. Writing of Bartholomew, its fourth abbot (1065), Luke tells of the youthful pontiff turning from his sin and coming to Bartholomew for a remedy for his disorders. On the saint’s advice, Benedict definitely resigned the pontificate and died in penitence at Grottaferrata. [See “St. Benedict and Grottaferrata” (Rome, 1895), a work founded on the more important “De Sepulcro Benedicti IX”, by Dom Greg. Piacentini (Rome, 1747).]

….The German Pope Damasus II died in 1048, and the Romans sent to ask Henry III, Conrad’s successor, to let them have as the new pope either Halinard, Archbishop of Lyons, or Bruno. Both of them were favourably known to the Romans by what they had seen of them when they came to Rome on pilgrimage. Henry at once fixed upon Bruno, who did all he could to avoid the honour which his sovereign wished to impose upon him. When at length he was overcome by the combined importunities of the emperor, the Germans, and the Romans, he agreed to go to Rome, and to accept the papacy if freely elected thereto by the Roman people. He wished, at least, to rescue the See of Peter from its servitude to the German emperors.

When, in company with Hildebrand he reached Rome, and presented himself to its people clad in pilgrim’s guise and barefooted, but still tall, and fair to look upon, they cried out with one voice that him and no other would they have as pope. Assuming the name of Leo, he was solemnly enthroned 12 February, 1049. Before Leo could do anything in the matter of the reform of the Church on which his heart was set, he had first to put down another attempt on the part of the ex-Pope Benedict IX to seize the papal throne. He had then to attend to money matters, as the papal finances were in a deplorable condition. To better them he put them in the hands of Hildebrand, a man capable of improving anything.

(From the old Catholic Encyclopedia articles on Benedict IX and Leo IX.)

No, no, no.

This is not one of those posts where I give you historical dirt and then offer cheery, heartfelt encouragement…

amy-welborn

 

Nor is this a virtue-signaling #sobrave #notgoinganywhere post.

Because….there’s no shortage of those, either.

It’s just this:

There have always  – always, people – been terrible problems in the Church. It’s unfortunate that general historical illiteracy, combined with contemporary experiences of faith that are mostly determined by which party you happen to fall into, work to hide this plain fact from most people.

It is, of course, very strange to be living right in the middle of one of those periods – but I do believe my point is (and this might depress some of you) that we are always in one of “those” periods. Faithlessness, hypocrisy, striving, corruption of all kinds, at all levels: has it ever been absent? Of course not. An even on a massive scale: Remember Arianism (and its progeny semi-Arianism)? Which split the Church for decades? How many bishops and other clergy remained faithful during the Reformation? So much church history that is aimed at popular audiences, particularly from a “conservative” angle, traces a triumphalist, straight-line path from Pentecost to the present, when reality has been far, far messier.

And a big part of the mess – one of the greatest sins  – is  that the ordinary person, seeking comfort, yearning for life and spiritual nourishment, is exploited, ignored or dismissed by those who hold power and have forgotten Who gave it to them and why. Of course our faith is shaken, perhaps even destroyed when we experience that, or even when we become aware of it. Read the Gospel readings from this week. Right there from the beginning. 

I have written so much about this in the past. I’ve no need to rewrite any of that, since my views haven’t changed, nor has my interpretation of events. What’s come out the past few months has been of a piece with the revelations of sixteen years ago…and then the revelations a few years before that. Read Jason Berry, for heaven’s sake. 

Charming, faithless bastards exploit those entrusted to their care, flatter their starry-eyed enablers, and then cover-up for each other.

Over and over again. 

(And not just in Church – it is the well-worn pattern of abuse and exploitation in every area of life. Watch out, wherever you are. Teach your kids to stay far from adults who seek their friendship. It’s just not…normal.)

The specifics vary in different periods of history and different cultures. But what is consistent, it seems, is the overarching instinct to throw your lot in with the prevailing culture and its values – power, success, money, sex, a particular social system – and be formed by that instead of the Gospel, instead of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

But now we have a new level, in which a figure in the hierarchy – the former Apostolic Nuncio – has released a lengthy statement, naming names.

And Pope Francis, one of those named,  has said that he won’t be talking about it.

Again, I’m not in this space right now to add to the already voluminous, constant commentary. Much of it is very good.  I’ve said things about Pope Francis’ style and priorities here and there: in this post, which still gets a lot of traffic, and a follow-up. 

I think the only thing I want to say right now is this:

Ideology and partisanship has done great damage to the Church worldwide, and particularly to the Church in the United States. In this particular moment and moments like this, it becomes a real obstacle to uncovering and honestly discussing the truth.

Instead of simply addressing assertions and researching their veracity, we must, it seems, always – always slog through a ritual of addressing ad hominem. And as the years have gone on, it just seems to get worse and worse. I have a theory as to why: laziness and enslavement to the short response window afforded by the Internet. 

For if you are determined to get your Hot Take out there, if your presence on people’s timelines is an essential part of your persona and even livelihood – who the hell has time to research claims and compose point-by-point refutations or discuss specifics?

(Obviously this is not just a problem in discussions about religion. It really defines contemporary public “discourse,” period.)

It’s much easier to crow Oh, the Francis-haters are at it again! toss up a meme, and move on.

Owned. 

That, and a fear of being associated with the “wrong” side, are major, crucial barriers to sane, fruitful examination of these issues and, most importantly, solving the problems, to the extent that they can be.

(I have driven myself nuts for the last fifteen minutes looking for a quote from – I’m convinced – either Mauriac or Bernanos on this score – I used it once in column ages ago – but I can’t find it. But if I could, trust me – it would be perfect. So.)

In a sense, there is nothing new about this either. Each “side” in American Catholicism has had its particular rows to hoe in this field, going back decades. The very conservative Wanderer was reporting on sexual abuse long before the early 2000’s explosion, but mostly of “liberal” prelates. The liberal National Catholic Reporter did this same  – but from the opposite perspective. If you wanted to have even a glimmer of sense of what was going on, you had to swallow your pride and your prejudices and read both.

So it is today – read from all perspectives, but ignore those who frame everything they have to say in ad hominems and never actually address specific points at hand. Don’t bother. Hot takes and owning? Waste of time. Can we try – try – to do better?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s not too late to throw together a celebration of Bambinelli Sunday for your parish, school or just group of friends. Every year, I do searches for parishes advertising their observance, and so here’s what I’ve got as of today:

First, there’s Rome:

"bambinelli sunday"

St. Jude, Atlanta

St. Brigid, Westbury, NY

St. Mary, Cecil, OH

St. John of the Cross, Euclid, OH

Corpus Christi – Anglican Ordinariate in Charleston.

Sacred Heart – West Des Moines, IA

Holy Spirit Catholic School, St. Paul, MN

St. Patrick, Pottsville, PA

St. Patrick and St. Anthony, Watertown, NY

St. Paul, Ramsey, NJ

More to come!

Nice initiative by the Catholic Grandparents Association in Ireland, mentioned on the website of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe.

The third Sunday of Advent is known as the Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. Traditionally, every year in Rome, on that day, the Pope blesses the Bambinelli (figures of Baby Jesus) that people bring to St. Peter’s Square.

Last year, the Catholic Grandparents Association introduced this initiative in Ireland and, given its great success, they are repeating it this year, encouraging Parishes, Schools and Families to participate in this tradition and bring their Bambinelli to Mass to be blessed on 11 December.

This is a wonderful way of putting the birth of our Lord Jesus at the centre of Christmas.

Please find below the poster of the event, which you can adapt to your Parish.

More on Bambinelli Sunday from me..

here..

and at a Pinterest board.

bambinelli-blessing

 

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

Here’s a link to Rome Reports’ account of a previous year’s blessing.

How the book came to be.

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"amy welborn"

 

 

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican, Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?
 
Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

Please note: Among the top thing in life in which I am deeply uninterested :  Donald Trump’s spiritual life and any related  protestations.

Put away the shocked face at the Pope supposedly calling another person’s faith into question. It’s true that he was not targeting Trump specifically (that “if”), and who cares anyway, but the language here is completely consistent with Pope Francis’ rhetoric. This is his love language.

It is, in fact, one of his most reliable verbal tics, and one that composes the core of almost every homily he preaches, especially at daily Mass:

  1. Read Scriptures
  2. Find, in said Scripture, a characteristic that can be held up as either a) emblematic of a Christian or b)not emblematic of a Christian
  3. Go with it.

So just today:

Pope Francis went on to make explicit mention of the lines from Matthew’s Gospel, which foretell of the Last Judgment, when God will call men to account for what they have done to the hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, strangers. “This,” said the Holy Father, “is the Christian life: mere talk leads to vanity, to that empty pretense of being Christian – but no, that way one is not a Christian at all.”: “May the Lord give us this wisdom to understand well where lies the difference between saying and doing, and teach us the way of doing and help us to go down that way, because the way of saying brings us to the place where were these teachers of the law, these clerics, who liked dressing up and acting just like if they were so many Majesties – and this is not the reality of the Gospel. May the Lord teach us this way.”

And just a few from the past:

 

 Instead, said Pope Francis, we should all know how to forgive, and forgive “forever” as Jesus invites us to do “seven times in a day” if those who have wronged us ask for it and have repented. Jesus, says Pope Francis, “exaggerates to make us understand the importance of forgiveness” because “a Christian who is not able to forgive causes scandal: he is not a Christian.”

 

And when a little vanity creeps in, when someone believes themselves to be a winner of the ‘Nobel Prize for Holiness,” then memory is also good for us: ‘But … remember where I took you from, the very least of the flock. You were behind, in the flock.’ Memory is a great grace, and when a Christian has no memory – this is a hard thing, but it’s true – he is not a Christian, he is an idolater. Because he is before a God that has no road, that does not know how to move forward on the road. Our God is moving forward on the road with us, He is among us, He walks with us. He saves us. He makes history with us. Be mindful of all that, and life becomes more fruitful, with the grace of memory.

 

God’s mercy, the Pontiff said, reaches even to those who decline the invitation or pretend to accept it but do not truly participate in the feast. Listing the excuses given by those in the parable who were too occupied to attend, Pope Francis said: “They participate in the banquet in name only, but they do not truly accept the invitation”.

“They say yes,” but they really mean no. He likened the invited guests in the Gospel to “Christians who are content to remain on the guest list”. Unfortunately, he said, “being listed as a Christian is not enough… If you do not enter into the banquet, you are not a Christian; you will be on the list, but this does not help your salvation”.

 

A person might have five theology degrees, the Holy Father said, but not have the Spirit of God. “Perhaps you will be a great theologian, but you are not a Christian, because you do not have the Spirit of God! That which gives authority, that which gives you your identity and the Holy Spirit, the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”

 

“Joy, which is like the sign of a Christian. A Christian without joy is either not a Christian or he is sick. There’s no other type! He is not doing well health-wise! A healthy Christian is a joyful Christian. I once said that there are Christians with faces like pickled peppers [sour faces – ed] … Always with these [long] faces! Some souls are also like this, this is bad! These are not Christians. A Christian without joy is not Christian. Joy is like the seal of a Christian. Even in pain, tribulations, even in persecutions”.

 

“If you can’t forgive, you are not a Christian You may be a good man, a good woman…. but you are not doing what our Lord did.  What’s more, if you can’t forgive, you cannot receive the peace of the Lord. And every day when we pray the ‘Our Father:’ Forgive us as we have forgiven those……It’s a condition. We are trying to ‘convince’ God that we’re good, that we’re good by forgiving: in reverse.  (It’s just) words, right? As that beautiful song went:   ‘Words, words, words,’ wasn’t it?  I think it was (the Italian singer) Mina who sung it. Words! Forgive one another! Just as the Lord has forgiven us, do likewise.”

 

“So it is always with God’s love,” said Francis, “that, in order to reach us, takes the way of humility.” This was the same way that Jesus walked, a way that humbled itself even unto the Cross. Pope Francis went on to say that, for a Christian, “[T]his is the golden rule,” according to which progress and advancement always come through lowering oneself. “One can take no other road,” he said, adding, “if I do not lower myself, if you do not lower yourself, you are not a Christian.”

 

The Holy Father took his cue from a Confirmation administered during the Mass. The person who receives this Sacrament, Pope Francis said, “manifested the desire to be a Christian. To be Christian means to bear witness to Jesus Christ.” A Christian is a person who “thinks like a Christian, feels like a Christian and acts like a Christian. And this is coherency in the life of a Christian. Someone can be said to have faith, “but if one of these things is missing, he is not a Christian, there’s something wrong, there’s a certain incoherence. And Christians “who ordinarily, commonly live in incoherence, do so much harm”:

 

If you read his homilies and speeches you see the same type of paradigm used over and over – a dividing, if you will, a shadow from light.

(Judgment?)

Some – many – find this type of discourse inspiring and challenging in a good way. Some find it a useful tool with which to judge others. YMMV.

What interests me about it is the role this rhetorical structure plays in his speech in general.

This might seem to be one more meandering, come-at-things-from-the-side post, and perhaps it is, (upon reading the finished mess..I know  it is…sorry)  but I think it’s important to just attempt a broader understanding instead of constantly stabbing at individual statements.

This is what I have said about Pope Francis’ words since the beginning of his pontificate: they are largely untethered from the the depth and breadth of Catholic tradition.  That is not saying he does not believe it.  It’s saying that he apparently has little use for much of it in his public speech. It’s not his point.

I could site many examples, but this “you are not a Christian” tic serves the purpose well. Popesplainers tell me that what he means is that authentic discipleship or deeply dedicated faith or radical faith is characterized by these features: joy, memory, coherence, forgiveness, and that is undoubtedly true.

But the repeated judgment of individuals or types in this way is problematic. It’s theologically inaccurate, and is just not a part of Catholic language. It seems to me an overly simplistic way of articulating the challenges of Christian discipleship. It’s a clean finish, it seems to stick the landing, it gets your attention, but what is it, really?

Every preacher, they say, has one sermon, and they preach that one over and over. The trick though, in preaching or even teaching, is to allow your own interests and priorities to dialogue with the material at hand, not dominate it.

So I, as a teacher, may have a deep interest in the history of women in Catholicism, but if I am teaching a high school church history class and I work that interest into every single lesson, and use the lessons mostly as a hanger for my hobbyhorse,  I’m allowing my priorities to shape the message to an unhelpful extent. What am I trying to do here? Am I really interested in inspiring my students to learn as much about the big picture as possible, or in the end, is my own personal vision limiting theirs?

When I read Pope Francis’ homilies and speeches, for the most part,  I don’t experience an exploration of the Scriptures as they are, or a presentation of a particular facet of Catholic teaching or devotion. I don’t get the Big Catholic Picture. In fact, there is even a sense that the Big Catholic Picture might function as a wall between  a person  and Jesus, rather than the bridge to him.

His habit is to find an angle in the text or moment at hand to make the point he has in mind, and there are in general just a few of those to pick from. The Scripture, the day, the place, the interview question serves as an opportunity to elucidate one or more of his favorite themes: mercy, inclusiveness, accompaniment, hypocrisy, and the plight of the materially poor.

And what’s so bad about that? Who votes against more mercy and justice? Not me!

But the ultimate effect is a bit impoverished. As I said, it is not so much the richness of the Scriptures that are preached, but Pope Francis’ priorities and themes.  It is, to me, another expression of the tendency I previously wrote about: a pope’s priorities shaping the exercise of the papal office rather than humbly dialoguing  with it and all that underlies it.

As I said every preacher does this to a certain extent.  I know a priest who never fails to bring up death. He’s old. It’s on his mind. Another priest homilist, obviously a neat and well-organized fellow, tends to regularly bring up the beauty of God’s plan of salvation and how it all fits together pretty nicely.

The trick is, as I said before, to be careful to let the Scriptures and the Church speak through your own particular charism and yes, priorities.

What I hear in Pope Francis’ words are his favorite themes. What is missing is the broader, deeper context of Catholic life, tradition and teaching. Maybe you don’t miss it. I do. I like for all that stuff to be summed up and reflected and flowing through Catholic-talk.

One might argue, “But it’s pastoral” and “What, you expect a theology dissertation every time a pope opens his mouth? So hard to understand! This line-drawing is so much simpler and easy to apply to everyday life!”

Nope. I don’t expect dissertations in homilies. That would be terrible.  But here’s the thing. Every time I go to Mass in Alabama, I hear homilies that my eleven-year old can understand, homilies that acknowledge and embrace the brokenness of the human condition from a place deep, secure and confidently flowing from Catholic tradition. They are not all great, but they are trying.

I hear homilies that reflect the joyful belief that the gift of faith we meet in Catholicism reflects two things: it reflects life and it reflects God’s answer to life, met in Christ and given to us through his Body, the Church.

That Catholicism is not imposed on life. Is not an extra. Its philosophical and theological ground is simply the ground of life, articulated, written, prayed, sung and even suffered through.

And it for sure – for certain – is not presented as an obstacle to Christ, as something to shrug off, minimize and skirt around, as barriers to the real Christ, the loving, accepting Christ.

So what does this have with the Trump thing? Well, this: Catholicism is no stranger to the issues of movement of peoples; of refugees; of the right of nations to live in security ; of the rights of people to find decent, safe, homes. There are innumerable facets to the immigrant situation as it relates to the US, Mexico and Central America: crime, poverty, exploitation, accommodation and political games.

What Catholicism brings to this table is far more than assertions that building walls is not Gospel teaching and reflexively pulling out the “not a Christian” card.

It’s not really about the Church (insert harrumph here) staying out of politics.  Catholicism is the oldest continually existing political body in the world. Empires, monarchies, city-states, revolutions, nations, republics, warmongering popes, peace-making popes, you name it, we’ve been there.  We have a lot to say about politics and political movements and the movement of peoples.Been there, done that, still doing it.

So, the Trump thing? What was said here and has been in situations like this is predictable. It’s the way the Pope speaks and sees things, evidently.

The fundamental issue, though, is why. What moves the Pope and his people to present his off-the-cuff remarks and answers in this way? Why the insistence that his thoughts on or his reaction to any of this matter? Why the highlighting of his own personal priorities and constant presentation of them through, for example, these daily homilies, as the focus of Catholic interaction with the world today?

Because aren’t we about decentralization?

And isn’t he just the humble Bishop of Rome?

Right?

 

 

 

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"amy welborn"

 

Guess what.

You don’t have to defend every word the Pope says.

Even if you consider yourself an enthusiastic and faithful Catholic of any stripe you are not obligated to defend every utterance in every papal interview or even every papal homily or declaration.

Popes – all popes – can say things that are wrong, incorrect, ill-informed, narrow, short-sighted and more reflective of their personal biases, interests and limitations than the broader, deeper tradition of Catholicism.

Which is why, traditionally, popes didn’t do a lot of public talking. 

 

Quite a few issues have popped up recently – well, more or less continuously over the past three years, but I want to begin by addressing what I see as the fundamental, underlying problem apart from any particular priorities Pope Francis may have.  That problem is the importance given to papal statements. Papal paragraphs. Papal sentences, participles and even papal pauses.

All of which require continual, exhaustive and exhausting rounds of what I’ve come call Popesplaining. 

It’s a perfect storm, really, and Francis is merely the moment when the winds have reached their height (we hope).

The storm begin with constant, instant communication. We are accustomed to thinking of this as an advantage in terms of evangelization. Hey! The Pope can Tweet! You can get his daily thoughts in your inbox! You can Skype with the Pope!

The enthusiasm seems to be misplaced. When you combine instant communication with the other winds coursing through the the storm – a celebrity culture and a culture (even a church culture) in which we are told to seek God in the act of relating to other people’s presence and personalities above all, well, there’s your storm, one in which the focus of faith becomes the speaker rather than the Word.

Eager evangelizers then  take advantage of this moment by hanging the faith on the (to some) charismatic individual, and so we have bishops falling all over themselves, sometimes in hilariously awkward ways, making sure we know that  they’re trying to be more like Pope Francis, books inviting us to consider what Pope Francis would do, spiritual initiatives inviting us to “walk with Francis” and a Vatican website that used to feature the liturgical season on its splash page, but has not done so  much since 2013.

"amy welborn"

Perhaps you see this as a positive development. Guess what again. It’s not.

I fail to see how this current mania helps address Protestant concerns that Catholicism holds the Pope up above Jesus and Biblical faith.

Because when even Fr. James Martin is checking himself, you know things have gone overboard:

Perhaps it was the same under John Paul II and Benedict, but the pope was the center of almost every conversation in Rome. Now, I bow to no one in my admiration for Papa Francesco, but at times I wondered if there was anything else to talk about! It reminded me of a group pilgrimage to Lourdes, when it seemed that the only names on our lips were those of Mary and St. Bernadette. After one Gospel reading at Mass, a Jesuit companion turned to me and said, “Ah, Jesus! I’ve missed him!”

One day I was returning from an appointment with a Vatican official to the Jesuit curia, a few hundred feet from St. Peter’s Square. As I made my way to my room I passed the larger-than-life statue of Jesus which stands on a high ledge overlooking the Curia garden. Underneath the statue was the legend: “Salus Tua Ego Sum.” Yes, I don’t know much Latin. But this was easy: “I am your salvation.” And I thought, well, yes, not the pope. It was a good reminder for someone like me, who idolizes Francis.

This is pretty crazy, but it’s also predictable.  Students of religious movements and even students of sociology and mass psychology could predict it:  When you strip principles away, personalities and emotional connections step in to fill the vacuum. 

Religious history, and Catholic history is not an exception here, lurches between the institutional intellectual and charismatic or enthusiastic elements of faith. But the beauty of Catholicism has always involved an eventual balance between these elements. The pendulum swings too far, corrections pop up here and there – in reform movements, devotional movements and the giving of permission and suppression.

What holds it together is not a human person, but a Person.  We look to Jesus, through this mystery of his Body, to gather us in truth and life.  We believe that the Church is not an accidental human development. We believe that fallen creation has been redeemed by Christ and that every kind of brokennesss is answered by the Way, the Truth and the Life, embodied, as he willed it  – through his Body, the Church.

The Church  – in its teachings, sacramental life and spiritual Tradition – does not stand in the way of human flourishing and redemption, but is the way to it, because Jesus is the way.

People are drawn to the Church through the writing of its great spiritual writers, the power of its sacramental life, the beauty of its material presence in the world and the witness of its saints and martyrs because through it all, their questions are answered, their fears are assuaged and their brokenness is healed. In Christ, through his presence on earth.

The role of servant leadership, from laity to vowed to ordained, is to serve the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Tomorrow (February 22) is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. So this is an apt moment to watch these discussions kick into high gear.

Among the numerous testimonies of the Fathers, I would like to quote St Jerome’s. It is an extract from one of his letters, addressed to the Bishop of Rome. It is especially interesting precisely because it makes an explicit reference to the “Chair” of Peter, presenting it as a safe harbour of truth and peace.

This is what Jerome wrote:  “I decided to consult the Chair of Peter, where that faith is found exalted by the lips of an Apostle; I now come to ask for nourishment for my soul there, where once I received the garment of Christ. I follow no leader save Christ, so I enter into communion with your beatitude, that is, with the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built” (cf. Le lettere I, 15, 1-2).

Dear brothers and sisters, in the apse of St Peter’s Basilica, as you know, is the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini. It is in the form of a great bronze throne supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church:  two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East:  St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.

It is not that bishops or popes should not be active or creative leaders – it is that the kind of leadership Jesus calls for is servant-leadership, in service to the truth of the Gospel and in service to the Body of Christ. Always wary of placing the self, rather than Christ, at the center. Embedding oneself and one’s decision-making in the deep, broad life of the People of God, supported, as Benedict alludes to above, by the Spirit working through that great Tradition.

The relative formality of apostolic Christianity – for that is what Catholicism is – is about safeguarding the Faith against the temptation to allow the priorities of one particular age or individual from having too much influence and for allowing “space” as it were, underneath that highest level for various movements, influences and emphases to arise, dialogue, be refined, embraced, discarded and take their place.

A formalized liturgy is an expression of this: a liturgy in which the ministers are the servants of the Word and Sacrament, not designers of it, imposing their “vision” on others.  Liturgical vestment and papal ceremony is also an expression of it – we say, “Oh, it’s so stiff and confining and formal”  – well, it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to give embodiment to various aspects of the faith and more or less bury the personality of the individual bearing it all so that Christ can shine forth.

It sort of works.

And it works to the extent that the organic nature of these bodily processes is respected on all sides.

Do you see what I’m saying?

I’m saying that the Pope, as an individual, is not supposed to be that important. 

All popes have their individual priorities and areas of expertise. Sure. But…

Which is why it’s all the more important that they humbly submit those interests and priorities, those particular charisms, to service of the life of a complex, deep, broad Church that belongs to Christ, not to them. 

***

Before I move on to specifics, I want to say something about discussing these issues.

It’s okay.

And it’s time.

Well, it’s been time for a while – it’s never not been time, but, well, it’s really time now.

And it’s time to do so without the spectre of  being caricatured as a a “Francis-Hater” or that you must consider yourself “One of the Greatest Catholics of All Time.” Ignore that kind of discourse. It’s lazy.

It’s time to do so without the discussion-silencing claim that any critique of the current papacy must – must  – come from a fearful identification with American capitalism rather than an embrace of Catholic social teaching.

There’s also no reason to feel guilty about engaging in this discussion or – honestly – not liking Pope Francis very much. It is awesome to be in the presence of the successor of St. Peter, and it is a great gift that Jesus gave us, Peter, the Rock. But it is just a matter of historical fact that not all popes are great, popes make mistakes and sin.  Respect for and value of the office does not mean we must feel caught up in emotion about any pope, even the present one.

Years ago, I was in intense email discussion with someone who was considering leaving the Church, so scandalized was he by the sexual abuse scandals.  He was not personally affected, but he had intimate knowledge of it all and had to write about it. I absolutely understood his pain, because it’s pain anyone would  – and should – feel.  But I made this argument to him over and over:

Look. The Church we’re in is the Church that is not confined by time or space.  The Church we’re in in the present moment is the Church of 42, of 477, of 1048, of 1684, of 1893. The institutional sins and failures of the present moment are real, but no less real are the sins, failures and general weirdness of the past 2000 years.  Look at the history of the papacy in the 9th and 10th centuries. If you can hold onto apostolic succession after studying that chaos, then nothing else is ever going to shake you. 

(Oh, it didn’t work. He left the Church. For another church, no less scandal-ridden than this one, but oh well)

This applies to the discussion at hand, as well. Frantic, defensive fear that critiquing any aspect of any recent papacy would call into question one’s faith in Christ’s gift of Petrine ministry is silly. Our discussions should be grounded in humility and an acceptance of our limited understanding, but wondering if a Pope is doing or saying the right thing does not make one an unfaithful Catholic or a sedevacantist.

The inevitable  concerntrolling respone is going to be, “Sure, you can say all that, but you know that a lot of the people speaking about Pope Francis are…”

Hey, guess what?

I don’t care. 

It is admittedly challenging to discuss Pope Francis, though, because as much as he talks, there is still often an ambiguity about what he means when he does so.  It is difficult to talk about his statements without imposing meaning or motivation from one direction (he doesn’t seem to believe much of anything) or the other (he obviously believes it all, but is just reaching out and being pastoral and accesssible).

So for me, the most fruitful path is to begin by looking at the nature of his speech and the role of the papacy – of any Catholic leader or catechist.

***

So I’ll begin with the notion of humility.

There is no way for one person to judge whether another is a “humble person” unless he has intimate personal knowledge of the other. One could work in a soup kitchen all day long and still be terribly proud.  Someone could cook her own meals, wash her own dishes and embrace the beggar on the corner and still be an arrogant jerk in private – or be lovely. We just can’t tell from those external actions. We just can’t.

But what is a bit easier to discuss in a fair manner is the question of humility in leadership, and I think this is worth discussing in relationship to Pope Francis, for the notion that his papacy is marked by “humility” is used as an interpretive tool to the point that it becomes blinding and shuts down discussion.  In fact, I think it’s essential that it be discussed, for what concerns me is the misappropriation of that word: “humble.”

Pope Francis, it seems to me, is described as a “humble” leader for a few reasons:

  • He rejects various aspects of papal ceremonial.
  • He moved out of the papal apartments.
  • He says things like bishops should “smell like their sheep.”
  • He emphasizes the “bishop of Rome” title.
  • He says he values decentralization and dialogue, has had a Synod and tweaked the Curial structures just a bit.

 

Perhaps.

But perhaps it is also fair to ask…

..knowing the role of the Pope, and understanding how easily misunderstood the role of the Pope is by most people today, is it a mark of humble leadership to allow your own words to become the dominant public face of Catholicism – on a daily basis?

So here’s the paradox. No, the contradiction:  to brush away certain external expressions of papal authority while actually doubling down on the authority.  Communicating in one way the supposed diminishing of the role while at the same time using the role to speak authoritatively to the entire world out of your own priorities on a daily basis.

If this isn’t clear, think of it this way: Change up the situation and imagine it happening in your workplace, your school or your parish with a new boss, principal or pastor.

What would you think then?

Here’s another comparison:

The Catholic Mass developed over time as an elaborate ritual in which the priest-celebrant was hidden behind a mysterious language, ceremony and vestments. It was, it was claimed, necessary to strip all of that so that the people could more directly encounter Christ. The end result is that all we have to look at now is the priest, and the “proper” celebration of Mass is completely dependent on his personal manner and how his style makes us feel.

One wonders if this is the best way to encourage humble leadership.

So to bring it back around to the matter of the individual and the value of formal structure that  I raised above, the argument is made, “It is good for the Pope to break free of all of that. People need to encounter the Pope as a person who cares about them. It’s super humble.”

True to an extent, I guess, but again the risk of personality enters into it. I suppose I have to ask, bluntly, why is it important that I be assured that the Pope cares about me or wants to hug my kid or looks me in the eye? More importantly, is it good that I should feel that I need that and that a leader feeds into that need?

Is that encouraging me to look to Christ alone as my solace? Is it humility?

Any servant leader must be a listener, be open and engaged. We meet Christ in each other and by loving others.  But the current discussion – that doesn’t begin with the present papacy, and goes, rather, back to John Paul II – that we know Jesus better because the Pope tells us he gets us and  he loves us and carries his own briefcase! – is not healthy, feeds into the equating of emotionalism with faith,  and is borderline idolatrous.

****

MORE:  Barrier Methods, Part I

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Time to start nagging…

"amy welborn"

Bambinelli Sunday is the title of a book I wrote with the wonderful watercolor illustrations by Ann Engelhart.

But it’s also a real thing, this “Bambinelli Sunday.”

No, it’s not on the liturgical calendar, but it’s definitely a thing, started several years ago in Rome, and continuing today.

Usually celebrated on the third Sunday of Advent , children of Rome are invited to bring Bambinelli – baby Jesus figures from their nativities – to St. Peter’s Square for a blessing from the Holy Father. 

(This year, they changed it to 12/20 though…don’t know why…)

(“Apriti cuore” means “open up the heart”)

 

Every year, I collect notices of parishes who are incorporating this tradition. Here’s the beginning of the list:

St. Albert the Great in Cleveland

Sacred Heart in Oregon

Mentioned by the “Catholic Grandparents Association” in Ireland...unclear whether this an event or just a suggestion…

Church of the Nativity in New Jersey

St. Mary Magdalene in Delaware

St. James in New Jersey

I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on and bulletins get put online.

Here’s a link to my Bambinelli Sunday Pinterest Board

Suggestions?

"bambinelli sunday"

 

And the point?

The point is that Advent and Christmas are about welcoming the Word of God into our lives – which means our homes. The blessing of the Bambinelli – which we bring from our homes and return there – is an embodiment of this.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in his 2008 prayer for the event:

God, our Father 
you so loved humankind 
that you sent us your only Son Jesus, 
born of the Virgin Mary, 
to save us and lead us back to you.

We pray that with your Blessing 
these images of Jesus, 
who is about to come among us, 
may be a sign of your presence and 
love in our homes.

Good Father, 
give your Blessing to us too, 
to our parents, to our families and 
to our friends.

Open our hearts, 
so that we may be able to 
receive Jesus in joy, 
always do what he asks 
and see him in all those 
who are in need of our love.

We ask you this in the name of Jesus, 
your beloved Son 
who comes to give the world peace.

He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
Amen.

 

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(Click on any of the images in this post for a larger, clearer view. Do it with this old-school vintage infographic in particular. From a 1947 Catholic high school textbook) 

Warning: this is long and wordy and convoluted, but I really do have a point. Take it or leave it.

Is it a good thing that people proclaim that they are inspired by Pope Francis?

It’s hard to say “no” – so  won’t.  But I’ll still say something I’ve said before.  I find a lot of the purported “inspiration” I’m reading and hearing about a little odd.

Not to mention hyperbolic. This morning, John Allen’ Crux article says that yes, only “time will tell” if Pope Francis’ visit “changed America.”

?

And when I consider the ways that Catholic institutions and entities have been playing off the surge of #PopeisHope, most of it strikes me as theologically and spiritually short-sighted and even sort of weird. Unfortunate, even.

Circling back. Why do I find it “strange?”

Well, as have written before, I am at a loss to understand how Catholics, life-long or converts, can just now be learning, since the election of Pope Francis, that one of the virtues is charity. That, you know, as someone once said, “the greatest of these is love.”

Even without considering the possibility of daily prayer, devotions or spiritual reading and just assuming that most of us do the minimum, spiritually, I still have to ask: Do you people just not listen in church? At all? 

Why does it take Pope Francis to clue you into the nature of Christian discipleship and light your fire – don’t you ever listen to, you know, JESUS? 

What makes it all especially bizarre to me is that catechesis since the Second Vatican Council has had three basic themes: 1) God is Love  2) Help others  and (since, say, the early 90’s) 3) Catholic identity is awesome, you guys!

What I’m saying is that even in the desert of late 20th-century Catholic formation, the duty to live out the virtue of charity has not been exactly neglected.

So, okay, that’s the way it is. If Jesus’ words weren’t strong enough to nudge your conscience on how you spend your material resources and brief time on earth God has gifted you with, then hooray for the present moment.

But you know, being me, I can’t let go of this.  I keep trying to figure it out. Let me tease some of this out and think about history.

Supposedly, we are now all on high alert to the value of simplicity and a modest lifestyle and one which is harmony with the earth.  And this, apparently is a new thing and an amazing new direction for ..who? Catholics? Christians? The World? I’m not sure.

But was there ever  time in which Catholics were advised otherwise? Was wastefulness and exploitation of earthly resources ever deemed a virtue for Catholics? Were those kinds of decisions ever seen as matters irrelevant to the moral life?

The answer, of course, is no.  And if you want to understand how Catholics were expected to live out these values, look at the saints. Our saints live lives in imitation of Christ, which means emptying oneself and living, as He did, in humility. Yes, there have been wealthy and powerful people celebrated as saints, but their virtues always include heroic charity and, quite often, a turning away from that wealth and position.

(This is not to say this ideal was always lived out, even by the institution or church people themselves, who have been known to, er, enjoy the comforts of the culture in which they lived.)

So my puzzle is this: It used to be that everyone understood, even as they lived it out in the flawed way humans do, that the ideal Christian life was marked by humility, modesty, simplicity, and even asceticism. A Catholic life was ideally organized around practicing the virtues and the Works of Mercy.  To give a concrete example, I have below reproduced some scans from a mid-century (1947)  American Catholic high school religion textbook – this is book 4, so it’s for seniors.  The last half of the book is concerned with issues of Justice, and then apologetics.  The justice section is even longer than the apologetics section and contains a detailed outline of Quadragesimo Anno. 

I’d invite you to take a look at these pages – and to see if you think, even from these brief excerpts, whether these young people were being taught that the ideal Catholic life was closed-in, self-referential and narrow in 1947, before the Light Shone Forth.

In fact, it is the opposite.  The Catholic was taught he or she had a DUTY to live out the virtues and the Works of Mercy. To not do so was a SIN. 

So what is it that happened so that 70 years after this textbook was published, and fifty years after the Council that supposedly shot the Catholic laity straight into the world with all that Peace and Justice ammunition to “build the Kingdom,” there’s this massive, joyfully shocked reaction to Pope Francis’ emphasis on mission and outreach: Now I get it! Poor People! Peripheries! #WalkWithFrancis!

I’ve settled on three points of explaining this to myself.

  • Prosperity.  There’s more general prosperity now than ever before in human history, and you know what The Man said about wealth, needles and camels.  It’s true, and it doesn’t just apply to billionaires.  The satisfaction that we find in our stuff deafens us, and what does get through is rationalized: As long as I’m not too attached. Ach, taxes. I pay taxes that pay for food stamps for Those People Over There. Doesn’t that count? 
  • Social and economic segregation. A lot of people who are economically comfortable are able to live most of their lives without regular, meaningful encounters and relationships with others outside their class and that includes in the workplace, school, neighborhood and most significantly, modern parish.

Both of these act as enablers to our blindness.

And…I actually think, for 21st century Catholics, this next one is key. Let’s see if I can explain it in a way that makes sense because it’s kind of a mess in my head:

  • The emphasis of post-Vatican II formation of both children and adults has been freedom and the individual relationship with God, mediated to some extent through the Church, but mostly through the sacraments, rather than the bigger, thicker tradition.  The “old” mode of formation in discipleship was about sharing the love of Christ, but it was articulated within a bigger philosophical and theological framework and a framework of responsibility and duty to norms articulated by the Church in the name of Christ and visible in the lives of the saints.

So what happened? That was dispensed with. Boom. Gone. All the talk of “the virtues” and the “works of Mercy” was mostly abandoned because it was seen as at best irrelevant to and and worst constrictive of the spiritual freedom and individuality of each person’s journey. We don’t do those things because a “rule” tells us to or because we are “fearful” of the consequences or because we are children who have to be directed how to act by the patriarchal Church.  We give freely out of love, rooted in our own individual story, responding to the Spirit at any given moment, inspired by the example of Jesus our brother. And moreover, we’re all about the new and what was old is of no value any more.

What’s left is us, some other people who live in another part of town and are “poor,” some idealistic words that we know Jesus said that really aren’t that much different from what other good and noble leaders have said, so hey, take your pick and do what you’re moved to do.

There’s no comprehensive understanding of what the world really is, organically developed over two thousand years, articulated in a common and fairly well-understood philosophical and theological language. (read the excerpts below to see the difference).

I especially like the reminder, regarding the virtues: But the world hardly knows them, but it must be told about them, and as it will hardly listen to the Church, you must do the preaching by your lives. 

An interesting recognition of reality!

And of the importance of the lay role in the world.  No, it wasn’t invented in the last few decades.

For the next few pages, I’m interested in the treatment of covetousness. (starts at the end of the right-hand page below)  It covers a host of issues that people seem to think are just being raised by Pope Francis, like, today. #freshair #newspiritblowing

Now, if you read through the material on covetousness, perhaps you can see more of what I’m grappling with.

The Church’s treatment of this issue is comprehensive, detailed, and aware of the realities of human life. Today, what we mostly hear regarding a Christian’s relationship to material goods is, “Jesus said to the rich young man….!” or “St. Francis gave up stuff!”

And not much else.

Do you see the difference between that and the past articulation of these issues? The reasons for the proper Christian attitude toward stuff is articulated in a context which is rooted in truths about the nature of the human person, the nature of created things, and our proper relationship to those things in light of our final end and the purpose of our life on earth.

FOR SENIORS IN HIGH SCHOOL!

Perhaps this was inadquate. Perhaps, in reality, it did come across and was lived as one big game of Chutes and Ladders with randomly established rules by a distant authority, as David Lodge described it in his novel, How Far Can You Go?

The American title is Souls and Bodies, which is fine but clearly inferior to the British title, which conveys Lodge’s subject ingeniously: The young Catholics growing up in the 50’s were obsessed with the question of how far could they go sexually before reaching a certain level of sin, but then the question of “how far can you go” took on another sense as the Church they had chafed in did in fact change and the question turned – how far can you go with all of these changes until what’s left is no longer recognizable?

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And I’m for sure not looking at all of this through nostalgic glasses. I’ve written about this before a great deal.  There was obviously a big problem in the pre-Vatican II Church if things fell apart so quickly afterwards. Obviously.

But. 

My point, for the few who are still reading, is that as it evolved over the centuries, the Catholic sense was that the individual’s moral life was oriented towards living in imitation of Christ, and the framework for that was clear: virtues/works of mercy lived by people most of whom did not have a lot, if anything to spare, materially.

The idea that a Catholic life was visibly marked, above all, by living out the virtues in a sacrificial way and living humbly and simpy IS NOT NEW.

It is in the Gospel. 

Read it.

It is in the lives of the saints. 

Get to know them. Imitate them.

It is articulated in Tradition. Which, you know, is still in effect.

Study it.

Now – one more thing. In a way I suppose I am saying, “Don’t be startled by what Pope Francis says about this. He’s not saying anything different from what the Church has always taught!”

But in a way I’m also not saying that.

Because one of the problems with Pope Francis’ rhetoric has been its fairly consistent independence as articulated from the traditional Catholic-talk language and framework used to talk about these matters. Or much of anything. His mode of expression does not explicitly rest in this framework or refer to it very often. It’s usually centered on “Jesus says…” and then “I say to you…”  without reference to theological or spiritual principles that, like it or not, provide the scaffolding for Catholic thinking on these matters.

His rhetoric does not explicitly lead one to consider that what is being said rests in a broader tradition rooted in Christ and developed, through the guidance of the Spirit, over time, and still pertinent today. His rhetoric leads many listeners to the conclusion that the value of what is being articulated lies mostly in the fact that the present Pope is saying it.

This is a problem because then the strength of the teaching rests, from the listener’s perspective, on the personal perspective of the speaker, with all of his limitations,  rather than the deeper, broader wisdom tradition and authority of the Church, big, deep, complex, and rooted in the authority of Christ.  It’s a problem for a lot of reasons, among them, the implications for the listener’s understanding of the role of the papacy in the Church.

We don’t do good stuff because The Pope Wants Us To.  We follow Christ because we are baptized and he calls us. If the witness of a Pope or the way he articulates the faith he is charged with protecting and teaching helps  and energizes us, fantastic! But #walkwithFrancis? No. #WalkWithJesus. Period.

My point is that it might seem like a good thing that people are inspired by Pope Francis’ articulation of these values, but what is problematic is that the response at this point, seems weirdly focused on personality  and so ignorant of the Gospel and the Church’s articulation of the Gospel over the centuries, it makes me go all:

Because #ifyouwantpeaceworkforjusticeetc

Oh, and let me address – before it’s raised – the assertion that: “Speaking as a pastor is so great. That’s what we need! Not that…theology!”  Well, the problem with that is obviously, the minute you start trying to put the words of Jesus into practice, you run into complexities:  What does it mean, Jesus’ answer to the rich young man? Does that mean I shouldn’t have anything? Should I not spend resources to go to law school? Is it immoral for me to make money from working in a restaurant that sells food for more than the cost of production? What *is* a living wage? What *is* the responsibility, concretely speaking of a community towards the poor? What is *my* responsibility, as a parent or as a vowed religious, as a old person as a child?

The questions multiply very quickly, and “pastoral” talk just as quickly shows itself to be inadequate as a sole response. Theological, spiritual and philosophical conversations happen for a reason. The Catholic tradition takes those conversations into account in formulating expressions of what is True, and it is part of the role of Church authority to explicitly bring those conversations and answers into the world.

And finally, if your rhetoric is not enmeshed in, informed by and dependent on that greater Revelation and Tradition, explicitly and at all times, the impression is given that the authority for what you are saying rests on you, your personality and your perspective. Not what Catholic catechesis, the presbyterate, episcopacy or papacy is supposed to be about

Tomorrow: On welcoming, closed up churches, narrowness and accompanying. #SaintStyle

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Here’s a graphic outlining the Pope’s itinerary in Cuba, via Catholic News Agency.

Text of today’s homily

Here are the speeches and homilies from JPII’s 1998 trip to Cuba

B16 in 2012

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I’m not sure how to present this, but let’s give it a shot.

Many, me included, have said for years to not depend on media reports – especially secular media – when it comes to understanding Church matters. This is especially true, and easy to fix, when it comes to statements by Church officials, since the vast majority of the time, their words  – in their homilies or speeches – are available for any of us to read.  Translation issues complicate matters, but the point remains.  We can access this stuff for ourselves, most of the time.

So we come to Pope Francis. (Not the encyclical, which is for later consideration)  Every day, it seems, there’s a new sound byte coming at us, a sound byte that is pounced on, debated, held up for scrutiny.

Today the contested quote regards something the Pope said about weapons manufacturers, a statement, as reported, which has pleased some people and distressed others.

I went to the only source I could find at this point – a transcript at Asia News.  I would encourage you to read it. I don’t know what you will take away from the transcript of this talk or the transcript of the talk he gave to Salesians, but I’m thinking it might clarify things.  Sort of.

It won’t necessarily clarify what the Pope meant by bringing up this subject or Marian devotion or youth unemployment or the Freemasons. But reading the entirety of these talks (not long – just a few paragraphs each), might clarify for you the nature of the discourse being offered in these settings and give you a way to think about..thinking about them.

Perhaps you would disagree, but consider:

  • In these talks, one of which even the National Catholic Reporter described as “rambling,” the Pope is essentially offering his own personal opinions and impressions.  Compare this discourse to the act of teaching, especially in the context of a Catholic pastoral paradigm, which pulls deeply from Scripture and tradition, applying revealed truth to new situations in a systematic way. The teacher’s gifts and opinions naturally impact this act of teaching, but in the Catholic tradition, the teacher, preacher, and yes, pastor, knows that he is subject to something greater, and attempts to communicates that  in the act of teaching.  A pope or bishop’s authority is a teaching authority.
  • If you have ever attempted to teach religion, in any form, even within your own family, you have experienced this and understood this delicate dynamic which requires the continual challenge to teach out of a place of humility. Anyone who has ever attempted this understands that “what I think” is irrelevant to the responsibility at hand.
  • In these talks, Pope Francis talks about weapons manufacturers, wonders why the Allies didn’t bomb Nazi train lines, muses on the reasons for teen suicides, wonders if the Salesians could be teaching kids how to be plumbers, his family background, and Freemasons.
  • He has views on all of it. Everyone can pick and choose pleasing phrases or points of view and then spend the rest of the day arguing about them on Facebook or Twitter.
  • I am not sure that’s a great use of time.
  • Memes like “The Pope’s Five Tips for Happy Family Life” or “Three Ways Pope Francis wants you to start helping the Planet” don’t help, especially when offered by Catholic media.  Because you know what? Pope Francis’ or Pope Benedict’s or Pope Pius’ “tips” for anything …don’t matter.  
  • My small point here is that the details of what he says in these remarks don’t matter as much as the bigger questions they raise about the nature of papal teaching authority, how the office is used, what it means to actually teach the Faith – a good question for all of us engaged in catechesis, yes?

Let us now turn to the wars. I sometimes said that we are in the middle of World War Three, but piecemeal. There is war in Europe. There is war in Africa. There is war in the Orient. There is war in other countries. Can I trust such a world? Can I trust world leaders? When I vote for a candidate, can I trust that he or she will not lead my country to war?

If you trust only people, you have lost. [Laughter and applause] One thought comes to mind: people, CEOs, business people who call themselves Christian and [yet] manufacture weapons. [Applause] This leads to a loss in trust. They call themselves Christian! “As a matter of fact, Father, I don’t make weapons. I just have investments in companies that manufacture weapons. Right! Why? Because of higher earnings.” Being two-faced is so conventional. Doing one thing and saying another. [Applause]. What hypocrisy! Let us see what happened the last century.

There was a great tragedy in Armenia in 1914 and 1915. [Applause] Many, millions died. Where were the great powers of that time? They turned the other way, and were interested in their war, and in those deaths. They [the Armenians] were third class human beings [Applause]. Later, in the 1930s and 1940s [came] the tragedy of the Holocaust. The great powers had photographs of the railway routes that brought the trains to the concentration camps, to Auschwitz, to kill Jews, Christians, Roma, homosexuals . . . Tell me then, why did they not bomb them? [Out of] interests, eh? [Applause]. A little later, in almost the same period, there were concentration camps in Russia. Stalin! How many Christians suffered and were killed? The great powers divided up Europe, like a pie. It took many years before we got some freedom.

It is hypocritical to talk about peace and make weapons, or sell them to the two warring sides. [Applause] I understand when you talk about the loss of trust in life. Even today, I like to say that we are living in a culture of exclusion, because what is not economically useful is excluded; children because either they are not born or are killed before they are born; seniors because they are no longer useful and are left to die, a sort of hidden euthanasia; and now young people when considering that 40 per cent is jobless. This is true exclusion! [Applause]

But why? Because, contrary to God’s will, men and women are not at the centre of the world’s economic system. The mighty buck is. Everything is done for money. [Applause] In Spanish there is a saying, “The little monkey will dance for money.” [Applause]. In this culture of exclusion, can we trust life or does the loss of trust grow? Young people who cannot study, who do not work, who feel ashamed and unworthy because they have no job and earn no living . . . How often do they become addicts or commit suicide? We don’t have clear statistics about suicide among young people. How many times do they go to fight with the terrorists, at least to do something for an ideal? I understand this challenge.  Source

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I was poking around my archives looking for an account of some previous travel (which I will get to in a moment), when the timing of that trip struck me for a couple of reasons…

Gosh, it was ten years ago. Just about this time of year. 

And while we were on the trip, John Paul II was dying…and then he died.

That was ten years ago tomorrow (April 2)…is anyone remembering this? 

(I see that Pope Francis referred to the anniversary today.)

So weird, considering the impact of that moment and the subsequent consistory electing Cardinal Ratzinger.  Those weeks were quite memorable, for they were weeks in which the Catholic understanding of life and death, embodied in the lives of human beings and the ritual of the Church, was there for everyone to see, and it was all rather stirring, beautiful and hopeful.

So.

What I was looking for was anything I’d written about our visit, on that Arizona trip, to something called the Gallery of the Sun – the studio of late artist Ted De Grazia.  You probably don’t know his name, but if you have memories of popular art of the 1960’s, this might strike a chord:

"amy welborn"

No, not as well-known as the Keane’s Big Eyes, but still, part of the fabric of the era.

We didn’t have it as a destination – I think it was on the way to somewhere else. But we stopped in, and I was surprised by the heavy religious content of the art.  De Grazia claimed he was not a traditionally religious man, but the Gallery is dedicated to the great missionary of the Southwest, Fr. Kino,

DeGrazia was inspired by the memorable events in the life and times of Padre Kino, the heroic, historic and immortal priest-colonizer of the Southwestern desert. Since childhood, DeGrazia admired Padre Kino for his education, life of adventure and his respect for Native Americans. DeGrazia traveled to every Kino mission as he lovingly studied the life of his favorite Jesuit priest. The Mission in the Sun is dedicated to his memory.

What struck me with the most force during the visit was De Grazia’s Stations of the Cross.  They were painted, according to this article, for the Catholic Student Center at the University of Arizona in Tuscon (my mother’s alma mater…but painted several years after her attendance). I  purchased a little bound set of postcards at the time, and still use it.

"amy welborn"

Yes, it’s pop art of a sort, but some of the stations are, I think, rather powerful. This image is from the Gallery’s Pinterest board, which has representations of all the images, some notes on the inspiration and preliminary sketches:

"ted de grazia"

I think this is my favorite:

"ted de grazia"

Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

That said…ten years?

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