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I contribute five devotions to each issue of Living Faith.  Yesterday’s – July 5:

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

– 2 Corinthians 12:9

Late last fall, my two youngest sons and I gathered with dozens of others in a parking lot on the east side of town.

We were given mesh bags and placed in front of huge boxes of sweet potatoes. Our task? To bag up the tubers collected by the modern-day gleaning group for distribution to the needy.

One of my sons asked, “Why don’t they sell these in stores?” I pointed out that these were oddly shaped, they were too big, they were too small. They were imperfect and, in a way, “weak.”   More

Today’s devotion – July 3 – for example. 

But some doubt is indeed a response to mystery. Thomas witnessed Jesus’ suffering and his terrible, demeaning execution. But now he’s alive? And truly the Messiah? How?

"amy welborn"

Recently:

As a consequence of some ill-considered decisions by a nine-year-old, I recently spent five hours in a hospital’s emergency room.    More.

I have never climbed a real mountain and have no strong desire to. But I have ambled among hills, some of which might come close to being mountains and sometimes feel that way, depending on what kind of shape I’m in.  More

The webpage for Living Faith is here.

Living Faith is a print publication – available in Spanish and English – but a digital edition is available as well.

More information on the digital edition is here. 

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Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

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Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

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This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

— 5 —

Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

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And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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From Be Saints!

I also have a chapter of St. Thomas More in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.

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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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Today is the feastday of St. Boniface, Apostle to the Germans.  Let’s take a look at what our German Pope Emeritus had to say about him:

Today, we shall reflect on a great eighth-century missionary who spread Christianity in Central Europe, indeed also in my own country: St Boniface, who has gone down in history as “the Apostle of the Germans”. We have a fair amount of information on his life, thanks to the diligence of his biographers

….

In 716, Winfrid went to Frisia (today Holland) with a few companions, but he encountered the opposition of the local chieftain and his attempt at evangelization failed. Having returned home, he did not lose heart and two years later travelled to Rome to speak to Pope Gregory ii and receive his instructions. One biographer recounts that the Pope welcomed him “with a smile and a look full of kindliness”, and had “important conversations” with him in the following days (Willibaldo, [Willibald of Mainz], Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, pp. 13-14), and lastly, after conferring upon him the new name of Boniface, assigned to him, in official letters, the mission of preaching the Gospel among the German peoples.

Comforted and sustained by the Pope’s support, Boniface embarked on the preaching of the Gospel in those regions, fighting against pagan worship and reinforcing the foundations of human and Christian morality. With a deep sense of duty he wrote in one of his letters: “We are united in the fight on the Lord’s Day, because days of affliction and wretchedness have come…. We are not mute dogs or taciturn observers or mercenaries fleeing from wolves! On the contrary, we are diligent Pastors who watch over Christ’s flock, who proclaim God’s will to the leaders and ordinary folk, to the rich and the poor… in season and out of season...” (cf. Epistulae, 3,352.354: mgh).

….In addition to this work of evangelization and organization of the Church through the founding of dioceses and the celebration of Synods, this great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished. Boniface himself has left us an important intellectual corpus. First of all is his copious correspondence, in which pastoral letters alternate with official letters and others private in nature, which record social events but above all reveal his richly human temperament and profound faith.

…..

SAINT-BONIFACE-antique-holy-cardCenturies later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvellous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk. This word was the pillar of the faith which he had committed himself to spreading at the moment of his episcopal ordination: “I profess integrally the purity of the holy Catholic faith and with the help of God I desire to remain in the unity of this faith, in which there is no doubt that the salvation of Christians lies” (Epist. 12, in S. Bonifatii Epistolae, ed. cit., p. 29). The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will. In a letter to Pope Zachary, he said: “I never cease to invite and to submit to obedience to the Apostolic See those who desire to remain in the Catholic faith and in the unity of the Roman Church and all those whom God grants to me as listeners and disciples in my mission” (Epist. 50: in ibid., p. 81). One result of this commitment was the steadfast spirit of cohesion around the Successor of Peter which Boniface transmitted to the Church in his mission territory, uniting England, Germany and France with Rome and thereby effectively contributing to planting those Christian roots of Europe which were to produce abundant fruit in the centuries to come. Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, this zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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…not really great. Just a silence?

Yeah, no internet or landline for a week now.  I’ve been promised a fix tomorrow – just as I’ve been promised every day.  I’ll wait to unload on this matter until it is, actually restored.  I’m sitting in McDonald’s trying to answer some email, so I thought I would just check in.

This week in Living Faith:  

April 19, here.

And today’s – April 23. 

More later.  I hope.

And don’t forget!  Books!

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A few years back, I had whipped up a graphic using this, one of my favorite Benedict quotes, but I couldn’t find the one I was thinking of.  I did find this one, though, which isn’t super pretty, but seems to me especially appropriate for this, his 88th birthday.

"pope Benedict XVI"

Stay united to one another, help one another to live and to increase in faith and in Christian life to be daring witnesses of the Lord. Be united but not closed. Be humble but not fearful. Be simple but non ingenuous. Be thoughtful but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with all, but be yourselves.

-Meeting with young people in Genoa, 2008.

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